HotFreeBooks.com
Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy - Five Essays
by George Santayana
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

SOME TURNS OF THOUGHT IN MODERN PHILOSOPHY

Five Essays

BY

GEORGE SANTAYANA

NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1933



Published under the auspices of THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LITERATURE

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN



CONTENTS

I. Locke and the Frontiers of Common Sense page 1

Paper read before the Royal Society of Literature on the occasion of the Tercentenary of the birth of John Locke. With some Supplementary Notes

II. Fifty Years of British Idealism 48

Reflections on the republication of Bradley's Ethical Studies

III. Revolutions in Science 71

Some Comments on the Theory of Relativity and the new Physics

IV. A Long Way Round to Nirvana 87

Development of a suggestion found in Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle

V. The Prestige of the Infinite 102

A review of Julien Benda's Sketch of a consistent theory of the relations between God and the World

The Author's acknowledgments are due to the Editors of The New Adelphi, The Dial, and the Journal of Philosophy, in which one or more of these Essays originally appeared.



I

LOCKE AND THE FRONTIERS OF COMMON SENSE[1]

A good portrait of Locke would require an elaborate background. His is not a figure to stand statuesquely in a void: the pose might not seem grand enough for bronze or marble. Rather he should be painted in the manner of the Dutch masters, in a sunny interior, scrupulously furnished with all the implements of domestic comfort and philosophic enquiry: the Holy Bible open majestically before him, and beside it that other revelation—the terrestrial globe. His hand might be pointing to a microscope set for examining the internal constitution of a beetle: but for the moment his eye should be seen wandering through the open window, to admire the blessings of thrift and liberty manifest in the people so worthily busy in the market-place, wrong as many a monkish notion might be that still troubled their poor heads. From them his enlarged thoughts would easily pass to the stout carved ships in the river beyond, intrepidly setting sail for the Indies, or for savage America. Yes, he too had travelled, and not only in thought. He knew how many strange nations and false religions lodged in this round earth, itself but a speck in the universe. There were few ingenious authors that he had not perused, or philosophical instruments that he had not, as far as possible, examined and tested; and no man better than he could understand and prize the recent discoveries of "the incomparable Mr Newton". Nevertheless, a certain uneasiness in that spare frame, a certain knitting of the brows in that aquiline countenance, would suggest that in the midst of their earnest eloquence the philosopher's thoughts might sometimes come to a stand. Indeed, the visible scene did not exhaust the complexity of his problem; for there was also what he called "the scene of ideas", immaterial and private, but often more crowded and pressing than the public scene. Locke was the father of modern psychology, and the birth of this airy monster, this half-natural changeling, was not altogether easy or fortunate.[2]

I wish my erudition allowed me to fill in this picture as the subject deserves, and to trace home the sources of Locke's opinions, and their immense influence. Unfortunately, I can consider him—what is hardly fair—only as a pure philosopher: for had Locke's mind been more profound, it might have been less influential. He was in sympathy with the coming age, and was able to guide it: an age that confided in easy, eloquent reasoning, and proposed to be saved, in this world and the next, with as little philosophy and as little religion as possible. Locke played in the eighteenth century very much the part that fell to Kant in the nineteenth. When quarrelled with, no less than when embraced, his opinions became a point of departure for universal developments. The more we look into the matter, the more we are impressed by the patriarchal dignity of Locke's mind. Father of psychology, father of the criticism of knowledge, father of theoretical liberalism, god-father at least of the American political system, of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedia, at home he was the ancestor of that whole school of polite moderate opinion which can unite liberal Christianity with mechanical science and with psychological idealism. He was invincibly rooted in a prudential morality, in a rationalised Protestantism, in respect for liberty and law: above all he was deeply convinced, as he puts it, "that the handsome conveniences of life are better than nasty penury". Locke still speaks, or spoke until lately, through many a modern mind, when this mind was most sincere; and two hundred years before Queen Victoria he was a Victorian in essence.

A chief element in this modernness of Locke was something that had hardly appeared before in pure philosophy, although common in religion: I mean, the tendency to deny one's own presuppositions—not by accident or inadvertently, but proudly and with an air of triumph. Presuppositions are imposed on all of us by life itself: for instance the presupposition that life is to continue, and that it is worth living. Belief is born on the wing and awakes to many tacit commitments. Afterwards, in reflection, we may wonder at finding these presuppositions on our hands and, being ignorant of the natural causes which have imposed them on the animal mind, we may be offended at them. Their arbitrary and dogmatic character will tempt us to condemn them, and to take for granted that the analysis which undermines them is justified, and will prove fruitful. But this critical assurance in its turn seems to rely on a dubious presupposition, namely, that human opinion must always evolve in a single line, dialectically, providentially, and irresistibly. It is at least conceivable that the opposite should sometimes be the case. Some of the primitive presuppositions of human reason might have been correct and inevitable, whilst the tendency to deny them might have sprung from a plausible misunderstanding, or the exaggeration of a half-truth: so that the critical opinion itself, after destroying the spontaneous assumptions on which it rested, might be incapable of subsisting.

In Locke the central presuppositions, which he embraced heartily and without question, were those of common sense. He adopted what he calls a "plain, historical method", fit, in his own words, "to be brought into well-bred company and polite conversation". Men, "barely by the use of their natural faculties", might attain to all the knowledge possible or worth having. All children, he writes, "that are born into this world, being surrounded with bodies that perpetually and diversely affect them" have "a variety of ideas imprinted" on their minds. "External material things as objects of Sensation, and the operations of our own minds as objects of Reflection, are to me", he continues, "the only originals from which all our ideas take their beginnings." "Every act of sensation", he writes elsewhere, "when duly considered, gives us an equal view of both parts of nature, the corporeal and the spiritual. For whilst I know, by seeing or hearing,... that there is some corporeal being without me, the object of that sensation, I do more certainly know that there is some spiritual being within me that sees and hears."

Resting on these clear perceptions, the natural philosophy of Locke falls into two parts, one strictly physical and scientific, the other critical and psychological. In respect to the composition of matter, Locke accepted the most advanced theory of his day, which happened to be a very old one: the theory of Democritus that the material universe contains nothing but a multitude of solid atoms coursing through infinite space: but Locke added a religious note to this materialism by suggesting that infinite space, in its sublimity, must be an attribute of God. He also believed what few materialists would venture to assert, that if we could thoroughly examine the cosmic mechanism we should see the demonstrable necessity of every complication that ensues, even of the existence and character of mind: for it was no harder for God to endow matter with the power of thinking than to endow it with the power of moving.

In the atomic theory we have a graphic image asserted to describe accurately, or even exhaustively, the intrinsic constitution of things, or their primary qualities. Perhaps, in so far as physical hypotheses must remain graphic at all, it is an inevitable theory. It was first suggested by the wearing out and dissolution of all material objects, and by the specks of dust floating in a sunbeam; and it is confirmed, on an enlarged scale, by the stellar universe as conceived by modern astronomy. When today we talk of nuclei and electrons, if we imagine them at all, we imagine them as atoms. But it is all a picture, prophesying what we might see through a sufficiently powerful microscope; the important philosophical question is the one raised by the other half of Locke's natural philosophy, by optics and the general criticism of perception. How far, if at all, may we trust the images in our minds to reveal the nature of external things?

On this point the doctrine of Locke, through Descartes,[3] was also derived from Democritus. It was that all the sensible qualities of things, except position, shape, solidity, number and motion, were only ideas in us, projected and falsely regarded as lodged in things. In the things, these imputed or secondary qualities were simply powers, inherent in their atomic constitution, and calculated to excite sensations of that character in our bodies. This doctrine is readily established by Locke's plain historical method, when applied to the study of rainbows, mirrors, effects of perspective, dreams, jaundice, madness, and the will to believe: all of which go to convince us that the ideas which we impulsively assume to be qualities of objects are always, in their seat and origin, evolved in our own heads.

These two parts of Locke's natural philosophy, however, are not in perfect equilibrium. All the feelings and ideas of an animal must be equally conditioned by his organs and passions,[4] and he cannot be aware of what goes on beyond him, except as it affects his own life.[5] How then could Locke, or could Democritus, suppose that his ideas of space and atoms were less human, less graphic, summary, and symbolic, than his sensations of sound or colour? The language of science, no less than that of sense, should have been recognised to be a human language; and the nature of anything existent collateral with ourselves, be that collateral existence material or mental, should have been confessed to be a subject for faith and for hypothesis, never, by any possibility, for absolute or direct intuition.

There is no occasion to take alarm at this doctrine as if it condemned us to solitary confinement, and to ignorance of the world in which we live. We see and know the world through our eyes and our intelligence, in visual and in intellectual terms: how else should a world be seen or known which is not the figment of a dream, but a collateral power, pressing and alien? In the cognisance which an animal may take of his surroundings—and surely all animals take such cognisance—the subjective and moral character of his feelings, on finding himself so surrounded, does not destroy their cognitive value. These feelings, as Locke says, are signs: to take them for signs is the essence of intelligence. Animals that are sensitive physically are also sensitive morally, and feel the friendliness or hostility which surrounds them. Even pain and pleasure are no idle sensations, satisfied with their own presence: they violently summon attention to the objects that are their source. Can love or hate be felt without being felt towards something—something near and potent, yet external, uncontrolled, and mysterious? When I dodge a missile or pick a berry, is it likely that my mind should stop to dwell on its pure sensations or ideas without recognising or pursuing something material? Analytic reflection often ignores the essential energy of mind, which is originally more intelligent than sensuous, more appetitive and dogmatic than aesthetic. But the feelings and ideas of an active animal cannot help uniting internal moral intensity with external physical reference; and the natural conditions of sensibility require that perceptions should owe their existence and quality to the living organism with its moral bias, and that at the same time they should be addressed to the external objects which entice that organism or threaten it.

All ambitions must be defeated when they ask for the impossible. The ambition to know is not an exception; and certainly our perceptions cannot tell us how the world would look if nobody saw it, or how valuable it would be if nobody cared for it. But our perceptions, as Locke again said, are sufficient for our welfare and appropriate to our condition. They are not only a wonderful entertainment in themselves, but apart from their sensuous and grammatical quality, by their distribution and method of variation, they may inform us most exactly about the order and mechanism of nature. We see in the science of today how completely the most accurate knowledge—proved to be accurate by its application in the arts—may shed every pictorial element, and the whole language of experience, to become a pure method of calculation and control. And by a pleasant compensation, our aesthetic life may become freer, more self-sufficing, more humbly happy in itself: and without trespassing in any way beyond the modesty of nature, we may consent to be like little children, chirping our human note; since the life of reason in us may well become science in its validity, whilst remaining poetry in its texture.

I think, then, that by a slight re-arrangement of Locke's pronouncements in natural philosophy, they could be made inwardly consistent, and still faithful to the first presuppositions of common sense, although certainly far more chastened and sceptical than impulsive opinion is likely to be in the first instance.

There were other presuppositions in the philosophy of Locke besides his fundamental naturalism; and in his private mind probably the most important was his Christian faith, which was not only confident and sincere, but prompted him at times to high speculation. He had friends among the Cambridge Platonists, and he found in Newton a brilliant example of scientific rigour capped with mystical insights. Yet if we consider Locke's philosophical position in the abstract, his Christianity almost disappears. In form his theology and ethics were strictly rationalistic; yet one who was a Deist in philosophy might remain a Christian in religion. There was no great harm in a special revelation, provided it were simple and short, and left the broad field of truth open in almost every direction to free and personal investigation. A free man and a good man would certainly never admit, as coming from God, any doctrine contrary to his private reason or political interest; and the moral precepts actually vouchsafed to us in the Gospels were most acceptable, seeing that they added a sublime eloquence to maxims which sound reason would have arrived at in any case.

Evidently common sense had nothing to fear from religious faith of this character; but the matter could not end there. Common sense is not more convinced of anything than of the difference between good and evil, advantage and disaster; and it cannot dispense with a moral interpretation of the universe. Socrates, who spoke initially for common sense, even thought the moral interpretation of existence the whole of philosophy. He would not have seen anything comic in the satire of Moliere making his chorus of young doctors chant in unison that opium causes sleep because it has a dormitive virtue. The virtues or moral uses of things, according to Socrates, were the reason why the things had been created and were what they were; the admirable virtues of opium defined its perfection, and the perfection of a thing was the full manifestation of its deepest nature. Doubtless this moral interpretation of the universe had been overdone, and it had been a capital error in Socrates to make that interpretation exclusive and to substitute it for natural philosophy. Locke, who was himself a medical man, knew what a black cloak for ignorance and villainy Scholastic verbiage might be in that profession. He also knew, being an enthusiast for experimental science, that in order to control the movement of matter—which is to realise those virtues and perfections—it is better to trace the movement of matter materialistically; for it is in the act of manifesting its own powers, and not, as Socrates and the Scholastics fancied, by obeying a foreign magic, that matter sometimes assumes or restores the forms so precious in the healer's or the moralist's eyes. At the same time, the manner in which the moral world rests upon the natural, though divined, perhaps, by a few philosophers, has not been generally understood; and Locke, whose broad humanity could not exclude the moral interpretation of nature, was driven in the end to the view of Socrates. He seriously invoked the Scholastic maxim that nothing can produce that which it does not contain. For this reason the unconscious, after all, could never have given rise to consciousness. Observation and experiment could not be allowed to decide this point: the moral interpretation of things, because more deeply rooted in human experience, must envelop the physical interpretation, and must have the last word.

It was characteristic of Locke's simplicity and intensity that he retained these insulated sympathies in various quarters. A further instance of his many-sidedness was his fidelity to pure intuition, his respect for the infallible revelation of ideal being, such as we have of sensible qualities or of mathematical relations. In dreams and in hallucinations appearances may deceive us, and the objects we think we see may not exist at all. Yet in suffering an illusion we must entertain an idea; and the manifest character of these ideas is that of which alone, Locke thinks, we can have certain "knowledge".

"These", he writes, "are two very different things and carefully to be distinguished: it being one thing to perceive and know the idea of white or black, and quite another to examine what kind of particles they must be, and how arranged ... to make any object appear white or black." "A man infallibly knows, as soon as ever he has them in his mind, that the ideas he calls white and round are the very ideas they are, and that they are not other ideas which he calls red or square.... This ... the mind ... always perceives at first sight; and if ever there happen any doubt about it, it will always be found to be about the names and not the ideas themselves."

This sounds like high Platonic doctrine for a philosopher of the Left; but Locke's utilitarian temper very soon reasserted itself in this subject. Mathematical ideas were not only lucid but true: and he demanded this truth, which he called "reality", of all ideas worthy of consideration: mere ideas would be worthless. Very likely he forgot, in his philosophic puritanism, that fiction and music might have an intrinsic charm. Where the frontier of human wisdom should be drawn in this direction was clearly indicated, in Locke's day, by Spinoza, who says:

"If, in keeping non-existent things present to the imagination, the mind were at the same time aware that those things did not exist, surely it would regard this gift of imagination as a virtue in its own constitution, not as a vice: especially if such an imaginative faculty depended on nothing except the mind's own nature: that is to say, if this mental faculty of imagination were free".

But Locke had not so firm a hold on truth that he could afford to play with fancy; and as he pushed forward the claims of human jurisdiction rather too far in physics, by assuming the current science to be literally true, so, in the realm of imagination, he retrenched somewhat illiberally our legitimate possessions. Strange that as modern philosophy transfers the visible wealth of nature more and more to the mind, the mind should seem to lose courage and to become ashamed of its own fertility. The hard-pressed natural man will not indulge his imagination unless it poses for truth; and being half aware of this imposition, he is more troubled at the thought of being deceived than at the fact of being mechanised or being bored: and he would wish to escape imagination altogether. A good God, he murmurs, could not have made us poets against our will.

Against his will, however, Locke was drawn to enlarge the subjective sphere. The actual existence of mind was evident: you had only to notice the fact that you were thinking. Conscious mind, being thus known to exist directly and independently of the body, was a primary constituent of reality: it was a fact on its own account.[6] Common sense seemed to testify to this, not only when confronted with the "I think, therefore I am" of Descartes, but whenever a thought produced an action. Since mind and body interacted,[7] each must be as real as the other and, as it were, on the same plane of being. Locke, like a good Protestant, felt the right of the conscious inner man to assert himself: and when he looked into his own mind, he found nothing to define this mind except the ideas which occupied it. The existence which he was so sure of in himself was therefore the existence of his ideas.

Here, by an insensible shift in the meaning of the word "idea", a momentous revolution had taken place in psychology. Ideas had originally meant objective terms distinguished in thought-images, qualities, concepts, propositions. But now ideas began to mean living thoughts, moments or states of consciousness. They became atoms of mind, constituents of experience, very much as material atoms were conceived to be constituents of natural objects. Sensations became the only objects of sensation, and ideas the only objects of ideas; so that the material world was rendered superfluous, and the only scientific problem was now to construct a universe in terms of analytic psychology. Locke himself did not go so far, and continued to assign physical causes and physical objects to some, at least, of his mental units; and indeed sensations and ideas could not very well have other than physical causes, the existence of which this new psychology was soon to deny: so that about the origin of its data it was afterwards compelled to preserve a discreet silence. But as to their combinations and reappearances, it was able to invoke the principle of association: a thread on which many shrewd observations may be strung, but which also, when pressed, appears to be nothing but a verbal mask for organic habits in matter.

The fact is that there are two sorts of unobjectionable psychology, neither of which describes a mechanism of disembodied mental states, such as the followers of Locke developed into modern idealism, to the confusion of common sense.[8] One unobjectionable sort of psychology is biological, and studies life from the outside. The other sort, relying on memory and dramatic imagination, reproduces life from the inside, and is literary. If the literary psychologist is a man of genius, by the clearness and range of his memory, by quickness of sympathy and power of suggestion, he may come very near to the truth of experience, as it has been or might be unrolled in a human being.[9] The ideas with which Locke operates are simply high lights picked out by attention in this nebulous continuum, and identified by names. Ideas, in the original ideal sense of the word, are indeed the only definite terms which attention can discriminate and rest upon; but the unity of these units is specious, not existential. If ideas were not logical or aesthetic essences but self-subsisting feelings, each knowing itself, they would be insulated for ever; no spirit could ever survey, recognise, or compare them; and mind would have disappeared in the analysis of mind.

These considerations might enable us, I think, to mark the just frontier of common sense even in this debatable land of psychology. All that is biological, observable, and documentary in psychology falls within the lines of physical science and offers no difficulty in principle. Nor need literary psychology form a dangerous salient in the circuit of nature. The dramatic poet or dramatic historian necessarily retains the presupposition of a material world, since beyond his personal memory (and even within it) he has nothing to stimulate and control his dramatic imagination save knowledge of the material circumstances in which people live, and of the material expression in action or words which they give to their feelings. His moral insight simply vivifies the scene that nature and the sciences of nature spread out before him: they tell him what has happened, and his heart tells him what has been felt. Only literature can describe experience for the excellent reason that the terms of experience are moral and literary from the beginning. Mind is incorrigibly poetical: not because it is not attentive to material facts and practical exigencies, but because, being intensely attentive to them, it turns them into pleasures and pains, and into many-coloured ideas. Yet at every turn there is a possibility and an occasion for transmuting this poetry into science, because ideas and emotions, being caused by material events, refer to these events, and record their order.

All philosophies are frail, in that they are products of the human mind, in which everything is essentially reactive, spontaneous, and volatile: but as in passion and in language, so in philosophy, there are certain comparatively steady and hereditary principles, forming a sort of orthodox reason, which is or which may become the current grammar of mankind. Of philosophers who are orthodox in this sense, only the earliest or the most powerful, an Aristotle or a Spinoza, need to be remembered, in that they stamp their language and temper upon human reason itself. The rest of the orthodox are justly lost in the crowd and relegated to the chorus. The frailty of heretical philosophers is more conspicuous and interesting: it makes up the chronique scandaleuse of the mind, or the history of philosophy. Locke belongs to both camps: he was restive in his orthodoxy and timid in his heresies; and like so many other initiators of revolutions, he would be dismayed at the result of his work. In intention Locke occupied an almost normal philosophic position, rendered precarious not by what was traditional in it, like the categories of substance and power, but rather by certain incidental errors—notably by admitting an experience independent of bodily life, yet compounded and evolving in a mechanical fashion. But I do not find in him a prickly nest of obsolete notions and contradictions from which, fledged at last, we have flown to our present enlightenment. In his person, in his temper, in his allegiances and hopes, he was the prototype of a race of philosophers native and dominant among people of English speech, if not in academic circles, at least in the national mind. If we make allowance for a greater personal subtlety, and for the diffidence and perplexity inevitable in the present moral anarchy of the world, we may find this same Lockian eclecticism and prudence in the late Lord Balfour: and I have myself had the advantage of being the pupil of a gifted successor and, in many ways, emulator, of Locke, I mean William James. So great, at bottom, does their spiritual kinship seem to me to be, that I can hardly conceive Locke vividly without seeing him as a sort of William James of the seventeenth century. And who of you has not known some other spontaneous, inquisitive, unsettled genius, no less preoccupied with the marvellous intelligence of some Brazilian parrot, than with the sad obstinacy of some Bishop of Worcester? Here is eternal freshness of conviction and ardour for reform; great keenness of perception in spots, and in other spots lacunae and impulsive judgments; distrust of tradition, of words, of constructive argument; horror of vested interests and of their smooth defenders; a love of navigating alone and exploring for oneself even the coasts already well charted by others. Here is romanticism united with a scientific conscience and power of destructive analysis balanced by moral enthusiasm. Doubtless Locke might have dug his foundations deeper and integrated his faith better. His system was no metaphysical castle, no theological acropolis: rather a homely ancestral manor house built in several styles of architecture: a Tudor chapel, a Palladian front toward the new geometrical garden, a Jacobean parlour for political consultation and learned disputes, and even—since we are almost in the eighteenth century—a Chinese cabinet full of curios. It was a habitable philosophy, and not too inharmonious. There was no greater incongruity in its parts than in the gentle variations of English weather or in the qualified moods and insights of a civilised mind. Impoverished as we are, morally and humanly, we can no longer live in such a rambling mansion. It has become a national monument. On the days when it is open we revisit it with admiration; and those chambers and garden walks re-echo to us the clear dogmas and savoury diction of the sage—omnivorous, artless, loquacious—whose dwelling it was.

[1] Paper read before the Royal Society of Literature on the occasion of the Tercentenary of the birth of John Locke.

[2] See note I, p. 26.

[3] See note II, p. 29.

[4] See note III, p. 35.

[5] See note IV, p. 36.

[6] See note V, p. 37.

[7] See note VI, p. 39.

[8] See note VII, p. 43.

[9] See note VIII, p. 46.



SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES

I

Page 3. This airy monster, this half-natural changeling.

Monsters and changelings were pointed to by Locke with a certain controversial relish: they proved that nature was not compressed or compressible within Aristotelian genera and species, but was a free mechanism subject to indefinite change. Mechanism in physics is favourable to liberty in politics and morals: each creature has a right to be what it spontaneously is, and not what some previous classification alleges that it ought to have been. The Protestant and revolutionary independence of Locke's mind here gives us a foretaste of Darwin and even of Nietzsche. But Locke was moderate even in his radicalisms. A human nature totally fluid would of itself have proved anarchical; but in order to stem that natural anarchy it was fortunately possible to invoke the conditions of prosperity and happiness strictly laid down by the Creator. The improvidence and naughtiness of nature was called to book at every turn by the pleasures and pains divinely appended to things enjoined and to things forbidden, and ultimately by hell and by heaven. Yet if rewards and punishments were attached to human action and feeling in this perfectly external and arbitrary fashion, whilst the feelings and actions spontaneous in mankind counted for nothing in the rule of morals and of wisdom, we should be living under the most cruel and artificial of tyrannies; and it would not be long before the authority of such a code would be called in question and the reality of those arbitrary rewards and punishments would be denied, both for this world and for any other. In a truly rational morality moral sanctions would have to vary with the variation of species, each new race or individual or mode of feeling finding its natural joy in a new way of life. The monsters would not be monsters except to rustic prejudice, and the changelings would be simply experiments in creation. The glee of Locke in seeing nature elude scholastic conventions would then lose its savour, since those staid conventions themselves would have become obsolete. Nature would henceforth present nothing but pervasive metamorphosis, irresponsible and endless. To correct the weariness of such pure flux we might indeed invoke the idea of a progress or evolution towards something always higher and better; but this idea simply reinstates, under a temporal form, the dominance of a specific standard, to which nature is asked to conform. Genera and species might shift and glide into one another at will, but always in the authorised direction. If, on the contrary, transformation had no predetermined direction, we should be driven back, for a moral principle, to each of the particular types of life generated on the way: as in estimating the correctness or beauty of language we appeal to the speech and genius of each nation at each epoch, without imposing the grammar of one language or age upon another. It is only in so far as, in the midst of the flux, certain tropes become organised and recurrent, that any interests or beauties can be transmitted from moment to moment or from generation to generation. Physical integration is a prerequisite to moral integrity; and unless an individual or a species is sufficiently organised and determinate to aspire to a distinguishable form of life, eschewing all others, that individual or species can bear no significant name, can achieve no progress, and can approach no beauty or perfection.

Thus, so long as in a fluid world there is some measure of life and organisation, monsters and changelings will always remain possible physically and regrettable morally. Small deviations from the chosen type or the chosen direction of progress will continue to be called morbid and ugly, and great deviations or reversals will continue to be called monstrous. This is but the seamy side of that spontaneous predilection, grounded in our deepest nature, by which we recognise beauty and nobleness at first sight, with immense refreshment and perfect certitude.

II

Page 8. Through Descartes.

Very characteristic was the tireless polemic which Locke carried on against Descartes. The outraged plain facts had to be defended against sweeping and arbitrary theories. There were no innate ideas or maxims: children were not born murmuring that things equal to the same thing were equal to one another: and an urchin knew that pain was caused by the paternal slipper before he reflected philosophically that everything must have a cause. Again, extension was not the essence of matter, which must be solid as well, to be distinguishable from empty space. Finally, thinking was not the essence of the soul: a man, without dying, might lose consciousness: this often happened, or at least could not be prevented from happening by a definition framed by a French philosopher. These protests were evidently justified by common sense: yet they missed the speculative radicalism and depth of the Cartesian doctrines, which had struck the keynotes of all modern philosophy and science: for they assumed, for the first time in history, the transcendental point of view. No wonder that Locke could not do justice to this great novelty: Descartes himself did not do so, but ignored his subjective first principles in the development of his system; and it was not until adopted by Kant, or rather by Fichte, that the transcendental method showed its true colours. Even today philosophers fumble with it, patching soliloquy with physics and physics with soliloquy. Moreover, Locke's misunderstandings of Descartes were partly justified by the latter's verbal concessions to tradition and authority. A man who has a clear head, and like Descartes is rendered by his aristocratic pride both courteous and disdainful, may readily conform to usage in his language, and even in his personal sentiments, without taking either too seriously: he is not struggling to free his own mind, which is free already, nor very hopeful of freeing that of most people. The innate ideas were not explicit thoughts but categories employed unwittingly, as people in speaking conform to the grammar of the vernacular without being aware that they do so. As for extension being the essence of matter, since matter existed and was a substance, it would always have been more than its essence: a sort of ether the parts of which might move and might have different and calculable dynamic values. The gist of this definition of matter was to clear the decks for scientific calculation, by removing from nature the moral density and moral magic with which the Socratic philosophy had encumbered it. Science would be employed in describing the movements of bodies, leaving it for the senses and feelings to appreciate the cross-lights that might be generated in the process. Though not following the technique of Descartes, the physics of our own day realises his ideal, and traces in nature a mathematical dynamism, perfectly sufficient for exact prevision and mechanical art.

Similarly, in saying that the essence of the soul was to think, Descartes detached consciousness, or actual spirit, from the meshes of all unknown organic or invented mental mechanisms. It was an immense clarification and liberation in its proper dimension: but this pure consciousness was not a soul; it was not the animal psyche, or principle of organisation, life, and passion—a principle which, according to Descartes, was material. To have called such a material principle the soul would have shocked all Christian conceptions; but if Descartes had abstained from giving that consecrated name to mere consciousness, he need not have been wary of making the latter intermittent and evanescent, as it naturally is. He was driven to the conclusion that the soul can never stop thinking, by the desire to placate orthodox opinion, and his own Christian sentiments, at the expense of attributing to actual consciousness a substantial independence and a directive physical force which were incongruous with it: a force and independence perfectly congruous with the Platonic soul, which had been a mythological being, a supernatural spirit or daemon or incubus, incarnate in the natural world, and partly dominating it. The relations of such a soul to the particular body or bodies which it might weave for itself on earth, to the actions which it performed through such bodies, and to the current of its own thoughts, then became questions for theology, or for a moralistic theory of the universe. They were questions remote from the preoccupations of the modern mind; yet it was not possible either for Locke or for Descartes to clear their fresh conceptions altogether from those ancient dreams.

What views precisely did Locke oppose to these radical tendencies of Descartes?

In respect to the nature of matter, I have indicated above the position of Locke: pictorially he accepted an ordinary atomism; scientifically, the physics of Newton.

On the other two points Locke's convictions were implicit rather than speculative: he resisted the Cartesian theories without much developing his own, as after all was natural in a critic engaged in proving that our natural faculties were not intended for speculation. All knowledge came from experience, and no man could know the savour of a pineapple without having tasted it. Yet this savour, according to Locke, did not reside at first in the pineapple, to be conveyed on contact to the palate and to the mind; but it was generated in the process of gustation; or perhaps we should rather say that it was generated in the mind on occasion of that process. At least, then, in respect to secondary qualities, and to all moral values, the terms of human knowledge were not drawn from the objects encountered in the world, but from an innate sensibility proper to the human body or mind. Experience—if this word meant the lifelong train of ideas which made a man's moral being—was not a source of knowledge but was knowledge (or illusion) itself, produced by organs endowed with a special native sensibility in contact with varying external stimuli. This conclusion would then not have contradicted, but exactly expressed, the doctrine of innate categories.

As to the soul, which might exist without thinking, Locke still called it an immaterial substance: not so immaterial, however, as not to be conveyed bodily with him in his coach from London to Oxford. Although, like Hobbes, Locke believed in the power of the English language to clarify the human intellect, he here ignored the advice of Hobbes to turn that befuddling Latin phrase into plain English. Substance meant body: immaterial meant bodiless: therefore immaterial substance meant bodiless body. True, substance had not really meant body for Aristotle or the Schoolmen; but who now knew or cared what anything had meant for them? Locke scornfully refused to consider what a substantial form may have signified; and in still maintaining that he had a soul, and calling it a spiritual substance, he was probably simply protesting that there was something living and watchful within his breast, the invisible moral agent in all his thoughts and actions. It was he that had them and did them; and this self of his was far from being reducible to a merely logical impersonal subject, an "I think" presupposed in all thought: for what would this "I think" have become when it was not thinking? On the other hand it mattered very little what the substance of a thinking being might be: God might even have endowed the body with the faculty of thinking, and of generating ideas on occasion of certain impacts. Yet a man was a man for all that: and Locke was satisfied that he knew, at least well enough for an honest Englishman, what he was. He was what he felt himself to be: and this inner man of his was not merely the living self, throbbing now in his heart; it was all his moral past, all that he remembered to have been. If, from moment to moment, the self was a spiritual energy astir within, in retrospect the living present seemed, as it were, to extend its tentacles and to communicate its subjectivity to his whole personal past. The limits of his personality were those of his memory, and his experience included everything that his living mind could appropriate and re-live. In a word, he was his idea of himself: and this insight opens a new chapter not only in his philosophy but in the history of human self-estimation. Mankind was henceforth invited not to think of itself as a tribe of natural beings, nor of souls, with a specific nature and fixed possibilities. Each man was a romantic personage or literary character: he was simply what he was thought to be, and might become anything that he could will to become. The way was opened for Napoleon on the one hand and for Fichte on the other.

III

Page 9. _All_ ideas must be equally conditioned._

Even the mathematical ideas which seem so exactly to describe the dynamic order of nature are not repetitions of their natural counterpart: for mathematical form in nature is a web of diffuse relations enacted; in the mind it is a thought possessed, the logical synthesis of those deployed relations. To run in a circle is one thing; to conceive a circle is another. Our mind by its animal roots (which render it relevant to the realm of matter and cognitive) and by its spiritual actuality (which renders it original, synthetic, and emotional) is a language, from its beginnings; almost, we might say, a biological poetry; and the greater the intellectuality and poetic abstraction the greater the possible range. Yet we must not expect this scope of speculation in us to go with adequacy or exhaustiveness: on the contrary, mathematics and religion, each in its way so sure, leave most of the truth out.

IV

Page 9. He cannot be aware of what goes on beyond him, except as it affects his own life.

Even that spark of divine intelligence which comes into the animal soul, as Aristotle says, from beyond the gates, comes and is called down by the exigencies of physical life. An animal endowed with locomotion cannot merely feast sensuously on things as they appear, but must react upon them at the first signal, and in so doing must virtually and in intent envisage them as they are in themselves. For it is by virtue of their real constitution and intrinsic energy that they act upon us and suffer change in turn at our hands; so that whatsoever form things may take to our senses and intellect, they take that form by exerting their material powers upon us, and intertwining them in action with our own organisms.

Thus the appearance of things is always, in some measure, a true index to their reality. Animals are inevitably engaged in self-transcending action, and the consciousness of self-transcending action is self-transcendent knowledge. The very nature of animal life makes it possible, within animal consciousness, to discount appearance and to correct illusion—things which in a vegetative or aesthetic sensibility would not be distinguishable from pure experience itself. But when aroused to self-transcendent attention, feeling must needs rise to intelligence, so that external fact and impartial truth come within the range of consciousness, not indeed by being contained there, but by being aimed at.

V

Page 19. Conscious mind was a fact on its own account.

This conscious mind was a man's moral being, and personal identity could not extend further than possible memory. This doctrine of Locke's had some comic applications. The Bishop of Worcester was alarmed. If actions which a hardened sinner had forgotten were no longer his, a short memory would be a great blessing in the Day of Judgment. On the other hand, a theology more plastic than Stillingfleet's would one day find in this same doctrine a new means of edification. For if I may disown all actions I have forgotten, may not things not done or witnessed by me in the body be now appropriated and incorporated in my consciousness, if only I conceive them vividly? The door is then open to all the noble ambiguities of idealism. As my consciousness expands, or thinks it expands, into dramatic sympathy with universal experience, that experience becomes my own. I may say I have been the agent in all past achievements. Emerson could know that he was Shakespeare and Caesar and Christ. Futurity is mine also, in every possible direction at once; and I am one with the spirit of the universe and with God.

Locke reassured the Bishop of Worcester, and was humbly confident that Divine Justice would find a way of vindicating Itself in spite of human wit. He might have added that if the sin of Adam could not only be imputed to us juridically but could actually taint our consciousness—as it certainly does if by Adam we understand our whole material heritage—so surely the sins done or the habits acquired by the body beyond the scope of consciousness may taint or clarify this consciousness now. Indeed, the idea we form of ourselves and of our respective experiences is a figment of vanity, a product of dramatic imagination, without cognitive import save as a reading of the hidden forces, physical or divine, which have formed us and actually govern us.

VI

Page 19. Mind and body interacted.

The self which acts in a man is itself moved by forces which have long been familiar to common sense, without being understood except dramatically. These forces are called the passions; or when the dramatic units distinguished are longish strands rather than striking episodes, they are called temperament, character, or will; or perhaps, weaving all these strands and episodes together again into one moral fabric, we call them simply human nature. But in what does this vague human nature reside, and how does it operate on the non-human world? Certainly not within the conscious sphere, or in the superficial miscellany of experience. Immediate experience is the intermittent chaos which human nature, in combination with external circumstances, is invoked to support and to rationalise. Is human nature, then, resident in each individual soul? Certainly: but the soul is merely another name for that active principle which we are looking for, to be the seat of our sensibility and the source of our actions. Is this psychic power, then, resident in the body? Undoubtedly; since it is hereditary and transmitted by a seed, and continually aroused and modified by material agencies.

Since this soul or self in the body is so obscure, the temptation is great to dramatise its energies and to describe them in myths. Myth is the normal means of describing those forces of nature which we cannot measure or understand; if we could understand or measure them we should describe them prosaically and analytically, in what is called science. But nothing is less measurable, or less intelligible to us, in spite of being so near us and familiar, as the life of this carnal instrument, so soft and so violent, which breeds our sensations and precipitates our actions. We see today how the Freudian psychology, just because it is not satisfied with registering the routine of consciousness but endeavours to trace its hidden mechanism and to unravel its physical causes, is driven to use the most frankly mythological language. The physiological processes concerned, though presupposed, are not on the scale of human perception and not traceable in detail; and the moral action, though familiar in snatches, has to be patched by invented episodes, and largely attributed to daemonic personages that never come on the stage.

Locke, in his psychology of morals, had at first followed the verbal rationalism by which people attribute motives to themselves and to one another. Human actions were explained by the alleged pursuit of the greater prospective pleasure, and avoidance of the greater prospective pain. But this way of talking, though not so poetical as Freud's, is no less mythical. Eventual goods and evils have no present existence and no power: they cannot even be discerned prophetically, save by the vaguest fancy, entirely based on the present impulses and obsessions of the soul. No future good, no future evil avails to move us, except—as Locke said after examining the facts more closely—when a certain uneasiness in the soul (or in the body) causes us to turn to those untried goods and evils with a present and living interest. This actual uneasiness, with the dream pictures which it evokes, is a mere symptom of the direction in which human nature in us is already moving, or already disposed to move. Without this prior physical impulse, heaven may beckon and hell may yawn without causing the least variation in conduct. As in religious conversion all is due to the call of grace, so in ordinary action all is due to the ripening of natural impulses and powers within the psyche. The uneasiness observed by Locke is merely the consciousness of this ripening, before the field of relevant action has been clearly discerned.

When all this is considered, the ostensible interaction between mind and body puts on a new aspect. There are no purely mental ideas or intentions followed by material effects: there are no material events followed by a purely mental sensation or idea. Mental events are always elements in total natural events containing material elements also: material elements form the organ, the stimulus, and probably also the object for those mental sensations or ideas. Moreover, the physical strand alone is found to be continuous and traceable; the conscious strand, the sequence of mental events, flares up and dies down daily, if not hourly; and the medley of its immediate features—images, words, moods—juxtaposes China and Peru, past and future, in the most irresponsible confusion. On the other hand, in human life it is a part of the conscious element—intentions, affections, plans, and reasonings—that explains the course of action: dispersed temporally, our dominant thoughts contain the reason for our continuous behaviour, and seem to guide it. They are not so much links in a chain of minute consecutive causes—an idea or an act of will often takes time to work and works, as it were, only posthumously—as they are general overarching moral inspirations and resolves, which the machinery of our bodies executes in its own way, often rendering our thoughts more precise in the process, or totally transforming them. We do roughly what we meant to do, barring accidents. The reasons lie deep in our compound nature, being probably inarticulate; and our action in a fragmentary way betrays our moral disposition: betrays it in both senses of the word betray, now revealing it unawares, and now sadly disappointing it.

I leave it for the reader's reflection to decide whether we should call such cohabitation of mind with body interaction, or not rather sympathetic concomitance, self-annotation, and a partial prophetic awakening to a life which we are leading automatically.

VII

Page 21. To the confusion of common sense.

Berkeley and his followers sometimes maintain that common sense is on their side, that they have simply analysed the fact of our experience of the material world, and if there is any paradox in their idealism, it is merely verbal and disappears with familiarity. All the "reality", they say, all the force, obduracy, and fertility of nature subsist undiminished after we discover that this reality resides, and can only reside, in the fixed order of our experience.

But no: analysis of immediate experience will never disclose any fixed order in it; the surface of experience, when not interpreted materialistically, is an inextricable dream. Berkeley and his followers, when they look in this direction, towards nature and the rationale of experience and science, are looking away from their own system, and relying instead on the automatic propensity of human nature to routine, so that we spontaneously prepare for repeating our actions (not our experience) and even anticipate their occasions; a propensity further biased by the dominant rhythms of the psyche, so that we assume a future not so much similar to the past, as better. When developed, this propensity turns into trust in natural or divine laws; but it is contrary to common sense to expect such laws to operate apart from matter and from the material continuity of external occasions. This appears clearly in our trust in persons—a radical animal propensity—which is consonant with common sense when these persons are living bodies, but becomes superstitious, or at least highly speculative, when these persons are disembodied spirits.

It is a pity that the beautiful system of Berkeley should have appeared in an unspiritual age, when religion was mundane and perfunctory, and the free spirit, where it stirred, was romantic and wilful. For that system was essentially religious: it put the spirit face to face with God, everywhere, always, and in everything it turned experience into a divine language for the monition and expression of the inner man. Such an instrument, in spiritual hands, might have served to dispel all natural illusions and affections, and to disinfect the spirit of worldliness and egotism. But Berkeley and his followers had no such thought. All they wished was to substitute a social for a material world, precisely because a merely social world might make worldly interests loom larger and might induce mankind, against the evidence of their senses and the still small voice in their hearts, to live as if their worldly interests were absolute and must needs dominate the spirit.

Morally this system thus came to sanction a human servitude to material things such as ancient materialists would have scorned; and theoretically the system did not escape the dogmatic commitments of common sense against which it protested. For far from withdrawing into the depths of the private spirit, it professed to describe universal experience and the evolution of all human ideas. This notion of "experience" originally presupposed a natural agent or subject to endure that experience, and to profit by it, by learning to live in better harmony with external circumstances. Each agent or subject of experience might, at other times, become an object of experience also: for they all formed part of a material world, which they might envisage in common in their perceptions. Now the criticism which repudiates this common material medium, like all criticism or doubt, is secondary and partial: it continues to operate with all the assumptions of common sense, save the one which it is expressly criticising. So, in repudiating the material world, this philosophy retains the notion of various agents or subjects gathering experience; and we are not expected to doubt that there are just as many streams of experience without a world, as there were people in the world when the world existed. But the number and nature of these experiences have now become undiscoverable, the material persons having been removed who formerly were so placed as to gather easily imagined experiences, and to be able to communicate them; and the very notion of experience has been emptied of its meaning, when no external common world subsists to impose that same experience on everybody. It was not knowledge of existing experiences in vacuo that led common sense to assume a material world, but knowledge of an existing material world led it to assume existing, and regularly reproducible, experiences.

Thus the whole social convention posited by empirical idealism is borrowed without leave, and rests on the belief in nature for which it is substituted.

VIII

Page 21. The literary psychologist may come very near to the truth of experience.

Experience cannot be in itself an object of science, because it is essentially invisible, immeasurable, fugitive, and private; and although it may be shared or repeated, the evidence for that repetition or that unanimity cannot be found by comparing a present experience with another experience by hypothesis absent. Both the absent experience and its agreement with the present experience must be imagined freely and credited instinctively, in view of the known circumstances in which the absent experience is conceived to have occurred. The only instrument for conceiving experience at large is accordingly private imagination; and such imagination cannot be tested, although it may be guided and perhaps recast by fresh observations or reports concerning the action and language of other people. For action and language, being contagious, and being the material counterpart of experience in each of us, may voluntarily or involuntarily suggest our respective experience to one another, by causing each to re-enact more or less accurately within himself the experience of the rest. Thus alien thoughts and feelings are revealed or suggested to us in common life, not without a subjective transformation increasing, so to speak, as the square of the distance: and even the record of experience in people's own words, when these are not names for recognisable external things, awakens in the reader, in another age or country, quite incommensurable ideas. Yet, under favourable circumstances, such suggestion or revelation of experience, without ever becoming science, may become public unanimity in sentiment, and may produce a truthful and lively dramatic literature.

All modern philosophy, in so far as it is a description of experience and not of nature, therefore seems to belong to the sphere of literature, and to be without scientific value.



II

FIFTY YEARS OF BRITISH IDEALISM[10]

After fifty years, an old milestone in the path of philosophy, Bradley's Ethical Studies, has been set up again, as if to mark the distance which English opinion has traversed in the interval. It has passed from insular dogmatism to universal bewilderment; and a chief agent in the change has been Bradley himself, with his scornful and delicate intellect, his wit, his candour, his persistence, and the baffling futility of his conclusions. In this early book we see him coming forth like a young David against every clumsy champion of utilitarianism, hedonism, positivism, or empiricism. And how smooth and polished were the little stones in his sling! How fatally they would have lodged in the forehead of that composite monster, if only it had had a forehead! Some of them might even have done murderous execution in Bradley's own camp: for instance, this pebble cast playfully at the metaphysical idol called "Law": "It is always wet on half-holidays because of the Law of Raininess, but sometimes it is not wet, because of the Supplementary Law of Sunshine".

Bradley and his friends achieved a notable victory in the academic field: philosophic authority and influence passed largely into their hands in all English-speaking universities. But it was not exactly from these seats of learning that naturalism and utilitarianism needed to be dislodged; like the corresponding radicalisms of our day, these doctrines prevailed rather in certain political and intellectual circles outside, consciously revolutionary and often half-educated; and I am afraid that the braggart Goliaths of today need chastening at least as much as those of fifty years ago. In a country officially Christian, and especially in Oxford, it is natural and fitting that academic authority should belong to orthodox tradition—theological, Platonic, and Aristotelian. Bradley, save for a few learned quotations, strangely ignored this orthodoxy entrenched behind his back. In contrast with it he was himself a heretic, with first principles devastating every settled belief: and it was really this venerable silent partner at home that his victory superseded, at least in appearance and for a season. David did not slay Goliath, but he dethroned Saul. Saul was indeed already under a cloud, and all in David's heart was not unkindness in that direction. Bradley might almost be called an unbelieving Newman; time, especially, seems to have brought his suffering and refined spirit into greater sympathy with ancient sanctities. Originally, for instance, venting the hearty Protestant sentiment that only the Christianity of laymen is sound, he had written: "I am happy to say that 'religieux' has no English equivalent". But a later note says: "This is not true except of Modern English only. And, in any case, it won't do, and was wrong and due to ignorance. However secluded the religious life, it may be practical indirectly if through the unity of the spiritual body it can be taken as vicarious". The "if" here saves the principle that all values must be social, and that the social organism is the sole moral reality: yet how near this bubble comes to being pricked! We seem clearly to feel that the question is not whether spiritual life subserves animal society, but whether animal society ever is stirred and hallowed into spiritual life.

All this, however, in that age of progress, was regarded as obsolete: there was no longer to be any spirit except the spirit of the times. True, the ritualists might be striving to revive the latent energies of religious devotion, with some dubious help from aestheticism: but against the rising tide of mechanical progress and romantic anarchy, and against the mania for rewriting history, traditional philosophy then seemed helpless and afraid to defend itself: it is only now beginning to recover its intellectual courage. For the moment, speculative radicals saw light in a different quarter. German idealism was nothing if not self-confident; it was relatively new; it was encyclopaedic in its display of knowledge, which it could manipulate dialectically with dazzling, if not stable, results; it was Protestant in temper and autonomous in principle; and altogether it seemed a sovereign and providential means of suddenly turning the tables on the threatened naturalism. By developing romantic intuition from within and packing all knowledge into one picture, the universe might be shown to be, like intuition itself, thoroughly spiritual, personal, and subjective.

The fundamental axiom of the new logic was that the only possible reality was consciousness.

"People find", writes Bradley, "a subject and an object correlated in consciousness.... To go out of that unity is for us literally to go out of our minds.... When mind is made only a part of the whole, there is a question which must be answered.... If about any matter we know nothing whatsoever, can we say anything about it? Can we even say that it is? And if it is not in consciousness, how can we know it?... And conversely, if we know it, it cannot be not mind."

Bradley challenged his contemporaries to refute this argument; and not being able to do so, many of them felt constrained to accept it, perhaps not without grave misgivings. For was it not always a rooted conviction of the British mind that knowledge brings material power, and that any figments of consciousness (in religion, for instance) not bringing material power are dangerous bewitchments, and not properly knowledge? Yet it is no less characteristic of the British mind to yield occasionally, up to a certain point, to some such enthusiastic fancy, provided that its incompatibility with honest action may be denied or ignored. So in this case British idealists, in the act of defining knowledge idealistically, as the presence to consciousness of its own phenomena, never really ceased to assume transcendent knowledge of a self-existing world, social and psychological, if not material: and they continued scrupulously to readjust their ideas to those dark facts, often more faithfully than the avowed positivists or scientific psychologists.

What could ethics properly be to a philosopher who on principle might not trespass beyond the limits of consciousness? Only ethical sentiment. Bradley was satisfied to appeal to the moral consciousness of his day, without seeking to transform it. The most intentionally eloquent passage in his book describes war-fever unifying and carrying away a whole people: that was the summit of moral consciousness and of mystic virtue. His aim, even in ethics, was avowedly to describe that which exists, to describe moral experience, without proposing a different form for it. A man must be a man of his own time, or nothing; to set up to be better than the world was the beginning of immorality; and virtue lay in accepting one's station and its duties. The moralist should fill his mind with a concrete picture of the task and standards of his age and nation, and should graft his own ideals upon that tree; this need not prevent moral consciousness from including a decided esteem for non-political excellences like health, beauty, or intelligence, which are not ordinarily called virtues by modern moralists. Yet they were undeniably good; better, perhaps, than any painful and laborious dutifulness; so that the strictly moral consciousness might run over, and presently lose itself in "something higher". Indeed, even health, beauty, and intelligence, which seemed at first so clearly good, might lose their sharpness on a wider view. In the panorama that would ultimately fill the mind these so-called goods and virtues could not be conceived without their complementary vices and evils. Thus all moral consciousness, and even all vital preference might ultimately be superseded: they might appear to have belonged to a partial and rather low stage in the self-development of consciousness.

With this dissolution of his moral judgments always in prospect, why should Bradley, or any idealist, have pursued ethical studies at all? Since all phases of life were equally necessary to enrich an infinite consciousness, which must know both good and evil in order to merge and to transcend them, he could hardly nurse any intense enthusiasm for a different complexion to be given to the lives of men. His moral passion—for he had it, caustic and burning clear—was purely intellectual: it was shame that in England the moral consciousness should have been expressed in systems dialectically so primitive as those of the positivists and utilitarians. He acknowledged, somewhat superciliously, that their hearts were in the right place; yet, if we are to have ethics at all, were not their thoughts in the right place also? They were concerned not with analysis of the moral consciousness but with the conduct of affairs and the reform of institutions. The spectacle of human wretchedness profoundly moved them; their minds were bent on transforming society, so that a man's station and its duties might cease to be what a decayed feudal organisation and an inhuman industrialism had made of them. They revolted against the miserable condition of the masses of mankind, and against the miserable consolations which official religion, or a philosophy like Bradley's, offered them in their misery. The utilitarians were at least intent on existence and on the course of events; they wished to transform institutions to fit human nature better, and to educate human nature by those new institutions so that it might better realise its latent capacities. These are matters which a man may modify by his acts and they are therefore the proper concern of the moralist. Were they much to blame if they neglected to define pleasure or happiness and used catch-words, dialectically vague, to indicate a direction of effort politically quite unmistakable? Doubtless their political action, like their philosophical nomenclature, was revolutionary and relied too much on wayward feelings ignorant of their own causes. Revolution, no less than tradition, is but a casual and clumsy expression of human nature in contact with circumstances; yet pain and pleasure and spontaneous hopes, however foolish, are direct expressions of that contact, and speak for the soul; whereas a man's station and its duties are purely conventional, and may altogether misrepresent his native capacities. The protest of human nature against the world and its oppressions is the strong side of every rebellion; it was the moral side of utilitarianism, of the rebellion against irrational morality.

Unfortunately the English reformers were themselves idealists of a sort, entangled in the vehicles of perception, and talking about sensations and ideas, pleasures and pains, as if these had been the elements of human nature, or even of nature at large: and only the most meagre of verbal systems, and the most artificial, can be constructed out of such materials. Moreover, they spoke much of pleasure and happiness, and hardly at all of misery and pain: whereas it would have been wiser, and truer to their real inspiration, to have laid all the emphasis on evils to be abated, leaving the good to shape itself in freedom. Suffering is the instant and obvious sign of some outrage done to human nature; without this natural recoil, actual or imminent, no morality would have any sanction, and no precept could be imperative. What silliness to command me to pursue pleasure or to avoid it, if in any case everything would be well! Save for some shadow of dire repentance looming in the distance, I am deeply free to walk as I will. The choice of pleasure for a principle of morals was particularly unfortunate in the British utilitarians; it lent them an air of frivolity absurdly contrary to their true character. Pleasure might have been a fit enough word in the mouth of Aristippus, a semi-oriental untouched by the least sense of responsibility, or even on the lips of humanists in the eighteenth century, who, however sordid their lives may sometimes have been, could still move in imagination to the music of Mozart, in the landscape of Watteau or of Fragonard. But in the land and age of Dickens the moral ideal was not so much pleasure as kindness: this tenderer word not only expresses better the motive at work, but it points to the distressing presence of misery in the world, to make natural kindness laborious and earnest, and turn it into a legislative system.

Bradley's hostility to pleasure was not fanatical: one's station and its duties might have their agreeable side. "It is probably good for you", he tells us, "to have, say, not less than two glasses of wine after dinner. Six on ordinary occasions is perhaps too many; but as to three or four, they are neither one way nor the other." If the voluptuary was condemned, it was for the commonplace reason which a hedonist, too, might invoke, that a life of pleasure soon palls and becomes unpleasant. Bradley's objection to pleasure was merely speculative: he found it too "abstract". To call a pleasure when actually felt an abstraction is an exquisite absurdity: but pleasure, in its absolute essence, is certainly simple and indefinable. If instead of enjoying it on the wing, and as an earnest of the soul's momentary harmony, we attempt to arrest and observe it, we find it strangely dumb; we are not informed by it concerning its occasion, nor carried from it by any logical implication to the natural object in which it might be found. A pure hedonist ought therefore to be rather relieved if all images lapsed from his consciousness and he could luxuriate in sheer pleasure, dark and overwhelming. True, such bliss would be rather inhuman, and of the sort which we rashly assign to the oyster: but why should a radical and intrepid philosopher be ashamed of that? The condition of Bradley's Absolute—feeling in which all distinctions are transcended and merged—seems to be something of that kind; but there would be a strange irony in attributing this mystical and rapturous ideal to such ponderous worthies as Mill and Spencer, whose minds were nothing if not anxious, perturbed, instrumental, and full of respect for variegated facts, and who were probably incapable of tasting pure pleasure at all.

But if pleasure, in its pure essence, might really be the highest good for a mystic who should be lost in it, it would be no guide to a moralist wishing to control events, and to distribute particular pleasures or series of pleasures as richly as possible in the world. For this purpose he would need to understand human nature and its variable functions, in which different persons and peoples may find their sincere pleasures; and this knowledge would first lend to his general love of pleasure any point of application in the governance of life or in benevolent legislation. Some concrete image of a happy human world would take the place of the futile truism that pleasure is good and pain evil. This is, of course, what utilitarian moralists meant to do, and actually did, in so far as their human sympathies extended, which was not to the highest things; but it was not what they said, and Bradley had a clear advantage over them in the war of words. A pleasure is not a programme: it exists here and not there, for me and for no one else, once and never again. When past, it leaves the will as empty and as devoid of allegiance as if it had never existed; pleasure is sand, though it have the colour of gold. But this is evidently true of all existence. Each living moment, each dead man, each cycle of the universe leaves nothing behind it but a void which perhaps something kindred may refill. A Hegel, after identifying himself for a moment with the Absolute Idea, is in his existence no less subject to sleepiness, irritation, and death than if he had been modestly satisfied with the joys of an oyster. It is only their common form, or their common worship, that can give to the quick moments of life any mutual relevance or sympathy; and existence would not come at all within sight of a good, either momentary or final, if it were not inwardly directed upon realising some definite essence. For the rest this essence may be as simple as you will, if the nature directed upon it is unified and simple; and it would be mere intellectual snobbery to condemn pleasure because it has not so many subdivisions in it as an encyclopaedia of the sciences. For the moralist pleasure and pain may even be the better guides, because they express more directly and boldly the instinctive direction of animal life, and thereby mark more clearly the genuine difference between good and evil.

We may well say with Bradley that the good is self-realisation; but what is the self? Certainly not the feeling or consciousness of the moment, nor the life of the world, nor pure spirit. The self that can systematically distinguish good from evil is an animal soul. It grows from a seed; its potentiality is definite and its fate precarious; and in man it requires society to rear it and tradition to educate it. The good is accordingly social, in so far as the soul demands society; but it is the nature of the individual that determines the kind and degree of sociability that is good for him, and draws the line between society that is a benefit and society that is a nuisance. To subordinate the soul fundamentally to society or the individual to the state is sheer barbarism: the Greeks, sometimes invoked to support this form of idolatry, were never guilty of it; on the contrary, their lawgivers were always reforming and planning the state so that the soul might be perfect in it. Discipline is a help to the spirit: but even social relations, when like love, friendship, or sport they are spontaneous and good in themselves, retire as far as possible from the pressure of the world, and build their paradise apart, simple, and hidden in the wilderness; while all the ultimate hopes and assurances of the spirit escape altogether into the silent society of nature, of truth, of essence, far from those fatuous worldly conventions which hardly make up for their tyranny by their instability: for the prevalent moral fashion is always growing old, and human nature is always becoming young again. World-worship is the expedient of those who, having lost the soul that is in them, look for it in things external, where there is no soul: and by a curious recoil, it is also the expedient of those who seek their lost soul in actual consciousness, where it also is not: for sensations and ideas are not the soul but only passing and partial products of its profound animal life. Moral consciousness in particular would never have arisen and would be gratuitous, save for the ferocious bias of a natural living creature, defending itself against its thousand enemies.

Nor would knowledge in its turn be knowledge if it were merely intuition of essence, such as the sensualist, the poet, or the dialectician may rest in. If the imagery of logic or passion ever comes to convey knowledge, it does so by virtue of a concomitant physical adjustment to external things; for the nerve of real or transcendent knowledge is the notice which one part of the world may take of another part; and it is this momentous cognisance, no matter what intangible feelings may supply terms for its prosody, that enlarges the mind to some practical purpose and informs it about the world. Consciousness then ceases to be passive sense or idle ideation and becomes belief and intelligence. Then the essences which form the "content of consciousness" may be vivified and trippingly run over, like the syllables of a familiar word, in the active recognition of things and people and of all the ominous or pliable forces of nature. For essences, being eternal and non-existent in themselves, cannot come to consciousness by their own initiative, but only as occasion and the subtle movements of the soul may evoke their forms; so that the fact that they are given to consciousness has a natural status and setting in the material world, and is part of the same natural event as the movement of the soul and body which supports that consciousness.

There is therefore no need of refuting idealism, which is an honest examination of conscience in a reflective mind. Refutations and proofs depend on pregnant meanings assigned to terms, meanings first rendered explicit and unambiguous by those very proofs or refutations. On any different acceptation of those terms, these proofs and refutations fall to the ground; and it remains a question for good sense, not for logic at all, how far the terms in either case describe anything existent. If by "knowledge" we understand intuition of essences, idealism follows; but it follows only in respect to essences given in intuition: nothing follows concerning the seat, origin, conditions, or symptomatic value of such intuition, nor even that such intuition ever actually occurs. Idealism, therefore, without being refuted, may be hemmed in and humanised by natural knowledge about it and about its place in human speculation; the most recalcitrant materialist (like myself) might see its plausibility during a somewhat adolescent phase of self-consciousness. Consciousness itself he might accept and relish as the natural spiritual resonance of action and passion, recognising it in its proud isolation and specious autonomy, like the mountain republics of Andorra and San Marino.

German idealism is a mighty pose, an attitude always possible to a self-conscious and reflective being: but it is hardly a system, since it contradicts beliefs which in action are inevitable; it may therefore be readily swallowed, but it can never be digested. Neither of its two ingredients—romantic scepticism and romantic superstition—agrees particularly with the British stomach. Not romantic scepticism: for in England an instinctive distrust of too much clearness and logic, a difficulty in drawing all the consequences of any principle, soon gave to this most radical of philosophies a prim and religious air: its purity was alloyed with all sorts of conventions: so much so that we find British Hegelians often deeply engaged in psychology, cosmology, or religion, as if they took their idealism for a kind of physics, and wished merely to reinterpret the facts of nature in an edifying way, without uprooting them from their natural places. This has been made easier by giving idealism an objective, non-psychological turn: events, and especially feelings and ideas, will then be swallowed up in the essences which they display. Thus Bradley maintained that two thoughts, no matter how remote from each other in time or space, were identically the same, and not merely similar, if only they contemplated the same idea. Mind itself ceased in this way to mean a series of existing feelings and was identified with intelligence; and intelligence in its turn was identified with the Idea or Logos which might be the ultimate theme of intelligence. There could be only one mind, so conceived, since there could be only one total system in the universe visible to omniscience.

As to romantic scepticism, we may see by contrast what it would be, when left to itself, if we consider those lucid Italians who have taken up their idealism late and with open eyes. In Croce and Gentile the transcendental attitude is kept pure: for them there is really no universe save spirit creating its experience; and if we ask whence or on what principle occasions arise for all this compulsory fiction, we are reminded that this question, with any answer which spirit might invent for it, belongs not to philosophy but to some special science like physiology, itself, of course, only a particular product of creative thought. Thus the more impetuously the inquisitive squirrel would rush from his cage, the faster and faster he causes the cage to whirl about his ears. He has not the remotest chance of reaching his imaginary bait—God, nature, or truth; for to seek such things is to presuppose them, and to presuppose anything, if spirit be absolute, is to invent it. Even those philosophies of history which the idealist may for some secret reason be impelled to construct would be superstitious, according to his own principles, if he took them for more than poetic fictions of the historian; so that in the study of history, as in every other study, all the diligence and sober learning which the philosopher may possess are non-philosophical, since they presuppose independent events and material documents. Thus perfect idealism turns out to be pure literary sport, like lyric poetry, in which no truth is conveyed save the miscellaneous truths taken over from common sense or the special sciences; and the gay spirit, supposed to be living and shining of its own sweet will, can find nothing to live or shine upon save the common natural world.

Such at least would be the case if romantic superstition did not supervene, demanding that the spirit should impose some arbitrary rhythm or destiny on the world which it creates: but this side of idealism has been cultivated chiefly by the intrepid Germans: some of them, like Spengler and Keyserling, still thrive and grow famous on it without a blush. The modest English in these matters take shelter under the wing of science speculatively extended, or traditional religion prudently rationalised: the scope of the spirit, like its psychological distribution, is conceived realistically. It might almost prove an euthanasia for British idealism to lose itself in the new metaphysics of nature which the mathematicians are evolving; and since this metaphysics, though materialistic in effect, is more subtle and abstruse than popular materialism, British idealism might perhaps be said to survive in it, having now passed victoriously into its opposite, and being merged in something higher.

[10] Ethical Studies, by F.H. Bradley, O.M., LL.D. (Glasgow), late Fellow of Merton College, Oxford; second edition revised, with additional notes by the Author. Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1927.



III

REVOLUTIONS IN SCIENCE

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, science has gained notably in expertness, and lost notably in authority. We are bombarded with inventions; but if we ask the inventors what they have learned of the depths of nature, which somehow they have probed with such astonishing success, their faces remain blank. They may be chewing gum; or they may tell us that if an aeroplane could only fly fast enough, it would get home before it starts; or they may urge us to come with them into a dark room, to hold hands, and to commune with the dear departed.

Practically there may be no harm in such a division of labour, the inventors doing the work and the professors the talking. The experts may themselves be inexpert in verbal expression, or content with stock phrases, or profoundly sceptical, or too busy to think. Nevertheless, skill and understanding are at their best when they go together and adorn the same mind. Modern science until lately had realised this ideal: it was an extension of common perception and common sense. We could trust it implicitly, as we do a map or a calendar; it was not true for us merely in an argumentative or visionary sense, as are religion and philosophy. Geography went hand in hand with travel, Copernican astronomy with circumnavigation of the globe: and even the theory of evolution and the historical sciences in the nineteenth century were continuous with liberal reform: people saw in the past, as they then learned to conceive it, simply an extension of those transformations which they were witnessing in the present. They could think they knew the world as a man knows his native town, or the contents of his chest of drawers: nature was our home, and science was our home knowledge. For it is not intrinsic clearness or coherence that make ideas persuasive, but connection with action, or with some voluminous inner response, which is readiness to act. It is a sense of on-coming fate, a compulsion to do or to suffer, that produces the illusion of perfect knowledge.

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse