THE LIFE OF REASON
The Phases of Human Progress
In Five Volumes
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Dover Publication, Inc. New York
Volume I. REASON IN COMMON SENSE
Volume II. REASON IN SOCIETY
Volume III. REASON IN RELIGION
Volume IV. REASON IN ART
Volume V. REASON IN SCIENCE
REASON IN COMMON SENSE
Volume One of "The Life of Reason"
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This Dover edition, first published in 1980, is an unabridged republication of volume one of The Life of Reason; or the Phases of Human Progress, originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1905. This volume contains the general introduction to the entire five-volume series.
THE SUBJECT OF THIS WORK, ITS METHOD AND ANTECEDENTS Pages 1-32 Progress is relative to an ideal which reflection creates.—Efficacious reflection is reason.—The Life of Reason a name for all practical thought and all action justified by its fruits in consciousness.—- It is the sum of Art.—It has a natural basis which makes it definable.—Modern philosophy not helpful.—Positivism no positive ideal.—Christian philosophy mythical: it misrepresents facts and conditions.—Liberal theology a superstitious attitude toward a natural world.—The Greeks thought straight in both physics and morals.—Heraclitus and the immediate.—Democritus and the naturally intelligible.—Socrates and the autonomy of mind.—Plato gave the ideal its full expression.—Aristotle supplied its natural basis.—Philosophy thus complete, yet in need of restatement.—Plato's myths in lieu of physics.—Aristotle's final causes.—Modern science can avoid such expedients.—Transcendentalism true but inconsequential.—Verbal ethics.—Spinoza and the Life of Reason.—Modern and classic sources of inspiration
REASON IN COMMON SENSE
CHAPTER I—THE BIRTH OF REASON Pages 35-47 Existence always has an Order, called Chaos when incompatible with a chosen good.—Absolute order, or truth, is static, impotent, indifferent.—In experience order is relative to interests which determine the moral status of all powers.—The discovered conditions of reason not its beginning.—The flux first.—Life the fixation of interests.—Primary dualities.—First gropings.—Instinct the nucleus of reason.—Better and worse the fundamental categories
CHAPTER II—FIRST STEPS AND FIRST FLUCTUATIONS Pages 48-63 Dreams before thoughts.—The mind vegetates uncontrolled save by physical forces.—Internal order supervenes.—Intrinsic pleasure in existence.—Pleasure a good, but not pursued or remembered unless it suffuses an object.—Subhuman delights.—Animal living.—Causes at last discerned.—Attention guided by bodily impulse
CHAPTER III—THE DISCOVERY OF NATURAL OBJECTS Pages 64-83 Nature man's home.—Difficulties in conceiving nature.—Transcendental qualms.—Thought an aspect of life and transitive.—Perception cumulative and synthetic.—No identical agent needed.—Example of the sun.—His primitive divinity.—Causes and essences contrasted.—Voracity of intellect.—Can the transcendent be known?—Can the immediate be meant?—Is thought a bridge from sensation to sensation?—Mens naturaliter platonica.—Identity and independence predicated of things
CHAPTER IV—ON SOME CRITICS OF THIS DISCOVERY Pages 84-117 Psychology as a solvent.—Misconceived role of intelligence.—All criticism dogmatic.—A choice of hypotheses.—Critics disguised enthusiasts.—Hume's gratuitous scepticism.—Kant's substitute for knowledge.—False subjectivity attributed to reason.—Chimerical reconstruction.—The Critique a work on mental architecture.—Incoherences.—Nature the true system of conditions.—Artificial pathos in subjectivism.—Berkeley's algebra of perception.—Horror of physics.—Puerility in morals.—Truism and sophism.—Reality is the practical made intelligible.—Vain "realities" and trustworthy "fictions"
CHAPTER V—NATURE UNIFIED AND MIND DISCERNED Pages 118-136 Man's feeble grasp of nature.—Its unity ideal and discoverable only by steady thought.—Mind the erratic residue of existence.—Ghostly character of mind.—Hypostasis and criticism both need control.—Comparative constancy in objects and in ideas.—Spirit and sense defined by their relation to nature.—Vague notions of nature involve vague notions of spirit.—Sense and spirit the life of nature, which science redistributes but does not deny
CHAPTER VI—DISCOVERY OF FELLOW-MINDS Pages 137-160 Another background for current experience may be found in alien minds.—Two usual accounts of this conception criticised: analogy between bodies, and dramatic dialogue in the soul.—Subject and object empirical, not transcendental, terms.—Objects originally soaked in secondary and tertiary qualities.—Tertiary qualities transposed.—Imputed mind consists of the tertiary qualities of perceived body—"Pathetic fallacy" normal, yet ordinarily fallacious.—Case where it is not a fallacy.—Knowledge succeeds only by accident.—Limits of insight.—Perception of character.—Conduct divined, consciousness ignored.—Consciousness untrustworthy.—Metaphorical mind.—Summary
CHAPTER VII—CONCRETIONS IN DISCOURSE AND IN EXISTENCE Pages 161-183 So-called abstract qualities primary.—General qualities prior to particular things.—Universals are concretions in discourse.—Similar reactions, merged in one habit of reproduction, yield an idea.—Ideas are ideal.—So-called abstractions complete facts.—Things concretions of concretions.—Ideas prior in the order of knowledge, things in the order of nature.—Aristotle's compromise.—Empirical bias in favour of contiguity.—Artificial divorce of logic from practice.—Their mutual involution.—Rationalistic suicide.—Complementary character of essence and existence
CHAPTER VIII—ON THE RELATIVE VALUE OF THINGS AND IDEAS Pages 184-204 Moral tone of opinions derived from their logical principle.—Concretions in discourse express instinctive reactions.—Idealism rudimentary.—Naturalism sad.—The soul akin to the eternal and ideal.—Her inexperience.—Platonism spontaneous.—Its essential fidelity to the ideal.—Equal rights of empiricism.—Logic dependent on fact for its importance, and for its subsistence.—Reason and docility.—Applicable thought and clarified experience
CHAPTER IX—HOW THOUGHT IS PRACTICAL Pages 205-235 Functional relations of mind and body.—They form one natural life.—Artifices involved in separating them.—Consciousness expresses vital equilibrium and docility.—Its worthlessness as a cause and value as an expression.—Thought's march automatic and thereby implicated in events.—Contemplative essence of action.—Mechanical efficacy alien to thought's essence.—Consciousness transcendental and transcendent.—It is the seat of value.—Apparent utility of pain.—Its real impotence.—- Preformations involved.—Its untoward significance.—Perfect function not unconscious.—Inchoate ethics.—Thought the entelechy of being.—Its exuberance
CHAPTER X—THE MEASURE OF VALUES IN REFLECTION Pages 236-255 Honesty in hedonism.—Necessary qualifications.—The will must judge.—Injustice inherent in representation.—AEsthetic and speculative cruelty.—Imputed values: their inconstancy.—Methods of control.—Example of fame.—Disproportionate interest in the aesthetic.—Irrational religious allegiance.—Pathetic idealisations.—Inevitable impulsiveness in prophecy.—The test a controlled present ideal
CHAPTER XI—SOME ABSTRACT CONDITIONS OF THE IDEAL Pages 256-268 The ultimate end a resultant.—Demands the substance of ideals.—Discipline of the will.—Demands made practical and consistent.—The ideal natural.—Need of unity and finality.—Ideals of nothing.—Darwin on moral sense.—Conscience and reason compared.—Reason imposes no new sacrifice.—Natural goods attainable and compatible in principle.—Harmony the formal and intrinsic demand of reason
CHAPTER XII—FLUX AND CONSTANCY IN HUMAN NATURE Pages 269-291 Respectable tradition that human nature is fixed.—Contrary currents of opinion.—Pantheism.—Instability in existences does not dethrone their ideals.—Absolutist philosophy human and halting.—All science a deliverance of momentary thought.—All criticism likewise.—Origins inessential.—Ideals functional.—They are transferable to similar beings.—Authority internal.—Reason autonomous.—Its distribution.—Natural selection of minds.—Living stability.—Continuity necessary to progress.—Limits of variation. Spirit a heritage.—Perfectibility.—Nature and human nature.—Human nature formulated.—Its concrete description reserved for the sequel
Introduction to "The Life of Reason"
[Sidenote: Progress is relative to an ideal which reflection creates.]
Whatever forces may govern human life, if they are to be recognised by man, must betray themselves in human experience. Progress in science or religion, no less than in morals and art, is a dramatic episode in man's career, a welcome variation in his habit and state of mind; although this variation may often regard or propitiate things external, adjustment to which may be important for his welfare. The importance of these external things, as well as their existence, he can establish only by the function and utility which a recognition of them may have in his life. The entire history of progress is a moral drama, a tale man might unfold in a great autobiography, could his myriad heads and countless scintillas of consciousness conspire, like the seventy Alexandrian sages, in a single version of the truth committed to each for interpretation. What themes would prevail in such an examination of heart? In what order and with what emphasis would they be recounted? In which of its adventures would the human race, reviewing its whole experience, acknowledge a progress and a gain? To answer these questions, as they may be answered speculatively and provisionally by an individual, is the purpose of the following work.
[Sidenote: Efficacious reflection is reason.]
A philosopher could hardly have a higher ambition than to make himself a mouth-piece for the memory and judgment of his race. Yet the most casual consideration of affairs already involves an attempt to do the same thing. Reflection is pregnant from the beginning with all the principles of synthesis and valuation needed in the most comprehensive criticism. So soon as man ceases to be wholly immersed in sense, he looks before and after, he regrets and desires; and the moments in which prospect or retrospect takes place constitute the reflective or representative part of his life, in contrast to the unmitigated flux of sensations in which nothing ulterior is regarded. Representation, however, can hardly remain idle and merely speculative. To the ideal function of envisaging the absent, memory and reflection will add (since they exist and constitute a new complication in being) the practical function of modifying the future. Vital impulse, however, when it is modified by reflection and veers in sympathy with judgments pronounced on the past, is properly called reason. Man's rational life consists in those moments in which reflection not only occurs but proves efficacious. What is absent then works in the present, and values are imputed where they cannot be felt. Such representation is so far from being merely speculative that its presence alone can raise bodily change to the dignity of action. Reflection gathers experiences together and perceives their relative worth; which is as much as to say that it expresses a new attitude of will in the presence of a world better understood and turned to some purpose. The limits of reflection mark those of concerted and rational action; they circumscribe the field of cumulative experience, or, what is the same thing, of profitable living.
[Sidenote: The Life of Reason a name for all practical thought and all action justified by its fruits in consciousness.]
Thus if we use the word life in a eulogistic sense to designate the happy maintenance against the world of some definite ideal interest, we may say with Aristotle that life is reason in operation. The Life of Reason will then be a name for that part of experience which perceives and pursues ideals—all conduct so controlled and all sense so interpreted as to perfect natural happiness.
Without reason, as without memory, there might still be pleasures and pains in existence. To increase those pleasures and reduce those pains would be to introduce an improvement into the sentient world, as if a devil suddenly died in hell or in heaven a new angel were created. Since the beings, however, in which these values would reside, would, by hypothesis, know nothing of one another, and since the betterment would take place unprayed-for and unnoticed, it could hardly be called a progress; and certainly not a progress in man, since man, without the ideal continuity given by memory and reason, would have no moral being. In human progress, therefore, reason is not a casual instrument, having its sole value in its service to sense; such a betterment in sentience would not be progress unless it were a progress in reason, and the increasing pleasure revealed some object that could please; for without a picture of the situation from which a heightened vitality might flow, the improvement could be neither remembered nor measured nor desired. The Life of Reason is accordingly neither a mere means nor a mere incident in human progress; it is the total and embodied progress itself, in which the pleasures of sense are included in so far as they can be intelligently enjoyed and pursued. To recount man's rational moments would be to take an inventory of all his goods; for he is not himself (as we say with unconscious accuracy) in the others. If he ever appropriates them in recollection or prophecy, it is only on the ground of some physical relation which they may have to his being.
Reason is as old as man and as prevalent as human nature; for we should not recognise an animal to be human unless his instincts were to some degree conscious of their ends and rendered his ideas in that measure relevant to conduct. Many sensations, or even a whole world of dreams, do not amount to intelligence until the images in the mind begin to represent in some way, however symbolic, the forces and realities confronted in action. There may well be intense consciousness in the total absence of rationality. Such consciousness is suggested in dreams, in madness, and may be found, for all we know, in the depths of universal nature. Minds peopled only by desultory visions and lusts would not have the dignity of human souls even if they seemed to pursue certain objects unerringly; for that pursuit would not be illumined by any vision of its goal. Reason and humanity begin with the union of instinct and ideation, when instinct becomes enlightened, establishes values in its objects, and is turned from a process into an art, while at the same time consciousness becomes practical and cognitive, beginning to contain some symbol or record of the co-ordinate realities among which it arises.
Reason accordingly requires the fusion of two types of life, commonly led in the world in well-nigh total separation, one a life of impulse expressed in affairs and social passions, the other a life of reflection expressed in religion, science, and the imitative arts. In the Life of Reason, if it were brought to perfection, intelligence would be at once the universal method of practice and its continual reward. All reflection would then be applicable in action and all action fruitful in happiness. Though this be an ideal, yet everyone gives it from time to time a partial embodiment when he practises useful arts, when his passions happily lead him to enlightenment, or when his fancy breeds visions pertinent to his ultimate good. Everyone leads the Life of Reason in so far as he finds a steady light behind the world's glitter and a clear residuum of joy beneath pleasure or success. No experience not to be repented of falls without its sphere. Every solution to a doubt, in so far as it is not a new error, every practical achievement not neutralised by a second maladjustment consequent upon it, every consolation not the seed of another greater sorrow, may be gathered together and built into this edifice. The Life of Reason is the happy marriage of two elements—impulse and ideation—which if wholly divorced would reduce man to a brute or to a maniac. The rational animal is generated by the union of these two monsters. He is constituted by ideas which have ceased to be visionary and actions which have ceased to be vain.
[Sidenote: It is the sum of Art.]
Thus the Life of Reason is another name for what, in the widest sense of the word, might be called Art. Operations become arts when their purpose is conscious and their method teachable. In perfect art the whole idea is creative and exists only to be embodied, while every part of the product is rational and gives delightful expression to that idea. Like art, again, the Life of Reason is not a power but a result, the spontaneous expression of liberal genius in a favouring environment. Both art and reason have natural sources and meet with natural checks; but when a process is turned successfully into an art, so that its issues have value and the ideas that accompany it become practical and cognitive, reflection, finding little that it cannot in some way justify and understand, begins to boast that it directs and has created the world in which it finds itself so much at home. Thus if art could extend its sphere to include every activity in nature, reason, being everywhere exemplified, might easily think itself omnipotent. This ideal, far as it is from actual realisation, has so dazzled men, that in their religion and mythical philosophy they have often spoken as if it were already actual and efficient. This anticipation amounts, when taken seriously, to a confusion of purposes with facts and of functions with causes, a confusion which in the interests of wisdom and progress it is important to avoid; but these speculative fables, when we take them for what they are—poetic expressions of the ideal—help us to see how deeply rooted this ideal is in man's mind, and afford us a standard by which to measure his approaches to the rational perfection of which he dreams. For the Life of Reason, being the sphere of all human art, is man's imitation of divinity.
[Sidenote: It has a natural basis which makes it definable.]
To study such an ideal, dimly expressed though it be in human existence, is no prophetic or visionary undertaking. Every genuine ideal has a natural basis; anyone may understand and safely interpret it who is attentive to the life from which it springs. To decipher the Life of Reason nothing is needed but an analytic spirit and a judicious love of man, a love quick to distinguish success from failure in his great and confused experiment of living. The historian of reason should not be a romantic poet, vibrating impotently to every impulse he finds afoot, without a criterion of excellence or a vision of perfection. Ideals are free, but they are neither more numerous nor more variable than the living natures that generate them. Ideals are legitimate, and each initially envisages a genuine and innocent good; but they are not realisable together, nor even singly when they have no deep roots in the world. Neither is the philosopher compelled by his somewhat judicial office to be a satirist or censor, without sympathy for those tentative and ingenuous passions out of which, after all, his own standards must arise. He is the chronicler of human progress, and to measure that progress he should be equally attentive to the impulses that give it direction and to the circumstances amid which it stumbles toward its natural goal.
[Sidenote: Modern philosophy not helpful.]
There is unfortunately no school of modern philosophy to which a critique of human progress can well be attached. Almost every school, indeed, can furnish something useful to the critic, sometimes a physical theory, sometimes a piece of logical analysis. We shall need to borrow from current science and speculation the picture they draw of man's conditions and environment, his history and mental habits. These may furnish a theatre and properties for our drama; but they offer no hint of its plot and meaning. A great imaginative apathy has fallen on the mind. One-half the learned world is amused in tinkering obsolete armour, as Don Quixote did his helmet; deputing it, after a series of catastrophes, to be at last sound and invulnerable. The other half, the naturalists who have studied psychology and evolution, look at life from the outside, and the processes of Nature make them forget her uses. Bacon indeed had prized science for adding to the comforts of life, a function still commemorated by positivists in their eloquent moments. Habitually, however, when they utter the word progress it is, in their mouths, a synonym for inevitable change, or at best for change in that direction which they conceive to be on the whole predominant. If they combine with physical speculation some elements of morals, these are usually purely formal, to the effect that happiness is to be pursued (probably, alas! because to do so is a psychological law); but what happiness consists in we gather only from casual observations or by putting together their national prejudices and party saws.
[Sidenote: Positivism no positive ideal.]
The truth is that even this radical school, emancipated as it thinks itself, is suffering from the after-effects of supernaturalism. Like children escaped from school, they find their whole happiness in freedom. They are proud of what they have rejected, as if a great wit were required to do so; but they do not know what they want. If you astonish them by demanding what is their positive ideal, further than that there should be a great many people and that they should be all alike, they will say at first that what ought to be is obvious, and later they will submit the matter to a majority vote. They have discarded the machinery in which their ancestors embodied the ideal; they have not perceived that those symbols stood for the Life of Reason and gave fantastic and embarrassed expression to what, in itself, is pure humanity; and they have thus remained entangled in the colossal error that ideals are something adventitious and unmeaning, not having a soil in mortal life nor a possible fulfilment there.
[Sidenote: Christian philosophy mythical: it misrepresents facts and conditions.]
The profound and pathetic ideas which inspired Christianity were attached in the beginning to ancient myths and soon crystallised into many new ones. The mythical manner pervades Christian philosophy; but myth succeeds in expressing ideal life only by misrepresenting its history and conditions. This method was indeed not original with the Fathers; they borrowed it from Plato, who appealed to parables himself in an open and harmless fashion, yet with disastrous consequences to his school. Nor was he the first; for the instinct to regard poetic fictions as revelations of supernatural facts is as old as the soul's primitive incapacity to distinguish dreams from waking perceptions, sign from thing signified, and inner emotions from external powers. Such confusions, though in a way they obey moral forces, make a rational estimate of things impossible. To misrepresent the conditions and consequences of action is no merely speculative error; it involves a false emphasis in character and an artificial balance and co-ordination among human pursuits. When ideals are hypostasised into powers alleged to provide for their own expression, the Life of Reason cannot be conceived; in theory its field of operation is pre-empted and its function gone, while in practice its inner impulses are turned awry by artificial stimulation and repression.
The Patristic systems, though weak in their foundations, were extraordinarily wise and comprehensive in their working out; and while they inverted life they preserved it. Dogma added to the universe fabulous perspectives; it interpolated also innumerable incidents and powers which gave a new dimension to experience. Yet the old world remained standing in its strange setting, like the Pantheon in modern Rome; and, what is more important, the natural springs of human action were still acknowledged, and if a supernatural discipline was imposed, it was only because experience and faith had disclosed a situation in which the pursuit of earthly happiness seemed hopeless. Nature was not destroyed by its novel appendages, nor did reason die in the cloister: it hibernated there, and could come back to its own in due season, only a little dazed and weakened by its long confinement. Such, at least, is the situation in Catholic regions, where the Patristic philosophy has not appreciably varied. Among Protestants Christian dogma has taken a new and ambiguous direction, which has at once minimised its disturbing effect in practice and isolated its primary illusion. The symptoms have been cured and the disease driven in.
[Sidenote: Liberal theology a superstitious attitude toward a natural world.]
The tenets of Protestant bodies are notoriously varied and on principle subject to change. There is hardly a combination of tradition and spontaneity which has not been tried in some quarter. If we think, however, of broad tendencies and ultimate issues, it appears that in Protestantism myth, without disappearing, has changed its relation to reality: instead of being an extension to the natural world myth has become its substratum. Religion no longer reveals divine personalities, future rewards, and tenderer Elysian consolations; nor does it seriously propose a heaven to be reached by a ladder nor a purgatory to be shortened by prescribed devotions. It merely gives the real world an ideal status and teaches men to accept a natural life on supernatural grounds. The consequence is that the most pious can give an unvarnished description of things. Even immortality and the idea of God are submitted, in liberal circles, to scientific treatment. On the other hand, it would be hard to conceive a more inveterate obsession than that which keeps the attitude of these same minds inappropriate to the objects they envisage. They have accepted natural conditions; they will not accept natural ideals. The Life of Reason has no existence for them, because, although its field is clear, they will not tolerate any human or finite standard of value, and will not suffer extant interests, which can alone guide them in action or judgment, to define the worth of life.
The after-effects of Hebraism are here contrary to its foundations; for the Jews loved the world so much that they brought themselves, in order to win and enjoy it, to an intense concentration of purpose; but this effort and discipline, which had of course been mythically sanctioned, not only failed of its object, but grew far too absolute and sublime to think its object could ever have been earthly; and the supernatural machinery which was to have secured prosperity, while that still enticed, now had to furnish some worthier object for the passion it had artificially fostered. Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.
An earnestness which is out of proportion to any knowledge or love of real things, which is therefore dark and inward and thinks itself deeper than the earth's foundations—such an earnestness, until culture turns it into intelligent interests, will naturally breed a new mythology. It will try to place some world of Afrites and shadowy giants behind the constellations, which it finds too distinct and constant to be its companions or supporters; and it will assign to itself vague and infinite tasks, for which it is doubtless better equipped than for those which the earth now sets before it. Even these, however, since they are parts of an infinite whole, the mystic may (histrionically, perhaps, yet zealously) undertake; but as his eye will be perpetually fixed on something invisible beyond, and nothing will be done for its own sake or enjoyed in its own fugitive presence, there will be little art and little joy in existence. All will be a tossing servitude and illiberal mist, where the parts will have no final values and the whole no pertinent direction.
[Sidenote: The Greeks thought straight in both physics and morals.]
In Greek philosophy the situation is far more auspicious. The ancients led a rational life and envisaged the various spheres of speculation as men might whose central interests were rational. In physics they leaped at once to the conception of a dynamic unity and general evolution, thus giving that background to human life which shrewd observation would always have descried, and which modern science has laboriously rediscovered. Two great systems offered, in two legitimate directions, what are doubtless the final and radical accounts of physical being. Heraclitus, describing the immediate, found it to be in constant and pervasive change: no substances, no forms, no identities could be arrested there, but as in the human soul, so in nature, all was instability, contradiction, reconstruction, and oblivion. This remains the empirical fact; and we need but to rescind the artificial division which Descartes has taught us to make between nature and life, to feel again the absolute aptness of Heraclitus's expressions. These were thought obscure only because they were so disconcertingly penetrating and direct. The immediate is what nobody sees, because convention and reflection turn existence, as soon as they can, into ideas; a man who discloses the immediate seems profound, yet his depth is nothing but innocence recovered and a sort of intellectual abstention. Mysticism, scepticism, and transcendentalism have all in their various ways tried to fall back on the immediate; but none of them has been ingenuous enough. Each has added some myth, or sophistry, or delusive artifice to its direct observation. Heraclitus remains the honest prophet of immediacy: a mystic without raptures or bad rhetoric, a sceptic who does not rely for his results on conventions unwittingly adopted, a transcendentalist without false pretensions or incongruous dogmas.
[Sidenote: Heraclitus and the immediate.]
The immediate is not, however, a good subject for discourse, and the expounders of Heraclitus were not unnaturally blamed for monotony. All they could do was to iterate their master's maxim, and declare everything to be in flux. In suggesting laws of recurrence and a reason in which what is common to many might be expressed, Heraclitus had opened the door into another region: had he passed through, his philosophy would have been greatly modified, for permanent forms would have forced themselves on his attention no less than shifting materials. Such a Heraclitus would have anticipated Plato; but the time for such a synthesis had not yet arrived.
[Sidenote: Democritus and the naturally intelligible.]
At the opposite pole from immediacy lies intelligibility. To reduce phenomena to constant elements, as similar and simple as possible, and to conceive their union and separation to obey constant laws, is what a natural philosopher will inevitably do so soon as his interest is not merely to utter experience but to understand it. Democritus brought this scientific ideal to its ultimate expression. By including psychic existence in his atomic system, he indicated a problem which natural science has since practically abandoned but which it may some day be compelled to take up. The atoms of Democritus seem to us gross, even for chemistry, and their quality would have to undergo great transformation if they were to support intelligibly psychic being as well; but that very grossness and false simplicity had its merits, and science must be for ever grateful to the man who at its inception could so clearly formulate its mechanical ideal. That the world is not so intelligible as we could wish is not to be wondered at. In other respects also it fails to respond to our ideals; yet our hope must be to find it more propitious to the intellect as well as to all the arts in proportion as we learn better how to live in it.
The atoms of what we call hydrogen or oxygen may well turn out to be worlds, as the stars are which make atoms for astronomy. Their inner organisation might be negligible on our rude plane of being; did it disclose itself, however, it would be intelligible in its turn only if constant parts and constant laws were discernible within each system. So that while atomism at a given level may not be a final or metaphysical truth, it will describe, on every level, the practical and efficacious structure of the world. We owe to Democritus this ideal of practical intelligibility; and he is accordingly an eternal spokesman of reason. His system, long buried with other glories of the world, has been partly revived; and although it cannot be verified in haste, for it represents an ultimate ideal, every advance in science reconstitutes it in some particular. Mechanism is not one principle of explanation among others. In natural philosophy, where to explain means to discover origins, transmutations, and laws, mechanism is explanation itself.
Heraclitus had the good fortune of having his physics absorbed by Plato. It is a pity that Democritus' physics was not absorbed by Aristotle. For with the flux observed, and mechanism conceived to explain it, the theory of existence is complete; and had a complete physical theory been incorporated into the Socratic philosophy, wisdom would have lacked none of its parts. Democritus, however, appeared too late, when ideal science had overrun the whole field and initiated a verbal and dialectical physics; so that Aristotle, for all his scientific temper and studies, built his natural philosophy on a lamentable misunderstanding, and condemned thought to confusion for two thousand years.
[Sidenote: Socrates and the autonomy of mind.]
If the happy freedom of the Greeks from religious dogma made them the first natural philosophers, their happy political freedom made them the first moralists. It was no accident that Socrates walked the Athenian agora; it was no petty patriotism that made him shrink from any other scene. His science had its roots there, in the personal independence, intellectual vivacity, and clever dialectic of his countrymen. Ideal science lives in discourse; it consists in the active exercise of reason, in signification, appreciation, intent, and self-expression. Its sum total is to know oneself, not as psychology or anthropology might describe a man, but to know, as the saying is, one's own mind. Nor is he who knows his own mind forbidden to change it; the dialectician has nothing to do with future possibilities or with the opinion of anyone but the man addressed. This kind of truth is but adequate veracity; its only object is its own intent. Having developed in the spirit the consciousness of its meanings and purposes, Socrates rescued logic and ethics for ever from authority. With his friends the Sophists, he made man the measure of all things, after bidding him measure himself, as they neglected to do, by his own ideal. That brave humanity which had first raised its head in Hellas and had endowed so many things in heaven and earth, where everything was hitherto monstrous, with proportion and use, so that man's works might justify themselves to his mind, now found in Socrates its precise definition; and it was naturally where the Life of Reason had been long cultivated that it came finally to be conceived.
[Sidenote: Plato gave the ideal its full expression.]
Socrates had, however, a plebeian strain in his humanity, and his utilitarianism, at least in its expression, hardly did justice to what gives utility to life. His condemnation for atheism—if we choose to take it symbolically—was not altogether unjust: the gods of Greece were not honoured explicitly enough in his philosophy. Human good appeared there in its principle; you would not set a pilot to mend shoes, because you knew your own purpose; but what purposes a civilised soul might harbour, and in what highest shapes the good might appear, was a problem that seems not to have attracted his genius. It was reserved to Plato to bring the Socratic ethics to its sublimest expression and to elicit from the depths of the Greek conscience those ancestral ideals which had inspired its legislators and been embodied in its sacred civic traditions. The owl of Minerva flew, as Hegel says, in the dusk of evening; and it was horror at the abandonment of all creative virtues that brought Plato to conceive them so sharply and to preach them in so sad a tone. It was after all but the love of beauty that made him censure the poets; for like a true Greek and a true lover he wished to see beauty flourish in the real world. It was love of freedom that made him harsh to his ideal citizens, that they might be strong enough to preserve the liberal life. And when he broke away from political preoccupations and turned to the inner life, his interpretations proved the absolute sufficiency of the Socratic method; and he left nothing pertinent unsaid on ideal love and ideal immortality.
[Sidenote: Aristotle supplied its natural basis.]
Beyond this point no rendering of the Life of Reason has ever been carried, Aristotle improved the detail, and gave breadth and precision to many a part. If Plato possessed greater imaginative splendour and more enthusiasm in austerity, Aristotle had perfect sobriety and adequacy, with greater fidelity to the common sentiments of his race. Plato, by virtue of his scope and plasticity, together with a certain prophetic zeal, outran at times the limits of the Hellenic and the rational; he saw human virtue so surrounded and oppressed by physical dangers that he wished to give it mythical sanctions, and his fondness for transmigration and nether punishments was somewhat more than playful. If as a work of imagination his philosophy holds the first place, Aristotle's has the decisive advantage of being the unalloyed expression of reason. In Aristotle the conception of human nature is perfectly sound; everything ideal has a natural basis and everything natural an ideal development. His ethics, when thoroughly digested and weighed, especially when the meagre outlines are filled in with Plato's more discursive expositions, will seem therefore entirely final. The Life of Reason finds there its classic explication.
[Sidenote: Philosophy thus complete, yet in need of restatement.]
As it is improbable that there will soon be another people so free from preoccupations, so gifted, and so fortunate as the Greeks, or capable in consequence of so well exemplifying humanity, so also it is improbable that a philosopher will soon arise with Aristotle's scope, judgment, or authority, one knowing so well how to be both reasonable and exalted. It might seem vain, therefore, to try to do afresh what has been done before with unapproachable success; and instead of writing inferior things at great length about the Life of Reason, it might be simpler to read and to propagate what Aristotle wrote with such immortal justness and masterly brevity. But times change; and though the principles of reason remain the same the facts of human life and of human conscience alter. A new background, a new basis of application, appears for logic, and it may be useful to restate old truths in new words, the better to prove their eternal validity. Aristotle is, in his morals, Greek, concise, and elementary. As a Greek, he mixes with the ideal argument illustrations, appreciations, and conceptions which are not inseparable from its essence. In themselves, no doubt, these accessories are better than what in modern times would be substituted for them, being less sophisticated and of a nobler stamp; but to our eyes they disguise what is profound and universal in natural morality by embodying it in images which do not belong to our life. Our direst struggles and the last sanctions of our morality do not appear in them. The pagan world, because its maturity was simpler than our crudeness, seems childish to us. We do not find there our sins and holiness, our love, charity, and honour.
The Greek too would not find in our world the things he valued most, things to which he surrendered himself, perhaps, with a more constant self-sacrifice—piety, country, friendship, and beauty; and he might add that his ideals were rational and he could attain them, while ours are extravagant and have been missed. Yet even if we acknowledged his greater good fortune, it would be impossible for us to go back and become like him. To make the attempt would show no sense of reality and little sense of humour. We must dress in our own clothes, if we do not wish to substitute a masquerade for practical existence. What we can adopt from Greek morals is only the abstract principle of their development; their foundation in all the extant forces of human nature and their effort toward establishing a perfect harmony among them. These forces themselves have perceptibly changed, at least in their relative power. Thus we are more conscious of wounds to stanch and wrongs to fight against, and less of goods to attain. The movement of conscience has veered; the centre of gravity lies in another part of the character.
Another circumstance that invites a restatement of rational ethics is the impressive illustration of their principle which subsequent history has afforded. Mankind has been making extraordinary experiments of which Aristotle could not dream; and their result is calculated to clarify even his philosophy. For in some respects it needed experiments and clarification. He had been led into a systematic fusion of dialectic with physics, and of this fusion all pretentious modern philosophy is the aggravated extension. Socrates' pupils could not abandon his ideal principles, yet they could not bear to abstain from physics altogether; they therefore made a mock physics in moral terms, out of which theology was afterward developed. Plato, standing nearer to Socrates and being no naturalist by disposition, never carried the fatal experiment beyond the mythical stage. He accordingly remained the purer moralist, much as Aristotle's judgment may be preferred in many particulars. Their relative position may be roughly indicated by saying that Plato had no physics and that Aristotle's physics was false; so that ideal science in the one suffered from want of environment and control, while in the other it suffered from misuse in a sphere where it had no application.
[Sidenote: Plato's myths in lieu of physics.]
What had happened was briefly this: Plato, having studied many sorts of philosophy and being a bold and universal genius, was not satisfied to leave all physical questions pending, as his master had done. He adopted, accordingly, Heraclitus's doctrine of the immediate, which he now called the realm of phenomena; for what exists at any instant, if you arrest and name it, turns out to have been an embodiment of some logical essence, such as discourse might define; in every fact some idea makes its appearance, and such an apparition of the ideal is a phenomenon. Moreover, another philosophy had made a deep impression on Plato's mind and had helped to develop Socratic definitions: Parmenides had called the concept of pure Being the only reality; and to satisfy the strong dialectic by which this doctrine was supported and at the same time to bridge the infinite chasm between one formless substance and many appearances irrelevant to it, Plato substituted the many Socratic ideas, all of which were relevant to appearance, for the one concept of Parmenides. The ideas thus acquired what is called metaphysical subsistence; for they stood in the place of the Eleatic Absolute, and at the same time were the realities that phenomena manifested.
The technique of this combination is much to be admired; but the feat is technical and adds nothing to the significance of what Plato has to say on any concrete subject. This barren triumph was, however, fruitful in misunderstandings. The characters and values a thing possessed were now conceived to subsist apart from it, and might even have preceded it and caused its existence; a mechanism composed of values and definitions could thus be placed behind phenomena to constitute a substantial physical world. Such a dream could not be taken seriously, until good sense was wholly lost and a bevy of magic spirits could be imagined peopling the infinite and yet carrying on the business of earth. Aristotle rejected the metaphysical subsistence of ideas, but thought they might still be essences operative in nature, if only they were identified with the life or form of particular things. The dream thus lost its frank wildness, but none of its inherent incongruity: for the sense in which characters and values make a thing what it is, is purely dialectical. They give it its status in the ideal world; but the appearance of these characters and values here and now is what needs explanation in physics, an explanation which can be furnished, of course, only by the physical concatenation and distribution of causes.
[Sidenote: Aristotle's final causes. Modern science can avoid such expedients.]
Aristotle himself did not fail to Aristotle's make this necessary distinction between efficient cause and formal essence; but as his science was only natural history, and mechanism had no plausibility in his eyes, the efficiency of the cause was always due, in his view, to its ideal quality; as in heredity the father's human character, not his physical structure, might seem to warrant the son's humanity. Every ideal, before it could be embodied, had to pre-exist in some other embodiment; but as when the ultimate purpose of the cosmos is considered it seems to lie beyond any given embodiment, the highest ideal must somehow exist disembodied. It must pre-exist, thought Aristotle, in order to supply, by way of magic attraction, a physical cause for perpetual movement in the world.
It must be confessed, in justice to this consummate philosopher, who is not less masterly in the use of knowledge than unhappy in divination, that the transformation of the highest good into a physical power is merely incidental with him, and due to a want of faith (at that time excusable) in mechanism and evolution. Aristotle's deity is always a moral ideal and every detail in its definition is based on discrimination between the better and the worse. No accommodation to the ways of nature is here allowed to cloud the kingdom of heaven; this deity is not condemned to do whatever happens nor to absorb whatever exists. It is mythical only in its physical application; in moral philosophy it remains a legitimate conception.
Truth certainly exists, if existence be not too mean an attribute for that eternal realm which is tenanted by ideals; but truth is repugnant to physical or psychical being. Moreover, truth may very well be identified with an impassible intellect, which should do nothing but possess all truth, with no point of view, no animal warmth, and no transitive process. Such an intellect and truth are expressions having a different metaphorical background and connotation, but, when thought out, an identical import. They both attempt to evoke that ideal standard which human thought proposes to itself. This function is their effective essence. It insures their eternal fixity, and this property surely endows them with a very genuine and sublime reality. What is fantastic is only the dynamic function attributed to them by Aristotle, which obliges them to inhabit some fabulous extension to the physical world. Even this physical efficacy, however, is spiritualised as much as possible, since deity is said to move the cosmos only as an object of love or an object of knowledge may move the mind. Such efficacy is imputed to a hypostasised end, but evidently resides in fact in the functioning and impulsive spirit that conceives and pursues an ideal, endowing it with whatever attraction it may seem to have. The absolute intellect described by Aristotle remains, therefore, as pertinent to the Life of Reason as Plato's idea of the good. Though less comprehensive (for it abstracts from all animal interests, from all passion and mortality), it is more adequate and distinct in the region it dominates. It expresses sublimely the goal of speculative thinking; which is none other than to live as much as may be in the eternal and to absorb and be absorbed in the truth.
The rest of ancient philosophy belongs to the decadence and rests in physics on eclecticism and in morals on despair. That creative breath which had stirred the founders and legislators of Greece no longer inspired their descendants. Helpless to control the course of events, they took refuge in abstention or in conformity, and their ethics became a matter of private economy and sentiment, no longer aspiring to mould the state or give any positive aim to existence. The time was approaching when both speculation and morals were to regard the other world; reason had abdicated the throne, and religion, after that brief interregnum, resumed it for long ages.
[Sidenote: Transcendentalism true but inconsequential.]
Such are the threads which tradition puts into the hands of an observer who at the present time might attempt to knit the Life of Reason ideally together. The problem is to unite a trustworthy conception of the conditions under which man lives with an adequate conception of his interests. Both conceptions, fortunately, lie before us. Heraclitus and Democritus, in systems easily seen to be complementary, gave long ago a picture of nature such as all later observation, down to our own day, has done nothing but fill out and confirm. Psychology and physics still repeat their ideas, often with richer detail, but never with a more radical or prophetic glance. Nor does the transcendental philosophy, in spite of its self-esteem, add anything essential. It was a thing taken for granted in ancient and scholastic philosophy that a being dwelling, like man, in the immediate, whose moments are in flux, needed constructive reason to interpret his experience and paint in his unstable consciousness some symbolic picture of the world. To have reverted to this constructive process and studied its stages is an interesting achievement; but the construction is already made by common-sense and science, and it was visionary insolence in the Germans to propose to make that construction otherwise. Retrospective self-consciousness is dearly bought if it inhibits the intellect and embarrasses the inferences which, in its spontaneous operation, it has known perfectly how to make. In the heat of scientific theorising or dialectical argument it is sometimes salutary to be reminded that we are men thinking; but, after all, it is no news. We know that life is a dream, and how should thinking be more? Yet the thinking must go on, and the only vital question is to what practical or poetic conceptions it is able to lead us.
[Sidenote: Verbal ethics.]
Similarly the Socratic philosophy affords a noble and genuine account of what goods may be realised by living. Modern theory has not done so much to help us here, however, as it has in physics. It seldom occurs to modern moralists that theirs is the science of all good and the art of its attainment; they think only of some set of categorical precepts or some theory of moral sentiments, abstracting altogether from the ideals reigning in society, in science, and in art. They deal with the secondary question What ought I to do? without having answered the primary question, What ought to be? They attach morals to religion rather than to politics, and this religion unhappily long ago ceased to be wisdom expressed in fancy in order to become superstition overlaid with reasoning. They divide man into compartments and the less they leave in the one labelled "morality" the more sublime they think their morality is; and sometimes pedantry and scholasticism are carried so far that nothing but an abstract sense of duty remains in the broad region which should contain all human goods.
[Sidenote: Spinoza and the Life of Reason.]
Such trivial sanctimony in morals is doubtless due to artificial views about the conditions of welfare; the basis is laid in authority rather than in human nature, and the goal in salvation rather than in happiness. One great modern philosopher, however, was free from these preconceptions, and might have reconstituted the Life of Reason had he had a sufficient interest in culture. Spinoza brought man back into nature, and made him the nucleus of all moral values, showing how he may recognise his environment and how he may master it. But Spinoza's sympathy with mankind fell short of imagination; any noble political or poetical ideal eluded him. Everything impassioned seemed to him insane, everything human necessarily petty. Man was to be a pious tame animal, with the stars shining above his head. Instead of imagination Spinoza cultivated mysticism, which is indeed an alternative. A prophet in speculation, he remained a levite in sentiment. Little or nothing would need to be changed in his system if the Life of Reason, in its higher ranges, were to be grafted upon it; but such affiliation is not necessary, and it is rendered unnatural by the lack of sweep and generosity in Spinoza's practical ideals.
[Sidenote: Modern and classic sources of inspiration.]
For moral philosophy we are driven back, then, upon the ancients; but not, of course, for moral inspiration. Industrialism and democracy, the French Revolution, the Renaissance, and even the Catholic system, which in the midst of ancient illusions enshrines so much tenderness and wisdom, still live in the world, though forgotten by philosophers, and point unmistakably toward their several goals. Our task is not to construct but only to interpret ideals, confronting them with one another and with the conditions which, for the most part, they alike ignore. There is no need of refuting anything, for the will which is behind all ideals and behind most dogmas cannot itself be refuted; but it may be enlightened and led to reconsider its intent, when its satisfaction is seen to be either naturally impossible or inconsistent with better things. The age of controversy is past; that of interpretation has succeeded.
Here, then, is the programme of the following work: Starting with the immediate flux, in which all objects and impulses are given, to describe the Life of Reason; that is, to note what facts and purposes seem to be primary, to show how the conception of nature and life gathers around them, and to point to the ideals of thought and action which are approached by this gradual mastering of experience by reason. A great task, which it would be beyond the powers of a writer in this age either to execute or to conceive, had not the Greeks drawn for us the outlines of an ideal culture at a time when life was simpler than at present and individual intelligence more resolute and free.
REASON IN COMMON SENSE
CHAPTER I—THE BIRTH OF REASON
[Sidenote: Existence always has an Order, called Chaos when incompatible with a chosen good.]
Whether Chaos or Order lay at the beginning of things is a question once much debated in the schools but afterward long in abeyance, not so much because it had been solved as because one party had been silenced by social pressure. The question is bound to recur in an age when observation and dialectic again freely confront each other. Naturalists look back to chaos since they observe everything growing from seeds and shifting its character in regeneration. The order now established in the world may be traced back to a situation in which it did not appear. Dialecticians, on the other hand, refute this presumption by urging that every collocation of things must have been preceded by another collocation in itself no less definite and precise; and further that some principle of transition or continuity must always have obtained, else successive states would stand in no relation to one another, notably not in the relation of cause and effect, expressed in a natural law, which is presupposed in this instance. Potentialities are dispositions, and a disposition involves an order, as does also the passage from any specific potentiality into act. Thus the world, we are told, must always have possessed a structure.
The two views may perhaps be reconciled if we take each with a qualification. Chaos doubtless has existed and will return—nay, it reigns now, very likely, in the remoter and inmost parts of the universe—if by chaos we understand a nature containing none of the objects we are wont to distinguish, a nature such that human life and human thought would be impossible in its bosom; but this nature must be presumed to have an order, an order directly importing, if the tendency of its movement be taken into account, all the complexities and beauties, all the sense and reason which exist now. Order is accordingly continual; but only when order means not a specific arrangement, favourable to a given form of life, but any arrangement whatsoever. The process by which an arrangement which is essentially unstable gradually shifts cannot be said to aim at every stage which at any moment it involves. For the process passes beyond. It presently abolishes all the forms which may have arrested attention and generated love; its initial energy defeats every purpose which we may fondly attribute to it. Nor is it here necessary to remind ourselves that to call results their own causes is always preposterous; for in this case even the mythical sense which might be attached to such language is inapplicable. Here the process, taken in the gross, does not, even by mechanical necessity, support the value which is supposed to guide it. That value is realised for a moment only; so that if we impute to Cronos any intent to beget his children we must also impute to him an intent to devour them.
[Sidenote: Absolute order, or truth, is static, impotent, indifferent.]
Of course the various states of the world, when we survey them retrospectively, constitute another and now static order called historic truth. To this absolute and impotent order every detail is essential. If we wished to abuse language so much as to speak of will in an "Absolute" where change is excluded, so that nothing can be or be conceived beyond it, we might say that the Absolute willed everything that ever exists, and that the eternal order terminated in every fact indiscriminately; but such language involves an after-image of motion and life, of preparation, risk, and subsequent accomplishment, adventures all pre-supposing refractory materials and excluded from eternal truth by its very essence. The only function those traditional metaphors have is to shield confusion and sentimentality. Because Jehovah once fought for the Jews, we need not continue to say that the truth is solicitous about us, when it is only we that are fighting to attain it. The universe can wish particular things only in so far as particular beings wish them; only in its relative capacity can it find things good, and only in its relative capacity can it be good for anything.
The efficacious or physical order which exists at any moment in the world and out of which the next moment's order is developed, may accordingly be termed a relative chaos: a chaos, because the values suggested and supported by the second moment could not have belonged to the first; but merely a relative chaos, first because it probably carried values of its own which rendered it an order in a moral and eulogistic sense, and secondly because it was potentially, by virtue of its momentum, a basis for the second moment's values as well.
[Sidenote: In experience order is relative to interests, which determine the moral status of all powers.]
Human life, when it begins to possess intrinsic value, is an incipient order in the midst of what seems a vast though, to some extent, a vanishing chaos. This reputed chaos can be deciphered and appreciated by man only in proportion as the order in himself is confirmed and extended. For man's consciousness is evidently practical; it clings to his fate, registers, so to speak, the higher and lower temperature of his fortunes, and, so far as it can, represents the agencies on which those fortunes depend. When this dramatic vocation of consciousness has not been fulfilled at all, consciousness is wholly confused; the world it envisages seems consequently a chaos. Later, if experience has fallen into shape, and there are settled categories and constant objects in human discourse, the inference is drawn that the original disposition of things was also orderly and indeed mechanically conducive to just those feats of instinct and intelligence which have been since accomplished. A theory of origins, of substance, and of natural laws may thus be framed and accepted, and may receive confirmation in the further march of events. It will be observed, however, that what is credibly asserted about the past is not a report which the past was itself able to make when it existed nor one it is now able, in some oracular fashion, to formulate and to impose upon us. The report is a rational construction based and seated in present experience; it has no cogency for the inattentive and no existence for the ignorant. Although the universe, then, may not have come from chaos, human experience certainly has begun in a private and dreamful chaos of its own, out of which it still only partially and momentarily emerges. The history of this awakening is of course not the same as that of the environing world ultimately discovered; it is the history, however, of that discovery itself, of the knowledge through which alone the world can be revealed. We may accordingly dispense ourselves from preliminary courtesies to the real universal order, nature, the absolute, and the gods. We shall make their acquaintance in due season and better appreciate their moral status, if we strive merely to recall our own experience, and to retrace the visions and reflections out of which those apparitions have grown.
[Sidenote: The discovered conditions of reason not its beginning.]
To revert to primordial feeling is an exercise in mental disintegration, not a feat of science. We might, indeed, as in animal psychology, retrace the situations in which instinct and sense seem first to appear and write, as it were, a genealogy of reason based on circumstantial evidence. Reason was born, as it has since discovered, into a world already wonderfully organised, in which it found its precursor in what is called life, its seat in an animal body of unusual plasticity, and its function in rendering that body's volatile instincts and sensations harmonious with one another and with the outer world on which they depend. It did not arise until the will or conscious stress, by which any modification of living bodies' inertia seems to be accompanied, began to respond to represented objects, and to maintain that inertia not absolutely by resistance but only relatively and indirectly through labour. Reason has thus supervened at the last stage of an adaptation which had long been carried on by irrational and even unconscious processes. Nature preceded, with all that fixation of impulses and conditions which gives reason its tasks and its point-d'appui. Nevertheless, such a matrix or cradle for reason belongs only externally to its life. The description of conditions involves their previous discovery and a historian equipped with many data and many analogies of thought. Such scientific resources are absent in those first moments of rational living which we here wish to recall; the first chapter in reason's memoirs would no more entail the description of its real environment than the first chapter in human history would include true accounts of astronomy, psychology, and animal evolution.
[Sidenote: The flux first.]
In order to begin at the beginning we must try to fall back on uninterpreted feeling, as the mystics aspire to do. We need not expect, however, to find peace there, for the immediate is in flux. Pure feeling rejoices in a logical nonentity very deceptive to dialectical minds. They often think, when they fall back on elements necessarily indescribable, that they have come upon true nothingness. If they are mystics, distrusting thought and craving the largeness of indistinction, they may embrace this alleged nothingness with joy, even if it seem positively painful, hoping to find rest there through self-abnegation. If on the contrary they are rationalists they may reject the immediate with scorn and deny that it exists at all, since in their books they cannot define it satisfactorily. Both mystics and rationalists, however, are deceived by their mental agility; the immediate exists, even if dialectic cannot explain it. What the rationalist calls nonentity is the substrate and locus of all ideas, having the obstinate reality of matter, the crushing irrationality of existence itself; and one who attempts to override it becomes to that extent an irrelevant rhapsodist, dealing with thin after-images of being. Nor has the mystic who sinks into the immediate much better appreciated the situation. This immediate is not God but chaos; its nothingness is pregnant, restless, and brutish; it is that from which all things emerge in so far as they have any permanence or value, so that to lapse into it again is a dull suicide and no salvation. Peace, which is after all what the mystic seeks, lies not in indistinction but in perfection. If he reaches it in a measure himself, it is by the traditional discipline he still practises, not by his heats or his languors.
The seed-bed of reason lies, then, in the immediate, but what reason draws thence is momentum and power to rise above its source. It is the perturbed immediate itself that finds or at least seeks its peace in reason, through which it comes in sight of some sort of ideal permanence. When the flux manages to form an eddy and to maintain by breathing and nutrition what we call a life, it affords some slight foothold and object for thought and becomes in a measure like the ark in the desert, a moving habitation for the eternal.
[Sidenote: Life the fixation of interests.]
Life begins to have some value and continuity so soon as there is something definite that lives and something definite to live for. The primacy of will, as Fichte and Schopenhauer conceived it, is a mythical way of designating this situation. Of course a will can have no being in the absence of realities or ideas marking its direction and contrasting the eventualities it seeks with those it flies from; and tendency, no less than movement, needs an organised medium to make it possible, while aspiration and fear involve an ideal world. Yet a principle of choice is not deducible from mere ideas, and no interest is involved in the formal relations of things. All survey needs an arbitrary starting-point; all valuation rests on an irrational bias. The absolute flux cannot be physically arrested; but what arrests it ideally is the fixing of some point in it from which it can be measured and illumined. Otherwise it could show no form and maintain no preference; it would be impossible to approach or recede from a represented state, and to suffer or to exert will in view of events. The irrational fate that lodges the transcendental self in this or that body, inspires it with definite passions, and subjects it to particular buffets from the outer world—this is the prime condition of all observation and inference, of all failure or success.
[Sidenote: Primary dualities.]
Those sensations in which a transition is contained need only analysis to yield two ideal and related terms—two points in space or two characters in feeling. Hot and cold, here and there, good and bad, now and then, are dyads that spring into being when the flux accentuates some term and so makes possible a discrimination of parts and directions in its own movement. An initial attitude sustains incipient interests. What we first discover in ourselves, before the influence we obey has given rise to any definite idea, is the working of instincts already in motion. Impulses to appropriate and to reject first teach us the points of the compass, and space itself, like charity, begins at home.
[Sidenote: First gropings. Instinct the nucleus of reason.]
The guide in early sensuous education is the same that conducts the whole Life of Reason, namely, impulse checked by experiment, and experiment judged again by impulse. What teaches the child to distinguish the nurse's breast from sundry blank or disquieting presences? What induces him to arrest that image, to mark its associates, and to recognise them with alacrity? The discomfort of its absence and the comfort of its possession. To that image is attached the chief satisfaction he knows, and the force of that satisfaction disentangles it before all other images from the feeble and fluid continuum of his life. What first awakens in him a sense of reality is what first is able to appease his unrest.
Had the group of feelings, now welded together in fruition, found no instinct in him to awaken and become a signal for, the group would never have persisted; its loose elements would have been allowed to pass by unnoticed and would not have been recognised when they recurred. Experience would have remained absolute inexperience, as foolishly perpetual as the gurglings of rivers or the flickerings of sunlight in a grove. But an instinct was actually present, so formed as to be aroused by a determinate stimulus; and the image produced by that stimulus, when it came, could have in consequence a meaning and an individuality. It seemed by divine right to signify something interesting, something real, because by natural contiguity it flowed from something pertinent and important to life. Every accompanying sensation which shared that privilege, or in time was engrossed in that function, would ultimately become a part of that conceived reality, a quality of that thing.
The same primacy of impulses, irrational in themselves but expressive of bodily functions, is observable in the behaviour of animals, and in those dreams, obsessions, and primary passions which in the midst of sophisticated life sometimes lay bare the obscure groundwork of human nature. Reason's work is there undone. We can observe sporadic growths, disjointed fragments of rationality, springing up in a moral wilderness. In the passion of love, for instance, a cause unknown to the sufferer, but which is doubtless the spring-flood of hereditary instincts accidentally let loose, suddenly checks the young man's gayety, dispels his random curiosity, arrests perhaps his very breath; and when he looks for a cause to explain his suspended faculties, he can find it only in the presence or image of another being, of whose character, possibly, he knows nothing and whose beauty may not be remarkable; yet that image pursues him everywhere, and he is dominated by an unaccustomed tragic earnestness and a new capacity for suffering and joy. If the passion be strong there is no previous interest or duty that will be remembered before it; if it be lasting the whole life may be reorganised by it; it may impose new habits, other manners, and another religion. Yet what is the root of all this idealism? An irrational instinct, normally intermittent, such as all dumb creatures share, which has here managed to dominate a human soul and to enlist all the mental powers in its more or less permanent service, upsetting their usual equilibrium. This madness, however, inspires method; and for the first time, perhaps, in his life, the man has something to live for. The blind affinity that like a magnet draws all the faculties around it, in so uniting them, suffuses them with an unwonted spiritual light.
[Sidenote: Better and worse the fundamental categories.]
Here, on a small scale and on a precarious foundation, we may see clearly illustrated and foreshadowed that Life of Reason which is simply the unity given to all existence by a mind in love with the good. In the higher reaches of human nature, as much as in the lower, rationality depends on distinguishing the excellent; and that distinction can be made, in the last analysis, only by an irrational impulse. As life is a better form given to force, by which the universal flux is subdued to create and serve a somewhat permanent interest, so reason is a better form given to interest itself, by which it is fortified and propagated, and ultimately, perhaps, assured of satisfaction. The substance to which this form is given remains irrational; so that rationality, like all excellence, is something secondary and relative, requiring a natural being to possess or to impute it. When definite interests are recognised and the values of things are estimated by that standard, action at the same time veering in harmony with that estimation, then reason has been born and a moral world has arisen.
CHAPTER II—FIRST STEPS AND FIRST FLUCTUATIONS
[Sidenote: Dreams before thoughts.]
Consciousness is a born hermit. Though subject, by divine dispensation, to spells of fervour and apathy, like a singing bird, it is at first quite unconcerned about its own conditions or maintenance. To acquire a notion of such matters, or an interest in them, it would have to lose its hearty simplicity and begin to reflect; it would have to forget the present with its instant joys in order laboriously to conceive the absent and the hypothetical. The body may be said to make for self-preservation, since it has an organic equilibrium which, when not too rudely disturbed, restores itself by growth and co-operative action; but no such principle appears in the soul. Foolish in the beginning and generous in the end, consciousness thinks of nothing so little as of its own interests. It is lost in its objects; nor would it ever acquire even an indirect concern in its future, did not love of things external attach it to their fortunes. Attachment to ideal terms is indeed what gives consciousness its continuity; its parts have no relevance or relation to one another save what they acquire by depending on the same body or representing the same objects. Even when consciousness grows sophisticated and thinks it cares for itself, it really cares only for its ideals; the world it pictures seems to it beautiful, and it may incidentally prize itself also, when it has come to regard itself as a part of that world. Initially, however, it is free even from that honest selfishness; it looks straight out; it is interested in the movements it observes; it swells with the represented world, suffers with its commotion, and subsides, no less willingly, in its interludes of calm.
Natural history and psychology arrive at consciousness from the outside, and consequently give it an artificial articulation and rationality which are wholly alien to its essence. These sciences infer feeling from habit or expression; so that only the expressible and practical aspects of feeling figure in their calculation. But these aspects are really peripheral; the core is an irresponsible, ungoverned, irrevocable dream. Psychologists have discussed perception ad nauseam and become horribly entangled in a combined idealism and physiology; for they must perforce approach the subject from the side of matter, since all science and all evidence is external; nor could they ever reach consciousness at all if they did not observe its occasions and then interpret those occasions dramatically. At the same time, the inferred mind they subject to examination will yield nothing but ideas, and it is a marvel how such a dream can regard those natural objects from which the psychologist has inferred it. Perception is in fact no primary phase of consciousness; it is an ulterior practical function acquired by a dream which has become symbolic of its conditions, and therefore relevant to its own destiny. Such relevance and symbolism are indirect and slowly acquired; their status cannot be understood unless we regard them as forms of imagination happily grown significant. In imagination, not in perception, lies the substance of experience, while knowledge and reason are but its chastened and ultimate form.
[Sidenote: The mind vegetates uncontrolled save by physical forces.]
Every actual animal is somewhat dull and somewhat mad. He will at times miss his signals and stare vacantly when he might well act, while at other times he will run off into convulsions and raise a dust in his own brain to no purpose. These imperfections are so human that we should hardly recognise ourselves if we could shake them off altogether. Not to retain any dulness would mean to possess untiring attention and universal interests, thus realising the boast about deeming nothing human alien to us; while to be absolutely without folly would involve perfect self-knowledge and self-control. The intelligent man known to history nourishes within a dullard and holds a lunatic in leash. He is encased in a protective shell of ignorance and insensibility which keeps him from being exhausted and confused by this too complicated world; but that integument blinds him at the same time to many of his nearest and highest interests. He is amused by the antics of the brute dreaming within his breast; he gloats on his passionate reveries, an amusement which sometimes costs him very dear. Thus the best human intelligence is still decidedly barbarous; it fights in heavy armour and keeps a fool at court.
[Sidenote: Internal order supervenes.]
If consciousness could ever have the function of guiding conduct better than instinct can, in the beginning it would be most incompetent for that office. Only the routine and equilibrium which healthy instinct involves keep thought and will at all within the limits of sanity. The predetermined interests we have as animals fortunately focus our attention on practical things, pulling it back, like a ball with an elastic cord, within the radius of pertinent matters. Instinct alone compels us to neglect and seldom to recall the irrelevant infinity of ideas. Philosophers have sometimes said that all ideas come from experience; they never could have been poets and must have forgotten that they were ever children. The great difficulty in education is to get experience out of ideas. Shame, conscience, and reason continually disallow and ignore what consciousness presents; and what are they but habit and latent instinct asserting themselves and forcing us to disregard our midsummer madness? Idiocy and lunacy are merely reversions to a condition in which present consciousness is in the ascendant and has escaped the control of unconscious forces. We speak of people being "out of their senses," when they have in fact fallen back into them; or of those who have "lost their mind," when they have lost merely that habitual control over consciousness which prevented it from flaring into all sorts of obsessions and agonies. Their bodies having become deranged, their minds, far from correcting that derangement, instantly share and betray it. A dream is always simmering below the conventional surface of speech and reflection. Even in the highest reaches and serenest meditations of science it sometimes breaks through. Even there we are seldom constant enough to conceive a truly natural world; somewhere passionate, fanciful, or magic elements will slip into the scheme and baffle rational ambition.
A body seriously out of equilibrium, either with itself or with its environment, perishes outright. Not so a mind. Madness and suffering can set themselves no limit; they lapse only when the corporeal frame that sustains them yields to circumstances and changes its habit. If they are unstable at all, it is because they ordinarily correspond to strains and conjunctions which a vigorous body overcomes, or which dissolve the body altogether. A pain not incidental to the play of practical instincts may easily be recurrent, and it might be perpetual if even the worst habits were not intermittent and the most useless agitations exhausting. Some respite will therefore ensue upon pain, but no magic cure. Madness, in like manner, if pronounced, is precarious, but when speculative enough to be harmless or not strong enough to be debilitating, it too may last for ever.
An imaginative life may therefore exist parasitically in a man, hardly touching his action or environment. There is no possibility of exorcising these apparitions by their own power. A nightmare does not dispel itself; it endures until the organic strain which caused it is relaxed either by natural exhaustion or by some external influence. Therefore human ideas are still for the most part sensuous and trivial, shifting with the chance currents of the brain, and representing nothing, so to speak, but personal temperature. Personal temperature, moreover, is sometimes tropical. There are brains like a South American jungle, as there are others like an Arabian desert, strewn with nothing but bones. While a passionate sultriness prevails in the mind there is no end to its luxuriance. Languages intricately articulate, flaming mythologies, metaphysical perspectives lost in infinity, arise in remarkable profusion. In time, however, there comes a change of climate and the whole forest disappears.
It is easy, from the stand-point of acquired practical competence, to deride a merely imaginative life. Derision, however, is not interpretation, and the better method of overcoming erratic ideas is to trace them out dialectically and see if they will not recognise their own fatuity. The most irresponsible vision has certain principles of order and valuation by which it estimates itself; and in these principles the Life of Reason is already broached, however halting may be its development. We should lead ourselves out of our dream, as the Israelites were led out of Egypt, by the promise and eloquence of that dream itself. Otherwise we might kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and by proscribing imagination abolish science.
[Sidenote: Intrinsic pleasure in existence.]
[Sidenote: Pleasure a good,]
Visionary experience has a first value in its possible pleasantness. Why any form of feeling should be delightful is not to be explained transcendentally: a physiological law may, after the fact, render every instance predictable; but no logical affinity between the formal quality of an experience and the impulse to welcome it will thereby be disclosed. We find, however, that pleasure suffuses certain states of mind and pain others; which is another way of saying that, for no reason, we love the first and detest the second. The polemic which certain moralists have waged against pleasure and in favour of pain is intelligible when we remember that their chief interest is edification, and that ability to resist pleasure and pain alike is a valuable virtue in a world where action and renunciation are the twin keys to happiness. But to deny that pleasure is a good and pain an evil is a grotesque affectation: it amounts to giving "good" and "evil" artificial definitions and thereby reducing ethics to arbitrary verbiage. Not only is good that adherence of the will to experience of which pleasure is the basal example, and evil the corresponding rejection which is the very essence of pain, but when we pass from good and evil in sense to their highest embodiments, pleasure remains eligible and pain something which it is a duty to prevent. A man who without necessity deprived any person of a pleasure or imposed on him a pain, would be a contemptible knave, and the person so injured would be the first to declare it, nor could the highest celestial tribunal, if it was just, reverse that sentence. For it suffices that one being, however weak, loves or abhors anything, no matter how slightly, for that thing to acquire a proportionate value which no chorus of contradiction ringing through all the spheres can ever wholly abolish. An experience good or bad in itself remains so for ever, and its inclusion in a more general order of things can only change that totality proportionately to the ingredient absorbed, which will infect the mass, so far as it goes, with its own colour. The more pleasure a universe can yield, other things being equal, the more beneficent and generous is its general nature; the more pains its constitution involves, the darker and more malign is its total temper. To deny this would seem impossible, yet it is done daily; for there is nothing people will not maintain when they are slaves to superstition; and candour and a sense of justice are, in such a case, the first things lost.