THE WILL IN RELATION TO MATERIALISM AND SPIRITUALISM.
In the foregoing chapters I have considered the theory of Monism, first in contrast with the theories of Materialism and of Spiritualism, and next in relation to the theory of Theism. In this chapter and that which succeeds it I propose to consider Monism in relation to the Will. To do this it is needful to begin by considering the problems which are presented by the Will in relation to the older theories of Materialism on the one hand and of Spiritualism on the other.
Although the phenomena of volition have occupied so large a province of philosophical literature, the fundamental problems which arise in connexion with them are only two in number, and both admit of being stated in extremely simple terms. The historical order in which these two problems have arisen is the inverse of their logical order. For while in logical order the two problems would stand thus—Is the Will an agent? If so, is it a free agent?—in actual discussion it was long taken for granted that the Will is an agent, and hence the only controversy gathered round the question whether the Will is a free agent. Descartes, indeed, seems to have entertained the prior question with regard to animals, and there are passages in the Leviathan which may be taken to imply that Hobbes entertained this question with regard to man. But it was not until recent years that any such question could stand upon a basis of science as distinguished from speculation; the question did not admit of being so much as stated in terms of science until physiology was in a position openly to challenge our right to assume that the Will is an agent. Such a challenge physiology has now given, and even declared that any assumption of volitional agency is, in the presence of adequate physiological knowledge, impossible.
The two problems which I thus state separately are often, and indeed generally, confused together; but for the purpose of clear analysis it is of the first importance that they should be kept apart. In order to show the wide distinction between them, we may best begin with a brief consideration of what it is that the two problems severally involve; and to do this we may best take the problems in what I have called their logical order.
First, then, as regards the question whether the Will is an agent, the rival theories of Materialism and Spiritualism stand to one another in a relation of contradiction. For it is of the essence of Spiritualism to regard the Will as an agent, or as an original cause of bodily movement, and therefore as a true cause in Nature. On the other hand, it is of the essence of Materialism to deny that the Will is an agent. Hitherto, indeed, materialists as a body have not expressly recognized this implication as necessarily belonging to their theory; but that this implication does necessarily belong to their theory—or rather, I should say, really constitutes its most distinctive feature—admits of being easily shown. For the theory that material changes are the causes of mental changes necessarily terminates in the so-called theory of conscious automatism—or the theory that so far as the conditions to bodily action are concerned, consciousness is adventitious, bearing the same ineffectual relation to the activity of the brain as the striking of a clock bears to the time-keeping adjustments of the clock-work. From this conclusion there is no possibility of escape, if once we accept the premises of Materialism; and therefore I say it belongs to the essence of Materialism to deny the agency of Will.
Just as necessarily does it belong to the essence of Monism to affirm the agency of Will. For, according to this theory, while motion is producing nothing but motion, mind-change nothing but mind-change, both are producing both simultaneously; neither could be what it is without the other, for each is to the other a necessary counterpart or supplement, in the absence of which the whole causation (whether regarded from the physical or mental side) would not be complete.
Now, in my opinion the importance of the view thus presented by the theory of Monism is, for all purposes of psychological analysis, inestimable. It is impossible nowadays that such analysis can proceed very far in any direction without confronting the facts presented by physiology: hence it is impossible for such analysis to confine itself exclusively to the spiritual or subjective side of psychology. On the other hand, in so far as such analysis has regard to the material or objective side, it has hitherto appeared to countenance—in however disguised a form—the dogmatic denial of the Will as an agent. Hence the supreme importance to psychology of reconciling the hitherto rival theories of Spiritualism and Materialism in the higher synthesis which is furnished by the theory of Monism. For, obviously, in the absence of any philosophical justification of the Will as an agent, we are without any guarantee that all psychological inquiry is not a vain beating of the air. If, as Materialism necessarily implies, the Will is not a cause in Nature, there would be no reason in Nature for the agency either of feeling or of intelligence. Feeling and intelligence would, therefore, stand as ciphers in the general constitution of things; and any inquiry touching their internal system of causation could have no reference to any scientific inquiry touching causation in general. I am aware that this truth is habitually overlooked by psychologists; but it is none the less a truth of fundamental importance to the whole superstructure of this science. Or, in other words, unless psychologists will expressly consent to rear their science on the basis provided by the philosophical theory of Monism, there is nothing to save it from logical disintegration; apart from this basis, the whole science is, so to speak, built in the air, like an unsubstantial structure of clouds. Psychologists, I repeat, habitually ignore this fact, and constantly speak of feeling and intelligence as true causes of adjustive action; but by so doing they merely beg from this contradictory theory of Spiritualism a flat denial of the fundamental postulate on which they elsewhere proceed—the postulate, namely, that mental changes are determined by cerebral changes. Consider, for example, the following passage from Mr. Spencer's Principles of Psychology (Sec. 125), which serves to show in brief compass the logical incoherency which in this matter runs through his whole work:—
'Those races of beings only can have survived in which, on the average, agreeable or desired feelings went along with activities conducive to the maintenance of life, while disagreeable and habitually-avoided feelings went along with activities directly or indirectly destructive of life; and there must ever have been, other things equal, the most numerous and long-continued survivals among races in which these adjustments of feelings to actions were the best, tending ever to bring about perfect adjustment.'
The argument here is that the 'adjustments of feelings to actions,' when once attained, leads in turn to an adjustment of actions to feelings—or, as I have myself stated the argument in my Mental Evolution in Animals, 'the raison d'etre of Pleasure and Pain has been that of furnishing organisms with guides to adjustive action: moreover, as in the case of direct sensation dictating any simple adjustment for the sake of securing an immediate good, so in the case of instinct dictating a more intricate action for the sake of eventually securing a more remote good (whether for self, progeny, or community); and so, likewise, in the case of reason dictating a still more intricate adjustment for the sake of securing a good still more remote—in all cases, that is, where volition is concerned, pleasures and pains are the guides of action.' But thus to affirm that pleasures and pains are the guides of action is merely another way of affirming that the Will is an agent—a cause of bodily movement, and, as such, a cause in Nature. Now, as we have seen, Mr. Spencer not only affirms this—or rather assumes it—but proceeds to render an a priori explanation of the accuracy of the guidance. Yet he nowhere considers the fundamental question—Why should we suppose that the Will is an agent at all? Assuredly the answer given by physiology to this question is a simple denial that we have any justification so to regard the Will: in view of her demonstration of conscious automatism, she can see no reason why there should be any connexion at all between a subjective feeling of pleasure or pain and an objective fact of 'agreement or disagreement with the environment'—nay, one of the most eminent of her priesthood has declared that there is no more connexion between the ambition of a Napoleon and a general commotion of Europe, than there is between the puff of a steam-whistle and the locomotion of a train. And, as I have now repeatedly insisted, on grounds of physiology alone this is the only logical conclusion at which it is possible to arrive. Yet Mr. Spencer, while elsewhere proceeding on the lines of physiology, whenever he encounters the question of the agency of Will, habitually jumps the whole gulf that separates Materialism from Spiritualism. And this wonderful feat of intellectual athletics is likewise performed, so far at least as I am aware, by every other psychologist who has proceeded on the lines of physiology. Indeed, the logical incoherency is not so serious in Mr. Spencer's case as it is in that of many other writers whom I need not wait to name. For Mr. Spencer does not seek to found his system on a basis of avowed Materialism, and, therefore, he may be said to have left this fundamental question of volitional agency in abeyance. But all those writers who have reared their systems of psychology on a basis of avowed Materialism—or, which is the same thing, on a basis of physiology alone—lay themselves open to the charge of grossest inconsistency when they thus assume that the Will is an agent. It is impossible that these writers can both have their cake and eat it. Either they must forego their Materialism, or else they must cease to speak of 'motives determining action,' 'conduct being governed by pleasures and pains,' 'voluntary movements in their last resort being all due to bodily feelings,' 'the highest morality and the lowest vice being alike the result of a pursuit of happiness,' &c. &c. And, so far as I can see, it is only in the way above indicated, or on the theory of Monism, that it is possible, without ignoring the facts of physiology on the one hand or those of psychology on the other, philosophically to save the agency of Will.
From this brief exposition it may be gathered that on the materialistic theory it is impossible that the Will can be, in any sense of the term, an agent; that on the spiritualistic theory the Will is regarded as an agent, but only in the sense of a non-natural or miraculous cause; and, lastly, that on the monistic theory the Will is saved as an agent, or may be properly regarded and as properly denominated a true cause, in the ordinary sense of that term. For this, as well as for other reasons which need not here be specified, I accept in philosophy the theory of Monism; and am thus entitled in psychology to proceed upon the doctrine that the Will is an agent. We have next to consider the ulterior question whether upon this theory the Will may be properly regarded as a free agent.
By a free agent is understood an agent that is able to act without restraint, or spontaneously. The word 'free,' therefore, bears a very different meaning when applied exclusively to the Will, and when applied more generally to the living organism. For we may properly say that a man, or an animal, is free when he, or it, is at liberty to act in accordance with desire. Touching the fact of freedom in this sense there is, of course, no question. We have not to consider the possible freedom of man, but the possible freedom of Will; we have not to contemplate whether a man may be free to do what he wills, but whether he can be free to will what he wills. Such being the question, we have to consider it in relation to the three philosophical theories already stated—Materialism, Spiritualism, and Monism.
For the theory of Materialism the present question has no existence. If this announcement appears startling, it can only be because no materialist has ever taken the trouble to formulate his own theory with distinctness. For, as previously shown, Materialism necessarily involves the doctrine of conscious automatism; but, if so, the Will is concluded not to be an agent at all, and therefore it becomes idle to discuss whether, in any impossible exercise of its agency, it is free or subject to restraint. The most that in this connexion could logically stand to be considered by the advocates of Materialism would be whether or not the adventitious and inefficacious feelings of subjectivity which are associated with cerebral activity are determinate or free; but this would probably be regarded on all hands as a somewhat useless topic of discussion, and certainly in any case would have no reference to the question of free agency. The point to be clearly understood is that, according to the materialistic theory, a motor is distinct from a motive, although in some unaccountable manner the motor is able to cause the motive. But the motive, when thus caused, is not supposed to exert any causal influence on bodily action; it is supposed to begin and end as a motive, or never itself to become a motor. In other words, as before stated, the Will is not supposed to be an agent; and, therefore, to this theory the doctrine of free-will and of determinism are alike irrelevant. We need not wait to prove that this important fact is habitually overlooked by materialists themselves, or that whenever a materialist espouses the cause of determinism, he is thereby and for the time being vacating his position as a materialist; for if, according to his theory, the Will is not an agent, he is merely impugning his own doctrines by consenting to discuss the conditions of its agency.
The theory of Spiritualism and the theory of Monism agree in holding that the Will is an agent; and, therefore, to both of these theories the question whether the Will is a free agent is a real question. Here, then, it devolves upon us to consider carefully the logical status of the rival doctrines of so-called Liberty and Necessity. For convenience of arrangement in what follows, we may best begin with the doctrine of Necessity, or Determinism.
THE WILL IN RELATION TO MONISM.
We have now seen that, according to Materialism, the Will is not an agent, while according both to Spiritualism and to Monism the Will is an agent. Touching the further question, whether the Will is a free agent, we have seen that while the question does not exist for Materialism, it appears to require a negative answer both from Spiritualism and from Monism. For, as regards its relation to Spiritualism, when once the ground is cleared of certain errors of statement and fallacies of reasoning, we appear to find that unless the will is held to be motiveless—which would be to destroy not only the doctrine of moral responsibility, but likewise that of universal causation—it must be regarded as subject to law, or as determined in its action by the nature of its past history and present circumstances. Lastly, the theory of Monism appears likewise to deny the possibility of freedom as an attribute of Will; for, according to this theory, mental processes are one and the same with physical processes, and hence it does not appear that the doctrine of determinism could well be taught in a manner more emphatic.
Thus far, then, the doctrine of determinism is seen to be victorious over the doctrine of freedom all along the line. By Materialism the question of freedom is excluded ab initio; by Spiritualism and by Monism, so far as yet seen, it can be logically answered only in the negative. From which it follows that the sense of moral responsibility is of the nature of a vast illusion, the historical genesis of which admits of being easily traced, and the authority of which is thus destroyed. Although it may still serve to supply motives to conduct, it seems that it can do so only in the way that belongs to superstition—that Conscience, as I have before said, is the bogey of mankind, and that belief in its authority is like belief in witchcraft, destined to dwindle and to fade before the advance of a better or more complete knowledge of natural causation.
But the discussion must not end here. Hitherto I have presented the case Liberty versus Necessity with all the impartiality of which I am capable; but I have done so without travelling an inch beyond those limits of discussion within which the question has been debated by previous writers. I believe, indeed, that I have pointed out several important oversights which have been made on both sides of the question; but in doing this I have not gone further than the philosophical basis upon which the question has been hitherto argued. My object, however, in publishing these papers is not that of destructive criticism; and what I have done in this direction has been done only in order to prepare the way for what is now to follow. Having shown, as it appears to me conclusively, that upon both the rival theories of Materialism and Spiritualism—the doctrine of Liberty, and therefore of Moral Responsibility—must logically fall, I now hope to show that this doctrine admits of being re-established on a basis furnished by the theory of Monism.
It often happens that an elaborate structure of argument, which is perfectly sound and complete upon the basis furnished by a given hypothesis, admits of being wholly disintegrated when the fundamental hypothesis is shown to be either provisional or untrue. And such, I believe, is the case with the issue now before us. For the issue Liberty versus Necessity has hitherto been argued on the common assumption that natural causation is not merely the most ultimate principle which the human mind can reach; but also a principle which is, in some way or another, external to that mind. It has been taken for granted by both sides in the controversy that if our volitions can be proved to depend upon natural causation, as rigid in its sequences within the sphere of a human mind as within that of a calculating machine, there must be an end of the controversy; seeing that our volitions would be thus proved to be rigidly determined by those same principles of fixed order, or 'natural law,' which are external to, or independent of, the human mind—quite as much as they are external to, or independent of, the calculating machine. Now, it is this assumption which I challenge. The theory of Monism entitles one to deny that when we have driven the question down to the granite bed of natural causation, nothing more remains to be done; according to this theory it still remains to be asked, What is the nature of this natural causation? Is it indeed the ultimate datum of experience, below which the human mind cannot go? And is it indeed so far external to, or independent of, the human mind, that the latter stands to it in the relation of a slave to a master—coerced as to action by the conditions which that master has laid down?
Now these questions are all virtually answered in the affirmative by the dualistic theory of Spiritualism. For the Will is here regarded as an agent bound to act in accordance with those conditions of external necessity which dualism recognizes as natural causation. Its internal causation thus becomes but the reflex of external; and the reflection becomes known internally as the consciousness of motive. Hence, the Will cannot be philosophically liberated from the toils of this external necessity, so long as dualism recognizes that necessity as existing independently of the Will, and thus imposing its conditions on volitional activity. But the theory of Monism, by identifying external with internal causation—or physical processes with psychical processes—philosophically saves the doctrine of freedom, and with it the doctrine of moral responsibility. Moreover, it does so without relying upon any precarious appeal to the direct testimony of consciousness itself. As this view of the subject is one by no means easy of apprehension, I will endeavour to unfold it part by part.
To begin with, Monism excludes the possibility of volition being determined by cerebration. Let us suppose, for example, that a sequence of ideas, A, B, C, D, occurs in the mind, which on its obverse or cerebral aspect may be represented by the sequence a, b, c, d. Here the parallelism is not due, as supposed by Materialism, to a determining Ab, b determining Bc, &c.; it is due to Aa determining Bb, Bb determining Cc, &c.—the two apparently diverse causal sequences being really but one causal sequence. If the determinist should rejoin that a causal sequence of some kind is all that he demands—that the Will is equally proved to be unfree, whether it be bound by the causal sequence a, b, c, d, or by the causal sequence Aa, Bb, Cc, Dd—I answer that this is a point which we have to consider by-and-by. Meanwhile I am only endeavouring to make clear the essential distinction between the philosophical theories of Monism and Materialism. And the effect of this distinction is to show that, for the purposes of clear analysis, we may wholly neglect either side of the double reality. If we happen to be engaged on any physiological inquiry, we may altogether neglect the processes of ideation with which any process of cerebration may be concerned; while, if we happen to be engaged upon any psychological inquiry, we may similarly neglect the processes of cerebration with which any process of ideation may be concerned. Seeing that each is equally an index of a common sequence, it can make no difference which of them we take as our guide, although for purposes of practical inquiry it is of course expedient to take the cerebral index when we are dealing with the objective side of the problem, and the mental index when dealing with the subjective. In the following pages, therefore, I shall altogether neglect the cerebral index. The inquiry on which we are engaged belongs to the region of mind, and, therefore, after what has just been said, it will be apparent that I am entitled to adopt the standpoint of a spiritualist, to the extent of fastening attention only upon the mental side of the problem. For although the theory of Monism teaches, as against Spiritualism, that no one of the mental sequences could take place without a corresponding physical sequence, the theory also teaches the converse proposition; and therefore it makes no difference which of the two phenomenal sequences is taken as our index of the ontological.
Now, it clearly makes a great difference whether the mental changes concerned in volition are regarded as effects or as causes. According to Materialism, the mental changes are the effects of cerebral changes, which were themselves the effects of precedent cerebral changes. According to Spiritualism, these mental changes are the causes, not only of the cerebral changes, but also of one another. According to Monism, the mental changes may be regarded as the causes of the cerebral, or vice versa, seeing that in neither case are we stating a real truth—the real truth being that it is only a cerebro-mental change which can cause any change either of cerebration or of mentation. Now it is evident that if the mental processes were always the effects of cerebral processes (Materialism), there could be no further question with regard to Liberty and Necessity; while, if the mental processes are the causes both of the cerebral processes and of one another (Spiritualism), the question before us becomes raised to a higher level. The causality in question being now regarded as purely mental, the will is no longer regarded as a passive slave of the brain, and the only thing to be considered is whether freedom is compatible with causation of a purely mental kind. Now, at an earlier stage of our enquiry I have argued that it is not; but this argument was based entirely upon spiritualistic premises, or upon the assumption that the principle of causality is everywhere external to, or independent of, the human mind—under which assumption I cannot see that it makes much difference whether the coercion comes from the brain alone, or from the whole general system of things external to the human mind. And here it is that I think the theory of Monism comes to the rescue.
For, if physical and mental processes are everywhere consubstantial, or identical in kind, it can make no difference whether we regard their sequences as objective or ejective, physical or spiritual. Hence, we are free to regard all causation as of a character essentially psychical. But, if so, it must be self-contained as psychical; it cannot be in any way determined by anything from without, seeing that outside itself there is nothing in the Universe. Now, if this is true of the World-eject, it must also be true of the Man-eject, as well as of the Man-subject, or Ego. If all causation is psychical, that portion of it which belongs to, or is manifested by, my own personality is not laid upon me by anything from without; it is merely the expression of my own psychical activity, as this is taking place within the circumscribed area of my own personality. And this activity is spontaneous, in the sense that it is not coerced from without. All the sequences which that activity displays within this region are self-determined, in the sense that they are determined by the self, and not by any agency external to it. The only influence which any external agency can here exert, is that of insisting that bodily action—the physical outcome of my psychical processes—shall be in accordance with the conditions imposed by the internal system of causation; but this does not influence in any degree those mental processes which do not express themselves in bodily action. Hence, it may be perfectly true that my bodily action in the past might have been different from what it actually was; for as this action was the outcome of my mentation at the time (according to the spiritual index, which is now our guide), and as this mentation was not coerced from without, it might very well have been different from what it was. Each of the mental sequences at that time was a result of those preceding and a cause of those succeeding; but behind all this play of mental causation there all the while stood that Self, which was at once the condition of its occurrence, and the First Cause of its action. It is not true that that Self was nothing more than the result of all this play of mental causation; it can only have been the First Cause of it. For, otherwise, the mental causation must have been the cause of that causation, which is absurd. Who or What it was that originally caused this First Cause is, of course, another question, which I shall presently hope to show is not merely unanswerable, but unmeaning. As a matter of fact, however, we know that this Self is here, and that it can thus be proved to be a substance, standing under the whole of that more superficial display of mental causation which it is able to look upon introspectively—and this almost as impersonally as if it were regarding the display as narrated by another mind. I say, then, that the theory of Monism entitles us to regard this Self as the fons et origo of our mental causation, and thus restores to us the doctrine of Liberty with its attendant consequence of Moral Responsibility.
It may help to elucidate this matter if we regard it from another point of view. According to Hobbes, 'Liberty is the absence of all impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinsical qualities of the agent.' Now, if we accept this definition, it is easy to show that the theory of Monism is really at one with the doctrine of Liberty. For, in the first place, according to the theory of Monism, the neurosis of the brain could not be what it is without the psychosis of the mind. Consequently, as above shown, it would be equally incorrect to say that the neurosis governs the psychosis, as it would be to say that the psychosis governs the neurosis. But, if so, the Will is free in accordance with Hobbes' definition of freedom. Suppose, for example, that on seeing a bone I think of Professor Flower, then remember that a long time ago I lent his book on Osteology to a friend, and forthwith resolve to ask my friend what has become of it; here my ultimate volition would be unfree if it were the effect of physical processes going on in my brain. But the volition might be free if each of these mental processes were the result of the preceding one, seeing that there may then have been 'an absence of all impediments' to the occurrence of these processes.
Of course it will be objected—as I have myself urged in the preceding chapter—that causal action of any kind is incompatible with freedom of volition—that if there be any such causal action, even though it be wholly restricted within the sphere of mind, the Will is really compelled to will as it does will, is determined to determine as it does determine, and hence that its apparent freedom is illusory. Hobbes' definition, it may be urged, when applied to the case of the Will, is equivocal. No doubt a man is free as to his action, if there be an 'absence of all impediments' to his action—or, in other words, if he is able to act as he wills to act. But it does not follow that he is free as to his will, even though there be an absence of all impediments to his willing as he wills to will. For here the very question is as to whether there are any impediments to his willing otherwise than he does will. The fact that he wills to will as he does will proves that there are no impediments to his willing in that direction; but is there a similar absence of impediments to his willing to will in any other direction? If so, we are still within the lines of determinism. Thus Hobbes' definition of freedom really applies only to freedom of bodily action; not to freedom of volition, seeing that if my will is caused I could not have willed to will otherwise than I did will. Now, the answer which Monism supplies to this objection is that the will itself is here the ultimate agent, and therefore an agent which must be identified with the principle of causality. In other words, the very reason why we feel that Hobbes' definition of liberty, while perfectly valid as regards bodily action, seems to lack something when applied to volition, is because volition belongs to the sphere of mind—belongs, therefore, to that sphere which the theory of Monism regards as identical with causality itself. Although it is true that volitions are caused by motives, yet it is the mind which conditions the motives, and therefore its own volitions. It is not true that the mind is always the passive slave of causes, known to it as motives. The human mind is itself a causal agent, having the same kind of priority within the microcosm as the World-eject has in the macrocosm. Therefore its motives are in large part matters of its own creation. In the intricate workings of its own internal machinery innumerable patterns of thought are turned out, some of which it selects as good, while others it rejects as bad; but no one of which could have come into being at all without this causal agency of the mind itself.
It will probably be objected that even though all this were granted, we cannot thus save the doctrine of moral responsibility. For it may appear that the liberty which is thus accorded to the Will is nothing better than liberty to will at random, as argued in my previous essay. But here we must observe that although we are thus shown free to will at random, it does not follow that we are likewise free to act in accordance with our volitions. And this is a most important distinction, which libertarians have hitherto failed to notice. If we are free to will in any direction, it follows, indeed, that we are free to will at random; but it follows also, and for this very reason, that we are free to will the impossible. True, when we will what is known to be impossible of execution, we call the act an act of desire; but it is clearly the same in kind as an act of will, and differs only in not admitting of being translated into an act of body. Therefore I say that the restriction which is imposed upon us by the conditions of causality, whether external or internal, is not any restriction as to willing, but merely as to doing. It is not in the subjective, but in the objective world that we encounter the 'bondage of necessity.'
Now, the knowledge that we are thus restricted as to bodily action imposes that kind of restraint upon volition which is termed rational. There is nothing in the nature of things to prevent our willing anything that we wish; but there is something in the nature of things to prevent our doing everything that we will; and as the practical object of our volition is that of determining bodily action, we find it expedient to will only such things as we believe that we can do. To this extent, therefore, the Will is bound—namely, by the executive capacity of the body. But, strictly speaking, this is not a binding of the Will qua Will. Even in such cases, as St. Paul says, to will may be present with us, but how to perform that which is good we find not. I say then that although the Will is free to will whatever it wills, nevertheless it would fail in its essential use or object did it refuse to will in accordance with the conditions which are imposed upon its executive capacity. Again, to quote St. Paul, the Will might say, All things for me are lawful; but all things are not expedient. Now, this consideration of expediency is one of constant and far-reaching importance. For not only, as already observed, does it lead to volition on the one hand as rational; but it also leads to volition on the other hand as moral. Let us take the two points separately.
Do we say that a man is not free to conduct a scientific research, because in conducting it he must employ the needful apparatus? Or do we say that a man is not free to marry, because in order to do so he must go through a marriage ceremony? Obviously, to say such things would sound very like talking nonsense. It is true that in neither case is a man free to gain his object without adopting the means which are seen to be necessary under the system of external causation in which he finds himself; but this does not mean that he is not free to do as he wills, unless it so happens that he wills to do the impossible. Thus, within the limits that are set by the conditions of causation, a man is understood to be free to act as he wills so long as he is not 'impeded' by some of those conditions. To say that he is not free because he cannot get beyond those conditions would be absurd, since, apart from these conditions, action of any kind would be a priori impossible, and the man would have, as his only alternative, no-action.
Hence, in doing we must conform to the law of causation—which, indeed, is all that can be meant by doing—and if in willing what we do we must also conform to the law of causation, where is the difference with respect to freedom? Such restraint as there may be is here a restraint upon bodily action; not at all upon the mental action which we call volition. The Will may will in any way that it wills to will; but the body cannot act in every way that the Will may will it to act; therefore the Will finds it expedient to will only in such ways as the body can act—i. e. to conform in its action to the external system of causation. If this condition of all action is held to be compatible with freedom in the one case, so in consistency must it be held in the other. Equally in either case the agent can only be properly said to be unfree, if he be subject to causal restraint from without. And in neither case does the universal condition of acting under the law of causation constitute bondage, in any other sense than that of furnishing the agent with his conditions to acting in any way at all. Therefore, unless it be said that a man is not free to do as he wills because he wills to do the impossible, it cannot be denied that he is free to will as he wills because he wills according to law. For no action of any kind is possible contrary to law—a general fact which goes to constitute an argument a posteriori for the rationality of the World-eject—and if volition constituted an exception to this general statement, it could only do so by becoming no-action. Now, it is by thus willing according to law—or with due reference to those external conditions of causality with which the executive capacity has to do—that volition is rendered rational. The restraint laid upon volition is not laid upon it as volition, but only in respect of execution. A man may will to marry as long and as hard as he chooses; but only if he further wills to take the necessary means can his volition become rational; it is irrational if he wills to marry, and at the same time wills not to go through the marriage ceremony. But although irrational, it is none the less free. Considered merely as an act of volition it is equally free, whether it be rational or irrational.
And, similarly, it is equally free whether it be moral or immoral. The objection that an uncaused volition cannot be a responsible volition depends for its validity on the meaning which we attach to the term 'uncaused.' If it be meant that the volition arises without any regard at all to the surrounding conditions of life, and is carried into effect without the agent being able to control it by means of any other voluntary act; then, indeed, whatever else such an agent may be, he certainly is not moral. But if it be meant that among a number of uncompleted volitions drawing in different directions—and all 'uncaused' in the sense of belonging immediately to the Ego—one of them gains an advantage by a conscious reference of the mind to it as good or evil, then the agent who is capable of giving this advantage to that member of the system may properly be called moral. The man who willed to marry, and yet willed not to go through the marriage ceremony, was, as we have seen, irrational. Similarly, if any agent wills an action without being able to consider any of the consequences which it may involve as either moral or immoral, such an agent is what we must properly call unmoral. Even in such an agent, however, the Will may be free; only it would act without reference to any moral environment, just as the lunatic above supposed might endeavour to act without reference to any social environment.
Let us look at the whole matter in yet another light. We have repeatedly seen that the question of free-will, and therefore of moral responsibility, depends upon the question as to whether a man's action in the past might have been other than it was, notwithstanding that all the conditions under which he was placed remained the same. Now, to this question only one answer can be given by a dualistic theory of things, whether materialistic or spiritualistic. For it belongs to the essence of a dualistic theory to regard the principle of causation as a principle external to, and independent of, the human mind; consequently, all the conditions of mental causation being given, a certain result in the way of volition is necessarily bound to ensue—or, in other words, at any given time in a man's mental history, his action cannot have been other than it was. But now, according to the monistic theory, all causation has a psychical basis—being but the objective expression to us of the psychical activity of the World-eject. Consequently, according to this theory, the course of even strictly physical causation is inevitable or necessary only in so far as the psychical activity of the World-eject is held to be uniform, or consistent within itself. And forasmuch as all our knowledge of physical causation is necessarily empirical, we have but very inadequate means of judging how far this empirical index is a true gauge of the reality. We can, indeed, predict an eclipse centuries in advance; but we can only do so on the supposition that such and such physical conditions remain constant, and we have no right to affirm that such must be the case. Our knowledge of physical causation, being but empirical, is probably but a very inadequate translation of the psychical activity of the World-eject; and hence, not only have we no right to predict a future eclipse with certainty, but we have not so much as the right to affirm that even a past eclipse must have taken place of necessity. For we have no right to affirm that at any one period of cosmic history the action of the World-eject must have been what it was, or could not have been other than it was. Our knowledge of the obverse aspect of this action (in the course of physical causation) is, as I have said, purely empirical; and this is merely another way of saying that although we do know what the action of the World-eject has been at such and such a period of cosmic history, we can have no means of knowing what else it might have been. For anything that we can tell to the contrary, the whole history of the solar system, for example, might have been quite different from what it has been; the course which it actually has run may have been but one out of an innumerable number of possible alternatives, any other of which might just as well have been adopted by the World-eject.
Now, if this is true of natural causation in the case of the macrocosm, it would appear to be equally so of natural causation in the case of the microcosm. Indeed, prediction in the case of human activity is so much less certain than in the case of cosmic activity, that the attribute of free-will is generally ascribed to the former, while rarely suggested as possibly belonging to the latter. And similarly as regards past action. If we are unable to say that at any period in the past history of the solar system the World-eject might not have deflected the whole stream of events into some other channel, how can we be able to say that at any given period of his past history the Man-eject could not have performed an analogous act? Obviously, the only reason why we are not accustomed to entertain this supposition in either case, is because our judgements are beset with the assumption that the principle of causality is prior to that of mind—something of the nature of Fate superior even to the gods. And, no less obviously, if once we see any reason to regard the principle of causality as merely co-extensive with that of mind, the whole question as between Necessity and Free-will lapses; there is nothing to show that a man's action in the past might not have been other than it was. The only outward restraint placed upon the exercise of his Will is then seen to be imposed by the conditions of its executive capacity, and this restraint it is that constitutes man a rational agent. On the other hand, the structure of conscience—however we may suppose this to have been formed—imposes that further and inward restraint upon his Will, which constitutes man a moral agent. But neither of these restraints can properly be said to constitute bondage in the sense required by Necessitarianism, because neither of them requires that the man's Will must will as it does will; they require merely that his Will should act in certain ways if it is to accomplish certain results; and to this extent only is it subject to law, or to the incidence of those external influences which help to shape our motives.
But if this is so, is it not obvious that the sense of moral responsibility is rationally justified? This sense goes upon the supposition that a man's conduct in the past might have been different from what it was. Clearly, therefore, no question of moral responsibility can ever obtain in cases where the general system of external causation, or natural law, rendered an alternative line of action physically impossible. The question of moral responsibility can only obtain in cases where two or more lines of conduct were alike possible, so far as the external system of causation is concerned—or where the Will was equally free to choose between two or more courses of bodily action. In other words, the question of moral responsibility has nothing to do with the only kind of bondage to which, according to our present point of view, the Will is subject—namely the bondage of being rationally obliged to will only what is capable of performance. The question of moral responsibility has only to do with the system of causation which is inherent in the mind itself; not with the system that is external to the mind. And as the theory of Monism identifies the mind with this its own inherent system of causation—or regards a man's Will as the originator of a particular portion of general causality—it follows from the theory that a man is justly liable to moral praise or blame as the case may be: the moral sense no longer appears as a gigantic illusion: conscience is justified at the bar of reason.
It appears to me impossible that any valid exception can be taken to the above reasoning, if once the premiss is granted—namely, that the principle of Causality admits of being regarded as identical with that of Volition. For if Cause is but another name for Will—whether the Will be subjective or ejective—it follows that my will is a first cause, which is determined by other causes only in so far as the executive capacity of my body is so determined. As the whole stress of any objection to the present argument must thus be brought to bear upon the validity of this its fundamental premiss, a few words may now be said to show that the premiss is not wholly gratuitous. Of course the reason why at first sight it is apt to appear, not only gratuitous, but even grotesque, is because in these days of physical science the minds of most of us are dominated by the unthinking persuasion that the principle of causality is the most ultimate principle which our minds can reach. Most of us accept this persuasion as almost of the nature of an axiom, and hence the mere suggestion that our own volitions are really uncaused appears to us of the nature of a self-evident absurdity. A little thought, however, is enough to show that the only ground of reason which this strong prepossession can rest upon, is the assumption that the principle of causality is logically prior to that of mind. Therefore it is the validity of this assumption that we have here to investigate.
In the first place, then, the assumption is ipso facto irrational. For it is evident that in order to make the assumption there must already be a mind to make it. In other words, the very conception of the principle of causality implies a thinking substance wherein that conception arises, and therefore, as a mere matter of formal statement, it is impossible to assign logical priority to this conception over the thing whereby it is conceived.
In the next place, when we carefully analyze the nature of this conception itself, we find that it arises immediately out of our conception of Being as Being. This is shown by the idea of equivalency between cause and effect, which is an essential feature of the conception of causality as such. In other words, the statement of any causal relation is merely a statement of the fact that both the matter and the energy concerned in the event were of a permanent nature and unalterable amount. Therefore, if the ultimate Reality is mental, Causation must be ontologically identical with Volition. And that the ultimate Reality is either mental, or something greater, seems to be proved by the consideration that if it be supposed anything less, there must be an end of the conception of equivalency as between cause and effect, and so of the conception of causality itself; for, clearly, if my mind has been caused by anything less than itself, there is an end of any possible equivalency between the activity of that thing as a cause, and the occurrence of my mind as an effect.
Lastly, the conception of causality essentially involves the idea of finality as existing somewhere. Here I cannot do better than quote some extracts from Canon Mozley's essay on 'The Principle of Causation,' as he manages very tersely to convey the gist of previous philosophizing upon this subject.
'He (Clarke) brings out simply at bottom the meaning and significance of an idea in the human mind, that there is implied in the very idea itself of cause, firstly, that it causes something else; and secondly, that it is uncaused itself.... An infinite series of causes does not make a cause; ... an infinite succession of causes rests, by the very hypothesis, upon no cause; each particular one rests on the one which follows it, but the whole rests upon nothing.... If from one cause we have to go back to another, that which we go back from is not the cause, but that which we go back to is. The very idea of cause, as I have said, implies a stop; and wherever we stop is the cause.... A true cause is a First Cause.... The atheistic idea thus does not correspond to the idea of reason. The atheist appears to acknowledge the necessity of a cause, and appears to provide for it; but when we come to his scheme it fails exactly in that part of the idea which clenches it, and which is essential to its integrity; it fails in providing a stop; ... One might say to him, Why do you give yourself the trouble to supply causation at all? You do so because you consider yourself obliged in reason to do it, but if you supply causation at all, why not furnish such a cause as reason has impressed upon you, and which is inherent in your mind—a cause which stands still, an original cause? If you never intended to supply this, it must have been because you thought a real cause was not wanted; but if you thought a cause not wanted, why not have said from the first that causes were not wanted, and said from the first that events could take place without causes?'
Or, to quote a more recent authority, and one speaking from the side of physical science, Prof. Huxley writes:—
'The student of nature who starts from the axiom of the universality of the law of causation, cannot refuse to admit an eternal existence; if he admits the conservation of energy, he cannot deny the possibility of an eternal energy; if he admits the existence of immaterial phenomena in the form of consciousness, he must admit the possibility, at any rate, of an eternal series of such phenomena; and, if his studies have not been barren of the best fruit of the investigation of nature, he will have enough sense to see that, when Spinoza says, "Per Deum intelligo ens absolute infinitum, hoc est substantiam constantem infinitis attributis," the God so conceived is one that only a very great fool would deny, even in his heart. Physical science is as little Atheistic as it is Materialistic.'
Now, if it thus belongs to the essence of our idea of causation that finality must be reached somewhere, I do not know where this is so likely to be reached as at that principle wherein the idea itself takes its rise—viz. Mind. But, if so, the statement that any particular acts of mind are uncaused ceases to present any character of self-evident absurdity.
And the argument need not end here. For Mr. Herbert Spencer has shown that our idea of causation, not merely requires a mind for its occurrence, but that in every mind where it does occur it has been directly formed out of experiences of effort in acts of volition. So that whether we analyze the idea of cause as we actually discover it in our own minds, or investigate the history of its genesis, we alike find, as we might have antecedently expected, that it is dependent on our more ultimate idea of mind as mind; the conception of causality is not, as a matter of fact, original or primal, but derivative or secondary. Therefore, if this conception necessarily involves the postulation of a first cause, there can be no doubt that such a cause can only be conceived as of the nature of mind. From which it follows that each individual mind requires to be regarded—if it is regarded at all—as of the nature of a first cause.
From this, however, it does not follow that each individual mind requires to be regarded as wholly independent of all other causes, or as never subject to any causal influence which may be exercised by other minds. Although each mind presents the feature of finality or spontaneity, this does not hinder that it also presents the feature of relation to other minds, which, therefore, are able to act upon it in numberless ways. Now, whether these minds are the minds of other men, of other intelligent beings, or of the whole World-eject, the causal activity which is exerted upon my mind expresses itself in that mind as a consciousness of motives. But although these motives may help to determine my volitions, there is no reason to suppose that they are themselves the volitions, or that without them my mind would cease to be itself a causal agent. On the contrary, if this were supposed, the supposition would amount to destroying the causal agency of my own mind, which, as we have just seen, must either be original or not at all.
The way, therefore, that the matter stands is this. In so far as the microcosm is a circumscribed system of being—a thinking substance, a personality—it is of the nature of a first cause, free to act in any direction as to its thinking and willing, even though its thinking should be irrational as to truth, and its willing impossible as to execution. But in so far as the microcosm enters into relation with the macrocosm, the system of external causation which it encounters determines the character of its volitions. For although these volitions are themselves of the nature of first causes, it is no contradiction to say that they are—at all events in large measure—determined by other and external causes. This is no contradiction because, although they are thus determined, it does not follow that they are thus determined necessarily, and this makes all the difference between the theory of will as bond or free. In any stream of secondary causation each member of the series is understood to determine the next member of necessity; and it is because this notion is imported into psychology that the theory of determinism regards it as axiomatic that, if our volitions are in any way caused at all, they can only be caused by way of necessity; and hence that under the operation of any given set of motives the action of the will can only take place in the direction of the resultant. But any such axiom is valid only within the region of second causes. On the hypothesis that volitions are first causes, the axiom is irrelevant to them; for although it may be true that they are determined by causes from without, it may not be true that they are thus determined of necessity: their intrinsic character as themselves first causes, although not isolating them from any possible contact with other causes, nevertheless does protect them from being necessarily coerced by these causes, and therefore from becoming but the mere effects of them. Such influence, or determination, as is exerted upon the Will by these external causes is exerted only because any individual mind is not itself a macrocosm, but a microcosm in relation to a macrocosm. If it were itself a macrocosm, standing out of relation to all other being, its prime causation would, of course, be wholly uninfluenced by any other causation; its volitions would then be concerned only with the determination of its own thoughts in a constant stream of purely subjective contemplation, such as that which the Hindoo philosophy attributes to God. But as the human mind discovers itself as existing in close and complex relations with an external world of an orderly character, the human mind finds that it is, as before said, expedient to adapt the course of its own causal activity so as to bring it into harmony with the external order. For, although its own causal activity is primal, it by no means follows that on this account it is almighty; hence, even although it be primal, it is nevertheless under the necessity of adopting means in order to secure its ends—or, in other words, of adjusting its volitions (if they are to be practically efficient) to the conditions which are imposed upon its activity by the orderly system of the external world. Which is merely another way of stating the conclusion previously reached—viz. that the only necessity which can be proved to govern our volitions is the necessity which is imposed by our own considerations of reason and morality. Although we find that it is expedient to adapt our own causal activity to that larger system of causal activity by which we are surrounded—seeing that we must do so necessarily if we are to act at all—it by no means follows that we are bound to will what is expedient. In other words, the necessity laid upon us by the system of external causation is a necessity to adopt means for the attainment of ends; not a necessity to will the ends. And although in many cases this distinction may appear to be practically unmeaning—seeing that no man wills what he knows to be impossible of execution, and therefore that to say he is necessarily prevented from doing a certain thing seems practically equivalent to saying that he is necessarily prevented from willing that thing—in all cases where any question of moral responsibility can possibly obtain, the distinction is one of fundamental importance. For, as already shown, any question of moral responsibility can only obtain where two or more lines of action are alike possible, and therefore where no necessity is laid upon the man in respect of carrying out his volitions, in whichever direction they may eventually proceed. Although in any event he is necessarily bound to adopt means in order to secure his ends, the moral quality of his choice has reference only to the ends which he chooses; not at all to the fact that he has to employ means for the purpose of attaining them. And even though his choice be influenced by his physical and social environment—as it must be if it be either rational on the one hand or moral on the other—it does not follow that this influence is of a kind to neutralize or destroy the causal nature of his own volition. For the influence which is thus exerted cannot be exerted necessarily, unless we suppose that the Will is not a first cause, which is the possibility now under consideration. If the Will is a first cause, the influences brought to bear upon it by its relation to other causes—and in virtue of which it is constituted, not only a cause primal, but also a cause rational and moral—these influences differ toto coelo from those which are exercised by any members in a series of secondary causes upon the next succeeding causes. And the difference consists in the absence of necessary or unconditional sequence in the one case, and its presence in the other. However strong the determining influence of a motive may be, if the Will is a first cause, the motive must belong to a different order of causal relation from a motor; for, no matter how strong the determining influence may be, ex hypothesi it can never attain to the strength of necessity; the Will must ever remain free to overcome such influence by an adequate exercise of its own power of spontaneous action, or of supplying de novo an additional access of strength to some other motive. Of course, as a general rule, the Will allows itself to be influenced by motives supplied immediately by its relations with the external world; but this is so only because the thinking substance well knows that it is expedient so to fall in with the general stream of external causation. Hence, as a general rule, it is only in cases where the stream of external causation is drawing the will in different directions that the causal activity of the Will itself is called into play. Or rather, I should say, it is only in such cases that we become conscious of the fact. In the case of every voluntary movement the primal activity of Will must be concerned (and this even in the case of the lower animals); but as the vast majority of such movements are performed by way of response to frequently recurring circumstances, the response which experience has shown to be most expedient is given, as it were, automatically, or without the occurrence of any adverse motive. But in cases where motives are drawing in different directions, we become conscious of an effort of Will in choosing one or other line of conduct, and, according to our present hypothesis, this consciousness of effort is an expression of the work which the Will is doing in the way of spontaneous causation.
Thus, upon the whole, if we identify the principle of causation with the principle of mind—as we are bound to do by the theory of Monism—we thereby draw a great and fundamental distinction between causation as this occurs in the external world, and as it occurs within the limits of our own subjectivity. And the distinction consists in the unconditional nature of a causal sequence in the external world, as against the conditional nature of it in the other case; the condition to the effective operation of a motive—as distinguished from a motor—is the acquiescence of the first cause upon which that motive is operating.
To the foregoing argument it may be objected that by expressly regarding the human mind as a first cause of its own volitions, I imply that that mind can itself have had no cause, which appears to be self-evidently absurd. But here again the absurdity only arises from our inveterate habit of regarding the principle of causation as logically prior to that of mind. If we expressly refuse to do this, there is nothing absurd in supposing the principle of mind wherever it occurs, as itself uncaused. For if, as we are now supposing, this principle is identical with that of causation, to say that any mind is caused would be to say that a cause is the cause of itself, which would be really absurd. Under the present point of view, therefore, it would be a meaningless question to ask for the cause of a human mind, since, ex hypothesi, a human mind is a part of the self-existing substance, although not on this account self-existing as to its individual personality. As argued in a previous chapter, the personality appears to arise on account of circumscription, or the isolation of a constituent part of the World-eject. Therefore, although it may be reasonable to ask for a cause of this circumscription—or of the personality—it is not reasonable to ask for a cause of the substance which is thus circumscribed, or of the quality of spontaneity which that substance exhibits.
I will now state the whole case in another way. When we regard the facts of volition from the stand-point of psychology, the only theory of them which is open to us is, as we have before seen, that of determinism. Moreover, within these limits that theory is perfectly true. Psychology, as such, cannot recognize any principle more ultimate than natural causation, seeing that, like any other of her sisters in the family of sciences, her whole work and duty are confined to the investigation of this principle. But, just as in the case of all the other sciences, when her investigations have been pushed to the point where they encounter the problem of explaining this principle itself, her investigations must necessarily cease; this principle is for all the sciences the ultimate datum, behind which they cannot go without ceasing to be sciences. But it does not follow that because the area of science is limited by that of causation, therefore we are precluded from asking any questions as to the nature of this ultimate datum. Of course any questions which we may thus ask cannot possibly be answered by science; they are questions of philosophy, in the consideration of which science, from her very nature and essential limitation of her office, can have no voice. Now, if on taking up the principle of causation where this is left by science—viz. as the ultimate or unanalyzable datum of experience, upon which all her investigations are founded, and by which they are all limited—philosophy finds any reason to surmise that it is resolvable into the principle of mind, philosophy is thus able to suggest that any distinction between mental processes as determinate or free, is really a meaningless distinction. For, according to this suggestion, the issue is no longer as to whether these processes are caused or uncaused; the very idea of cause has been abolished as one which belongs only to that lower level of inquiry with which science, or sensuous experience, is concerned. Here, no doubt, the question is a thoroughly real one, and, as shown in previous chapters, can only be answered in the way of determinism. But so soon as we ascend to the philosophical theory of Monism, and so transcend the conditions of sensuous experience, the question whether volitions are caused or uncaused becomes, as I have said, a meaningless question, or a question the terms of which are not correctly stated. If it be the case that all causality is of a nature psychical, volition and causation are one and the same thing, differing only in relation to our modes of apprehension. It would therefore be equally meaningless to say that either is the cause of the other—just as it would be equally meaningless to say that neurosis is the cause of psychosis, or that psychosis is the cause of neurosis. Or thus, if volition and causation are one and the same thing, the only reason why they ever appear diverse is because the one is known ontologically, while the other is known phenomenally. Were it possible that the orbit of my own personality could be widened so as to include within my own subjectivity the whole universe of causality, I should find—according to Monism—that all causation would become transformed into volition. Hence, the only reason why there now appears to be so great an antithesis between these two principles, is because the volition which is going on outside of my own consciousness can only be known to me objectively,—or at most ejectively,—on which account the principle of causality appears to me phenomenally as the most ultimate, or most unanalyzable, principle in the phenomenal universe.
Upon the whole, then, I conclude that this is the teaching of Monism. If we view the facts of human volition relatively, or within the four corners of psychological science, there is no escape from the conclusion that they are determined with all the rigour which belongs to natural causation in general. For every sequence of mental changes and every sequence of cerebral changes, although phenomenally so diverse, are taken by this theory to be ontologically identical; and therefore the sequence of mental changes must be determined with the same degree of 'necessity' as is that of the cerebral changes. In short, mental causation is taken to be but the obverse aspect of physical causation, and, as previously remarked, it is impossible that the doctrine of determinism could be taught in a manner more emphatic. But, on the other hand, the theory of Monism is bound to go further than this. From the very fact of its having gone so far as to identify all physical processes with psychical processes, it cannot refuse to take the further and final step of identifying the most ultimate known principle of the one with the most ultimate known principle of the other; it is bound to recognize in natural causation the phenomenal aspect of that which is known ontologically as volition. But if these two principles are thus regarded as identical, it clearly becomes as unmeaning to ask whether the one is the cause of the other, as it would be to ask whether the one wills the other. For, ex hypothesi, the two things being one thing, or but different modes of viewing the same thing, it becomes mere nonsense to speak of either determining the other; they are both but different expressions of the same ultimate fact, namely the fact of Being as Being.
If this result should be deemed unsatisfactory on account of its vagueness, let it be remembered that nothing is gained on the side of clearness by the converse supposition—viz. that priority should be assigned to the principle of causality. For, if we say it is inconceivable that anything should come into existence without a cause—not even excepting the principle of mind itself—then the question immediately arises—If all volition is caused, what is the cause of volition? What caused this cause? And so on till we arrive at the question, What caused the principle of causality? which is absurd. So that whether we regard mind as prior to cause, or cause as prior to mind, or neither as prior to the other, we arrive at precisely the same difficulty. And the difficulty is a hopeless one, because it concerns the ultimate question of Being as Being, or the final mystery of things.
Or, to state the matter in another way. An explanation means the reference of observed effects to known causes, or the inclusion of previously unknown causes among causes better known. Hence it is obvious, from the very meaning of what we call an explanation, that at the base of all possible explanations there must lie a great Inexplicable, which, just because more ultimate than any of our possible explanations, does not itself require to be explained. To suppose that it does require to be explained, would be to suppose, that there is something still more ultimate into which, if known, this Inexplicable could be merged. Hence, unless we postulate an infinite series of possible explanations, there must be a basal mystery somewhere, which, in virtue of its constituting the ground of all possible explanations, cannot be, and does not require to be, itself explained. What is this basal mystery? Materialism supposes it to be lodged in Matter to the exclusion of Mind, while Idealism in its extreme forms takes the converse view. Theism supposes that it is an intelligent Person, who is held—and logically enough—not to be able to give any explanation of his own existence; he is, as it is said, self-existent, and, if asked to give any account of his being, would only be able to restate the fact of his being in the words, 'I am that I am.' Lastly, Pantheism, or Monism, supposes the ultimate mystery to be lodged in the universe as a whole. Now, in the present connexion the question before us is simply this—Are we to regard the principle of causality or the principle of mind as the ultimate mystery? And to this question I answer that to me it appears most reasonable to assign priority to mind. For, on the one hand, our only knowledge of causation is empirical, while even as such it is only possible in the same way as our knowledge of objective existence in general is possible—namely, by way of inference from our own mental modifications, which therefore must necessarily have priority so far as we are ourselves concerned. Next, on the other hand, even if we were to grant that the principle of causality is the prius, or the ultimate and inexplicable mystery, I cannot see that it is really available to explain the fact of personality. To me it appears that, within the range of human observation, this is the fact that most wears the appearance of finality, or of that unanalyzable and inexplicable nature which we are bound to believe must belong to the ultimate mystery of Being. But, be this as it may, the speculative difficulty of assigning priority to mind is certainly no greater than that of assigning it to causality; and this, as above remarked, is a sufficient answer to the question before us. According to Monism, however, there is no need to assign priority to either principle, seeing that one is but a phenomenal expression of the other.
Only one further question remains to be considered. From what I have just said on the subject of Personality, it will be apparent that the theory of Monism is in conflict with that of Theism only in so far as personality appears to imply limitation. This is a point which I have previously considered in these pages (Chapter iv, p. 109), with the result of appearing to show that the conflict is one which would probably vanish could we rise above the necessary limitations of human thought. Therefore, it here seems worth while to ask, What can be said by the philosophical theory of Monism to the old theological dilemma touching free-will and predestination? Or, even apart from any question of Theism, what position does Monism suppose the psychical activity of man to hold in relation to that of the universe? Of course the latter statement of the question is included in the former; and, therefore, we may present it thus;—If the human will is free, and the theory of Theism substantially true, how are we to reconcile the fact with the theory?
According to the theory of Theism as sanctioned by Monism, what we apprehend as natural causation is the obverse of a part of a summum genus—i.e. the part falling within human observation whose whole is the Absolute Volition. This Volition, being absolute, can nowhere meet with restraint; it is therefore absolutely free, and can never contradict itself. Thus, those circumscribed portions of it which we know as human minds—and which, on account of being so circumscribed, are free within themselves—do not in their freedom conflict with the Absolute Volition. The Absolute Volition and the Relative Volition are always in unison. It is not that the Absolute Volition unconditionally determines the Relative Volition—else the Relative Volition would not be free; but it is that the Absolute Volition invariably assents to the Relative Volition as to the activity of an integral part of itself. This will be at once evident if we consider that our only idea of determination—i.e. causation—is, upon the theistic theory, derived from our observing the consistency of the Divine Will, whether as revealed subjectively in the causal operations of our own minds, or objectively in the causal operations of Nature. Therefore, the idea of causation as between the Absolute Volition and the Relative Volition is an idea destitute of meaning. One Relative Volition may act causally on another. Relative Volition, because each is wholly external to each. But all Relative Volitions are constituent parts of the Absolute Volition, which, therefore, cannot act causally on them, though it always acts substantially with them. Or, otherwise phrased, if the subject is a constituent part of its own World-eject—the volition of which is always self-consistent—it follows that the volition of the subject must always be coincident with that of its World-eject; and this without being determined in any other sense than the smaller size of a part can be said to be determined by the larger size of its whole: i.e. the determination—if we choose so to call it—is not a causal one, but arises immediately from the inherent nature of the case. The Absolute Volition within itself is free; the Relative Volition within itself is free; but there can be no conflict between these two freedoms. For, if there were a conflict, it must be caused; but where is the cause of this conflict to come from? Not from the Absolute Volition, which is everywhere self-consistent; not from the Relative Volition, which is wholly contained within the Absolute. Thus, regarded from within its own system, the Relative Volition is free; while, regarded from the system of its World-eject, the Relative Volition is predestined. But the freedom is not incompatible with the predestination, nor the predestination with the freedom. They stand to each other in the relation of complementary truths, the apparent contradiction of which arises only from the apparently fundamental antithesis between mind and cause which it is the privilege of Monism to abolish.
[Footnote 13: 'Whatsoever is first of all things must necessarily contain it, and actually have, at least, all the perfections that can ever after exist; nor can it ever give to another any perfection that it hath not actually in itself, or at least in a higher degree' (Locke). To this argument Mill answers, 'How vastly nobler and more precious, for instance, are the vegetables and animals than the soil and manure out of which, and by the properties of which, they are raised up! But this stricture is not worthy of Mill. The soil and manure do not constitute the whole cause of the plants and animals. We must trace these and many other con-causes (conditions) back and back till we come to 'whatsoever is first of all things': it is merely childish to choose some few of the conditions, and arbitrarily to regard them as alone the efficient causes.]
[Footnote 14: Collected Essays, vol. ix. 'Evolution and Ethics,' p. 140.]
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- Transcriber's note: In this text this H_2O represents a subscript 2 -
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Oxford HORACE HART, PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY