The effort of physical existence is not to accomplish anything definite but merely to persist for ever. The will has its first law of motion, corresponding to that of matter; its initial tendency is to continue to operate in the given direction and in the given manner. Inertia is, in this sense, the essence of vitality. To be driven from that perpetual course is somehow to be checked, and an external and hostile force is required to change a habit or an instinct as much as to deflect a star. Indeed, nutrition itself, hunting, feeding, and digestion, are forced activities, and the basis of passions not altogether congenial nor ideal. Hunger is an incipient faintness and agony, and an animal that needs to hunt, gnaw, and digest is no immortal, free, or essentially victorious creature. His will is already driven into by-paths and expedients; his primitive beatific vision has to be interrupted by remedial action to restore it for a while, since otherwise it would obviously degenerate rapidly through all stages of distress until its total extinction.
[Sidenote: Moral acceptance of this compromise.]
The tasks thus imposed upon the protoplasmic will raise it, we may say, to a higher level; to hunt is better sport, and more enlightening, than to lie imbibing sunshine and air; and to eat is, we may well think, a more positive and specific pleasure than merely to be. Such judgments, however, show a human bias. They arise from incapacity to throw off acquired organs. Those necessities which have led to the forms of life which we happen to exemplify, and in terms of which our virtues are necessarily expressed, seem to us, in retrospect, happy necessities, since without them our conventional goods would not have come to appeal to us. These conventional goods, however, are only compromises with evil, and the will would never have taken to pursuing them if it had not been dislodged and beaten back from its primary aims. Even food is, for this reason, no absolute blessing; it is only the first and most necessary of comforts, of restorations, of truces and reprieves in that battle with death in which an ultimate defeat is too plainly inevitable; for the pitcher that goes often to the well is at last broken, and a creature that is forced to resist his inward collapse by adventitious aids will some day find that these aids have failed him, and that inward dissolution has become, for some mechanical reason, quite irresistible. It is therefore not only the lazy or mystical will that chafes at the need of material supports and deprecates anxieties about the morrow; the most conventional and passionate mind, when it attains any refinement, confesses the essential servitude involved in such preoccupations by concealing or ignoring them as much as may be. We study to eat as if we were not ravenous, to win as if we were willing to lose, and to treat personal wants in general as merely compulsory and uninteresting matters. Why dwell, we say to ourselves, on our stammerings and failures? The intent is all, and the bungling circumlocutions we may be driven to should be courteously ignored, like a stammerer's troubles, when once our meaning has been conveyed.
Even animal passions are, in this way, after-thoughts and expedients, and although in a brutal age they seem to make up the whole of life, later it appears that they would be gladly enough outgrown, did the material situation permit it. Intellectual life returns, in its freedom, to the attitude proper to primitive will, except that through the new machinery underlying reason a more stable equilibrium has been established with external forces, and the freedom originally absolute has become relative to certain underlying adjustments, adjustments which may be ignored but cannot be abandoned with impunity. Original action, as seen in the vegetable, is purely spontaneous. On the animal level instrumental action is added and chiefly attended to, so that the creature, without knowing what it lives for, finds attractive tasks and a sort of glory in the chase, in love, and in labour. In the Life of Reason this instrumental activity is retained, for it is a necessary basis for human prosperity and power, but the value of life is again sought in the supervening free activity which that adjustment to physical forces, or dominion over them, has made possible on a larger scale. Every free activity would gladly persist for ever; and if any be found that involves and aims at its own arrest or transformation, that activity is thereby proved to be instrumental and servile, imposed from without and not ideal.
[Sidenote: Even vicarious immortality intrinsically impossible.]
Not only is man's original effort aimed at living for ever in his own person, but, even if he could renounce that desire, the dream of being represented perpetually by posterity is no less doomed. Reproduction, like nutrition, is a device not ultimately successful. If extinction does not defeat it, evolution will. Doubtless the fertility of whatever substance may have produced us will not be exhausted in this single effort; a potentiality that has once proved efficacious and been actualised in life, though it should sleep, will in time revive again. In some form and after no matter what intervals, nature may be expected always to possess consciousness. But beyond this planet and apart from the human race, experience is too little imaginable to be interesting. No definite plan or ideal of ours can find its realisation except in ourselves. Accordingly, a vicarious physical immortality always remains an unsatisfactory issue; what is thus to be preserved is but a counterfeit of our being, and even that counterfeit is confronted by omens of a total extinction more or less remote. A note of failure and melancholy must always dominate in the struggle against natural death.
[Sidenote: Intellectual victory over change.]
This defeat is not really problematical, or to be eluded by reviving ill-digested hopes resting entirely on ignorance, an ignorance which these hopes will wish to make eternal. We need not wait for our total death to experience dying; we need not borrow from observation of others' demise a prophecy of our own extinction. Every moment celebrates obsequies over the virtues of its predecessor; and the possession of memory, by which we somehow survive in representation, is the most unmistakable proof that we are perishing in reality. In endowing us with memory, nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unflective creation, the truth of mortality. Everything moves in the midst of death, because it indeed moves; but it falls into the pit unawares and by its own action unmakes and disestablishes itself, until a wonderful visionary faculty is added, so that a ghost remains of what has perished to reveal that lapse and at the same time in a certain sense to neutralise it. The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; yet, without our knowing it, perhaps, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality. That was a heroic and divine oracle which, in informing us of our decay, made us partners of the gods' eternity, and by giving us knowledge poured into us, to that extent, the serenity and balm of truth. As it is memory that enables us to feel that we are dying and to know that everything actual is in flux, so it is memory that opens to us an ideal immortality, unacceptable and meaningless to the old Adam, but genuine in its own way and undeniably true. It is an immortality in representation—a representation which envisages things in their truth as they have in their own day possessed themselves in reality. It is no subterfuge or superstitious effrontery, called to disguise or throw off the lessons of experience; on the contrary, it is experience itself, reflection itself, and knowledge of mortality. Memory does not reprieve or postpone the changes which it registers, nor does it itself possess a permanent duration; it is, if possible, less stable and more mobile than primary sensation. It is, in point of existence, only an internal and complex kind of sensibility. But in intent and by its significance it plunges to the depths of time; it looks still on the departed and bears witness to the truth that, though absent from this part of experience, and incapable of returning to life, they nevertheless existed once in their own right, were as living and actual as experience is to-day, and still help to make up, in company with all past, present, and future mortals, the filling and value of the world.
[Sidenote: The glory of it.]
As the pathos and heroism of life consists in accepting as an opportunity the fate that makes our own death, partial or total, serviceable to others, so the glory of life consists in accepting the knowledge of natural death as an opportunity to live in the spirit. The sacrifice, the self-surrender, remains real; for, though the compensation is real, too, and at moments, perhaps, apparently overwhelming, it is always incomplete and leaves beneath an incurable sorrow. Yet life can never contradict its basis or reach satisfactions essentially excluded by its own conditions. Progress lies in moving forward from the given situation, and satisfying as well as may be the interests that exist. And if some initial demand has proved hopeless, there is the greater reason for cultivating other sources of satisfaction, possibly more abundant and lasting. Now, reflection is a vital function; memory and imagination have to the full the rhythm and force of life. But these faculties, in envisaging the past or the ideal, envisage the eternal, and the man in whose mind they predominate is to that extent detached in his affections from the world of flux, from himself, and from his personal destiny. This detachment will not make him infinitely long-lived, nor absolutely happy, but it may render him intelligent and just, and may open to him all intellectual pleasures and all human sympathies.
There is accordingly an escape from death open to man; one not found by circumventing nature, but by making use of her own expedients in circumventing her imperfections. Memory, nay, perception itself, is a first stage in this escape, which coincides with the acquisition and possession of reason. When the meaning of successive perceptions is recovered with the last of them, when a survey is made of objects whose constitutive sensations first arose independently, this synthetic moment contains an object raised above time on a pedestal of reflection, a thought indefeasibly true in its ideal deliverance, though of course fleeting in its psychic existence. Existence is essentially temporal and life foredoomed to be mortal, since its basis is a process and an opposition; it floats in the stream of time, never to return, never to be recovered or repossessed. But ever since substance became at some sensitive point intelligent and reflective, ever since time made room and pause for memory, for history, for the consciousness of time, a god, as it were, became incarnate in mortality and some vision of truth, some self-forgetful satisfaction, became a heritage that moment could transmit to moment and man to man. This heritage is humanity itself, the presence of immortal reason in creatures that perish. Apprehension, which makes man so like a god, makes him in one respect immortal; it quickens his numbered moments with a vision of what never dies, the truth of those moments and their inalienable values.
[Sidenote: Reason makes man's divinity.]
To participate in this vision is to participate at once in humanity and in divinity, since all other makes bonds are material and perishable, but the bond between two thoughts that have grasped the same truth, of two instants that have caught the same beauty, is a spiritual and imperishable bond. It is imperishable simply because it is ideal and resident merely in import and intent. The two thoughts, the two instants, remain existentially different; were they not two they could not come from different quarters to unite in one meaning and to behold one object in distinct and conspiring acts of apprehension. Being independent in existence, they can be united by the identity of their burden, by the common worship, so to speak, of the same god. Were this ideal goal itself an existence, it would be incapable of uniting anything; for the same gulf which separated the two original minds would open between them and their common object. But being, as it is, purely ideal, it can become the meeting-ground of intelligences and render their union ideally eternal. Among the physical instruments of thought there may be rivalry and impact—the two thinkers may compete and clash—but this is because each seeks his own physical survival and does not love the truth stripped of its accidental associations and provincial accent. Doctors disagree in so far as they are not truly doctors, but, as Plato would say, seek, like sophists and wage-earners, to circumvent and defeat one another. The conflict is physical and can extend to the subject-matter only in so far as this is tainted by individual prejudice and not wholly lifted from the sensuous to the intellectual plane. In the ether there are no winds of doctrine. The intellect, being the organ and source of the divine, is divine and single; if there were many sorts of intellect, many principles of perspective, they would fix and create incomparable and irrelevant worlds. Reason is one in that it gravitates toward an object, called truth, which could not have the function it has, of being a focus for mental activities, if it were not one in reference to the operations which converge upon it.
This unity in truth, as in reason, is of course functional only, not physical or existential. The heats of thought and the thinkers are innumerable; indefinite, too, the variations to which their endowment and habits may be subjected. But the condition of spiritual communion or ideal relevance in these intelligences is their possession of a method and grammar essentially identical. Language, for example, is significant in proportion to the constancy in meaning which words and locutions preserve in a speaker's mind at various times, or in the minds of various persons. This constancy is never absolute. Therefore language is never wholly significant, never exhaustively intelligible. There is always mud in the well, if we have drawn up enough water. Yet in peaceful rivers, though they flow, there is an appreciable degree of translucency. So, from moment to moment, and from man to man, there is an appreciable element of unanimity, of constancy and congruity of intent. On this abstract and perfectly identical function science rests together with every rational formation.
[Sidenote: and his immortality.]
The same function is the seat of human immortality. Reason lifts a larger or smaller element in each man to the plane of ideality according as reason more or less thoroughly leavens and permeates the lump. No man is wholly immortal, as no philosophy is wholly true and no language wholly intelligible; but only in so far as intelligible is a language a language rather than a noise, only in so far as true is a philosophy more than a vent for cerebral humours, and only in so far as a man is rational and immortal is he a man and not a sensorium.
It is hard to convince people that they have such a gift as intelligence. If they perceive its animal basis they cannot conceive its ideal affinities or understand what is meant by calling it divine; if they perceive its ideality and see the immortal essences that swim into its ken, they hotly deny that it is an animal faculty, and invent ultramundane places and bodiless persons in which it is to reside; as if those celestial substances could be, in respect to thought, any less material than matter or, in respect to vision and life, any less instrumental than bodily organs. It never occurs to them that if nature has added intelligence to animal life it is because they belong together. Intelligence is a natural emanation of vitality. If eternity could exist otherwise than as a vision in time, eternity would have no meaning for men in the world, while the world, men, and time would have no vocation or status in eternity. The travail of existence would be without excuse, without issue or consummation, while the conceptions of truth and of perfection would be without application to experience, pure dreams about things preternatural and unreal, vacantly conceived, and illogically supposed to have something to do with living issues. But truth and perfection, for the very reason that they are not problematic existences but inherent ideals, cannot be banished from discourse. Experience may lose any of its data; it cannot lose, while it endures, the terms with which it operates in becoming experience. Now, truth is relevant to every opinion which looks to truth for its standard, and perfection is envisaged in every cry for relief, in every effort at betterment. Opinions, volitions, and passionate refusals fill human life. So that when the existence of truth is denied, truth is given the only status which it ever required—it is conceived.
[Sidenote: It is the locus of all truths.]
Nor can any better defense be found for the denial that nature and her life have a status in eternity. This statement may not be understood, but if grasped at all it will not be questioned. By having a status in eternity is not meant being parts of an eternal existence, petrified or congealed into something real but motionless. What is meant is only that whatever exists in time, when bathed in the light of reflection, acquires an indelible character and discloses irreversible relations; every fact, in being recognised, takes its place in the universe of discourse, in that ideal sphere of truth which is the common and unchanging standard for all assertions. Language, science, art, religion, and all ambitious dreams are compacted of ideas. Life is as much a mosaic of notions as the firmament is of stars; and these ideal and transpersonal objects, bridging time, fixing standards, establishing values, constituting the natural rewards of all living, are the very furniture of eternity, the goals and playthings of that reason which is an instinct in the heart as vital and spontaneous as any other. Or rather, perhaps, reason is a supervening instinct by which all other instincts are interpreted, just as the sensus communis or transcendental unity of psychology is a faculty by which all perceptions are brought face to face and compared. So that immortality is not a privilege reserved for a part only of experience, but rather a relation pervading every part in varying measure. We may, in leaving the subject, mark the degrees and phases of this idealisation.
[Sidenote: Epicurean immortality, through the truth of existence.]
Animal sensation is related to eternity only by the truth that it has taken place. The fact, fleeting as it is, is registered in ideal history and no inventory of the world's riches, no true confession of its crimes, would ever be complete that ignored that incident. This indefeasible character in experience makes a first sort of ideal immortality, one on which those rational philosophers like to dwell who have not speculation enough to feel quite certain of any other. It was a consolation to the Epicurean to remember that, however brief and uncertain might be his tenure of delight, the past was safe and the present sure. "He lives happy," says Horace, "and master over himself, who can say daily, I have lived. To-morrow let Jove cover the sky with black clouds or flood it with sunshine; he shall not thereby render vain what lies behind, he shall not delete and make never to have existed what once the hour has brought in its flight." Such self-concentration and hugging of the facts has no power to improve them; it gives to pleasure and pain an impartial eternity, and rather tends to intrench in sensuous and selfish satisfactions a mind that has lost faith in reason and that deliberately ignores the difference in scope and dignity which exists among various pursuits. Yet the reflection is staunch and in its way heroic; it meets a vague and feeble aspiration, that looks to the infinite, with a just rebuke; it points to real satisfactions, experienced successes, and asks us to be content with the fulfilment of our own wills. If you have seen the world, if you have played your game and won it, what more would you ask for? If you have tasted the sweets of existence, you should be satisfied; if the experience has been bitter, you should be glad that it comes to an end.
Of course, as we have seen, there is a primary demand in man which death and mutation contradict flatly, so that no summons to cease can ever be obeyed with complete willingness. Even the suicide trembles and the ascetic feels the stings of the flesh. It is the part of philosophy, however, to pass over those natural repugnances and overlay them with as much countervailing rationality as can find lodgment in a particular mind. The Epicurean, having abandoned politics and religion and being afraid of any far-reaching ambition, applied philosophy honestly enough to what remained. Simple and healthy pleasures are the reward of simple and healthy pursuits; to chafe against them because they are limited is to import a foreign and disruptive element into the case; a healthy hunger has its limit, and its satisfaction reaches a natural term. Philosophy, far from alienating us from those values, should teach us to see their perfection and to maintain them in our ideal. In other words, the happy filling of a single hour is so much gained for the universe at large, and to find joy and sufficiency in the flying moment is perhaps the only means open to us for increasing the glory of eternity.
[Sidenote: Logical immortality, through objects of thought.]
Moving events, while remaining enshrined in this fashion in their permanent setting, may contain other and less external relations to the immutable. They may represent it. If the pleasures of sense are not cancelled when they cease, but continue to satisfy reason in that they once satisfied natural desires, much more will the pleasures of reflection retain their worth, when we consider that what they aspired to and reached was no momentary physical equilibrium but a permanent truth. As Archimedes, measuring the hypothenuse, was lost to events, being engaged in an event of much greater transcendence, so art and science interrupt the sense for change by engrossing attention in its issues and its laws. Old age often turns pious to look away from ruins to some world where youth endures and where what ought to have been is not overtaken by decay before it has quite come to maturity. Lost in such abstract contemplations, the mind is weaned from mortal concerns. It forgets for a few moments a world in which it has so little more to do and so much, perhaps, still to suffer. As a sensation of pure light would not be distinguishable from light itself, so a contemplation of things not implicating time in their structure becomes, so far as its own deliverance goes, a timeless existence. Unconsciousness of temporal conditions and of the very flight of time makes the thinker sink for a moment into identity with timeless objects. And so immortality, in a second ideal sense, touches the mind.
[Sidenote: Ethical immortality, through types of excellence.]
The transitive phases of consciousness, however, have themselves a reference to eternal things. They yield a generous enthusiasm and love of good which is richer in consolation than either Epicurean self-concentration or mathematical ecstasy. Events are more interesting than the terms we abstract from them, and the forward movement of the will is something more intimately real than is the catalogue of our past experiences. Now the forward movement of the will is an avenue to the eternal. What would you have? What is the goal of your endeavour? It must be some success, the establishment of some order, the expression of some experience. These points once reached, we are not left merely with the satisfaction of abstract success or the consciousness of ideal immortality. Being natural goals, these ideals are related to natural functions. Their attainment does not exhaust but merely liberates, in this instance, the function concerned, and so marks the perpetual point of reference common to that function in all its fluctuations. Every attainment of perfection in an art—as for instance in government—makes a return to perfection easier for posterity, since there remains an enlightening example, together with faculties predisposed by discipline to recover their ancient virtue. The better a man evokes and realises the ideal the more he leads the life that all others, in proportion to their worth, will seek to live after him, and the more he helps them to live in that nobler fashion. His presence in the society of immortals thus becomes, so to speak, more pervasive. He not only vanquishes time, by his own rationality, living now in the eternal, but he continually lives again in all rational beings.
Since the ideal has this perpetual pertinence to mortal struggles, he who lives in the ideal and leaves it expressed in society or in art enjoys a double immortality. The eternal has absorbed him while he lived, and when he is dead his influence brings others to the same absorption, making them, through that ideal identity with the best in him, reincarnations and perennial seats of all in him which he could rationally hope to rescue from destruction. He can say, without any subterfuge or desire to delude himself, that he shall not wholly die; for he will have a better notion than the vulgar of what constitutes his being. By becoming the spectator and confessor of his own death and of universal mutation, he will have identified himself with what is spiritual in all spirits and masterful in all apprehension; and so conceiving himself, he may truly feel and know that he is eternal.
[Sidenote: The failure of magic.]
The preceding analysis of religion, although it is illustrated mainly by Christianity, may enable us in a general way to distinguish the rational goal of all religious life. In no sphere is the contrast clearer between wisdom and folly; in none, perhaps, has there been so much of both. It was a prodigious delusion to imagine that work could be done by magic; and the desperate appeal which human weakness has made to prayer, to castigations, to miscellaneous fantastic acts, in the hope of thereby bending nature to greater sympathy with human necessities, is a pathetic spectacle; all the more pathetic in that here the very importunity of evil, which distracted the mind and allowed it no choice or deliberation, prevented very often those practical measures which, if lighted upon, would have instantly relieved the situation. Religion when it has tried to do man's work for him has not only cheated hope, but consumed energy and drawn away attention from the true means of success.
[Sidenote: and of mythology.]
[Sidenote: Their imaginative value.]
No less useless and retarding has been the effort to give religion the function of science. Mythology, in excogitating hidden dramatic causes for natural phenomena, or in attributing events to the human values which they might prevent or secure, has profoundly perverted and confused the intellect; it has delayed and embarrassed the discovery of natural forces, at the same time fostering presumptions which, on being exploded, tended to plunge men, by revulsion, into an artificial despair. At the same time this experiment in mythology involved wonderful creations which have a poetic value of their own, to offset their uselessness in some measure and the obstruction they have occasioned. In imagining human agents behind every appearance fancy has given appearances some kinship to human life; it has made nature a mass of hieroglyphics and enlarged to that extent the means of human expression. While objects and events were capriciously moralised, the mind's own plasticity has been developed by its great exercise in self-projection. To imagine himself a thunder-cloud or a river, the dispenser of silent benefits and the contriver of deep-seated universal harmonies, has actually stimulated man's moral nature: he has grown larger by thinking himself so large.
Through the dense cloud of false thought and bad habit in which religion thus wrapped the world, some rays broke through from the beginning; for mythology and magic expressed life and sought to express its conditions. Human needs and human ideals went forth in these forms to solicit and to conquer the world; and since these imaginative methods, for their very ineptitude, rode somewhat lightly over particular issues and envisaged rather distant goods, it was possible through them to give aspiration and reflection greater scope than the meaner exigencies of life would have permitted. Where custom ruled morals and a narrow empiricism bounded the field of knowledge, it was partly a blessing that imagination should be given an illegitimate sway. Without misunderstanding, there might have been no understanding at all; without confidence in supernatural support, the heart might never have uttered its own oracles. So that in close association with superstition and fable we find piety and spirituality entering the world.
[Sidenote: Piety and spirituality justified.]
Rational religion has these two phases: piety, or loyalty to necessary conditions, and spirituality, or devotion to ideal ends. These simple sanctities make the core of all the others. Piety drinks at the deep, elemental sources of power and order: it studies nature, honours the past, appropriates and continues its mission. Spirituality uses the strength thus acquired, remodelling all it receives, and looking to the future and the ideal. True religion is entirely human and political, as was that of the ancient Hebrews, Romans, and Greeks. Supernatural machinery is either symbolic of natural conditions and moral aims or else is worthless.
[Sidenote: Mysticism a primordial state of feeling.]
There is one other phase or possible overtone of religion about which a word might be added in conclusion. What is called mysticism is a certain genial loosening of convention, whether rational or mythical; the mystic smiles at science and plays with theology, undermining both by force of his insight and inward assurance. He is all faith, all love, all vision, but he is each of these things in vacuo, and in the absence of any object.
Mysticism can exist, in varied degrees, at any stage of rational development. Its presence is therefore no indication of the worth or worthlessness of its possessor. This circumstance tends to obscure its nature, which would otherwise be obvious enough. Seeing the greatest saints and philosophers grow mystical in their highest flights, an innocent observer might imagine that mysticism was an ultimate attitude, which only his own incapacity kept him from understanding. But exactly the opposite is the case. Mysticism is the most primitive of feelings and only visits formed minds in moments of intellectual arrest and dissolution. It can exist in a child, very likely in an animal; indeed, to parody a phrase of Hegel's, the only pure mystics are the brutes. When articulation fails in the face of experience; when instinct guides without kindling any prophetic idea to which action may be inwardly referred; when life and hope and joy flow through the soul from an unknown region to an unknown end, then consciousness is mystical. Such an experience may suffuse the best equipped mind, if its primordial energies, its will and emotions, much outrun its intelligence. Just as at the beginning pure inexperience may flounder intellectually and yet may have a sense of not going astray, a sense of being carried by earth and sky, by contagion and pleasure, into its animal paradise; so at the end, if the vegetative forces still predominate, all articulate experience may be lifted up and carried down-stream bodily by the elementary flood rising from beneath.
[Sidenote: It may recur at any stage of culture.]
Every religion, all science, all art, is accordingly subject to incidental mysticism; but in no case can mysticism stand alone and be the body or basis of anything. In the Life of Reason it is, if I may say so, a normal disease, a recurrent manifestation of lost equilibrium and interrupted growth; but in these pauses, when the depths rise to the surface and obliterate what scratches culture may have made there, the rhythm of life may be more powerfully felt, and the very disappearance of intellect may be taken for a revelation. Both in a social and a psychological sense revelations come from beneath, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; and while they fill the spirit with contempt for those fragile structures which they so easily overwhelm, they are utterly incapable of raising anything on the ruins. If they leave something standing it is only by involuntary accident, and if they prepare the soil for anything, it is commonly only for wild-flowers and weeds. Revelations are seldom beneficent, therefore, unless there is more evil in the world to destroy than good to preserve; and mysticism, under the same circumstances, may also liberate and relieve the spirit.
[Sidenote: Form gives substance its life and value.]
The feelings which in mysticism rise to the surface and speak in their own name are simply the ancient, overgrown feelings of vitality, dependence, inclusion; they are the background of consciousness coming forward and blotting out the scene. What mysticism destroys is, in a sense, its only legitimate expression. The Life of Reason, in so far as it is life, contains the mystic's primordial assurances, and his rudimentary joys; but in so far as it is rational it has discovered what those assurances rest on, in what direction they may be trusted to support action and thought; and it has given those joys distinction and connexion, turning a dumb momentary ecstasy into a many-coloured and natural happiness.
*** End of Volume Three ***
REASON IN ART
Volume Four of "The Life of Reason"
he gar noy enhergeia zohe
This Dover edition, first published in 1982, is an unabridged republication of volume four of The Life of Reason; or The Phases of Human Progress, originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons, N.Y., in 1905.
REASON IN ART
THE BASIS OF ART IN INSTINCT AND EXPERIENCE
Man affects his environment, sometimes to good purpose.—Art is plastic instinct conscious of its aims.—It is automatic.—So are the ideas it expresses.—We are said to control whatever obeys us.—Utility is a result.—The useful naturally stable.—Intelligence is docility.—Art is reason propagating itself.—Beauty an incident in rational art, inseparable from the others. Pages 3-17
RATIONALITY OF INDUSTRIAL ART
Utility is ultimately ideal.—Work wasted and chances missed.—Ideals must be interpreted, not prescribed.—The aim of industry is to live well.—Some arts, but no men, are slaves by nature.—Servile arts may grow spontaneous or their products may be renounced.—Art starts from two potentialities: its material and its problem.—Each must be definite and congruous with the other.—A sophism exposed.—Industry prepares matter for the liberal arts.—Each partakes of the other. Pages 18-33
EMERGENCE OF FINE ART
Art is spontaneous action made stable by success.—It combines utility and automatism.—Automatism fundamental and irresponsible.—It is tamed by contact with the world.—The dance.—Functions of gesture.—Automatic music. Pages 34-43
Music is a world apart.—It justifies itself.—It is vital and transient.—Its physical affinities.—Physiology of music.—Limits of musical sensibility.—The value of music is relative to them.—Wonders of musical structure.—Its inherent emotions.—In growing specific they remain unearthly.—They merge with common emotions, and express such as find no object in nature.—Music lends elementary feelings an intellectual communicable form.—All essences are in themselves good, even the passions.—Each impulse calls for a possible congenial world.—Literature incapable of expressing pure feelings.—Music may do so.—Instability the soul of matter.—- Peace the triumph of spirit.—Refinement is true strength. Pages 44-67
SPEECH AND SIGNIFICATION
Sounds well fitted to be symbols.—Language has a structure independent of things.—Words, remaining identical, serve to identify things that change.—Language the dialectical garment of facts.—Words are wise men's counters.—Nominalism right in psychology and realism in logic.—Literature moves between the extremes of music and denotation.—Sound and object, in their sensuous presence, may have affinity.—Syntax positively representative.—Yet it vitiates what it represents.—Difficulty in subduing a living medium.—Language foreshortens experience.—It is a perpetual mythology.—It may be apt or inapt, with equal richness.—Absolute language a possible but foolish art Pages 68-86
POETRY AND PROSE
Force of primary expressions.—Its exclusiveness and narrowness.—Rudimentary poetry an incantation or charm.—Inspiration irresponsible.—Plato's discriminating view.—Explosive and pregnant expression.—Natural history of inspiration.—Expressions to be understood must be recreated, and so changed.—Expressions may be recast perversely, humourously, or sublimely.—The nature of prose.—It is more advanced and responsible than poetry.—Maturity brings love of practical truth.—Pure prose would tend to efface itself.—Form alone, or substance alone, may be poetical.—Poetry has its place in the medium.—It is the best medium possible.—Might it not convey what it is best to know?—A rational poetry would exclude much now thought poetical.—All apperception modifies its object.—Reason has its own bias and method.—Rational poetry would envelop exact knowledge in ultimate emotions.—An illustration.—Volume can be found in scope better than in suggestion Pages 87-115
Automatic expression often leaves traces in the outer world.—Such effects fruitful.—Magic authority of man's first creations.—Art brings relief from idolatry.—Inertia in technique.—Inertia in appreciation.—Adventitious effects appreciated first.—Approach to beauty through useful structure.—Failure of adapted styles.—Not all structure beautiful, nor all beauty structural.—Structures designed for display.—Appeal made by decoration.—Its natural rights.—Its alliance with structure in Greek architecture.—Relations of the two in Gothic art.—The result here romantic.—The mediaeval artist.—Representation introduced.—Transition to illustration. Pages 116-143
Psychology of imitation.—Sustained sensation involves reproduction.—Imitative art repeats with intent to repeat, and in a new material.—Imitation leads to adaptation and to knowledge.—How the artist is inspired and irresponsible.—Need of knowing and loving the subject rendered.—Public interests determine the subject of art, and the subject the medium.—Reproduction by acting ephemeral.—demands of sculpture.—It is essentially obsolete.—When men see groups and backgrounds they are natural painters.—Evolution of painting.—Sensuous and dramatic adequacy approached.—Essence of landscape-painting.—Its threatened dissolution.—Reversion to pure decorative design.—Sensuous values are primordial and so indispensable Pages 144-165
JUSTIFICATION OF ART
Art is subject to moral censorship.—Its initial or specific excellence is not enough.—All satisfactions, however hurtful, have an initial worth.—But, on the whole, artistic activity is innocent.—It is liberal, and typical of perfect activity.—The ideal, when incarnate, becomes subject to civil society.—Plato's strictures: he exaggerates the effect of myths.—His deeper moral objections.—Their lightness.—Importance of aesthetic alternatives.—The importance of aesthetic goods varies with temperaments.—The aesthetic temperament requires tutelage.—Aesthetic values everywhere interfused.—They are primordial.—To superpose them adventitiously is to destroy them.—They flow naturally from perfect function.—Even inhibited functions, when they fall into a new rhythm, yield new beauties.—He who loves beauty must chasten it Pages 166-190
THE CRITERION OF TASTE
Dogmatism is inevitable but may be enlightened.—Taste gains in authority as it is more and more widely based.—Different aesthetic endowments may be compared in quantity or force.—Authority of vital over verbal judgments.—Tastes differ also in purity or consistency.—They differ, finally, in pertinence, and in width of appeal.—Art may grow classic by idealising the familiar, or by reporting the ultimate.—Good taste demands that art should be rational, i.e., harmonious with all other interests.—A mere "work of art" a baseless artifice.—Human uses give to works of art their highest expression and charm.—The sad values of appearance.—They need to be made prophetic of practical goods, which in turn would be suffused with beauty Pages 191-215
ART AND HAPPINESS
Aesthetic harmonies are parodies of real ones, which in turn would be suffused with beauty, yet prototypes of true perfections.—Pros and cons of detached indulgences.—The happy imagination is one initially in line with things, and brought always closer to them by experience.—Reason is the principle of both art and happiness.—Only a rational society can have sure and perfect arts.—Why art is now empty and unstable.—Anomalous character of the irrational artist.—True art measures and completes happiness. Pages 216-230
REASON IN ART
THE BASIS OF ART IN INSTINCT AND EXPERIENCE
[Sidenote: Man affects his environment, sometimes to good purpose.]
Man exists amid a universal ferment of being, and not only needs plasticity in his habits and pursuits but finds plasticity also in the surrounding world. Life is an equilibrium which is maintained now by accepting modification and now by imposing it. Since the organ for all activity is a body in mechanical relation to other material objects, objects which the creature's instincts often compel him to appropriate or transform, changes in his habits and pursuits leave their mark on whatever he touches. His habitat must needs bear many a trace of his presence, from which intelligent observers might infer something about his life and action. These vestiges of action are for the most part imprinted unconsciously and aimlessly on the world. They are in themselves generally useless, like footprints; and yet almost any sign of man's passage might, under certain conditions, interest a man. A footprint could fill Robinson Crusoe with emotion, the devastation wrought by an army's march might prove many things to a historian, and even the disorder in which a room is casually left may express very vividly the owner's ways and character.
Sometimes, however, man's traces are traces of useful action which has so changed natural objects as to make them congenial to his mind. Instead of a footprint we might find an arrow; instead of a disordered room, a well-planted orchard—things which would not only have betrayed the agent's habits, but would have served and expressed his intent. Such propitious forms given by man to matter are no less instrumental in the Life of Reason than are propitious forms assumed by man's own habit or fancy. Any operation which thus humanises and rationalises objects is called art.
[Sidenote: Art is plastic instinct conscious of its aim.]
All art has an instinctive source and a material embodiment. If the birds in building nests felt the utility of what they do, they would be practising an art; and for the instinct to be called rational it would even suffice that their traditional purpose and method should become conscious occasionally. Thus weaving is an art, although the weaver may not be at every moment conscious of its purpose, but may be carried along, like any other workman, by the routine of his art; and language is a rational product, not because it always has a use or meaning, but because it is sometimes felt to have one. Arts are no less automatic than instincts, and usually, as Aristotle observed, less thoroughly purposive; for instincts, being transmitted by inheritance and imbedded in congenital structure, have to be economically and deeply organised. If they go far wrong they constitute a burden impossible to throw off and impossible to bear. The man harassed by inordinate instincts perishes through want, vice, disease, or madness. Arts, on the contrary, being transmitted only by imitation and teaching, hover more lightly over life. If ill-adjusted they make less havoc and cause less drain. The more superficial they are and the more detached from practical habits, the more extravagant and meaningless they can dare to become; so that the higher products of life are the most often gratuitous. No instinct or institution was ever so absurd as is a large part of human poetry and philosophy, while the margin of ineptitude is much broader in religious myth than in religious ethics.
[Sidenote: It is automatic.]
Arts are instincts bred and reared in the open, creative habits acquired in the light of reason. Consciousness accompanies their formation; a certain uneasiness or desire and a more or less definite conception of what is wanted often precedes their full organisation. That the need should be felt before the means for satisfying it have been found has led the unreflecting to imagine that in art the need produces the discovery and the idea the work. Causes at best are lightly assigned by mortals, and this particular superstition is no worse than any other. The data—the plan and its execution—as conjoined empirically in the few interesting cases which show successful achievement, are made into a law, in oblivion of the fact that in more numerous cases such conjunction fails wholly or in part, and that even in the successful cases other natural conditions are present, and must be present, to secure the result. In a matter where custom is so ingrained and supported by a constant apperceptive illusion, there is little hope of making thought suddenly exact, or exact language not paradoxical. We must observe, however, that only by virtue of a false perspective do ideas seems to govern action, or is a felt necessity the mother of invention. In truth invention is the child of abundance, and the genius or vital premonition and groping which achieve art, simultaneously achieve the ideas which that art embodies; or, rather, ideas are themselves products of an inner movement which has an automatic extension outwards; and this extension manifests the ideas. Mere craving has no lights of its own to prophesy by, no prescience of what the world may contain that would satisfy, no power of imagining what would allay its unrest. Images and satisfactions have to come of themselves; then the blind craving, as it turns into an incipient pleasure, first recognises its object. The pure will's impotence is absolute, and it would writhe for ever and consume itself in darkness if perception gave it no light and experience no premonition.
[Sidenote: So are the ideas it expresses.]
Now, a man cannot draw bodily from external perception the ideas he is supposed to create or invent; and as his will or uneasiness, before he creates the satisfying ideas, is by hypothesis without them, it follows that creation or invention is automatic. The ideas come of themselves, being new and unthought-of figments, similar, no doubt, to old perceptions and compacted of familiar materials, but reproduced in a novel fashion and dropping in their sudden form from the blue. However instantly they may be welcomed, they were not already known and never could have been summoned. In the stock example, for instance, of groping for a forgotten name, we know the context in which that name should lie; we feel the environment of our local void; but what finally pops into that place, reinstated there by the surrounding tensions, is itself unforeseen, for it was just this that was forgotten. Could we have invoked the name we should not have needed to do so, having it already at our disposal. It is in fact a palpable impossibility that any idea should call itself into being, or that any act or any preference should be its own ground. The responsibility assumed for these things is not a determination to conceive them before they are conceived (which is a contradiction in terms) but an embrace and appropriation of them once they have appeared. It is thus that ebullitions in parts of our nature become touchstones for the whole; and the incidents within us seem hardly our own work till they are accepted and incorporated into the main current of our being. All invention is tentative, all art experimental, and to be sought, like salvation, with fear and trembling. There is a painful pregnancy in genius, a long incubation and waiting for the spirit, a thousand rejections and futile birth-pangs, before the wonderful child appears, a gift of the gods, utterly undeserved and inexplicably perfect. Even this unaccountable success comes only in rare and fortunate instances. What is ordinarily produced is so base a hybrid, so lame and ridiculous a changeling, that we reconcile ourselves with difficulty to our offspring and blush to be represented by our fated works.
[Sidenote: We are said to control whatever obeys us.]
The propensity to attribute happy events to our own agency, little as we understand what we mean by it, and to attribute only untoward results to external forces, has its ground in the primitive nexus of experience. What we call ourselves is a certain cycle of vegetative processes, bringing a round of familiar impulses and ideas; this stream has a general direction, a conscious vital inertia, in harmony with which it moves. Many of the developments within it are dialectical; that is, they go forward by inner necessity, like an egg hatching within its shell, warmed but undisturbed by an environment of which they are wholly oblivious; and this sort of growth, when there is adequate consciousness of it, is felt to be both absolutely obvious and absolutely free. The emotion that accompanies it is pleasurable, but is too active and proud to call itself a pleasure; it has rather the quality of assurance and right. This part of life, however, is only its courageous core; about it play all sorts of incidental processes, allying themselves to it in more or less congruous movement. Whatever peripheral events fall in with the central impulse are accordingly lost in its energy and felt to be not so much peripheral and accidental as inwardly grounded, being, like the stages of a prosperous dialectic, spontaneously demanded and instantly justified when they come.
The sphere of the self's power is accordingly, for primitive consciousness, simply the sphere of what happens well; it is the entire unoffending and obedient part of the world. A man who has good luck at dice prides himself upon it, and believes that to have it is his destiny and desert. If his luck were absolutely constant, he would say he had the power to throw high; and as the event would, by hypothesis, sustain his boast, there would be no practical error in that assumption. A will that never found anything to thwart it would think itself omnipotent; and as the psychological essence of omniscience is not to suspect there is anything which you do not know, so the psychological essence of omnipotence is not to suspect that anything can happen which you do not desire. Such claims would undoubtedly be made if experience lent them the least colour; but would even the most comfortable and innocent assurances of this sort cease to be precarious? Might not any moment of eternity bring the unimagined contradiction, and shake the dreaming god?
[Sidenote: Utility is a result.]
Utility, like significance, is an eventual harmony in the arts and by no means their ground. All useful things have been discovered as the Lilliputians discovered roast pig; and the casual feat has furthermore to be supported by a situation favourable to maintaining the art. The most useful act will never be repeated unless its secret remains embodied in structure. Practice and endeavour will not help an artist to remain long at his best; and many a performance is applauded which cannot be imitated. To create the requisite structure two preformed structures are needed: one in the agent, to give him skill and perseverance, and another in the material, to give it the right plasticity. Human progress would long ago have reached its goal if every man who recognised a good could at once appropriate it, and possess wisdom for ever by virtue of one moment's insight. Insight, unfortunately, is in itself perfectly useless and inconsequential; it can neither have produced its own occasion nor now insure its own recurrence. Nevertheless, being proof positive that whatever basis it needs is actual, insight is also an indication that the extant structure, if circumstances maintain it, may continue to operate with the same moral results, maintaining the vision which it has once supported.
[Sidenote: The useful naturally stable.]
When men find that by chance they have started a useful change in the world, they congratulate themselves upon it and call their persistence in that practice a free activity. And the activity is indeed rational, since it subserves an end. The happy organisation which enables us to continue in that rational course is the very organisation which enabled us to initiate it. If this new process was formed under external influences, the same influences, when they operate again, will reconstitute the process each time more easily; while if it was formed quite spontaneously, its own inertia will maintain it quietly in the brain and bring it to the surface whenever circumstances permit. This is what is called learning by experience. Such lessons are far from indelible and are not always at command. Yet what has once been done may be repeated; repetition reinforces itself and becomes habit; and a clear memory of the benefit once attained by fortunate action, representing as it does the trace left by that action in the system, and its harmony with the man's usual impulses (for the action is felt to be beneficial), constitutes a strong presumption that the act will be repeated automatically on occasion; i.e., that it has really been learned. Consciousness, which willingly attends to results only, will judge either the memory or the benefit, or both confusedly, to be the ground of this readiness to act; and only if some hitch occurs in the machinery, so that rational behaviour fails to takes place, will a surprised appeal be made to material accidents, or to a guilty forgetfulness or indocility in the soul.
[Sidenote: Intelligence is docility.]
The idiot cannot learn from experience at all, because a new process, in his liquid brain, does not modify structure; while the fool uses what he has learned only inaptly and in frivolous fragments, because his stretches of linked experience are short and their connections insecure. But when the cerebral plasm is fresh and well disposed and when the paths are clear, attention is consecutive and learning easy; a multitude of details can be gathered into a single cycle of memory or of potential regard. Under such circumstances action is the unimpeded expression of healthy instinct in an environment squarely faced. Conduct from the first then issues in progress, and, by reinforcing its own organisation at each rehearsal, makes progress continual. For there will subsist not only a readiness to act and a great precision in action, but if any significant circumstance has varied in the conditions or in the interests at stake, this change will make itself felt; it will check the process and prevent precipitate action. Deliberation or well-founded scruple has the same source as facility—a plastic and quick organisation. To be sensitive to difficulties and dangers goes with being sensitive to opportunities.
[Sidenote: Art is reason propagating itself.]
Of all reason's embodiments art is therefore the most splendid and complete. Merely to attain categories by which inner experience may be articulated, or to feign analogies by which a universe may be conceived, would be but a visionary triumph if it remained ineffectual and went with no actual remodelling of the outer world, to render man's dwelling more appropriate and his mind better fed and more largely transmissible. Mind grows self-perpetuating only by its expression in matter. What makes progress possible is that rational action may leave traces in nature, such that nature in consequence furnishes a better basis for the Life of Reason; in other words progress is art bettering the conditions of existence. Until art arises, all achievement is internal to the brain, dies with the individual, and even in him spends itself without recovery, like music heard in a dream. Art, in establishing instruments for human life beyond the human body, and moulding outer things into sympathy with inner values, establishes a ground whence values may continually spring up; the thatch that protects from to-day's rain will last and keep out to-morrow's rain also; the sign that once expresses an idea will serve to recall it in future.
Not only does the work of art thus perpetuate its own function and produce a better experience, but the process of art also perpetuates itself, because it is teachable. Every animal learns something by living; but if his offspring inherit only what he possessed at birth, they have to learn life's lessons over again from the beginning, with at best some vague help given by their parents' example. But when the fruits of experience exist in the common environment, when new instruments, unknown to nature, are offered to each individual for his better equipment, although he must still learn for himself how to live, he may learn in a humaner school, where artificial occasions are constantly open to him for expanding his powers. It is no longer merely hidden inner processes that he must reproduce to attain his predecessors' wisdom; he may acquire much of it more expeditiously by imitating their outward habit—an imitation which, furthermore, they have some means of exacting from him. Wherever there is art there is a possibility of training. A father who calls his idle sons from the jungle to help him hold the plough, not only inures them to labour but compels them to observe the earth upturned and refreshed, and to watch the germination there; their wandering thought, their incipient rebellions, will be met by the hope of harvest; and it will not be impossible for them, when their father is dead, to follow the plough of their own initiative and for their own children's sake. So great is the sustained advance in rationality made possible by art which, being embodied in matter, is teachable and transmissible by training; for in art the values secured are recognised the more easily for having been first enjoyed when other people furnished the means to them; while the maintenance of these values is facilitated by an external tradition imposing itself contagiously or by force on each new generation.
[Sidenote: Beauty an incident in rational art.]
Art is action which transcending the body makes the world a more congenial stimulus to the soul. All art is therefore useful and practical, and the notable aesthetic value which some works of art possess, for reasons flowing for the most part out of their moral significance, is itself one of the satisfactions which art offers to human nature as a whole. Between sensation and abstract discourse lies a region of deployed sensibility or synthetic representation, a region where more is seen at arm's length than in any one moment could be felt at close quarters, and yet where the remote parts of experience, which discourse reaches only through symbols, are recovered and recomposed in something like their native colours and experienced relations. This region, called imagination, has pleasures more airy and luminous than those of sense, more massive and rapturous than those of intelligence. The values inherent in imagination, in instant intuition, in sense endowed with form, are called aesthetic values; they are found mainly in nature and living beings, but often also in man's artificial works, in images evoked by language, and in the realm of sound.
[Sidenote: Inseparable from the others.]
Productions in which an aesthetic value is or is supposed to be prominent take the name of fine art; but the work of fine art so defined is almost always an abstraction from the actual object, which has many non-aesthetic functions and values. To separate the aesthetic element, abstract and dependent as it often is, is an artifice which is more misleading than helpful; for neither in the history of art nor in a rational estimate of its value can the aesthetic function of things be divorced from the practical and moral. What had to be done was, by imaginative races, done imaginatively; what had to be spoken or made, was spoken or made fitly, lovingly, beautifully. Or, to take the matter up on its psychological side, the ceaseless experimentation and ferment of ideas, in breeding what it had a propensity to breed, came sometimes on figments that gave it delightful pause; these beauties were the first knowledges and these arrests the first hints of real and useful things. The rose's grace could more easily be plucked from its petals than the beauty of art from its subject, occasion, and use. An aesthetic fragrance, indeed, all things may have, if in soliciting man's senses or reason they can awaken his imagination as well; but this middle zone is so mixed and nebulous, and its limits are so vague, that it cannot well be treated in theory otherwise than as it exists in fact—as a phase of man's sympathy with the world he moves in. If art is that element in the Life of Reason which consists in modifying its environment the better to attain its end, art may be expected to subserve all parts of the human ideal, to increase man's comfort, knowledge, and delight. And as nature, in her measure, is wont to satisfy these interests together, so art, in seeking to increase that satisfaction, will work simultaneously in every ideal direction. Nor will any of these directions be on the whole good, or tempt a well-trained will, if it leads to estrangement from all other interests. The aesthetic good will be accordingly hatched in the same nest with the others, and incapable of flying far in a different air.
RATIONALITY OF INDUSTRIAL ART
[Sidenote: Utility is ultimately ideal.]
If there were anything wholly instrumental or merely useful its rationality, such as it was, would be perfectly obvious. Such a thing would be exhaustively defined by its result and conditioned exclusively by its expediency. Yet the value of most human arts, mechanical as they may appear, has a somewhat doubtful and mixed character. Naval architecture, for instance, serves a clear immediate purpose. Yet to cross the sea is not an ultimate good, and the ambition or curiosity that first led man, being a land-animal, to that now vulgar adventure, has sometimes found moralists to condemn it. A vessel's true excellence is more deeply conditioned than the ship-wright may imagine when he prides himself on having made something that will float and go. The best battle-ship, or racing yacht, or freight steamer, might turn out to be a worse thing for its specific excellence, if the action it facilitated proved on the whole maleficent, and if war or racing or trade could be rightly condemned by a philosopher. The rationality of ship-building has several sets of conditions: the patron's demands must be first fulfilled; then the patron's specifications have to be judged by the purpose he in turn has in mind; this purpose itself has to be justified by his ideal in life, and finally his ideal by its adequacy to his total or ultimate nature. Error on any of these planes makes the ultimate product irrational; and if a finer instinct, even in the midst of absorbing subsidiary action, warns a man that he is working against his highest good, his art will lose its savour and its most skilful products will grow hateful, even to his immediate apprehension, infected as they will be by the canker of folly.
[Sidenote: Work wasted and chances missed.]
Art thus has its casuistry no less than morals, and philosophers in the future, if man should at last have ceased to battle with ghosts, might be called upon to review material civilisation from its beginnings, testing each complication by its known ultimate fruits and reaching in this way a purified and organic ideal of human industry, an ideal which education and political action might help to embody. If nakedness or a single garment were shown to be wholesomer and more agreeable than complicated clothes, weavers and tailors might be notably diminished in number. If, in another quarter, popular fancy should sicken at last of its traditional round of games and fictions, it might discover infinite entertainment in the play of reality and truth, and infinite novelties to be created by fruitful labour; so that many a pleasure might be found which is now clogged by mere apathy and unintelligence. Human genius, like a foolish Endymion, lies fast asleep amid its opportunities, wasting itself in dreams and disinheriting itself by negligence.
[Sidenote: Ideals must be interpreted, not prescribed.]
Descriptive economy, however, will have to make great progress before the concrete ethics of art can be properly composed. History, conceived hitherto as a barbarous romance, does not furnish sufficient data by which the happiness of life under various conditions may be soberly estimated. Politics has receded into the region of blind impulse and factional interests, and would need to be reconstituted before it could approach again that scientific problem which Socrates and his great disciples would have wished it to solve. Meantime it may not be premature to say something about another factor in practical philosophy, namely, the ultimate interests by which industrial arts and their products have to be estimated. Even before we know the exact effects of an institution we can fix to some extent the purposes which, in order to be beneficent, it will have to subserve, although in truth such antecedent fixing of aims cannot go far, seeing that every operation reacts on the organ that executes it, thereby modifying the ideal involved. Doubtless the most industrial people would still wish to be happy and might accordingly lay down certain principles which its industry should never transgress, as for instance that production should at any price leave room for liberty, leisure, beauty, and a spirit of general co-operation and goodwill. But a people once having become industrial will hardly be happy if sent back to Arcadia; it will have formed busy habits which it cannot relax without tedium; it will have developed a restlessness and avidity which will crave matter, like any other kind of hunger. Every experiment in living qualifies the initial possibilities of life, and the moralist would reckon without his host if he did not allow for the change which forced exercise makes in instinct, adjusting it more or less to extant conditions originally, perhaps, unwelcome. It is too late for the highest good to prescribe flying for quadrupeds or peace for the sea waves.
What antecedent interest does mechanical art subserve? What is the initial and commanding ideal of life by which all industrial developments are to be proved rational or condemned as vain? If we look to the most sordid and instrumental of industries we see that their purpose is to produce a foreordained result with the minimum of effort. They serve, in a word, to cheapen commodities. But the value of such an achievement is clearly not final; it hangs on two underlying ideals, one demanding abundance in the things produced and the other diminution in the toil required to produce them. At least the latter interest may in turn be analysed further, for to diminish toil is itself no absolute good; it is a good only when such diminution in one sphere liberates energies which may be employed in other fields, so that the total human accomplishment may be greater. Doubtless useful labour has its natural limits, for if overdone any activity may impair the power of enjoying both its fruits and its operation. Yet in so far as labour can become spontaneous and in itself delightful it is a positive benefit; and to its intrinsic value must be added all those possessions or useful dispositions which it may secure. Thus one ideal—to diminish labour—falls back into the other—to diffuse occasions for enjoyment. The aim is not to curtail occupation but rather to render occupation liberal by supplying it with more appropriate objects.
[Sidenote: The aim of industry is to live well.]
It is then liberal life, fostered by industry and commerce or involved in them, that alone can justify these instrumental pursuits. Those philosophers whose ethics is nothing but sentimental physics like to point out that happiness arises out of work and that compulsory activities, dutifully performed, underlie freedom. Of course matter or force underlies everything; but rationality does not accrue to spirit because mechanism supports it; it accrues to mechanism in so far as spirit is thereby called into existence; so that while values derive existence only from their causes, causes derive value only from their results. Functions cannot be exercised until their organs exist and are in operation, so that what is primary in the order of genesis is always last and most dependent in the order of worth. The primary substance of things is their mere material; their first cause is their lowest instrument. Matter has only the values of the forms which it assumes, and while each stratification may create some intrinsic ideal and achieve some good, these goods are dull and fleeting in proportion to their rudimentary character and their nearness to protoplasmic thrills. Where reason exists life cannot, indeed, be altogether slavish; for any operation, however menial and fragmentary, when it is accompanied by ideal representation of the ends pursued and by felt success in attaining them, becomes a sample and anagram of all freedom. Nevertheless to arrest attention on a means is really illiberal, though not so much by what such an interest contains as by what it ignores. Happiness in a treadmill is far from inconceivable; but for that happiness to be rational the wheel should be nothing less than the whole sky from which influences can descend upon us. There would be meanness of soul in being content with a smaller sphere, so that not everything that was relevant to our welfare should be envisaged in our thoughts and purposes. To be absorbed by the incidental is the animal's portion; to be confined to the instrumental is the slave's. For though within such activity there may be a rational movement, the activity ends in a fog and in mere physical drifting. Happiness has to be begged of fortune or found in mystical indifference: it is not yet subtended by rational art.
[Sidenote: Some arts, but no men, are slaves by nature.]
The Aristotelian theory of slavery, in making servile action wholly subservient, sins indeed against persons, but not against arts. It sins against persons because there is inconsiderate haste in asserting that whole classes of men are capable of no activities, except the physical, which justify themselves inherently. The lower animals also have physical interests and natural emotions. A man, if he deserves the name, must be credited with some rational capacity: prospect and retrospect, hope and the ideal portraiture of things, must to some extent employ him. Freedom to cultivate these interests is then his inherent right. As the lion vindicates his prerogative to ferocity and dignity, so every rational creature vindicates his prerogative to spiritual freedom. But a too summary classification of individuals covers, in Aristotle, a just discrimination among the arts. In so far as a man's occupation is merely instrumental and justified only externally, he is obviously a slave and his art at best an evil necessity. For the operation is by hypothesis not its own end; and if the product, needful for some ulterior purpose, had been found ready made in nature, the other and self-justifying activities could have gone on unimpeded, without the arrest or dislocation which is involved in first establishing the needful conditions for right action. If air had to be manufactured, as dwellings must be, or breathing to be learned like speech, mankind would start with an even greater handicap and would never have come within sight of such goals as it can now pursue. Thus all instrumental and remedial arts, however indispensable, are pure burdens; and progress consists in abridging them as much as is possible without contracting the basis for moral life.
[Sidenote: Servile arts may grow spontaneous or their products may be renounced.]
This needful abridgment can take place in two directions. The art may become instinctive, unconscious of the utility that backs it and conscious only of the solicitation that leads it on. In that measure human nature is adapted to its conditions; lessons long dictated by experience are actually learned and become hereditary habits. So inclination to hunt and fondness for nursing children have passed into instincts in the human race; and what if it were a forced art would be servile, by becoming spontaneous has risen to be an ingredient in ideal life; for sport and maternity are human ideals. In an opposite direction servile arts may be abridged by a lapse of the demand which required them. The servile art of vine-dressers, for instance, would meet such a fate if the course of history, instead of tending to make the vintage an ideal episode and to create worshippers of Bacchus and Priapus, tended rather to bring about a distaste for wine and made the whole industry superfluous. This solution is certainly less happy than the other, insomuch as it suppresses a function instead of taking it up into organic life; yet life to be organic has to be exclusive and finite; it has to work out specific tendencies in a specific environment; and therefore to surrender a particular impeded impulse may involve a clear gain, if only a compensating unimpeded good thereby comes to light elsewhere. If wine disappeared, with all its humane and symbolic consecrations, that loss might bring an ultimate gain, could some less treacherous friend of frankness and merriment be thereby brought into the world.
In practice servile art is usually mitigated by combining these two methods; the demand subserved, being but ill supported, learns to restrain itself and be less importunate; while at the same time habit renders the labour which was once unwilling largely automatic, and even overlays it with ideal associations. Human nature is happily elastic; there is hardly a need that may not be muffled or suspended, and hardly an employment that may not be relieved by the automatic interest with which it comes to be pursued. To this automatic interest other palliatives are often added, sometimes religion, sometimes mere dulness and resignation; but in these cases the evil imposed is merely counterbalanced or forgotten, it is not remedied. Reflective and spiritual races minimise labour by renunciation, for they find it easier to give up its fruits than to justify its exactions. Among energetic and self-willed men, on the contrary, the demand for material progress remains predominant, and philosophy dwells by preference on the possibility that a violent and continual subjection in the present might issue in a glorious future dominion. This possible result was hardly realised by the Jews, nor long maintained by the Greeks and Romans, and it remains to be seen whether modern industrialism can achieve it. In fact, we may suspect that success only comes when a nation's external task happens to coincide with its natural genius, so that a minimum of its labour is servile and a maximum of its play is beneficial. It is in such cases that we find colossal achievements and apparently inexhaustible energies. Prosperity is indeed the basis of every ideal attainment, so that prematurely to recoil from hardship, or to be habitually conscious of hardship at all, amounts to renouncing beforehand all earthly goods and all chance of spiritual greatness. Yet a chance is no certainty. When glory requires Titanic labours it often finds itself in the end buried under a pyramid rather than raised upon a pedestal. Energies which are not from the beginning self-justifying and flooded with light seldom lead to ideal greatness.
[Sidenote: Art starts from two potentialities: its material and its problem.]
The action to which industry should minister is accordingly liberal or spontaneous action; and this one condition of rationality in from two the arts. But a second condition is implicit in the first: freedom means freedom in some operation, ideality means the ideality of something embodied and material. Activity, achievement, a passage from prospect to realisation, is evidently essential to life. If all ends were already reached, and no art were requisite, life could not exist at all, much less a Life of Reason. No politics, no morals, no thought would be possible, for all these move towards some ideal and envisage a goal to which they presently pass. The transition is the activity, without which achievement would lose its zest and indeed its meaning; for a situation could never be achieved which had been given from all eternity. The ideal is a concomitant emanation from the natural and has no other possible status. Those human possessions which are perennial and of inalienable value are in a manner potential possessions only. Knowledge, art, love are always largely in abeyance, while power is absolutely synonymous with potentiality. Fruition requires a continual recovery, a repeated re-establishment of the state we enjoy. So breath and nutrition, feeling and thought, come in pulsations; they have only a periodic and rhythmic sort of actuality. The operation may be sustained indefinitely, but only if it admits a certain internal oscillation.
A creature like man, whose mode of being is a life or experience and not a congealed ideality, such as eternal truth might show, must accordingly find something to do; he must operate in an environment in which everything is not already what he is presently to make it. In the actual world this first condition of life is only too amply fulfilled; the real difficulty in man's estate, the true danger to his vitality, lies not in want of work but in so colossal a disproportion between demand and opportunity that the ideal is stunned out of existence and perishes for want of hope. The Life of Reason is continually beaten back upon its animal sources, and nations are submerged in deluge after deluge of barbarism. Impressed as we may well be by this ancient experience, we should not overlook the complementary truth which under more favourable circumstances would be as plain as the other: namely, that our deepest interest is after all to live, and we could not live if all acquisition, assimilation, government, and creation had been made impossible for us by their foregone realisation, so that every operation was forestalled by the given fact. The distinction between the ideal and the real is one which the human ideal itself insists should be preserved. It is an essential expression of life, and its disappearance would be tantamount to death, making an end to voluntary transition and ideal representation. All objects envisaged either in vulgar action or in the airiest cognition must be at first ideal and distinct from the given facts, otherwise action would have lost its function at the same moment that thought lost its significance. All life would have collapsed into a purposeless datum.
The ideal requires, then, that opportunities should be offered for realising it through action, and that transition should be possible to it from a given state of things. One form of such transition is art, where the ideal is a possible and more excellent form to be given to some external substance or medium. Art needs to find a material relatively formless which its business is to shape; and this initial formlessness in matter is essential to art's existence. Were there no stone not yet sculptured and built into walls, no sentiment not yet perfectly uttered in poetry, no distance or oblivion yet to be abolished by motion or inferential thought, activity of all sorts would have lost its occasion. Matter, or actuality in what is only potentially ideal, is therefore a necessary condition for realising an ideal at all.
[Sidenote: Each must be definite and congruous with the other.]
This potentiality, however, in so far as the ideal requires it, is a quite definite disposition. Absolute chaos would defeat life as surely as would absolute ideality. Activity, in presupposing material conditions, presupposes them to be favourable, so that a movement towards the ideal may actually take place. Matter, which from the point of view of a given ideal is merely its potentiality, is in itself the potentiality of every other ideal as well; it is accordingly responsible to no ideal in particular and proves in some measure refractory to all. It makes itself felt, either as an opportune material or as an accidental hindrance, only when it already possesses definite form and affinities; given in a certain quantity, quality, and order, matter feeds the specific life which, if given otherwise, it would impede or smother altogether.
[Sidenote: A sophism exposed]
Art, in calling for materials, calls for materials plastic to its influence and definitely predisposed to its ends. Unsuitableness in the data far from grounding action renders it abortive, and no expedient could be more sophistical than that into which theodicy, in its desperate straits, has sometimes been driven, of trying to justify as conditions for ideal achievement the very conditions which make ideal achievement impossible. The given state from which transition is to take place to the ideal must support that transition; so that the desirable want of ideality which plastic matter should possess is merely relative and strictly determined. Art and reason find in nature the background they require; but nature, to be wholly justified by its ideal functions, would have to subserve them perfectly. It would have to offer to reason and art a sufficient and favourable basis; it would have to feed sense with the right stimuli at the right intervals, so that art and reason might continually flourish and be always moving to some new success. A poet needs emotions and perceptions to translate into language, since these are his subject-matter and his inspiration; but starvation, physical or moral, will not help him to sing. One thing is to meet with the conditions inherently necessary for a given action; another thing is to meet with obstacles fatal to the same. A propitious formlessness in matter is no sort of evil; and evil is so far from being a propitious formlessness in matter that it is rather an impeding form which matter has already assumed.