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The Life of Reason
by George Santayana
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[Sidenote: It has a material basis.]

This moral energy, so closely analogous to physical interplay, is of course not without a material basis. Spiritual sublimation does not consist in not using matter but in using it up, in making it all useful. When life becomes rational it continues to be mechanical and to take up room and energy in the natural world. That new direction of attention upon form which finds in facts instances of ideas, does not occur without a certain heat and labour in the brain. In its most intimate and supernatural functions intellect has natural conditions. In dreams and madness intent is confused and wayward, in idiocy it is suspended altogether; nor has discourse any other pledge that it is addressing kindred interlocutors except that which it receives from the disposition and habit of bodies. People who have not yet been born into the world have not yet begun to think about it.

There is, of course, an inner dialectical relevance among all propositions that have the same ideal theme, no matter how remote or unknown to one another those who utter the propositions may be; but the medium in which this infinite dialectical network is woven is motionless, and indifferent to the direction in which thought might traverse it; in other words, it is not discourse or intelligence but eternal truth. From the point of view of experience this prior dialectical relation of form to form is merely potential; for the thoughts between which it would obtain need never exist or be enacted. There is society only among incarnate ideas; and it is only by expressing some material situation that an idea is selected out of the infinity of not impossible ideas and promoted to the temporal dignity of actual thought.

[Sidenote: It is necessarily relevant to earth.]

Moreover, even if the faculty of intelligence were disembodied and could exist in a vacuum, it would still be a vain possession if no data were given for it to operate upon and if no particular natural structure, animal, social, or artistic, were at hand for intelligence to ally itself to and defend. Reason would in that case die of inanition; it would have no subject-matter and no sanction, as well as no seat. Intelligence is not a substance; it is a principle of order and of art; it requires a given situation and some particular natural interest to bring it into play. In fact, it is nothing but a name for the empire which conscious, but at bottom irrational, interests attain over the field in which they operate; it is the fruition of life, the token of successful operation.

Every theme or motive in the Life of Reason expresses some instinct rooted in the body and incidental to natural organisation. The intent by which memory refers to past or absent experience, or the intent by which perception becomes recognition, is a transcript of relations in which events actually stand to one another. Such intent represents modifications of structure and action important to life, modifications that have responded to forces on which life is dependent. Both desire and meaning translate into cognitive or ideal energy, into intent, mechanical relations subsisting in nature. These mechanical relations give practical force to the thought that expresses them, and the thought in turn gives significance and value to the forces that subserve it. Fulfilment is mutual, in one direction bringing material potentialities to the light and making them actual and conscious, and in the other direction embodying intent in the actual forms of things and manifesting reason. Nothing could be more ill-considered than the desire to disembody reason. Reason cries aloud for reunion with the material world which she needs not only for a basis but, what concerns her even more, for a theme.

In private and silent discourse, when words and grammar are swathed in reverie, the material basis and reference of thought may be forgotten. Desire and intent may then seem to disport themselves in a purely ideal realm; moral or logical tensions alone may seem to determine the whole process. Meditative persons are even inclined to regard the disembodied life which they think they enjoy at such times as the true and native form of experience; all organs, applications, and expressions of thought they deprecate and call accidental. As some pious souls reject dogma to reach pure faith and suspend prayer to enjoy union, so some mystical logicians drop the world in order to grasp reality. It is an exquisite suicide; but the energy and ideal that sustain such a flight are annihilated by its issue, and the soul drops like a paper balloon consumed by the very flame that wafted it. No thought is found without an organ; none is conceivable without an expression which is that organ's visible emanation; and none would be significant without a subject-matter lying in the world of which that organ is a part.

[Sidenote: The basis of intent becomes appreciable in language.]

The natural structure underlying intent is latent in silent thought, and its existence might be denied by a sceptical thinker over whose mind the analogies and spirit of physics exercised little influence. This hypothetical structure is not, however, without obvious extensions which imply its existence even where we do not perceive it directly. A smile or a blush makes visible to the observer movements which must have been at work in the body while thought occupied the mind—even if, as more often happens, the blush or smile did not precede and introduce the feeling they suggest, the feeling which in our verbal mythology is said to cause them. No one would be so simple as to suppose that such involuntary signs of feeling spring directly and by miracle out of feeling. They surely continue some previous bodily commotion which determines their material character, so that laughter, for instance, becomes a sign of amusement rather than of rage, which it might just as well have represented, so far as the abstract feeling itself is concerned.

In the same way a sigh, a breath, a word are but the last stage and superficial explosion of nervous tensions, tensions which from the point of view of their other eventual expressions we might call interplaying impulses or potential memories. As these material seethings underlay the budding thought, so the uttered word, when it comes, underlies the perfect conception. The word, in so far as it is material, undeniably continues an internal material process, for aphasia and garrulity have known physical causes. In the vibrations which we call words the hidden complexities of cerebral action fly out, so to speak, into the air; they become recognisable sounds emitted by lips and tongue and received by the ear. The uttered word produces an obvious commotion in nature; through it thought, being expressed in that its material basis is extended outward, becomes at the same moment rational and practical; for its expression enters into the chain of its future conditions and becomes an omen of that thought's continuance, repetition, and improvement. Thought's rational function consists, as we then perceive, in expressing a natural situation and improving that situation by expressing it, until such expression becomes a perfect and adequate state of knowledge, which justifies both itself and its conditions. Expression makes thought a power in the very world from which thought drew its being, and renders it in some measure self-sustaining and self-assured.

A thirsty man, let us say, begs for drink. Had his petition been a wordless desire it might have been supposed, though falsely, to be a disembodied and quite immaterial event, a transcendental attitude of will, without conditions or consequences, but somehow with an absolute moral dignity. But when the petition became articulate and audible to a fellow-mortal, who thereupon proceeded to fetch a cup of water, the desire, through the cry that expressed it, obviously asserted itself in the mechanical world, to which it already secretly belonged by virtue of its cause, a parched body. This material background for moral energy, which even an inarticulate yearning would not have lacked, becomes in language an overt phenomenon, linked observably with all other objects and processes.

Language is accordingly an overflow of the physical basis of thought. It is an audible gesture, more refined than the visible, but in the same sense an automatic extension of nervous and muscular processes. Words underlie the thought they are said to express—in truth it is the thought that is the flower and expression of the language—much as the body underlies the mind.

[Sidenote: Intent starts from a datum.]

Language contains, side by side two distinct elements. One is the meaning or sense of the words—a logical projection given to sensuous terms. The other is the sensuous vehicle of that meaning—the sound, sign, or gesture. This sensuous term is a fulcrum for the lever of signification, a point d'appui which may be indefinitely attenuated in rapid discourse, but not altogether discarded. Intent though it vaults high must have something to spring from, or it would lend meaning to nothing. The minimal sensuous term that subsists serves as a clue to a whole system of possible assertions radiating from it. It becomes the sign for an essence or idea, a logical hypostasis corresponding in discourse to that material hypostasis of perceptions which is called an external thing.

The hypostasised total of rational and just discourse is the truth. Like the physical world, the truth is external and in the main potential. Its ideal consistency and permanence serve to make it a standard and background for fleeting assertions, just as the material hypostasis called nature is the standard and background for all momentary perceptions. What exists of truth in direct experience is at any moment infinitesimal, as what exists of nature is, but all that either contains might be represented in experience at one time or another.[G]

[Sidenote: and is carried by a feeling.]

The tensions and relations of words which make grammar or make poetry are immediate in essence, the force of language being just as empirical as the reality of things. To ask a thinker what he means by meaning is as futile as to ask a carpenter what he means by wood; to discover it you must emulate them and repeat their experience—which indeed you will hardly be able to do if some sophist has so entangled your reason that you can neither understand what you see nor assert what you mean. But as the carpenter's acquaintance with wood might be considerably refined if he became a naturalist or liberalised if he became a carver, so a casual speaker's sense of what he means might be better focussed by dialectic and more delicately shaded by literary training. Meantime the vital act called intent, by which consciousness becomes cognitive and practical, would remain at heart an indescribable experience, a sense of spiritual life as radical and specific as the sense of heat.

[Sidenote: It demands conventional expression.]

Significant language forms a great system of ideal tensions, contained in the mutual relations of parts of speech, and of clauses in propositions. Of these tensions the intent in a man's mind at any moment is a living specimen. Experience at that moment may have a significance, a transitive force, that asks to be enshrined in some permanent expression; the more acute and irrevocable the crisis is, the more urgent the need of transmitting to other moments some cognisance of what was once so great. But were this experience to exhale its spirit in a vacuum, using no conventional and transmissible medium of expression, it would be foiled in its intent. It would leave no monument and achieve no immortality in the world of representation; for the experience and its expression would remain identical and perish together, just as a perception and its object would remain identical and perish together if there were no intelligence to discover the material world, to which the perplexing shifts of sensation may be habitually referred. Spontaneous expression, if it is to be recognisable and therefore in effect expressive, labours under the necessity of subordinating itself to an ideal system of expressions, a permanent language in which its spontaneous utterances may be embedded. By virtue of such adoption into a common medium expression becomes interpretable; a later moment may then reconstruct the past out of its surviving memorial.

Intent, beside the form it has in language, where it makes the soul of grammar, has many other modes of expression, in mathematical and logical reasoning, in action, and in those contemplated and suspended acts which we call estimation, policy, or morals. Moral philosophy, the wisdom of Socrates, is merely a consideration of intent. In intent we pass over from existence to ideality, the nexus lying in the propulsive nature of life which could not have been capped by any form of knowledge which was not itself in some way transitive and ambitious. Intent, though it looks away from existence and the actual, is the most natural and pervasive of things. Physics and dialectic meet in this: that the second brings to fruition what the first describes, namely, existence, and that both have their transcendental root in the flux of being. Matter cannot exist without some form, much as by shedding every form in succession it may proclaim its aversion to fixity and its radical formlessness or infinitude. Nor can form, without the treacherous aid of matter, pass from its ideal potentiality into selected and instant being.

[Sidenote: A fable about matter and form.]

In order to live—if such a myth may be allowed—the Titan Matter was eager to disguise his incorrigible vagueness and pretend to be something. He accordingly addressed himself to the beautiful company of Forms, sisters whom he thought all equally beautiful, though their number was endless, and equally fit to satisfy his heart. He wooed them hypocritically, with no intention of wedding them; yet he uttered their names in such seductive accents (called by mortals intelligence and toil) that the virgin goddesses offered no resistance—at least such of them as happened to be near or of a facile disposition. They were presently deserted by their unworthy lover; yet they, too, in that moment's union, had tasted the sweetness of life. The heaven to which they returned was no longer an infinite mathematical paradise. It was crossed by memories of earth, and a warmer breath lingered in some of its lanes and grottoes. Henceforth its nymphs could not forget that they had awakened a passion, and that, unmoved themselves, they had moved a strange indomitable giant to art and love.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote F: Cf. the motto on the title-page.]

[Footnote G: Not, of course, in human experience, which is incapable of containing the heart of a flea, much less what may be endured in remoter spheres. But if an intelligence were constructed ad hoc there is nothing real that might not fall within the scope of experience. The difference between existence and truth on the one side and knowledge or representation on the other may be reduced to this: that knowledge brings what exists or what is true under apperception, while being diffuses what is understood into an impartial subsistence. As truth is indistinguishable from an absolute motionless intellect, which should no longer be a function of life but merely a static order, so existence is indistinguishable from an absolute motionless experience, which should no longer be a foreshortening or representation of anything. This existence would be motionless in the sense that it would "mark time," for of course every fact in it might be a fact of transition. The whole system, however, would have a static ideal constitution, since the fact that things change in a certain way or stand in a certain order is as much a fact as any other; and it is not a logical necessity, either, but a brute matter of fact that might well have been otherwise.]



CHAPTER VII

DIALECTIC

[Sidenote: Dialectic elaborates given forms.]

The advantage which the mechanical sciences have over history is drawn from their mathematical form. Mathematics has somewhat the same place in physics that conscience has in action; it seems to be a directive principle in natural operations where it is only a formal harmony. The formalistic school, which treats grammar in all departments as if it were the ground of import rather than a means of expressing it, takes mathematics also for an oracular deliverance, springing full-armed out of the brain, and setting up a canon which all concrete things must conform to. Thus mathematical science has become a mystery which a myth must be constructed to solve. For how can it happen, people ask, that pure intuition, retreating into its cell, can evolve there a prodigious system of relations which it carries like a measuring-rod into the world and lo! everything in experience submits to be measured by it? What pre-established harmony is this between the spinning cerebral silkworm and nature's satins and brocades?

If we but knew, so the myth runs, that experience can show no patterns but those which the prolific Mind has woven, we should not wonder at this necessary correspondence. The Mind having decreed of its own motion, while it sat alone before the creation of the world, that it would take to dreaming mathematically, it evoked out of nothing all formal necessities; and later, when it felt some solicitation to play with things, it imposed those forms upon all its toys, admitting none of any other sort into the nursery. In other words, perception perfected its grammar before perceiving any of its objects, and having imputed that grammar to the materials of sense, it was able to perceive objects for the first time and to legislate further about their relations.

The most obvious artifices of language are often the most deceptive and bring on epidemic prejudices. What is this Mind, this machine existing prior to existence? The mind that exists is only a particular department or focus of existence; its principles cannot be its own source, much less the source of anything in other beings. Mathematical principles in particular are not imposed on existence or on nature ab extra, but are found in and abstracted from the subject-matter and march of experience. To exist things have to wear some form, and the form they happen to wear is largely mathematical. This being the case, the mind in shaping its barbarous prosody somewhat more closely to the nature of things, learns to note and to abstract the form that so strikingly defines them. Once abstracted and focussed in the mind, these forms, like all forms, reveal their dialectic; but that things conform to that dialectic (when they do) is not wonderful, seeing that it is the obvious form of things that the mind has singled out, not without practical shrewdness, for more intensive study.

[Sidenote: Forms are abstracted from existence by intent.]

The difference between ideal and material knowledge does not lie in the ungenerated oracular character of one of them in opposition to the other; in both the data are inexplicable and irrational, and in both investigation is tentative, observant, and subject to control by the subject-matter. The difference lies, rather, in the direction of speculation. In physics, which is at bottom historical, we study what happens; we make inventories and records of events, of phenomena, of juxtapositions. In dialectic, which is wholly intensive, we study what is; we strive to clarify and develop the essence of what we find, bringing into focus the inner harmonies and implications of forms—forms which our attention or purpose has defined initially. The intuitions from which mathematical deduction starts are highly generic notions drawn from observation. The lines and angles of geometers are ideals, and their ideal context is entirely independent of what may be their context in the world; but they are found in the world, and their ideals are suggested by very common sensations. Had they been invented, by some inexplicable parthenogenesis in thought, it would indeed have been a marvel had they found application. Philosophy has enough notions of this inapplicable sort—usually, however, not very recondite in their origin—to show that dialectic, when it seems to control existence, must have taken more than one hint from the subject world, and that in the realm of logic, too, nothing submits to be governed without representation.

[Sidenote: Confusion comes of imperfect abstraction, or ambiguous intent.]

When dialectic is employed, as in ethics and metaphysics, upon highly complex ideas—concretions in discourse which cover large blocks of existence—the dialectician in defining and in deducing often reaches notions which cease to apply in some important respect to the object originally intended. Thus Socrates, taking "courage" for his theme, treats it dialectically and expresses the intent of the word by saying that courage must be good, and then develops the meaning of good, showing that it means the choice 01 the greater benefit; and finally turns about and ends by saying that courage is consequently the choice of the greater benefit and identical with wisdom. Here we have a process of thought ending in a paradox which, frankly, misrepresents the original meaning. For "courage" meant not merely something desirable but something having a certain animal and psychological aspect. The emotion and gesture of it had not been excluded from the idea. So that while the argument proves to perfection that unwise courage is a bad thing, it does not end with an affirmation really true of the original concept. The instinct which we call courage, with an eye to its psychic and bodily quality, is not always virtuous or wise. Dialectic, when it starts with confused and deep-dyed feelings, like those which ethical and metaphysical terms generally stand for, is thus in great danger of proving unsatisfactory and being or seeming sophistical.

The mathematical dialectician has no such serious dangers to face. When, having observed the sun and sundry other objects, he frames the idea of a circle and tracing out its intent shows that the circle meant cannot be squared, there is no difficulty in reverting to nature and saying that the sun's circle cannot be squared. For there is no difference in intent between the circularity noted in the sun and that which is the subject of the demonstration. The geometer has made in his first reflection so clear and violent an abstraction from the sun's actual bulk and qualities that he will never imagine himself to be speaking of anything but a concretion in discourse. The concretion in nature is never legislated about nor so much as thought of except possibly when, under warrant of sense, it is chosen to illustrate the concept investigated dialectically. It does not even occur to a man to ask if the sun's circle can be squared, for every one understands that the sun is circular only in so far as it conforms to the circle's ideal nature; which is as if Socrates and his interlocutors had clearly understood that the virtue of courage in an intemperate villain meant only whatever in his mood or action was rational and truly desirable, and had then said that courage, so understood, was identical with wisdom or with the truly rational and desirable rule of life.

[Sidenote: The fact that mathematics applies to existence is empirical.]

The applicability of mathematics is not vouched for by mathematics but by sense, and its application in some distant part of nature is not vouched for by mathematics but by inductive arguments about nature's uniformity, or by the character which the notion, "a distant part of nature," already possesses. Inapplicable mathematics, we are told, is perfectly thinkable, and systematic deductions, in themselves valid, may be made from concepts which contravene the facts of perception. We may suspect, perhaps, that even these concepts are framed by analogy out of suggestions found in sense, so that some symbolic relevance or proportion is kept, even in these dislocated speculations, to the matter of experience. It is like a new mythology; the purely fictitious idea has a certain parallelism and affinity to nature and moves in a human and familiar way. Both data and method are drawn from applicable science, elements of which even myth, whether poetic or mathematical, may illustrate by a sort of variant or fantastic reduplication.

The great glory of mathematics, like that of virtue, is to be useful while remaining free. Number and measure furnish an inexhaustible subject-matter which the mind can dominate and develop dialectically as it is the mind's inherent office to develop ideas. At the same time number and measure are the grammar of sense; and the more this inner logic is cultivated and refined the greater subtlety and sweep can be given to human perception. Astronomy on the one hand and mechanical arts on the other are fruits of mathematics by which its worth is made known even to the layman, although the born mathematician would not need the sanction of such an extraneous utility to attach him to a subject that has an inherent cogency and charm. Ideas, like other things, have pleasure in propagation, and even when allowance is made for birth-pangs and an occasional miscarriage, their native fertility will always continue to assert itself. The more ideal and frictionless the movement of thought is, the more perfect must be the physiological engine that sustains it. The momentum of that silent and secluded growth carries the mind, with a sense of pure disembodied vision, through the logical labyrinth; but the momentum is vital, for the truth itself does not move.

[Sidenote: Its moral value is therefore contingent.]

Whether the airy phantoms thus brought into being are valued and preserved by the world is an ulterior point of policy which the pregnant mathematician does not need to consider in bringing to light the legitimate burden of his thoughts. But were mathematics incapable of application, did nature and experience, for instance, illustrate nothing but Parmenides' Being or Hegel's Logic, the dialectical cogency which mathematics would of course retain would not give this science a very high place in the Life of Reason. Mathematics would be an amusement, and though apparently innocent, like a game of patience, it might even turn out to be a wasteful and foolish exercise for the mind; because to deepen habits and cultivate pleasures irrelevant to other interests is a way of alienating ourselves from our general happiness. Distinction and a curious charm there may well be in such a pursuit, but this quality is perhaps traceable to affinities and associations with other more substantial interests, or is due to the ingenious temper it denotes, which touches that of the wit or magician. Mathematics, if it were nothing more than a pleasure, might conceivably become a vice. Those addicted to it might be indulging an atavistic taste at the expense of their humanity. It would then be in the position now occupied by mythology and mysticism. Even as it is, mathematicians share with musicians a certain partiality in their characters and mental development. Masters in one abstract subject, they may remain children in the world; exquisite manipulators of the ideal, they may be erratic and clumsy in their earthly ways. Immense as are the uses and wide the applications of mathematics, its texture is too thin and inhuman to employ the whole mind or render it harmonious. It is a science which Socrates rejected for its supposed want of utility; but perhaps he had another ground in reserve to justify his humorous prejudice. He may have felt that such a science, if admitted, would endanger his thesis about the identity of virtue and knowledge.

[Sidenote: Quantity submits easily to dialectical treatment.]

Mathematical method has been the envy of philosophers, perplexed and encumbered as they are with the whole mystery of existence, and they have attempted at times to emulate mathematical cogency. Now the lucidity and certainty found in mathematics are not inherent in its specific character as the science of number or dimension; they belong to dialectic as a whole which is essentially elucidation. The effort to explain meanings is in most cases abortive because these meanings melt in our hands—a defeat which Hegel would fain have consecrated, together with all other evils, into necessity and law. But the merit of mathematics is that it is so much less Hegelian than life; that it holds its own while it advances, and never allows itself to misrepresent its original intent. In all it finds to say about the triangle it never comes to maintain that the triangle is really a square. The privilege of mathematics is simply to have offered the mind, for dialectical treatment, a material to which dialectical treatment could be honestly applied. This material consists in certain general aspects of sensation—its extensity, its pulsation, its distribution into related parts. The wakefulness that originally makes these abstractions is able to keep them clear, and to elaborate them infinitely without contradicting their essence.

For this reason it is always a false step in mathematical science, a step over its brink into the abyss beyond, when we try to reduce its elements to anything not essentially sensible. Intuition must continue to furnish the subject of discourse, the axioms, and the ultimate criteria and sanctions. Calculation and transmutation can never make their own counters or the medium in which they move. So that space, number, continuity, and every other elementary intuition remains at bottom opaque—opaque, that is, to mathematical science; for it is no paradox, but an obvious necessity, that the data of a logical operation should not be producible by its workings. Reason would have nothing to do if it had no irrational materials. Saint Augustine's rhetoric accordingly covered—as so often with him—a profound truth when he said of time that he knew what it was when no one asked him, but if any one asked him he did not know; which may be restated by saying that time is an intuition, an aspect of crude experience, which science may work with but which it can never arrive at.

[Sidenote: Constancy and progress in intent.]

When a concretion is formed in discourse and an intent is attained in consciousness, predicates accrue to the subject in a way which is perfectly empirical. Dialectic is not retrospective; it does not consist in recovering ground previously surveyed. The accretion of new predicates comes in answer to chance questions, questions raised, to be sure, about a given theme. The subject is fixed by the mind's intent and it suffices to compare any tentative assertion made about it with that intent itself to see whether the expression suggested for it is truly dialectical and thoroughly honest. Dialectic verifies by reconsideration, by equation of tentative results with fixed intentions. It does not verify, like the sciences of existence, by comparing a hypothesis with a new perception. In dialectic no new perception is wanted; the goal is to understand the old fact, to give it an aureole and not a progeny. It is a transubstantiation of matter, a passage from existence to eternity. In this sense dialectic is "synthetic a priori"; it analyses an intent which demanded further elucidation and had fixed the direction and principle of its expansion. If this intent is abandoned and a new subject is introduced surreptitiously, a fallacy is committed; yet the correct elucidation of ideas is a true progress, nor could there be any progress unless the original idea were better expressed and elicited as we proceeded; so that constancy in intent and advance in explication are the two requisites of a cogent deduction.

The question in dialectic is always what is true, what can be said, about this; and the demonstrative pronoun, indicating an act of selective attention, raises the object it selects to a concretion in discourse, the relations of which in the universe of discourse it then proceeds to formulate. At the same time this dialectical investigation may be full of surprises. Knowledge may be so truly enriched by it that knowledge, in an ideal sense, only begins when dialectic has given some articulation to being. Without dialectic an animal might follow instinct, he might have vivid emotions, expectations, and dreams, but he could hardly be said to know anything or to guide his life with conscious intent. The accretions that might come empirically into any field of vision would not be new predicates to be added to a known thing, unless the logical and functional mantle of that thing fell upon them and covered them. While the right of particulars to existence is their own, granted them by the free grace of heaven, their ability to enlarge our knowledge on any particular subject—their relevance or incidence in discourse—hangs on their fulfilling the requirements which that subject's dialectical nature imposes on all its expressions.

[Sidenote: Intent determines the functional essence of objects.]

It is on this ground, for instance, that the image of a loaf of bread is so far from being the loaf of bread itself. External resemblance is nothing; even psychological derivation or superposition is nothing; the intent, rather, which picks out what that object's function and meaning shall be, alone defines its idea; and this function involves a locus and a status which the image does not possess. Such admirable iridescence as the image might occasionally put on—in the fine arts, for instance—would not constitute any iridescence or transformation in the thing; nor would identity of aspect preserve the thing if its soul, if its utility, had disappeared. Herein lies the ground for the essential or functional distinction between primary and secondary qualities in things, a distinction which a psychological scepticism has so hastily declared to be untenable. If it was discovered, said these logicians, that space was perceived through reading muscular sensations, space, and the muscles too, were thereby proved to be unreal. This remarkable sophism passed muster in the philosophical world for want of attention to dialectic, which might so easily have shown that what a thing means is spatial distinction and mechanical efficacy, and that the origin of our perceptions, which are all equally bodily and dependent on material stimulation, has nothing to do with their respective claims to hypostasis. It is intent that makes objects objects; and the same intent, defining the function of things, defines the scope of those qualities which are essential to them. In the flux substances and shadows drift down together; it is reason that discerns the difference.

[Sidenote: Also the scope of ideals.]

Purposes need dialectical articulation as much as essences do, and without an articulate and fixed purpose, without an ideal, action would collapse into mere motion or conscious change. It is notably in this region that elucidation constitutes progress; for to understand the properties of number may be less important than empirically to count; but to see and feel the values of things in all their distinction and fulness is the ultimate fruit of efficiency; it is mastery in that art of life for which all the rest is apprenticeship. Dialectic of this sort is practised intuitively by spiritual minds; and even when it has to be carried on argumentatively it may prove very enlightening. That the excellence of courage is identical with that of wisdom still needs to be driven home; and that the excellence of poetry is identical with that of all other things probably sounds like a blind paradox. Yet did not all excellences conspire to one end and meet in one Life of Reason, how could their relative value be estimated, or any reflective sanction be found for them at all? The miscellaneous, captious fancies of the will, the menagerie of moral prejudices, still call for many a Socrates to tame them. So long as courage means a grimace of mind or body, the love of it is another grimace. But if it meant the value, recognisable by reason and diffused through all life, which that casual attitude or feeling might have, then we should be launched upon the quest for wisdom.

The want of integration in moral views is like what want of integration would be in arithmetic if we declared that it was the part of a man and a Christian to maintain that my two equals four or that a green fifteen is a hundred. These propositions might have incidental lights and shades in people's lives to make them plausible and precious; but they could not be maintained by one who had clarified his intent in naming and adding. For then the arithmetical relations would be abstracted, and their incidental associates would drop out of the account. So a man who is in pursuit of things for the good that is in them must recognise and (if reason avails) must pursue what is good in them all. Strange customs and unheard-of thoughts may then find their appropriate warrant; just as in higher mathematical calculations very wonderful and unforeseen results may be arrived at, which a man will not accept without careful reconsideration of the terms and problem before him; but if he finds the unexpected conclusion flowing from those premises, he will have enlarged his knowledge of his art and discovered a congenial good. He will have made progress in the Socratic science of knowing his own intent.

[Sidenote: Double status of mathematics.]

Mathematics, for all its applications in nature, is a part of ideal philosophy. It is logic applied to certain simple intuitions. These intuitions and many of their developments happen to appear in that efficacious and self-sustaining moiety of being which we call material; so that mathematics is per accidens the dialectical study of nature's efficacious form. Its use and application in the world rather hide its dialectical principle. Mathematics owes its public success to the happy choice of a simple and widely diffused subject-matter; it owes its inner cogency, however, to its ideality and the merely adventitious application it has to existence. Mathematics has come to seem the type of good logic because it is an illustration of logic in a sphere so highly abstract in idea and so pervasive in sense as to be at once manageable and useful.

The delights and triumphs of mathematics ought, therefore, to be a great encouragement to ideal philosophy. If in a comparatively uninteresting field attention can find so many treasures of harmony and order, what beauties might it not discover in interpreting faithfully ideas nobler than extension and number, concretions closer to man's spiritual life? But unfortunately the logic of values is subject to voluntary and involuntary confusions of so discouraging a nature that the flight of dialectic in that direction has never been long and, even when short, often disastrous. What is needed, as the example of mathematics shows, is a steadfast intent and an adventurous inquiry. It would not occur to a geometer to ask with trepidation what difference it would make to the Pythagorean proposition if the hypothenuse were said to be wise and good. Yet metaphysicians, confounding dialectic with physics and thereby corrupting both, will discuss for ever the difference it makes to substance whether you call it matter or God. Nevertheless, no decorative epithets can give substance any other attributes than those which it has; that is, other than the actual appearances that substance is needed to support. Similarly, neither mathematicians nor astronomers are exercised by the question whether [Greek: pi] created the ring of Saturn; yet naturalists and logicians have not rejected the analogous problem whether the good did or did not create the animals.

[Sidenote: Practical role of dialectic.]

So long as in using terms there is no fixed intent, no concretion in discourse with discernible predicates, controversy will rage as conceptions waver and will reach no valid result. But when the force of intellect, once having arrested an idea amid the flux of perceptions, avails to hold and examine that idea with perseverance, not only does a flash of light immediately cross the mind, but deeper and deeper vistas are opened there into ideal truth. The principle of dialectic is intelligence itself; and as no part of man's economy is more vital than intelligence (since intelligence is what makes life aware of its destiny), so no part has a more delightful or exhilarating movement. To understand is pre-eminently to live, moving not by stimulation and external compulsion, but by inner direction and control. Dialectic is related to observation as art is to industry; it uses what the other furnishes; it is the fruition of experience. It is not an alternative to empirical pursuits but their perfection; for dialectic, like art, has no special or private subject-matter, nor any obligation to be useless. Its subject-matter is all things, and its function is to compare them in form and worth, giving the mind speculative dominion over them. It profits by the flux to fix its signification. This is precisely what mathematics does for the abstract form and multitude of sensible things; it is what dialectic might do everywhere, with the same incidental utility, if it could settle its own attitude and learn to make the passions steadfast and calm in the consciousness of their ultimate objects.

[Sidenote: Hegel's satire on dialectic.]

The nature of dialectic might be curiously illustrated by reference to Hegel's Logic; and though to approach the subject from Hegel's satirical angle is not, perhaps, quite honest or fair, the method has a certain spice. Hegel, who despised mathematics, saw that in other departments the instability of men's meanings defeated their desire to understand themselves. This insecurity in intent he found to be closely connected with change of situation, with the natural mutability of events and opinions in the world. Instead of showing, however, what inroads passion, oblivion, sophistry, and frivolity may make into dialectic, he bethought himself to represent all these incoherences, which are indeed significant of natural changes, as the march of dialectic itself, thus identified with the process of evolution and with natural law. The romance of an unstable and groping theology, full of warm intentions and impossible ideas, he took to be typical of all experience and of all science.

In that impressionable age any effect of chiaro-oscuro caught in the moonlight of history could find a philosopher to exalt it into the darkly luminous secret of the world. Hegel accordingly decreed that men's habit of self-contradiction constituted their providential function, both in thought and in morals; and he devoted his Logic to showing how every idea they embraced (for he never treated an idea otherwise than as a creed), when pressed a little, turned into its opposite. This opposite after a while would fall back into something like the original illusion; whereupon a new change of insight would occur and a new thought would be accepted until, the landscape changing, attention would be attracted to a fresh aspect of the matter and conviction would wander into a new labyrinth of false steps and half-meanings. The sum total of these wanderings, when viewed from above, formed an interesting picture. A half-mystical, half-cynical reflection might take a certain pleasure in contemplating it; especially if, in memory of Calvin and the Stoics, this situation were called the expression of Absolute Reason and Divine Will.

We may think for a moment that we have grasped the elusive secret of this philosophy and that it is simply a Calvinism without Christianity, in which God's glory consists in the damnation of quite all his creatures. Presently, however, the scene changes again, and we recognise that Creator and creation, ideal and process, are identical, so that the glory belongs to the very multitude that suffers. But finally, as we rub our eyes, the whole revelation collapses into a platitude, and we discover that this glory and this damnation were nothing but unctuous phrases for the vulgar flux of existence.

That nothing is what we mean by it is perfectly true when we in no case know what we mean. Thus a man who is a mystic by nature may very well become one by reflection also. Not knowing what he wants nor what he is, he may believe that every shift carries him nearer to perfection. A temperamental and quasi-religious thirst for inconclusiveness and room to move on lent a certain triumphant note to Hegel's satire; he was sure it all culminated in something, and was not sure it did not culminate in himself. The system, however, as it might strike a less egotistical reader, is a long demonstration of man's ineptitude and of nature's contemptuous march over a path paved with good intentions. It is an idealism without respect for ideals; a system of dialectic in which a psychological flux (not, of course, psychological science, which would involve terms dialectically fixed and determinate) is made systematically to obliterate intended meanings.

[Sidenote: Dialectic expresses a given intent.]

This spirited travesty of logic has enough historical truth in it to show that dialectic must always stand, so to speak, on its apex; for life is changeful, and the vision and interest of one moment are not understood in the next. Theological dialectic rings hollow when once faith is dead; grammar looks artificial when a language is foreign; mathematics itself seems shallow when, like Hegel, we have no love for nature's intelligible mechanism nor for the clear structure and constancy of eternal things. Ideal philosophy is a flower of the spirit and varies with the soil. If mathematics suffers so little contradiction, it is only because the primary aspects of sensation which it elaborates could not lapse from the world without an utter break in its continuity. Otherwise though mathematics might not be refuted it might well be despised, like an obsolete ontology. Its boasted necessity and universality would not help it at all if experience should change so much as to present no further mathematical aspect. Those who expect to pass at death into a non-spatial and super-temporal world, where there will be no detestable extended and unthinking substances, and nothing that need be counted, will find their hard-learned mathematics sadly superfluous there. The memory of earthly geometry and arithmetic will grow pale amid that floating incense and music, where dialectic, if it survives at all, will have to busy itself on new intuitions.

So, too, when the landscape changes in the moral world, when new passions or arts make their appearance, moral philosophy must start afresh on a new foundation and try to express the ideals involved in the new pursuits. To this extent experience lends colour to Hegel's dialectical physics; but he betrayed, like the sincere pantheist he was, the finite interests that give actual values to the world, and he wished to bestow instead a groundless adoration on the law that connected and defeated every ideal. Such a genius, in spite of incisive wit and a certain histrionic sympathy with all experience, could not be truly free; it could not throw off its professional priestcraft, its habit of ceremonious fraud on the surface, nor, at heart, its inhuman religion.

[Sidenote: Its empire is ideal and autonomous.]

The sincere dialectician, the genuine moralist, must stand upon human, Socratic ground. Though art be long, it must take a short life for its basis and an actual interest for its guide. The liberal dialectician has the gift of conversation; he does not pretend to legislate from the throne of Jehovah about the course of affairs, but asks the ingenuous heart to speak for itself, guiding and checking it only in its own interest. The result is to express a given nature and to cultivate it; so that whenever any one possessing such a nature is born into the world he may use this calculation, and more easily understand and justify his mind. Of course, if experience were no longer the same, and faculties had entirely varied, the former interpretation could no longer serve. Where nature shows a new principle of growth the mind must find a new method of expression, and move toward other goals. Ideals are not forces stealthily undermining the will; they are possible forms of being that would frankly express it. These forms are invulnerable, eternal, and free; and he who finds them divine and congenial and is able to embody them at least in part and for a season, has to that extent transfigured life, turning it from a fatal process into a liberal art.



CHAPTER VIII

PRERATIONAL MORALITY

[Sidenote: Empirical alloy in dialectic.]

When a polyglot person is speaking, foreign words sometimes occur to him, which he at once translates into the language he happens to be using. Somewhat in the same way, when dialectic develops an idea, suggestions for this development may come from the empirical field; yet these suggestions soon shed their externality and their place is taken by some genuine development of the original notion. In constructing, for instance, the essence of a circle, I may have started from a hoop. I may have observed that as the hoop meanders down the path the roundness of it disappears to the eye, being gradually flattened into a straight line, such as the hoop presents when it is rolling directly away from me. I may now frame the idea of a mathematical circle, in which all diameters are precisely equal, in express contrast to the series of ellipses, with very unequal diameters, which the floundering hoop has illustrated in its career. When once, however, the definition of the circle is attained, no watching of hoops is any longer requisite. The ellipse can be generated ideally out of the definition, and would have been generated, like asymptotes and hyperbolas, even if never illustrated in nature at all. Lemmas from a foreign tongue have only served to disclose a great fecundity in the native one, and the legitimate word that the context required has supplanted the casual stranger that may first have ushered it into the mind.

When the idea which dialectic is to elaborate is a moral idea, a purpose touching something in the concrete world, lemmas from experience often play a very large part in the process. Their multitude, with the small shifts in aspiration and esteem which they may suggest to the mind, often obscures the dialectical process altogether. In this case the foreign term is never translated into the native medium; we never make out what ideal connection our conclusion has with our premises, nor in what way the conduct we finally decide upon is to fulfil the purpose with which we began. Reflection merely beats about the bush, and when a sufficient number of prejudices and impulses have been driven from cover, we go home satisfied with our day's ranging, and feeling that we have left no duty unconsidered; and our last bird is our final resolution.

[Sidenote: Arrested rationality in morals.]

When morality is in this way non-dialectical, casual, impulsive, polyglot, it is what we may call prerational morality. There is indeed reason in it, since every deliberate precept expresses some reflection by which impulses have been compared and modified. But such chance reflection amounts to moral perception, not to moral science. Reason has not begun to educate her children. This morality is like knowing chairs from tables and things near from distant things, which is hardly what we mean by natural science. On this stage, in the moral world, are the judgments of Mrs. Grundy, the aims of political parties and their maxims, the principles of war, the appreciation of art, the commandments of religious authorities, special revelations of duty to individuals, and all systems of intuitive ethics.

[Sidenote: Its emotional and practical power.]

Prerational morality is vigorous because it is sincere. Actual interests, rooted habits, appreciations the opposite of which is inconceivable and contrary to the current use of language, are embodied in special precepts; or they flare up of themselves in impassioned judgments. It is hardly too much to say, indeed, that prerational morality is morality proper. Rational ethics, in comparison, seems a kind of politics or wisdom, while post-rational systems are essentially religions. If we thus identify morality with prerational standards, we may agree also that morality is no science in itself, though it may become, with other matters, a subject for the science of anthropology; and Hume, who had never come to close quarters with any rational or post-rational ideal, could say with perfect truth that morality was not founded on reason. Instinct is of course not founded on reason, but vice versa; and the maxims enforced by tradition or conscience are unmistakably founded on instinct. They might, it is true, become materials for reason, if they were intelligently accepted, compared, and controlled; but such a possibility reverses the partisan and spasmodic methods which Hume and most other professed moralists associate with ethics. Hume's own treatises on morals, it need hardly be said, are pure psychology. It would have seemed to him conceited, perhaps, to inquire what ought really to be done. He limited himself to asking what men tended to think about their doings.

The chief expression of rational ethics which a man in Hume's world would have come upon lay in the Platonic and Aristotelian writings; but these were not then particularly studied nor vitally understood. The chief illustration of post-rational morality that could have fallen under his eyes, the Catholic religion, he would never have thought of as a philosophy of life, but merely as a combination of superstition and policy, well adapted to the lying and lascivious habits of Mediterranean peoples. Under such circumstances ethics could not be thought of as a science; and whatever gradual definition of the ideal, whatever prescription of what ought to be and to be done, found a place in the thoughts of such philosophers formed a part of their politics or religion and not of their reasoned knowledge.

[Sidenote: Moral science is an application of dialectic, not a part of anthropology.]

There is, however, a dialectic of the will; and that is the science which, for want of a better name, we must call ethics or moral philosophy. The interweaving of this logic of practice with various natural sciences that have man or society for their theme, leads to much confusion in terminology and in point of view. Is the good, we may ask, what anybody calls good at any moment, or what anybody calls good on reflection, or what all men agree to call good, or what God calls good, no matter what all mankind may think about it? Or is true good something that perhaps nobody calls good nor knows of, something with no other characteristic or relation except that it is simply good?

Various questions are involved in such perplexing alternatives; some are physical questions and others dialectical. Why any one values anything at all, or anything in particular, is a question of physics; it asks for the causes of interest, judgment, and desire. To esteem a thing good is to express certain affinities between that thing and the speaker; and if this is done with self-knowledge and with knowledge of the thing, so that the felt affinity is a real one, the judgment is invulnerable and cannot be asked to rescind itself. Thus if a man said hemlock was good to drink, we might say he was mistaken; but if he explained that he meant good to drink in committing suicide, there would be nothing pertinent left to say: for to adduce that to commit suicide is not good would be impertinent. To establish that, we should have to go back and ask him if he valued anything—life, parents, country, knowledge, reputation; and if he said no, and was sincere, our mouths would be effectually stopped—that is, unless we took to declamation. But we might very well turn to the bystanders and explain what sort of blood and training this man possessed, and what had happened among the cells and fibres of his brain to make him reason after that fashion. The causes of morality, good or bad, are physical, seeing that they are causes.

The science of ethics, however, has nothing to do with causes, not in that it need deny or ignore them but in that it is their fruit and begins where they end. Incense rises from burning coals, but it is itself no conflagration, and will produce none. What ethics asks is not why a thing is called good, but whether it is good or not, whether it is right or not so to esteem it. Goodness, in this ideal sense, is not a matter of opinion, but of nature. For intent is at work, life is in active operation, and the question is whether the thing or the situation responds to that intent. So if I ask, Is four really twice two? the answer is not that most people say so, but that, in saying so, I am not misunderstanding myself. To judge whether things are really good, intent must be made to speak; and if this intent may itself be judged later, that happens by virtue of other intents comparing the first with their own direction.

Hence good, when once the moral or dialectical attitude has been assumed, means not what is called good but what is so; that is, what ought to be called good. For intent, beneath which there is no moral judgment, sets up its own standard, and ideal science begins on that basis, and cannot go back of it to ask why the obvious good is good at all. Naturally, there is a reason, but not a moral one; for it lies in the physical habit and necessity of things. The reason is simply the propulsive essence of animals and of the universal flux, which renders forms possible but unstable, and either helpful or hurtful to one another. That nature should have this constitution, or intent this direction, is not a good in itself. It is esteemed good or bad as the intent that speaks finds in that situation a support or an obstacle to its ideal. As a matter of fact, nature and the very existence of life cannot be thought wholly evil, since no intent is wholly at war with these its conditions; nor can nature and life be sincerely regarded as wholly good, since no moral intent stops at the facts; nor does the universal flux, which infinitely overflows any actual synthesis, altogether support any intent it may generate.

[Sidenote: Estimation the soul of philosophy.]

Philosophers would do a great discourtesy to estimation if they sought to justify it. It is all other acts that need justification by this one. The good greets us initially in every experience and in every object. Remove from anything its share of excellence and you have made it utterly insignificant, irrelevant to human discourse, and unworthy of even theoretic consideration. Value is the principle of perspective in science, no less than of rightness in life. The hierarchy of goods, the architecture of values, is the subject that concerns man most. Wisdom is the first philosophy, both in time and in authority; and to collect facts or to chop logic would be idle and would add no dignity to the mind, unless that mind possessed a clear humanity and could discern what facts and logic are good for and what not. The facts would remain facts and the truths truths; for of course values, accruing on account of animal souls and their affections, cannot possibly create the universe those animals inhabit. But both facts and truths would remain trivial, fit to awaken no pang, no interest, and no rapture. The first philosophers were accordingly sages. They were statesmen and poets who knew the world and cast a speculative glance at the heavens, the better to understand the conditions and limits of human happiness. Before their day, too, wisdom had spoken in proverbs. It is better every adage began: Better this than that. Images or symbols, mythical or homely events, of course furnished subjects and provocations for these judgments; but the residuum of all observation was a settled estimation of things, a direction chosen in thought and life because it was better. Such was philosophy in the beginning and such is philosophy still.

[Sidenote: Moral discriminations are natural and inevitable.]

To one brought up in a sophisticated society, or in particular under an ethical religion morality seems at first an external command, a chilling and arbitrary set of requirements and prohibitions which the young heart, if it trusted itself, would not reckon at a penny's worth. Yet while this rebellion is brewing in the secret conclave of the passions, the passions themselves are prescribing a code. They are inventing gallantry and kindness and honour; they are discovering friendship and paternity. With maturity comes the recognition that the authorised precepts of morality were essentially not arbitrary; that they expressed the genuine aims and interests of a practised will; that their alleged alien and supernatural basis (which if real would have deprived them of all moral authority) was but a mythical cover for their forgotten natural springs. Virtue is then seen to be admirable essentially, and not merely by conventional imputation. If traditional morality has much in it that is out of proportion, much that is unintelligent and inert, nevertheless it represents on the whole the verdict of reason. It speaks for a typical human will chastened by a typical human experience.

[Sidenote: A choice of proverbs.]

Gnomic wisdom, however, is notoriously polychrome, and proverbs depend for their truth entirely on the occasion they are applied to. Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it; so that a man rich in such lore, like Sancho Panza, can always find a venerable maxim to fortify the view he happens to be taking. In respect to foresight, for instance, we are told, Make hay while the sun shines, A stitch in time saves nine, Honesty is the best policy, Murder will out, Woe unto you, ye hypocrites, Watch and pray, Seek salvation with fear and trembling, and Respice finem. But on the same authorities exactly we have opposite maxims, inspired by a feeling that mortal prudence is fallible, that life is shorter than policy, and that only the present is real; for we hear, A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, Carpe diem, Ars longa, vita brevis. Be not righteous overmuch, Enough for the day is the evil thereof, Behold the lilies of the field, Judge not, that ye be not judged, Mind your own business, and It takes all sorts of men to make a world. So when some particularly shocking thing happens one man says, Cherchez la femme, and another says, Great is Allah.

That these maxims should be so various and partial is quite intelligible when we consider how they spring up. Every man, in moral reflection, is animated by his own intent; he has something in view which he prizes, he knows not why, and which wears to him the essential and unquestionable character of a good. With this standard before his eyes, he observes easily—for love and hope are extraordinarily keen-sighted—what in action or in circumstances forwards his purpose and what thwarts it; and at once the maxim comes, very likely in the language of the particular instance before him. Now the interests that speak in a man are different at different times; and the outer facts or measures which in one case promote that interest may, where other less obvious conditions have changed, altogether defeat it. Hence all sorts of precepts looking to all sorts of results.

[Sidenote: Their various representative value.]

Prescriptions of this nature differ enormously in value; for they differ enormously in scope. By chance, or through the insensible operation of experience leading up to some outburst of genius, intuitive maxims may be so central, so expressive of ultimate aims, so representative, I mean, of all aims in fusion, that they merely anticipate what moral science would have come to if it had existed. This happens much as in physics ultimate truths may be divined by poets long before they are discovered by investigators; the vivida vis animi taking the place of much recorded experience, because much unrecorded experience has secretly fed it. Such, for instance, is the central maxim of Christianity, Love thy neighbour as thyself. On the other hand, what is usual in intuitive codes is a mixture of some elementary precepts, necessary to any society, with others representing local traditions or ancient rites: so Thou shalt not kill, and Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath day, figure side by side in the Decalogue. When Antigone, in her sublimest exaltation, defies human enactments and appeals to laws which are not of to-day nor yesterday, no man knowing whence they have arisen, she mixes various types of obligation in a most instructive fashion; for a superstitious horror at leaving a body unburied—something decidedly of yesterday—gives poignancy in her mind to natural affection for a brother—something indeed universal, yet having a well-known origin. The passionate assertion of right is here, in consequence, more dramatic than spiritual; and even its dramatic force has suffered somewhat by the change in ruling ideals.

[Sidenote: Conflict of partial moralities.]

The disarray of intuitive ethics is made painfully clear in the conflicts which it involves when it has fostered two incompatible growths in two centres which lie near enough to each other to come into physical collision. Such ethics has nothing to offer in the presence of discord except an appeal to force and to ultimate physical sanctions. It can instigate, but cannot resolve, the battle of nations and the battle of religions. Precisely the same zeal, the same patriotism, the same readiness for martyrdom fires adherents to rival societies, and fires them especially in view of the fact that the adversary is no less uncompromising and fierce. It might seem idle, if not cruel and malicious, to wish to substitute one historical allegiance for another, when both are equally arbitrary, and the existing one is the more congenial to those born under it; but to feel this aggression to be criminal demands some degree of imagination and justice, and sectaries would not be sectaries if they possessed it.

Truly religious minds, while eager perhaps to extirpate every religion but their own, often rise above national jealousies; for spirituality is universal, whatever churches may be. Similarly politicians often understand very well the religious situation; and of late it has become again the general practice among prudent governments to do as the Romans did in their conquests, and to leave people free to exercise what religion they have, without pestering them with a foreign one. On the other hand the same politicians are the avowed agents of a quite patent iniquity; for what is their ideal? To substitute their own language, commerce, soldiers, and tax-gatherers for the tax-gatherers, soldiers, commerce, and language of their neighbours; and no means is thought illegitimate, be it fraud in policy or bloodshed in war, to secure this absolutely nugatory end. Is not one country as much a country as another? Is it not as dear to its inhabitants? What then is gained by oppressing its genius or by seeking to destroy it altogether?

Here are two flagrant instances where prerational morality defeats the ends of morality. Viewed from within, each religious or national fanaticism stands for a good; but in its outward operation it produces and becomes an evil. It is possible, no doubt, that its agents are really so far apart in nature and ideals that, like men and mosquitoes, they can stand in physical relations only, and if they meet can meet only to poison or to crush one another. More probably, however, humanity in them is no merely nominal essence; it is definable ideally, as essences are defined, by a partially identical function and intent. In that case, by studying their own nature, they could rise above their mutual opposition, and feel that in their fanaticism they were taking too contracted a view of their own souls and were hardly doing justice to themselves when they did such great injustice to others.

[Sidenote: The Greek ideal.]

How prerational morality may approach the goal, and miss it, is well illustrated in the history of Hellenism. Greek morals may be said to have been inspired by two prerational sentiments, a naturalistic religion and a local patriotism. Could Plato have succeeded in making that religion moral, or Alexander in universalising that patriotism, perhaps Greece might have been saved and we might all be now at a very different level of civilisation. Both Plato and Alexander failed, in spite of the immense and lasting influence of their work; for in both cases the after-effects were spurious, and the new spirit was smothered in the dull substances it strove to vivify.

Greek myth was an exuberant assertion of the rights of life in the universe. Existence could not but be joyful and immortal, if it had once found, in land, sea, or air, a form congruous with that element. Such congruity would render a being stable, efficient, beautiful. He would achieve a perfection grounded in skilful practice and in a thorough rejection of whatever was irrelevant. These things the Greeks called virtue. The gods were perfect models of this kind of excellence; for of course the amours of Zeus and Hermes' trickery were, in their hearty fashion, splendid manifestations of energy. This natural divine virtue carried no sense of responsibility with it, but it could not fail to diffuse benefit because it radiated happiness and beauty. The worshipper, by invoking those braver inhabitants of the cosmos, felt he might more easily attain a corresponding beauty and happiness in his paternal city.

[Sidenote: Imaginative exuberance and political discipline.]

The source of myth had been a genial sympathy with nature. The observer, at ease himself, multiplied ideally the potentialities of his being; but he went farther in imagining what life might yield abroad, freed from every trammel and necessity, than in deepening his sense of what life was in himself, and of what it ought to be. This moral reflection, absent from mythology, was supplied by politics. The family and the state had a soberer antique religion of their own; this hereditary piety, together with the laws, prescribed education, customs, and duties. The city drew its walls close about the heart, and while it fostered friendship and reason within, without it looked to little but war. A splendid physical and moral discipline was established to serve a suicidal egoism. The city committed its crimes, and the individual indulged his vices of conduct and estimation, hardly rebuked by philosophy and quite unrebuked by religion. Nevertheless, religion and philosophy existed, together with an incomparable literature and art, and an unrivalled measure and simplicity in living. A liberal fancy and a strict civic regimen, starting with different partial motives and blind purposes, combined by good fortune into an almost rational life.

It was inevitable, however, when only an irrational tradition supported the state, and kept it so weak amid a world of enemies, that this state should succumb; not to speak of the mean animosities, the license in life, and the spirit of mockery that inwardly infested it. The myths, too, faded; they had expressed a fleeting moment of poetic insight, as patriotism had expressed a fleeting moment of unanimous effort; but what force could sustain such accidental harmonies? The patriotism soon lost its power to inspire sacrifice, and the myth its power to inspire wonder; so that the relics of that singular civilisation were scattered almost at once in the general flood of the world.

[Sidenote: Sterility of Greek example.]

The Greek ideal has fascinated many men in all ages, who have sometimes been in a position to set a fashion, so that the world in general has pretended also to admire. But the truth is Hellas, in leaving so many heirlooms to mankind, has left no constitutional benefit; it has taught the conscience no lesson. We possess a great heritage from Greece, but it is no natural endowment. An artistic renaissance in the fifteenth century and a historical one in the nineteenth have only affected the trappings of society. The movement has come from above. It has not found any response in the people. While Greek morality, in its contents or in the type of life it prescribes, comes nearer than any other prerational experiment to what reason might propose, yet it has been less useful than many other influences in bringing the Life of Reason about. The Christian and the Moslem, in refining their more violent inspiration, have brought us nearer to genuine goodness than the Greek could by his idle example. Classic perfection is a seedless flower, imitable only by artifice, not reproducible by generation. It is capable of influencing character only through the intellect, the means by which character can be influenced least. It is a detached ideal, responding to no crying and actual demand in the world at large. It never passed, to win the right of addressing mankind, through a sufficient novitiate of sorrow.

[Sidenote: Prerational morality among the Jews.]

The Hebrews, on the contrary, who in comparison with the Greeks had a barbarous idea of happiness, showed far greater moral cohesion under the pressure of adversity. They integrated their purposes into a fanaticism, but they integrated them; and the integrity that resulted became a mighty example. It constituted an ideal of character not the less awe-inspiring for being merely formal. We need not marvel that abstract commandments should have impressed the world more than concrete ideals. To appreciate an ideal, to love and serve it in the full light of science and reason, would require a high intelligence, and, what is rarer still, noble affinities and renunciations which are not to be looked for in an undisciplined people. But to feel the truth and authority of an abstract maxim (as, for instance, Do right and shame the devil), a maxim applicable to experience on any plane, nothing is needed but a sound wit and common honesty. Men know better what is right and wrong than what is ultimately good or evil; their conscience is more vividly present to them than the fruits which obedience to conscience might bear; so that the logical relation of means to ends, of methods to activities, eludes them altogether. What is a necessary connection between the given end, happiness, and the normal life naturally possessing it, appears to them as a miraculous connection between obedience to God's commands and enjoyment of his favour. The evidence of this miracle astonishes them and fills them with zeal. They are strengthened to persevere in righteousness under any stress of misfortune, in the assurance that they are being put to a temporary test and that the reward promised to virtue will eventually be theirs.

[Sidenote: The development of conscience.]

Thus a habit of faithfulness, a trust in general principles, is fostered and ingrained in generation after generation—a rare and precious heritage for a race so imperfectly rational as the human. Reason would of course justify the same constancy in well-doing, since a course of conduct would not be right, but wrong, if its ultimate issue were human misery. But as the happiness secured by virtue may be remote and may demand more virtue to make it appreciable, the mere rationality of a habit gives it no currency in the world and but little moral glow in the conscience. We should not, therefore, be too much offended at the illusions which play a part in moral integration. Imagination is often more efficacious in reaching the gist and meaning of experience than intelligence can be, just because imagination is less scrupulous and more instinctive. Even physical discoveries, when they come, are the fruit of divination, and Columbus had to believe he might sail westward to India before he could actually hit upon America. Reason cannot create itself, and nature, in producing reason, has to feel her way experimentally. Habits and chance systems of education have to arise first and exercise upon individuals an irrational suasion favourable to rational ends. Men long live in substantial harmony with reality before they recognise its nature. Organs long exist before they reach their perfect function. The fortunate instincts of a race destined to long life and rationality express themselves in significant poetry before they express themselves in science.

The service which Hebraism has rendered to mankind has been instrumental, as that rendered by Hellenism has been imaginative. Hebraism has put earnestness and urgency into morality, making it a matter of duty, at once private and universal, rather than what paganism had left it, a mass of local allegiances and legal practices. The Jewish system has, in consequence, a tendency to propaganda and intolerance; a tendency which would not have proved nefarious had this religion always remained true to its moral principle; for morality is coercive and no man, being autonomous, has a right to do wrong. Conscience, thus reinforced by religious passion, has been able to focus a general abhorrence on certain great scandals—slavery and sodomy could be practically suppressed among Christians, and drunkenness among Moslems. The Christian principle of charity also owed a part of its force to Hebraic tradition. For the law and the prophets were full of mercy and loving kindness toward the faithful. What Moses had taught his people Christ and his Hellenising disciples had the beautiful courage to preach to all mankind. Yet this virtue of charity, on its subtler and more metaphysical side, belongs to the spirit of redemption, to that ascetic and quasi-Buddhistic element in Christianity to which we shall presently revert. The pure Jews can have no part in such insight, because it contradicts the positivism of their religion and character and their ideal of worldly happiness.

[Sidenote: Need of Hebraic devotion to Greek aims.]

As the human body is said to change all its substance every seven years, and yet is the same body, so the Hebraic conscience might change all its tenets in seven generations and be the same conscience still. Could this abstract moral habit, this transferable earnestness, be enlisted in rational causes, the Life of Reason would have gained a valuable instrument. Men would possess the "single eye," and the art, so difficult to an ape-like creature with loose moral feelings, of acting on principle. Could the vision of an adequate natural ideal fall into the Hebraising mind, already aching for action and nerved to practical enthusiasm, that ideal vision might become efficacious and be largely realised in practice. The abstract power of self-direction, if enlightened by a larger experience and a more fertile genius, might give the Life of Reason a public embodiment such as it has not had since the best days of classic antiquity. Thus the two prerational moralities out of which European civilisation has grown, could they be happily superposed, would make a rational polity.

[Sidenote: Prerational morality marks an acquisition but offers no programme.]

The objects of human desire, then, until reason has compared and experience has tested them, are a miscellaneous assortment of goods, unstable in themselves and incompatible with one another. It is a happy chance if a tolerable mixture of them recommends itself to a prophet or finds an adventitous acceptance among a group of men. Intuitive morality is adequate while it simply enforces those obvious and universal laws which are indispensable to any society, and which impose themselves everywhere on men under pain of quick extinction—a penalty which many an individual and many a nation continually prefers to pay. But when intuitive morality ventures upon speculative ground and tries to guide progress, its magic fails. Ideals are tentative and have to be critically viewed. A moralist who rests in his intuitions may be a good preacher, but hardly deserves the name of philosopher. He cannot find any authority for his maxims which opposite maxims may not equally invoke. To settle the relative merits of rival authorities and of hostile consciences it is necessary to appeal to the only real authority, to experience, reason, and human nature in the living man. No other test is conceivable and no other would be valid; for no good man would ever consent to regard an authority as divine or binding which essentially contradicted his own conscience. Yet a conscience which is irreflective and incorrigible is too hastily satisfied with itself, and not conscientious enough: it needs cultivation by dialectic. It neglects to extend to all human interests that principle of synthesis and justice by which conscience itself has arisen. And so soon as the conscience summons its own dicta for revision in the light of experience and of universal sympathy, it is no longer called conscience, but reason. So, too, when the spirit summons its traditional faiths, to subject them to a similar examination, that exercise is not called religion, but philosophy. It is true, in a sense, that philosophy is the purest religion and reason the ultimate conscience; but so to name them would be misleading. The things commonly called by those names have seldom consented to live at peace with sincere reflection. It has been felt vaguely that reason could not have produced them, and that they might suffer sad changes by submitting to it; as if reason could be the ground of anything, or as if everything might not find its consummation in becoming rational.



CHAPTER IX

RATIONAL ETHICS

[Sidenote: Moral passions represent private interests.]

In moral reprobation there is often a fanatical element, I mean that hatred which an animal may sometimes feel for other animals on account of their strange aspect, or because their habits put him to serious inconvenience, or because these habits, if he himself adopted them, might be vicious in him. Such aversion, however, is not a rational sentiment. No fault can be justly found with a creature merely for not resembling another, or for nourishing in a different physical or moral environment. It has been an unfortunate consequence of mythical philosophies that moral emotions have been stretched to objects with which a man has only physical relations, so that the universe has been filled with monsters more or less horrible, according as the forces they represented were more or less formidable to human life. In the same spirit, every experiment in civilisation has passed for a crime among those engaged in some other experiment. The foreigner has seemed an insidious rascal, the heretic a pestilent sinner, and any material obstacle a literal devil; while to possess some unusual passion, however innocent, has brought obloquy on every one unfortunate enough not to be constituted like the average of his neighbours.

Ethics, if it is to be a science and not a piece of arbitrary legislation, cannot pronounce it sinful in a serpent to be a serpent; it cannot even accuse a barbarian of loving a wrong life, except in so far as the barbarian is supposed capable of accusing himself of barbarism. If he is a perfect barbarian he will be inwardly, and therefore morally, justified. The notion of a barbarian will then be accepted by him as that of a true man, and will form the basis of whatever rational judgments or policy he attains. It may still seem dreadful to him to be a serpent, as to be a barbarian might seem dreadful to a man imbued with liberal interests. But the degree to which moral science, or the dialectic of will, can condemn any type of life depends on the amount of disruptive contradiction which, at any reflective moment, that life brings under the unity of apperception. The discordant impulses therein confronted will challenge and condemn one another; and the court of reason in which their quarrel is ventilated will have authority to pronounce between them.

The physical repulsion, however, which everybody feels to habits and interests which he is incapable of sharing is no part of rational estimation, large as its share may be in the fierce prejudices and superstitions which prerational morality abounds in. The strongest feelings assigned to the conscience are not moral feelings at all; they express merely physical antipathies.

Toward alien powers a man's true weapon is not invective, but skill and strength. An obstacle is an obstacle, not a devil; and even a moral life, when it actually exists in a being with hostile activities, is merely a hostile power. It is not hostile, however, in so far as it is moral, but only in so far as its morality represents a material organism, physically incompatible with what the thinker has at heart.

[Sidenote: Common ideal interests may supervene.]

Material conflicts cannot be abolished by reason, because reason is powerful only where they have been removed. Yet where opposing forces are able mutually to comprehend and respect one another, common ideal interests at once supervene, and though the material conflict may remain irrepressible, it will be overlaid by an intellectual life, partly common and unanimous. In this lies the chivalry of war, that we acknowledge the right of others to pursue ends contrary to our own. Competitors who are able to feel this ideal comity, and who leading different lives in the flesh lead the same life in imagination, are incited by their mutual understanding to rise above that material ambition, perhaps gratuitous, that has made them enemies. They may ultimately wish to renounce that temporal good which deprives them of spiritual goods in truth infinitely greater and more appealing to the soul—innocence, justice, and intelligence. They may prefer an enlarged mind to enlarged frontiers, and the comprehension of things foreign to the destruction of them. They may even aspire to detachment from those private interests which, as Plato said,[H] do not deserve to be taken too seriously; the fact that we must take them seriously being the ignoble part of our condition.

Of course such renunciations, to be rational, must not extend to the whole material basis of life, since some physical particularity and efficiency are requisite for bringing into being that very rationality which is to turn enemies into friends. The need of a material basis for spirit is what renders partial war with parts of the world the inevitable background of charity and justice. The frontiers at which this warfare is waged may, however, be pushed back indefinitely. Within the sphere organised about a firm and generous life a Roman peace can be established. It is not what is assimilated that saps a creative will, but what remains outside that ultimately invades and disrupts it. In exact proportion to its vigour, it wins over former enemies, civilises the barbarian, and even tames the viper, when the eye is masterful and sympathetic enough to dispel hatred and fear. The more rational an institution is the less it suffers by making concessions to others; for these concessions, being just, propagate its essence. The ideal commonwealth can extend to the limit at which such concessions cease to be just and are thereby detrimental. Beyond or below that limit strife must continue for physical ascendancy, so that the power and the will to be reasonable may not be undermined. Reason is an operation in nature, and has its root there. Saints cannot arise where there have been no warriors, nor philosophers where a prying beast does not remain hidden in the depths.

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