[Sidenote: To this extent there is rational society.]
Perhaps the art of politics, if it were practised scientifically, might obviate open war, religious enmities, industrial competition, and human slavery; but it would certainly not leave a free field for all animals nor for all monstrosities in men. Even while admitting the claims of monsters to be treated humanely, reason could not suffer them to absorb those material resources which might be needed to maintain rational society at its highest efficiency. We cannot, at this immense distance from a rational social order, judge what concessions individual genius would be called upon to make in a system of education and government in which all attainable goods should be pursued scientifically. Concessions would certainly be demanded, if not from well-trained wills, still from inevitable instincts, reacting on inevitable accidents. There is tragedy in perfection, because the universe in which perfection arises is itself imperfect. Accidents will always continue to harass the most consummate organism; they will flow in both from the outer world and from the interstices, so to speak, of its own machinery; for a rational life touches the irrational at its core as well as at its periphery. In both directions it meets physical force and can subsist only by exercising physical force in return. The range of rational ethics is limited to the intermediate political zone, in which existences have attained some degree of natural unanimity.
It should be added, perhaps, that the frontiers between moral and physical action are purely notional. Real existences do not lie wholly on one or the other side of them. Every man, every material object, has moral affinities enveloping an indomitable vital nucleus or brute personal kernel; this moral essence is enveloped in turn by untraceable relations, radiating to infinity over the natural world. The stars enter society by the light and knowledge they afford, the time they keep, and the ornament they lavish; but they are mere dead weights in their substance and cosmological puzzles in their destiny. You and I possess manifold ideal bonds in the interests we share; but each of us has his poor body and his irremediable, incommunicable dreams. Beyond the little span of his foresight and love, each is merely a physical agency, preparing the way quite irresponsibly for undreamt-of revolutions and alien lives.
[Sidenote: A rational morality not attainable,]
A truly rational morality, or social regimen, has never existed in the world and is hardly to be looked for. What guides men and nations in their practice is always some partial interest or some partial disillusion. A rational morality would imply perfect self-knowledge, so that no congenial good should be needlessly missed—least of all practical reason or justice itself; so that no good congenial to other creatures would be needlessly taken from them. The total value which everything had from the agent's point of view would need to be determined and felt efficaciously; and, among other things, the total value which this point of view, with the conduct it justified, would have for every foreign interest which it affected. Such knowledge, such definition of purpose, and such perfection of sympathy are clearly beyond man's reach. All that can be hoped for is that the advance of science and commerce, by fostering peace and a rational development of character, may bring some part of mankind nearer to that goal; but the goal lies, as every ultimate ideal should, at the limit of what is possible, and must serve rather to measure achievements than to prophesy them.
[Sidenote: but its principle clear.] In lieu of a rational morality, however, we have rational ethics; and this mere idea of a rational morality is something valuable. While we wait for the sentiments, customs, and laws which should embody perfect humanity and perfect justice, we may observe the germinal principle of these ideal things; we may sketch the ground-plan of a true commonwealth. This sketch constitutes rational ethics, as founded by Socrates, glorified by Plato, and sobered and solidified by Aristotle. It sets forth the method of judgment and estimation which a rational morality would apply universally and express in practice. The method, being very simple, can be discovered and largely illustrated in advance, while the complete self-knowledge and sympathy are still wanting which might avail to embody that method in the concrete and to discover unequivocally where absolute duty and ultimate happiness may lie.
[Sidenote: It is the logic of an autonomous will.]
This method, the Socratic method, consists in accepting any estimation which any man may sincerely make, and in applying dialectic to it, so as to let the man see what he really esteems. What he really esteems is what ought to guide his conduct; for to suggest that a rational being ought to do what he feels to be wrong, or ought to pursue what he genuinely thinks is worthless, would be to impugn that man's rationality and to discredit one's own. With what face could any man or god say to another: Your duty is to do what you cannot know you ought to do; your function is to suffer what you cannot recognise to be worth suffering? Such an attitude amounts to imposture and excludes society; it is the attitude of a detestable tyrant, and any one who mistakes it for moral authority has not yet felt the first heart-throb of philosophy.
[Sidenote: Socrates' science.]
More even than natural philosophy, moral philosophy is something Greek: it is the appanage of freemen. The Socratic method is the soul of liberal conversation; it is compacted in equal measure of sincerity and courtesy. Each man is autonomous and all are respected; and nothing is brought forward except to be submitted to reason and accepted or rejected by the self-questioning heart. Indeed, when Socrates appeared in Athens mutual respect had passed into democracy and liberty into license; but the stalwart virtue of Socrates saved him from being a sophist, much as his method, when not honestly and sincerely used, might seem to countenance that moral anarchy which the sophists had expressed in their irresponsible doctrines. Their sophistry did not consist in the private seat which they assigned to judgment; for what judgment is there that is not somebody's judgment at some moment? The sophism consisted in ignoring the living moment's intent, and in suggesting that no judgment could refer to anything ulterior, and therefore that no judgment could be wrong: in other words that each man at each moment was the theme and standard, as well as the seat, of his judgment.
Socrates escaped this folly by force of honesty, which is what saves from folly in dialectic. He built his whole science precisely on that intent which the sophists ignored; he insisted that people should declare sincerely what they meant and what they wanted; and on that living rock he founded the persuasive and ideal sciences of logic and ethics, the necessity of which lies all in free insight and in actual will. This will and insight they render deliberate, profound, unshakable, and consistent. Socrates, by his genial midwifery, helped men to discover the truth and excellence to which they were naturally addressed. This circumstance rendered his doctrine at once moral and scientific; scientific because dialectical, moral because expressive of personal and living aspirations. His ethics was not like what has since passed under that name—a spurious physics, accompanied by commandments and threats. It was a pliant and liberal expression of ideals, inwardly grounded and spontaneously pursued. It was an exercise in self-knowledge.
[Sidenote: Its opposition to sophistry and moral anarchy.]
Socrates' liberality was that of a free man ready to maintain his will and conscience, if need be, against the whole world. The sophists, on the contrary, were sycophants in their scepticism, and having inwardly abandoned the ideals of their race and nation—which Socrates defended with his homely irony—they dealt out their miscellaneous knowledge, or their talent in exposition, at the beck and for the convenience of others. Their theory was that each man having a right to pursue his own aims, skilful thinkers might, for money, furnish any fellow-mortal with instruments fitted to his purpose. Socrates, on the contrary, conceived that each man, to achieve his aims must first learn to distinguish them clearly; he demanded that rationality, in the form of an examination and clarification of purposes, should precede any selection of external instruments. For how should a man recognise anything useful unless he first had established the end to be subserved and thereby recognised the good? True science, then, was that which enabled a man to disentangle and attain his natural good; and such a science is also the art of life and the whole of virtue.
The autonomous moralist differs from the sophist or ethical sceptic in this: that he retains his integrity. In vindicating his ideal he does not recant his human nature. In asserting the initial right of every impulse in others, he remains the spokesman of his own. Knowledge of the world, courtesy, and fairness do not neutralise his positive life. He is thoroughly sincere, as the sophist is not; for every man, while he lives, embodies and enacts some special interest; and this truth, which those who confound psychology with ethics may think destructive of all authority in morals, is in fact what alone renders moral judgment possible and respectable. If the sophist declares that what his nature attaches him to is not "really" a good, because it would not be a good, perhaps, for a different creature, he is a false interpreter of his own heart, and rather discreditably stultifies his honest feelings and actions by those theoretical valuations which, in guise of a mystical ethics, he gives out to the world. Socratic liberality, on the contrary, is consistent with itself, as Spinozistic naturalism is also; for it exercises that right of private judgment which it concedes to others, and avowedly builds up the idea of the good on that natural inner foundation on which everybody who has it at all must inevitably build it. This functional good is accordingly always relative and good for something; it is the ideal which a vital and energising soul carries with it as it moves. It is identical, as Socrates constantly taught, with the useful, the helpful, the beneficent. It is the complement needed to perfect every art and every activity after its own kind.
[Sidenote: Its vitality]
Rational ethics is an embodiment of volition, not a description of it. It is the expression of living interest, preference, and categorical choice. It leaves to psychology and history a free field for the description of moral phenomena. It has no interest in slipping far-fetched and incredible myths beneath the facts of nature, so as to lend a non-natural origin to human aspirations. It even recognises, as an emanation of its own force, that uncompromising truthfulness with which science assigns all forms of moral life to their place in the mechanical system of nature. But the rational moralist is not on that account reduced to a mere spectator, a physicist acknowledging no interest except the interest in facts and in the laws of change. His own spirit, small by the material forces which it may stand for and express, is great by its prerogative of surveying and judging the universe; surveying it, of course, from a mortal point of view, and judging it only by its kindliness or cruelty to some actual interest, yet, even so, determining unequivocally a part of its constitution and excellence. The rational moralist represents a force energising in the world, discovering its affinities there and clinging to them to the exclusion of their hateful opposites. He represents, over against the chance facts, an ideal embodying the particular demands, possibilities, and satisfactions of a specific being.
This dogmatic position of reason is not uncritically dogmatic; on the contrary, it is the sophistical position that is uncritically neutral. All criticism needs a dogmatic background, else it would lack objects and criteria for criticism. The sophist himself, without confessing it, enacts a special interest. He bubbles over with convictions about the pathological and fatal origin of human beliefs, as if that could prevent some of them from being more trustworthy and truer than others. He is doubtless right in his psychology; his own ideas have their natural causes and their chance of signifying something real. His scepticism may represent a wider experience than do the fanaticisms it opposes. But this sceptic also lives. Nature has sent her saps abundantly into him, and he cannot but nod dogmatically on that philosophical tree on which he is so pungent a berry. His imagination is unmistakably fascinated by the pictures it happens to put together. His judgment falls unabashed, and his discourse splashes on in its dialectical march, every stepping-stone an unquestioned idea, every stride a categorical assertion. Does he deny this? Then his very denial, in its promptness and heat, audibly contradicts him and makes him ridiculous. Honest criticism consists in being consciously dogmatic, and conscientiously so, like Descartes when he said, "I am." It is to sift and harmonise all assertions so as to make them a faithful expression of actual experience and inevitable thought.
[Sidenote: Genuine altruism is natural self-expression.]
Now will, no less than that reason which avails to render will consistent and far-reaching, animates natural bodies and expresses their functions. It has a radical bias, a foregone, determinate direction, else it could not be a will nor a principle of preference. The knowledge of what other people desire does not abolish a man's own aims. Sympathy and justice are simply an expansion of the soul's interests, arising when we consider other men's lives so intently that something in us imitates and re-enacts their experience, so that we move partly in unison with their movement, recognise the reality and initial legitimacy of their interests, and consequently regard their aims in our action, in so far as our own status and purposes have become identical with theirs. We are not less ourselves, nor less autonomous, for this assimilation, since we assimilate only what is in itself intelligible and congruous with our mind and obey only that authority which can impose itself on our reason.
The case is parallel to that of knowledge. To know all men's experience and to comprehend their beliefs would constitute the most cogent and settled of philosophies. Thought would then be reasonably adjusted to all the facts of history, and judgment would grow more authoritative and precise by virtue of that enlightenment. So, too, to understand all the goods that any man, nay, that any beast or angel, may ever have pursued, would leave man still necessitous of food, drink, sleep, and shelter; he would still love; the comic, the loathsome, the beautiful would still affect him with unmistakable direct emotions. His taste might no doubt gain in elasticity by those sympathetic excursions into the polyglot world; the plastic or dramatic quality which had enabled him to feel other creatures' joys would grow by exercise and new overtones would be added to his gamut. But the foundations of his nature would stand; and his possible happiness, though some new and precious threads might be woven into it, would not have a texture fundamentally different.
The radical impulses at work in any animal must continue to speak while he lives, for they are his essence. A true morality does not have to be adopted; the parts of it best practised are those which are never preached. To be "converted" would be to pass from one self-betrayal to another. It would be to found a new morality on a new artifice. The morality which has genuine authority exists inevitably and speaks autonomously in every common judgment, self-congratulation, ambition, or passion that fills the vulgar day. The pursuit of those goods which are the only possible or fitting crown of a man's life is predetermined by his nature; he cannot choose a law-giver, nor accept one, for none who spoke to the purpose could teach him anything but to know himself. Rational life is an art, not a slavery; and terrible as may be the errors and the apathy that impede its successful exercise, the standard and goal of it are given intrinsically. Any task imposed externally on a man is imposed by force only, a force he has the right to defy so soon as he can do so without creating some greater impediment to his natural vocation.
[Sidenote: Reason expresses impulses.]
Rational ethics, then, resembles prerational precepts and half-systems in being founded on impulse. It formulates a natural morality. It is a settled method of achieving ends to which man is drawn by virtue of his physical and rational constitution. By this circumstance rational ethics is removed from the bad company of all artificial, verbal, and unjust systems of morality, which in absolving themselves from relevance to man's endowment and experience merely show how completely irrelevant they are to life. Once, no doubt, each of these arbitrary systems expressed (like the observance of the Sabbath) some practical interest or some not unnatural rite; but so narrow a basis of course has to be disowned when the precepts so originating have been swollen into universal tyrannical laws. A rational ethics reduces them at once to their slender representative role; and it surrounds and buttresses them on every side with all other natural ideals.
[Sidenote: but impulses reduced to harmony.]
Rational ethics thus differs from the prerational in being complete. There is one impulse which intuitive moralists ignore: the impulse to reflect. Human instincts are ignorant, multitudinous, and contradictory. To satisfy them as they come is often impossible, and often disastrous, in that such satisfaction prevents the satisfaction of other instincts inherently no less fecund and legitimate. When we apply reason to life we immediately demand that life be consistent, complete, and satisfactory when reflected upon and viewed as a whole. This view, as it presents each moment in its relations, extends to all moments affected by the action or maxim under discussion; it has no more ground for stopping at the limits of what is called a single life than at the limits of a single adventure. To stop at selfishness is not particularly rational. The same principle that creates the ideal of a self creates the ideal of a family or an institution.
[Sidenote: Self-love artificial.]
The conflict between selfishness and altruism is like that between any two ideal passions that in some particular may chance to be opposed; but such a conflict has no obstinate existence for reason. For reason the person itself has no obstinate existence. The character which a man achieves at the best moment of his life is indeed something ideal and significant; it justifies and consecrates all his coherent actions and preferences. But the man's life, the circle drawn by biographers around the career of a particular body, from the womb to the charnel-house, and around the mental flux that accompanies that career, is no significant unity. All the substances and efficient processes that figure within it come from elsewhere and continue beyond; while all the rational objects and interests to which it refers have a trans-personal status. Self-love itself is concerned with public opinion; and if a man concentrates his view on private pleasures, these may qualify the fleeting moments of his life with an intrinsic value, but they leave the life itself shapeless and infinite, as if sparks should play over a piece of burnt paper.
The limits assigned to the mass of sentience attributed to each man are assigned conventionally; his prenatal feelings, his forgotten dreams, and his unappropriated sensations belong to his body and for that reason only are said to belong to him. Each impulse included within these limits may be as directly compared with the represented impulses of other people as with the represented impulses expected to arise later in the same body. Reason lives among these represented values, all of which have their cerebral seat and present efficacy over the passing thought; and reason teaches this passing thought to believe in and to respect them equally. Their right is not less clear, nor their influence less natural, because they may range over the whole universe and may await their realisation at the farthest boundaries of time. All that is physically requisite to their operation is that they should be vividly represented; while all that is requisite rationally, to justify them in qualifying actual life by their influence, is that the present act should have some tendency to bring the represented values about. In other words, a rational mind would consider, in its judgment and action, every interest which that judgment or action at all affected; and it would conspire with each represented good in proportion, not to that good's intrinsic importance, but to the power which the present act might have of helping to realise that good.
[Sidenote: The sanction of reason is happiness.]
If pleasure, because it is commonly a result of satisfied instinct, may by a figure of speech be called the aim of impulse, happiness, by a like figure, may be called the aim of reason. The direct aim of reason is harmony; yet harmony, when made to rule in life, gives reason a noble satisfaction which we call happiness. Happiness is impossible and even inconceivable to a mind without scope and without pause, a mind driven by craving, pleasure, and fear. The moralists who speak disparagingly of happiness are less sublime than they think. In truth their philosophy is too lightly ballasted, too much fed on prejudice and quibbles, for happiness to fall within its range. Happiness implies resource and security; it can be achieved only by discipline. Your intuitive moralist rejects discipline, at least discipline of the conscience; and he is punished by having no lien on wisdom. He trusts to the clash of blind forces in collision, being one of them himself. He demands that virtue should be partisan and unjust; and he dreams of crushing the adversary in some physical cataclysm.
Such groping enthusiasm is often innocent and romantic; it captivates us with its youthful spell. But it has no structure with which to resist the shocks of fortune, which it goes out so jauntily to meet. It turns only too often into vulgarity and worldliness. A snow-flake is soon a smudge, and there is a deeper purity in the diamond. Happiness is hidden from a free and casual will; it belongs rather to one chastened by a long education and unfolded in an atmosphere of sacred and perfected institutions. It is discipline that renders men rational and capable of happiness, by suppressing without hatred what needs to be suppressed to attain a beautiful naturalness. Discipline discredits the random pleasures of illusion, hope, and triumph, and substitutes those which are self-reproductive, perennial, and serene, because they express an equilibrium maintained with reality. So long as the result of endeavour is partly unforeseen and unintentional, so long as the will is partly blind, the Life of Reason is still swaddled in ignominy and the animal barks in the midst of human discourse. Wisdom and happiness consist in having recast natural energies in the furnace of experience. Nor is this experience merely a repressive force. It enshrines the successful expressions of spirit as well as the shocks and vetoes of circumstance; it enables a man to know himself in knowing the world and to discover his ideal by the very ring, true or false, of fortune's coin.
[Sidenote: Moral science impeded by its chaotic data.]
With this brief account we may leave the subject of rational ethics. Its development is impossible save in the concrete, when a legislator, starting from extant interests, considers what practices serve to render those interests vital and genuine, and what external alliances might lend them support and a more glorious expression. The difficulty in carrying rational policy very far comes partly from the refractory materials at hand, and partly from the narrow range within which moral science is usually confined. The materials are individual wills naturally far from unanimous, lost for the most part in frivolous pleasures, rivalries, and superstitions, and little inclined to listen to a law-giver that, like a new Lycurgus, should speak to them of unanimity, simplicity, discipline, and perfection. Devotion and singlemindedness, perhaps possible in the cloister, are hard to establish in the world; yet a rational morality requires that all lay activities, all sweet temptations, should have their voice in the conclave. Morality becomes rational precisely by refusing either to accept human nature, as it sprouts, altogether without harmony, or to mutilate it in the haste to make it harmonious. The condition, therefore, of making a beginning in good politics is to find a set of men with well-knit character and cogent traditions, so that there may be a firm soil to cultivate and that labour may not be wasted in ploughing the quicksands.
[Sidenote: and its unrecognised scope.]
When such a starting-point is given, moral values radiate from it to the very ends of the universe; and a failure to appreciate the range over which rational estimation spreads is a second obstacle to sound ethics. Because of this failure the earnest soul is too often intent on escaping to heaven, while the gross politician is suffered to declaim about the national honour, and to promise this client an office, this district a favour, and this class an iniquitous advantage. Politics is expected to be sophistical; and in the soberest parliaments hardly an argument is used or an ideal invoked which is not an insult to reason. Majorities work by a system of bribes offered to the more barren interests of men and to their more blatant prejudices. The higher direction of their lives is relegated to religion, which, unhappily, is apt to suffer from hereditary blindness to natural needs and to possible progress. The idea that religion, as well as art, industry, nationality, and science, should exist only for human life's sake and in order that men may live better in this world, is an idea not even mooted in politics and perhaps opposed by an official philosophy. The enterprise of individuals or of small aristocratic bodies has meantime sown the world which we call civilised with some seeds and nuclei of order. There are scattered about a variety of churches, industries, academies, and governments. But the universal order once dreamt of and nominally almost established, the empire of universal peace, all-permeating rational art, and philosophical worship, is mentioned no more. An unformulated conception, the prerational ethics of private privilege and national unity, fills the background of men's minds. It represents feudal traditions rather than the tendency really involved in contemporary industry, science, or philanthropy. Those dark ages, from which our political practice is derived, had a political theory which we should do well to study; for their theory about a universal empire and a catholic church was in turn the echo of a former age of reason, when a few men conscious of ruling the world had for a moment sought to survey it as a whole and to rule it justly.
Modern rational ethics, however, or what approaches most nearly to such a thing, has one advantage over the ancient and mediaeval; it has profited by Christian discipline and by the greater gentleness of modern manners. It has recognised the rights of the dumb majority; it has revolted against cruelty and preventable suffering and has bent itself on diffusing well-being—the well-being that people want, and not the so-called virtues which a supercilious aristocracy may find it convenient to prescribe for them. It has based ethics on the foundation on which actual morality rests; on nature, on the necessities of social life, on the human instincts of sympathy and justice.
[Sidenote: Fallacy in democratic hedonism.]
It is all the more to be regretted that the only modern school of ethics which is humane and honestly interested in progress should have given a bad technical expression to its generous principles and should have substituted a dubious psychology for Socratic dialectic. The mere fact that somebody somewhere enjoys or dislikes a thing cannot give direction to a rational will. That fact indicates a moral situation but does not prescribe a definite action. A partial harmony or maladjustment is thereby proved to exist, but the method is not revealed by which the harmony should be sustained or the maladjustment removed. A given harmony can be sustained by leaving things as they are or by changing them together. A maladjustment can be removed by altering the environment or by altering the man. Pleasures may be attached to anything, and to pursue them in the abstract does not help to define any particular line of conduct. The particular ideal pre-exists in the observer; the mathematics of pleasure and pain cannot oblige him, for instance, to prefer a hundred units of mindless pleasure enjoyed in dreams to fifty units diffused over labour and discourse. He need not limit his efforts to spreading needless comforts and silly pleasures among the million; he need not accept for a goal a child's caprices multiplied by infinity. Even these caprices, pleasures, and comforts doubtless have their claims; but these claims have to be adjudicated by the agent's autonomous conscience, and he will give them the place they fill in his honest ideal of what it would be best to have in the world, not the place which they might pretend to usurp there by a sort of physical pressure. A conscience is a living function, expressing a particular nature; it is not a passive medium where heterogeneous values can find their balance by virtue of their dead weight and number.
A moralist is called upon, first of all, to decide in what things pleasure ought to be found. Of course his decision, if he is rational, will not be arbitrary; it will conscientiously express his own nature—on which alone honest ideals can rest—without attempting to speak for the deafening and inconstant convocation of the whole sentient universe. Duty is a matter of self-knowledge, not of statistics. A living and particular will therein discovers its affinities, broadens its basis, acknowledges its obligations, and co-operates with everything that will co-operate with it; but it continues throughout to unfold a particular life, finding its supports and extensions in the state, the arts, and the universe. It cannot for a moment renounce its autonomy without renouncing reason and perhaps decreeing the extinction both of its own bodily basis and of its ideal method and policy.
[Sidenote: Sympathy a conditional duty.]
Utilitarianism needs to be transferred to Socratic and dialectical ground, so that interest in absent interests may take its place in a concrete ideal. It is a noble thing to be sensitive to others' hardships, and happy in their happiness; but it is noble because it refines the natural will without enfeebling it, offering it rather a new and congenial development, one entirely predetermined by the fundamental structure of human nature. Were man not gregarious, were he not made to be child, friend, husband, and father by turns, his morality would not be social, but, like that of some silk-worm or some seraph, wholly industrious or wholly contemplative. Parental and sexual instincts, social life and the gift of co-operation carry sympathy implicitly with them, as they carry the very faculty to recognise a fellow-being. To make this sympathy explicit and to find one's happiness in exercising it is to lay one's foundations deeper in nature and to expand the range of one's being. Its limits, however, would be broken down and moral dissolution would set in if, forgetting his humanity, a man should bid all living creatures lapse with him into a delicious torpor, or run into a cycle of pleasant dreams, so intense that death would be sure to precede any awakening out of them. Great as may be the advance in charity since the days of Socrates, therefore, the advance is within the lines of his method; to trespass beyond them would be to recede.
This situation is repeated on a broader stage. A statesman entrusted with power should regard nothing but his country's interests; to regard anything else would be treason. He cannot allow foreign sentiment or private hobbies to make him misapply the resources of his fellow-countrymen to their own injury. But he may well have an enlightened view of the interests which he serves; he might indeed be expected to take a more profound and enlightened view of them than his countrymen were commonly capable of, else he would have no right to his eminent station. He should be the first to feel that to inflict injury or foster hatred among other populations should not be a portion of a people's happiness. A nation, like a man, is something ideal. Indestructible mountains and valleys, crawled over by any sort of race, do not constitute its identity. Its essence is a certain spirit, and only what enters into this spirit can bind it morally, or preserve it.
[Sidenote: All life, and hence right life, finite and particular.]
If a drop of water contains a million worlds which I, in swallowing, may ruin or transform, that is Allah's business; mine is to clarify my own intent, to cling to what ideals may lie within the circle of my experience and practical imagination, so that I may have a natural ground for my loyalties, and may be constant in them. It would not be a rational ambition to wish to multiply the population of China by two, or that of America by twenty, after ascertaining that life there contained an overplus of pleasure. To weed a garden, however, would be rational, though the weeds and their interests would have to be sacrificed in the process. Utilitarianism took up false ground when it made right conduct terminate in miscellaneous pleasures and pains, as if in their isolation they constituted all that morality had to consider, and as if respect offered to them, somehow in proportion to their quantity, were the true conscience. The true conscience is rather an integrated natural will, chastened by clear knowledge of what it pursues and may attain. What morality has to consider is the form of life, not its quantity. In a world that is perhaps infinite, moral life can spring only from definite centres and is neither called upon nor able to estimate the whole, nor to redress its balance. It is the free spirit of a part, finding its affinities and equilibrium in the material whole which it reacts on, and which it is in that measure enabled to understand.
[Footnote H: Laws. VII. 803. B.]
[Sidenote: Socratic ethics retrospective.]
When Socrates and his two great disciples composed a system of rational ethics they were hardly proposing practical legislation for mankind. One by his irony, another by his frank idealism, and the third by his preponderating interest in history and analysis, showed clearly enough how little they dared to hope. They were merely writing an eloquent epitaph on their country. They were publishing the principles of what had been its life, gathering piously its broken ideals, and interpreting its momentary achievement. The spirit of liberty and co-operation was already dead. The private citizen, debauched by the largesses and petty quarrels of his city, had become indolent and mean-spirited. He had begun to question the utility of religion, of patriotism, and of justice. Having allowed the organ for the ideal to atrophy in his soul, he could dream of finding some sullen sort of happiness in unreason. He felt that the austere glories of his country, as a Spartan regimen might have preserved them, would not benefit that baser part of him which alone remained. Political virtue seemed a useless tax on his material profit and freedom. The tedium and distrust proper to a disintegrated society began to drive him to artificial excitements and superstitions. Democracy had learned to regard as enemies the few in whom public interest was still represented, the few whose nobler temper and traditions still coincided with the general good. These last patriots were gradually banished or exterminated, and with them died the spirit that rational ethics had expressed. Philosophers were no longer suffered to have illusions about the state. Human activity on the public stage had shaken off all allegiance to art or reason.
[Sidenote: Rise of disillusioned moralities.]
The biographer of reason might well be tempted to ignore the subsequent attitudes into which moral life fell in the West, since they all embodied a more or less complete despair, and, having abandoned the effort to express the will honestly and dialectically, they could support no moral science. The point was merely to console or deceive the soul with some substitute for happiness. Life is older and more persistent than reason, and the failure of a first experiment in rationality does not deprive mankind of that mental and moral vegetation which they possessed for ages in a wild state before the advent of civilisation. They merely revert to their uncivil condition and espouse whatever imaginative ideal comes to hand, by which some semblance of meaning and beauty may be given to existence without the labour of building this meaning and beauty systematically out of its positive elements.
Not to study these imaginative ideals, partial and arbitrary as they are, would be to miss one of the most instructive points of view from which the Life of Reason may be surveyed: the point of view of its satirists. For moral ideals may follow upon philosophy, just as they may precede it. When they follow, at least so long as they are consciously embraced in view of reason's failure, they have a quite particular value. Aversion to rational ideals does not then come, as the intuitionist's aversion does, from moral incoherence or religious prejudice. It does not come from lack of speculative power. On the contrary, it may come from undue haste in speculation, from a too ready apprehension of the visible march of things. The obvious irrationality of nature as a whole, too painfully brought home to a musing mind, may make it forget or abdicate its own rationality. In a decadent age, the philosopher who surveys the world and sees that the end of it is even as the beginning, may not feel that the intervening episode, in which he and all he values after all figure, is worth consideration; and he may cry, in his contemplative spleen, that all is vanity.
If you should still confront him with a theory of the ideal, he would not be reduced, like the pre-rational moralists in a similar case, to mere inattention and bluster. If you told him that every art and every activity involves a congruous good, and that the endeavour to realise the ideal in every direction is an effort of which reason necessarily approves, since reason is nothing but the method of that endeavour, he would not need to deny your statements in order to justify himself. He might admit the naturalness, the spontaneity, the ideal sufficiency of your conceptions; but he might add, with the smile of the elder and the sadder man, that he had experience of their futility. "You Hellenisers," he might say, "are but children; you have not pondered the little history you know. If thought were conversant with reality, if virtue were stable and fruitful, if pains and policy were ultimately justified by a greater good arising out of them—then, indeed, a life according to reason might tempt a philosopher. But unfortunately not one of those fond assumptions is true. Human thought is a meaningless phantasmagoria. Virtue is a splendid and laborious folly, when it is not a pompous garment that only looks respectable in the dark, being in truth full of spots and ridiculous patches. Men's best laid plans become, in the casual cross-currents of being, the occasion of their bitterest calamities. How, then, live? How justify in our eyes, let us not say the ways of God, but our own ways?"
[Sidenote: The illusion subsisting in them.]
Such a position may be turned dialectically by invoking whatever positive hopes or convictions the critic may retain, who while he lives cannot be wholly without them. But the position is specious and does not collapse, like that of the intuitionist, at the first breath of criticism. Pessimism, and all the moralities founded on despair, are not pre-rational but post-rational. They are the work of men who more or less explicitly have conceived the Life of Reason, tried it at least imaginatively, and found it wanting. These systems are a refuge from an intolerable situation: they are experiments in redemption. As a matter of fact, animal instincts and natural standards of excellence are never eluded in them, for no moral experience has other terms; but the part of the natural ideal which remains active appears in opposition to all the rest and, by an intelligible illusion, seems to be no part of that natural ideal because, compared with the commoner passions on which it reacts, it represents some simpler or more attenuated hope—the appeal to some very humble or very much chastened satisfaction, or to an utter change in the conditions of life.
Post-rational morality thus constitutes, in intention if not in fact, a criticism of all experience. It thinks it is not, like pre-rational morality, an arbitrary selection from among co-ordinate precepts. It is an effort to subordinate all precepts to one, that points to some single eventual good. For it occurs to the founders of these systems that by estranging oneself from the world, or resting in the moment's pleasure, or mortifying the passions, or enduring all sufferings in patience, or studying a perfect conformity with the course of affairs, one may gain admission to some sort of residual mystical paradise; and this thought, once conceived, is published as a revelation and accepted as a panacea. It becomes in consequence (for such is the force of nature) the foundation of elaborate institutions and elaborate philosophies, into which the contents of the worldly life are gradually reintroduced.
When human life is in an acute crisis, the sick dreams that visit the soul are the only evidence of her continued existence. Through them she still envisages a good; and when the delirium passes and the normal world gradually re-establishes itself in her regard, she attributes her regeneration to the ministry of those phantoms, a regeneration due, in truth, to the restored nutrition and circulation within her. In this way post-rational systems, though founded originally on despair, in a later age that has forgotten its disillusions may come to pose as the only possible basis of morality. The philosophers addicted to each sect, and brought up under its influence, may exhaust criticism and sophistry to show that all faith and effort would be vain unless their particular nostrum was accepted; and so a curious party philosophy arises in which, after discrediting nature and reason in general, the sectary puts forward some mythical echo of reason and nature as the one saving and necessary truth. The positive substance of such a doctrine is accordingly pre-rational and perhaps crudely superstitious; but it is introduced and nominally supported by a formidable indictment of physical and moral science, so that the wretched idol ultimately offered to our worship acquires a spurious halo and an imputed majesty by being raised on a pedestal of infinite despair.
[Sidenote: Epicurean refuge in pleasure.]
Socrates was still living when a school of post-rational morality arose among the Sophists, which after passing quickly through various phases, settled down into Epicureanism and has remained the source of a certain consolation to mankind, which if somewhat cheap, is none the less genuine. The pursuit of pleasure may seem simple selfishness, with a tendency to debauchery; and in this case the pre-rational and instinctive character of the maxim retained would be very obvious. Pleasure, to be sure, is not the direct object of an unspoiled will; but after some experience and discrimination, a man may actually guide himself by a foretaste of the pleasures he has found in certain objects and situations. The criticism required to distinguish what pays from what does not pay may not often be carried very far; but it may sometimes be carried to the length of suppressing every natural instinct and natural hope, and of turning the philosopher, as it turned Hegesias the Cyrenaic, into a eulogist of death.
The post-rational principle in the system then comes to the fore, and we see clearly that to sit down and reflect upon human life, picking out its pleasant moments and condemning all the rest, is to initiate a course of moral retrenchment. It is to judge what is worth doing, not by the innate ambition of the soul, but by experience of incidental feelings, which to a mind without creative ideas may seem the only objects worthy of pursuit. That life ought to be accompanied by pleasure and exempt from pain is certain; for this means that what is agreeable to the whole process of nature would have become agreeable also to the various partial impulses involved—another way of describing organic harmony and physical perfection. But such a desirable harmony cannot be defined or obtained by picking out and isolating from the rest those occasions and functions in which it may already have been reached. These partial harmonies may be actual arrests or impediments in the whole which is to be made harmonious; and even when they are innocent or helpful they cannot serve to determine the form which the general harmony might take on. They merely illustrate its principle. The organism in which this principle of harmony might find pervasive expression is still potential, and the ideal is something of which, in its concrete form, no man has had experience. It involves a propitious material environment, perfect health, perfect arts, perfect government, a mind enlarged to the knowledge and enjoyment of all its external conditions and internal functions. Such an ideal is lost sight of when a man cultivates his garden-plot of private pleasures, leaving it to chance and barbarian fury to govern the state and quicken the world's passions.
Even Aristippus, the first and most delightful of hedonists, who really enjoyed the pleasures he advocated and was not afraid of the incidental pains—even Aristippus betrayed the post-rational character of his philosophy by abandoning politics, mocking science, making his peace with all abuses that fostered his comfort, and venting his wit on all ambitions that exceeded his hopes. A great temperament can carry off a rough philosophy. Rebellion and license may distinguish honourable souls in an age of polite corruption, and a grain of sincerity is better, in moral philosophy, than a whole harvest of conventionalities. The violence and shamelessness of Aristippus were corrected by Epicurus; and a balance was found between utter despair and utter irresponsibility. Epicureanism retrenched much: it cut off politics, religion, enterprise, and passion. These things it convicted of vanity, without stopping to distinguish in them what might be inordinate from what might be rational. At the same time it retained friendship, freedom of soul, and intellectual light. It cultivated unworldliness without superstition and happiness without illusion. It was tender toward simple and honest things, scornful and bitter only against pretence and usurpation. It thus marked a first halting-place in the retreat of reason, a stage where the soul had thrown off only the higher and more entangling part of her burden and was willing to live, in somewhat reduced circumstances, on the remainder. Such a philosophy expresses well the genuine sentiment of persons, at once mild and emancipated, who find themselves floating on the ebb-tide of some civilisation, and enjoying its fruits, without any longer representing the forces that brought that civilisation about.
[Sidenote: Stoic recourse to conformity.]
The same emancipation, without its mildness, appeared in the Cynics, whose secret it was to throw off all allegiance and all dependence on circumstance, and to live entirely on inner strength of mind, on pride and inflexible humour. The renunciation was far more sweeping than that of Epicurus, and indeed wellnigh complete; yet the Stoics, in underpinning the Cynical self-sufficiency with a system of physics, introduced into the life of the sect a contemplative element which very much enlarged and ennobled its sympathies. Nature became a sacred system, the laws of nature being eulogistically called rational laws, and the necessity of things, because it might be foretold in auguries, being called providence. There was some intellectual confusion in all this; but contemplation, even if somewhat idolatrous, has a purifying effect, and the sad and solemn review of the cosmos to which the Stoic daily invited his soul, to make it ready to face its destiny, doubtless liberated it from many an unworthy passion. The impressive spectacle of things was used to remind the soul of her special and appropriate function, which was to be rational. This rationality consisted partly in insight, to perceive the necessary order of things, and partly in conformity, to perceive that this order, whatever it might be, could serve the soul to exercise itself upon, and to face with equanimity.
Despair, in this system, flooded a much larger area of human life; everything, in fact, was surrendered except the will to endure whatever might come. The concentration was much more marked, since only a formal power of perception and defiance was retained and made the sphere of moral life; this rational power, at least in theory, was the one peak that remained visible above the deluge. But in practice much more was retained. Some distinction was drawn, however unwarrantably, between external calamities and human turpitude, so that absolute conformity and acceptance might not be demanded by the latter; although the chief occasion which a Stoic could find to practise fortitude and recognise the omnipresence of law was in noting the universal corruption of the state and divining its ruin. The obligation to conform to nature (which, strictly speaking, could not be disregarded in any case) was interpreted to signify that every one should perform the offices conventionally attached to his station. In this way a perfunctory citizenship and humanity were restored to the philosopher. But the restored life was merely histrionic: the Stoic was a recluse parading the market-place and a monk disguised in armour. His interest and faith were centred altogether on his private spiritual condition. He cultivated the society of those persons who, he thought, might teach him some virtue. He attended to the affairs of state so as to exercise his patience. He might even lead an army to battle, if he wished to test his endurance and make sure that philosophy had rendered him indifferent to the issue.
[Sidenote: Conformity the core of Islam.]
The strain and artifice of such a discipline, with merely formal goals and no hope on earth or in heaven, could not long maintain itself; and doubtless it existed, at a particular juncture, only in a few souls. Resignation to the will of God, says Bishop Butler, is the whole of piety; yet mere resignation would make a sorry religion and the negation of all morality, unless the will of God was understood to be quite different from his operation in nature. To turn Stoicism into a workable religion we need to qualify it with some pre-rational maxims. Islam, for instance, which boasts that in its essence it is nothing but the primitive and natural religion of mankind, consists in abandoning oneself to the will of God or, in other words, in accepting the inevitable. This will of God is learned for the most part by observing the course of nature and history, and remembering the fate meted out habitually to various sorts of men. Were this all, Islam would be a pure Stoicism, and Hebraic religion, in its ultimate phase, would be simply the eloquence of physics. It would not, in that case, be a moral inspiration at all, except as contemplation and the sense of one's nothingness might occasionally silence the passions and for a moment bewilder the mind. On recovering from this impression, however, men would find themselves enriched with no self-knowledge, armed with no precepts, and stimulated by no ideal. They would be reduced to enacting their incidental impulses, as the animals are, quite as if they had never perceived that in doing so they were fulfilling a divine decree. Enlightened Moslems, accordingly, have often been more Epicurean than Stoical; and if they have felt themselves (not without some reason) superior to Christians in delicacy, in savoir vivre, in kinship with all natural powers, this sense of superiority has been quite rationalistic and purely human. Their religion contributed to it only because it was simpler, freer from superstition, nearer to a clean and pleasant regimen in life. Resignation to the will of God being granted, expression of the will of man might more freely begin.
[Sidenote: enveloped in arbitrary doctrines.]
What made Islam, however, a positive and contagious novelty was the assumption that God's will might be incidentally revealed to prophets before the event, so that past experience was not the only source from which its total operation might be gathered. In its opposition to grosser idolatries Islam might appeal to experience and challenge those who trusted in special deities to justify their worship in face of the facts. The most decisive facts against idolaters, however, were not yet patent, but were destined to burst upon mankind at the last day—and most unpleasantly for the majority. Where Mohammed speaks in the name of the universal natural power he is abundantly scornful toward that fond paganism which consists in imagining distinct patrons for various regions of nature or for sundry human activities. In turning to such patrons the pagan regards something purely ideal or, as the Koran shrewdly observes, worships his own passions. Allah, on the contrary, is overwhelmingly external and as far as possible from being ideal. He is indeed the giver of all good things, as of all evil, and while his mercies are celebrated on every page of the Koran, these mercies consist in the indulgence he is expected to show to his favourites, and the exceeding reward reserved for them after their earthly trials. Allah's mercy does not exclude all those senseless and unredeemed cruelties of which nature is daily guilty; nay, it shines all the more conspicuously by contrast with his essential irresponsibility and wanton wrath, a part of his express purpose being to keep hell full of men and demons.
The tendency toward enlightenment which Islam represents, and the limits of that enlightenment, may be illustrated by the precept about unclean animals. Allah, we are told, being merciful and gracious, made the world for man's use, with all the animals in it. We may therefore justly slaughter and devour them, in so far as comports with health; but, of course, we may not eat animals that have died a natural death, nor those offered in sacrifice to false gods, nor swine; for to do so would be an abomination.
[Sidenote: The latter alone lend it practical force.]
Unfortunately religious reformers triumph not so much by their rational insight as by their halting, traditional maxims. Mohammed felt the unity of God like a philosopher; but people listened to him because he preached it like a sectary. God, as he often reminds us, did not make the world for a plaything; he made it in order to establish distinctions and separate by an immense interval the fate of those who conform to the truth from the fate of those who ignore it. Human life is indeed beset with enough imminent evils to justify this urgent tone in the Semitic moralist and to lend his precepts a stern practical ring, absent from merely Platonic idealisms. But this stringency, which is called positivism when the conditions of welfare are understood, becomes fanaticism when they are misrepresented. Had Mohammed spoken only of the dynamic unity in things, the omnipresence of destiny, and the actual conditions of success and failure in the world, he would not have been called a prophet or have had more than a dozen intelligent followers, scattered over as many centuries; but the weakness of his intellect, and his ignorance of nature, made the success of his mission. It is easier to kindle righteous indignation against abuses when, by abating them, we further our personal interests; and Mohammed might have been less zealous in denouncing false gods had his own God been altogether the true one. But, in the heat of his militancy, he descends so far as to speak of God's interests which the faithful embrace, and of fighting in God's cause. By these notions, so crudely pre-rational, we are allowed to interpret and discount the pantheistic sublimities with which in most places we are regaled; and in order that a morality, too weak to be human, may not wither altogether in the fierce light of the Absolute, we are led to humanise the Absolute into a finite force, needing our support against independent enemies. So complete is the bankruptcy of that Stoic morality which thinks to live on the worship of That which Is.
[Sidenote: Moral ambiguity in pantheism.]
As extremes are said to meet, so we may say that a radical position is often the point of departure for opposite systems. Pantheism, or religion and morality abdicating in favour of physics, may, in practice, be interpreted in contrary ways. To be in sympathy with the Whole may seem to require us to outgrow and discard every part; yet, on the other hand, there is no obvious reason why Being should love its essence in a fashion that involves hating every possible form of Being. The worshipper of Being accordingly assumes now one, now the other, of two opposite attitudes, according as the society in which he lives is in a prerational or a post-rational state of culture. Pantheism is interpreted pre-rationally, as by the early Mohammedans, or by the Hegelians, when people are not yet acquainted, or not yet disgusted, with worldliness; the Absolute then seems to lend a mystical sanction to whatever existences or tendencies happen to be afoot. Morality is reduced to sanctioning reigning conventions, or reigning passions, on the authority of the universe. Thus the Moslems, by way of serving Allah, could extend their conquests and cultivate the arts and pleasures congenial to a self-sufficing soul, at once indolent and fierce; while the transcendentalists of our times, by way of accepting their part in the divine business, have merely added a certain speculative loftiness to the maxims of some sect or the chauvinism of some nation.
[Sidenote: Under stress, it becomes ascetic and requires a mythology.]
To accept everything, however, is not an easy nor a tolerable thing, unless you are naturally well pleased with what falls to your share. However the Absolute may feel, a moral creature has to hate some forms of being; and if the age has thrust these forms before a man's eyes, and imposed them upon him, not being suffered by his pantheism to blame the Absolute he will (by an inconsistency) take to blaming himself. It will be his finitude, his inordinate claims, his enormous effrontery in having any will or any preference in particular, that will seem to him the source of all evil and the single blot on the infinite lucidity of things. Pantheism, under these circumstances, will issue in a post-rational morality. It will practise asceticism and look for a mystical deliverance from finite existence.
Under these circumstances myth is inevitably reintroduced. Without it, no consolation could be found except in the prospect of death and, awaiting that, in incidental natural satisfactions; whereby absorption in the Absolute might come to look not only impossible but distinctly undesirable. To make retreat out of human nature seem a possible vocation, this nature itself must, in some myth, be represented as unnatural; the soul that this life stifles must be said to come from elsewhere and to be fitted to breathe some element far rarer and finer than this sublunary fog.
[Sidenote: A supernatural world made by the Platonist out of dialectic.]
A curious foothold for such a myth was furnished by the Socratic philosophy. Plato, wafted by his poetic vision too far, perhaps, from the utilitarianism of his master, had eulogised concretions in discourse at the expense of existences and had even played with cosmological myths, meant to express the values of things, by speaking as if these values had brought things into being. The dialectical terms thus contrasted with natural objects, and pictured as natural powers, furnished the dogmas needed at this juncture by a post-rational religion. The spell which dialectic can exercise over an abstracted mind is itself great; and it may grow into a sacred influence and a positive revelation when it offers a sanctuary from a weary life in the world. Out of the play of notions carried on in a prayerful dream wonderful mysteries can be constructed, to be presently announced to the people and made the core of sacramental injunctions. When the tide of vulgar superstition is at the flood and every form of quackery is welcome, we need not wonder that a theosophy having so respectable a core—something, indeed, like a true logic misunderstood—should gain many adherents. Out of the names of things and of virtues a mystic ladder could be constructed by which to leave the things and the virtues themselves behind; but the sagacity and exigencies of the school would not fail to arrange the steps in this progress—the end of which was unattainable except, perhaps, in a momentary ecstasy—so that the obvious duties of men would continue, for the nonce, to be imposed upon them. The chief difference made in morals would be only this: that the positive occasions and sanctions of good conduct would no longer be mentioned with respect, but the imagination would be invited to dwell instead on mystical issues.
[Sidenote: The Herbraic cry for redemption.]
Neo-Platonic morality, through a thousand learned and vulgar channels, permeated Christianity and entirely transformed it. Original Christianity was, though in another sense, a religion of redemption. The Jews, without dreaming of original sin or of any inherent curse in being finite, had found themselves often in the sorest material straits. They hoped, like all primitive peoples, that relief might come by propitiating the deity. They knew that the sins of the fathers were visited upon the children even to the third and fourth generation. They had accepted this idea of joint responsibility and vicarious atonement, turning in their unphilosophical way this law of nature into a principle of justice. Meantime the failure of all their cherished ambitions had plunged them into a penitential mood. Though in fact pious and virtuous to a fault, they still looked for repentance—their own or the world's—to save them. This redemption was to be accomplished in the Hebrew spirit, through long-suffering and devotion to the Law, with the Hebrew solidarity, by vicarious attribution of merits and demerits within the household of the faith.
Such a way of conceiving redemption was far more dramatic, poignant, and individual than the Neo-Platonic; hence it was far more popular and better fitted to be a nucleus for religious devotion. However much, therefore, Christianity may have insisted on renouncing the world, the flesh, and the devil, it always kept in the background this perfectly Jewish and pre-rational craving for a delectable promised land. The journey might be long and through a desert, but milk and honey were to flow in the oasis beyond. Had renunciation been fundamental or revulsion from nature complete, there would have been no much-trumpeted last judgment and no material kingdom of heaven. The renunciation was only temporary and partial; the revulsion was only against incidental evils. Despair touched nothing but the present order of the world, though at first it took the extreme form of calling for its immediate destruction. This was the sort of despair and renunciation that lay at the bottom of Christian repentance; while hope in a new order of this world, or of one very like it, lay at the bottom of Christian joy. A temporary sacrifice, it was thought, and a partial mutilation would bring the spirit miraculously into a fresh paradise. The pleasures nature had grudged or punished, grace was to offer as a reward for faith and patience. The earthly life which was vain as an experience was to be profitable as a trial. Normal experience, appropriate exercise for the spirit, would thereafter begin.
[Sidenote: The two factors meet in Christianity.]
Christianity is thus a system of postponed rationalism, a rationalism intercepted by a supernatural version of the conditions of happiness. Its moral principle is reason—the only moral principle there is; its motive power is the impulse and natural hope to be and to be happy. Christianity merely renews and reinstates these universal principles after a first disappointment and a first assault of despair, by opening up new vistas of accomplishment, new qualities and measures of success. The Christian field of action being a world of grace enveloping the world of nature, many transitory reversals of acknowledged values may take place in its code. Poverty, chastity, humility, obedience, self-sacrifice, ignorance, sickness, and dirt may all acquire a religious worth which reason, in its direct application, might scarcely have found in them; yet these reversed appreciations are merely incidental to a secret rationality, and are justified on the ground that human nature, as now found, is corrupt and needs to be purged and transformed before it can safely manifest its congenital instincts and become again an authoritative criterion of values. In the kingdom of God men would no longer need to do penance, for life there would be truly natural and there the soul would be at last in her native sphere.
This submerged optimism exists in Christianity, being a heritage from the Jews; and those Protestant communities that have rejected the pagan and Platonic elements that overlaid it have little difficulty in restoring it to prominence. Not, however, without abandoning the soul of the gospel; for the soul of the gospel, though expressed in the language of Messianic hopes, is really post-rational. It was not to marry and be given in marriage, or to sit on thrones, or to unravel metaphysical mysteries, or to enjoy any of the natural delights renounced in this life, that Christ summoned his disciples to abandon all they had and to follow him. There was surely a deeper peace in his self-surrender. It was not a new thing even among the Jews to use the worldly promises of their exoteric religion as symbols for inner spiritual revolutions; and the change of heart involved in genuine Christianity was not a fresh excitation of gaudy hopes, nor a new sort of utilitarian, temporary austerity. It was an emptying of the will, in respect to all human desires, so that a perfect charity and contemplative justice, falling like the Father's gifts ungrudgingly on the whole creation, might take the place of ambition, petty morality, and earthly desires. It was a renunciation which, at least in Christ himself and in his more spiritual disciples, did not spring from disappointed illusion or lead to other unregenerate illusions even more sure to be dispelled by events. It sprang rather from a native speculative depth, a natural affinity to the divine fecundity, serenity, and sadness of the world. It was the spirit of prayer, the kindliness and insight which a pure soul can fetch from contemplation.
[Sidenote: Consequent electicism.]
This mystical detachment, supervening on the dogged old Jewish optimism, gave Christianity a double aspect, and had some curious consequence in later times. Those who were inwardly convinced—as most religious minds were under the Roman Empire—that all earthly things were vanity, and that they plunged the soul into an abyss of nothingness if not of torment, could, in view of brighter possibilities in another world, carry their asceticism and their cult of suffering farther than a purely negative system, like the Buddhistic, would have allowed. For a discipline that is looked upon as merely temporary can contradict nature more boldly than one intended to take nature's place. The hope of unimaginable benefits to ensue could drive religion to greater frenzies than it could have fallen into if its object had been merely to silence the will. Christianity persecuted, tortured, and burned. Like a hound it tracked the very scent of heresy. It kindled wars, and nursed furious hatreds and ambitions. It sanctified, quite like Mohammedanism, extermination and tyranny. All this would have been impossible if, like Buddhism, it had looked only to peace and the liberation of souls. It looked beyond; it dreamt of infinite blisses and crowns it should be crowned with before an electrified universe and an applauding God. These were rival baits to those which the world fishes with, and were snapped at, when seen, with no less avidity. Man, far from being freed from his natural passions, was plunged into artificial ones quite as violent and much more disappointing. Buddhism had tried to quiet a sick world with anaesthetics; Christianity sought to purge it with fire.
Another consequence of combining, in the Christian life, post-rational with pre-rational motives, a sense of exile and renunciation with hopes of a promised land, was that esoteric piety could choose between the two factors, even while it gave a verbal assent to the dogmas that included both. Mystics honoured the post-rational motive and despised the pre-rational; positivists clung to the second and hated the first. To the spiritually minded, whose religion was founded on actual insight and disillusion, the joys of heaven could never be more than a symbol for the intrinsic worth of sanctity. To the worldling those heavenly joys were nothing but a continuation of the pleasures and excitements of this life, serving to choke any reflections which, in spite of himself, might occasionally visit him about the vanity of human wishes. So that Christianity, even in its orthodox forms, covers various kinds of morality, and its philosophical incoherence betrays itself in disruptive movements, profound schisms, and total alienation on the part of one Christian from the inward faith of another. Trappist or Calvinist may be practising a heroic and metaphysical self-surrender while the busy-bodies of their respective creeds are fostering, in God's name, all their hot and miscellaneous passions.
[Sidenote: The negation of naturalism never complete.]
This contradiction, present in the overt morality of Christendom, cannot be avoided, however, by taking refuge again in pure asceticism. Every post-rational system is necessarily self-contradictory. Its despair cannot be universal nor its nihilism complete so long as it remains a coherent method of action, with particular goals and a steady faith that their attainment is possible. The renunciation of the will must stop at the point where the will to be saved makes its appearance: and as this desire may be no less troublesome and insistent than any other, as it may even become a tormenting obsession, the mystic is far from the end of his illusions when he sets about to dispel them. There is one rational method to which, in post-rational systems, the world is still thought to be docile, one rational endeavour which nature is sure to crown with success. This is the method of deliverance from existence, the effort after salvation. There is, let us say, a law of Karma, by which merit and demerit accruing in one incarnation pass on to the next and enable the soul to rise continuously through a series of stages. Thus the world, though called illusory, is not wholly intractable. It provides systematically for an exit out of its illusions. On this rational ordinance of phenomena, which is left standing by an imperfect nihilism, Buddhist morality is built. Rational endeavour remains possible because experience is calculable and fruitful in this one respect, that it dissolves in the presence of goodness and knowledge.
Similarly in Christian ethics, the way of the cross has definite stations and a definite end. However negative this end may be thought to be, the assurance that it may be attained is a remnant of natural hope in the bosom of pessimism. A complete disillusion would have involved the neglect of such an assurance, the denial that it was possible or at least that it was to be realised under specific conditions. That conversion and good works lead to something worth attaining is a new sort of positivistic hope. A complete scepticism would involve a doubt, not only concerning the existence of such a method of salvation, but also (what is more significant) concerning the importance of applying it if it were found. For to assert that salvation is not only possible but urgently necessary, that every soul is now in an intolerable condition and should search for an ultimate solution to all its troubles, a restoration to a normal and somehow blessed state—what is this but to assert that the nature of things has a permanent constitution, by conformity with which man may secure his happiness? Moreover, we assert in such a faith that this natural constitution of things is discoverable in a sufficient measure to guide our action to a successful issue. Belief in Karma, in prayer, in sacraments, in salvation is a remnant of a natural belief in the possibility of living successfully. The remnant may be small and "expressed in fancy." Transmigration or an atonement may be chimerical ideas. Yet the mere fact of reliance upon something, the assumption that the world is steady and capable of rational exploitation, even if in a supernatural interest and by semi-magical means, amounts to an essential loyalty to postulates of practical reason, an essential adherence to natural morality.
The pretension to have reached a point of view from which all impulse may be criticised is accordingly an untenable pretension. It is abandoned in the very systems in which it was to be most thoroughly applied. The instrument of criticism must itself be one impulse surviving the wreck of all the others; the vision of salvation and of the way thither must be one dream among the rest. A single suggestion of experience is thus accepted while all others are denied; and although a certain purification and revision of morality may hence ensue, there is no real penetration to a deeper principle than spontaneous reason, no revelation of a higher end than the best possible happiness. One sporadic growth of human nature may be substituted for its whole luxuriant vegetation; one negative or formal element of happiness may be preferred to the full entelechy of life. We may see the Life of Reason reduced to straits, made to express itself in a niggardly and fantastic environment; but we have, in principle and essence, the Life of Reason still, empirical in its basis and rational in its method, its substance impulse and its end happiness.
[Sidenote: Spontaneous values rehabilitated.]
So much for the umbilical cord that unites every living post-rational system to the matrix of human hopes. There remains a second point of contact between these systems and rational morality: the reinstated natural duties which all religions and philosophies, in order to subsist among civilised peoples, are at once obliged to sanction and somehow to deduce from their peculiar principles. The most plausible evidence which a supernatural doctrine can give of its truth is the beauty and rationality of its moral corollaries. It is instructive to observe that a gospel's congruity with natural reason and common humanity is regarded as the decisive mark of its supernatural origin. Indeed, were inspiration not the faithful echo of plain conscience and vulgar experience there would be no means of distinguishing it from madness. Whatever poetic idea a prophet starts with, in whatever intuition or analogy he finds a hint of salvation, it is altogether necessary that he should hasten to interpret his oracle in such a manner that it may sanction without disturbing the system of indispensable natural duties, although these natural duties, by being attached artificially to supernatural dogmas, may take on a different tone, justify themselves by a different rhetoric, and possibly suffer real transformation in some minor particulars. Systems of post-rational morality are not original works: they are versions of natural morality translated into different metaphysical languages, each of which adds its peculiar flavour, its own genius and poetry, to the plain sense of the common original.
[Sidenote: A witness out of India.]
In the doctrine of Karma, for instance, experience of retribution is ideally extended and made precise. Acts, daily experience teaches us, form habits; habits constitute character, and each man's character, as Heraclitus said, is his guardian deity, the artisan of his fate. We need but raise this particular observation to a solitary eminence, after the manner of post-rational thinking; we need but imagine it to underlie and explain all other empirical observations, so that character may come to figure as an absolute cause, of which experience itself is an attendant result. Such arbitrary emphasis laid on some term of experience is the source of each metaphysical system in turn. In this case the surviving dogma will have yielded an explanation of our environment no less than of our state of heart by instituting a deeper spiritual law, a certain balance of merit and demerit in the soul, accruing to it through a series of previous incarnations. This fabulous starting-point was gained by an imaginary extension of the law of moral continuity and natural retribution; but when, accepting this starting-point, the believer went on to inquire what he should do to be saved and to cancel the heavy debts he inherited from his mythical past, he would merely enumerate the natural duties of man, giving them, however, a new sanction and conceiving them as if they emanated from his new-born metaphysical theory. This theory, apart from a natural conscience and traditional code, would have been perfectly barren. The notion that every sin must be expiated does not carry with it any information about what acts are sins.
This indispensable information must still be furnished by common opinion. Those acts which bring suffering after them, those acts which arouse the enmity of our fellows and, by a premonition of that enmity, arouse our own shame—those are assumed and deputed to be sinful; and the current code of morality being thus borrowed without begging leave, the law of absolute retribution can be brought in to paint the picture of moral responsibility in more glaring colours and to extend the vista of rewards and punishments into a rhetorical infinite. Buddhistic morality was natural morality intensified by this forced sense of minute and boundless responsibility. It was coloured also by the negative, pessimistic justification which this dogma gives to moral endeavour. Every virtue was to be viewed as merely removing guilt and alleviating suffering, knowledge itself being precious only as a means to that end. The ultimate inspiration of right living was to be hope of perfect peace—a hope generously bestowed by nature on every spirit which, being linked to the flux of things, is conscious of change and susceptible of weariness, but a hope which the irresponsible Oriental imagination had disturbed with bad dreams. A pathetic feminine quality was thereby imparted to moral feeling; we were to be good for pity's sake, for the sake of a great distant deliverance from profound sorrows.
[Sidenote: Dignity of post-rational morality.]
The pathetic idiosyncrasy of this religion has probably enabled it to touch many a heart and to lift into speculation many a life otherwise doomed to be quite instinctive animal. It has kept morality pure—free from that admixture of worldly and partisan precepts with which less pessimistic systems are encumbered. Restraint can be rationally imposed on a given will only by virtue of evils which would be involved in its satisfaction, by virtue, in other words, of some actual demand whose disappointment would ensue upon inconsiderate action. To save, to cure, to nourish are duties far less conditional than would be a supposed duty to acquire or to create. There is no harm in merely not being, and privation is an evil only when, after we exist, it deprives us of something naturally requisite, the absence of which would defeat interests already launched into the world. If there is something in a purely remedial system of morality which seems one-sided and extreme, we must call to mind the far less excusable one-sidedness of those moralities of prejudice to which we are accustomed in the Occident—the ethics of irrational acquisitiveness, irrational faith, and irrational honour. Buddhistic morality, so reasonable and beautifully persuasive, rising so willingly to the ideal of sanctity, merits in comparison the profoundest respect. It is lifted as far above the crudities of intuitionism as the whisperings of an angel are above a schoolboy's code.
A certain bias and deviation from strict reason seems, indeed, inseparable from any moral reform, from any doctrine that is to be practically and immediately influential. Socratic ethics was too perfect an expression to be much of a force. Philosophers whose hearts are set on justice and pure truth often hear reproaches addressed to them by the fanatic, who contrasts the conspicuous change in this or that direction accomplished by his preaching with the apparent impotence of reason and thought. Reason's resources are in fact so limited that it is usually reduced to guerilla warfare: a general plan of campaign is useless when only insignificant forces obey our commands. Moral progress is for that reason often greatest when some nobler passion or more fortunate prejudice takes the lead and subdues its meaner companions without needing to rely on the consciousness of ultimate benefits hence accruing to the whole life. So a pessimistic and merely remedial morality may accomplish reforms which reason, with its broader and milder suasion, might have failed in. If certain rare and precious virtues can thus be inaugurated, under the influence of a zeal exaggerating its own justification, there will be time later to insist on the complementary truths and to tack in the other direction after having been carried forward a certain distance by this oblique advance.
[Sidenote: Absurdities nevertheless involved.]
At the same time neglect of reason is never without its dangers and its waste. The Buddhistic system itself suffers from a fundamental contradiction, because its framers did not acknowledge the actual limits of retribution nor the empirical machinery by which benefits and injuries are really propagated. It is an onerous condition which religions must fulfil, if they would prevail in the world, that they must have their roots in the past. Buddhism had its mission of salvation; but to express this mission to its proselytes it was obliged to borrow the language of the fantastic metaphysics which had preceded it in India. The machinery of transmigration had to serve as a scaffolding to raise the monument of mercy, purity, and spirituality. But this fabulous background given to life was really inconsistent with what was best in the new morality; just as in Christianity the post-rational evangelical ideals of redemption and regeneration, of the human will mystically reversed, were radically incompatible with the pre-rational myths about a creation and a political providence. The doctrine of Karma was a hypostasis of moral responsibility; but in making responsibility dynamic and all-explaining, the theory discountenanced in advance the charitable efforts of Buddhism—the desire to instruct and save every fellow-creature. For if all my fortunes depend upon my former conduct, I am the sole artificer of my destiny. The love, the pity, the science, or the prayers of others can have no real influence over my salvation. They cannot diminish by one tittle my necessary sufferings, nor accelerate by one instant the period which my own action appoints for my deliverance. Perhaps another's influence might, in the false world of time and space, change the order or accidental vesture of my moral experiences; but their quantity and value, being the exact counterpart of my free merits and demerits, could not be affected at all by those extraneous doings.
Therefore the empirical fact that we can help one another remains in Buddhism (as in any retributive scheme) only by a serious inconsistency; and since this fact is the sanction of whatever moral efficacy can be attributed to Buddhism, in sobering, teaching, and saving mankind, anything inconsistent with it is fundamentally repugnant to the whole system. Yet on that repugnant and destructive dogma of Karma Buddhism was condemned to base its instruction. This is the heavy price paid for mythical consolations, that they invalidate the moral values they are intended to emphasise. Nature has allowed the innocent to suffer for the guilty, and the guilty, perhaps, to die in some measure unpunished. To correct this imperfection we feign a closed circle of personal retributions, exactly proportionate to personal deserts. But thereby, without perceiving it, we have invalidated all political and social responsibility, and denied that any man can be benefited or injured by any other. Our moral ambition has overleaped itself and carried us into a non-natural world where morality is impotent and unmeaning.
[Sidenote: The soul of positivism in all ideals.]
Post-rational systems accordingly mark no real advance and offer no genuine solution to spiritual enigmas. The saving force each of them invokes is merely some remnant of that natural energy which animates the human animal. Faith in the supernatural is a desperate wager made by man at the lowest ebb of his fortunes; it is as far as possible from being the source of that normal vitality which subsequently, if his fortunes mend, he may gradually recover. Under the same religion, with the same posthumous alternatives and mystic harmonies hanging about them, different races, or the same race at different periods, will manifest the most opposite moral characteristics. Belief in a thousand hells and heavens will not lift the apathetic out of apathy or hold back the passionate from passion; while a newly planted and ungalled community, in blessed forgetfulness of rewards or punishments, of cosmic needs or celestial sanctions, will know how to live cheerily and virtuously for life's own sake, putting to shame those thin vaticinations. To hope for a second life, to be had gratis, merely because this life has lost its savour, or to dream of a different world, because nature seems too intricate and unfriendly, is in the end merely to play with words; since the supernatural has no permanent aspect or charm except in so far as it expresses man's natural situation and points to the satisfaction of his earthly interests. What keeps supernatural morality, in its better forms, within the limits of sanity is the fact that it reinstates in practice, under novel associations and for motives ostensibly different, the very natural virtues and hopes which, when seen to be merely natural, it had thrown over with contempt. The new dispensation itself, if treated in the same spirit, would be no less contemptible; and what makes it genuinely esteemed is the restored authority of those human ideals which it expresses in a fable.
The extent of this moral restoration, the measure in which nature is suffered to bloom in the sanctuary, determines the value of post-rational moralities. They may preside over a good life, personal or communal, when their symbolism, though cumbrous, is not deceptive; when the supernatural machinery brings man back to nature through mystical circumlocutions, and becomes itself a poetic echo of experience and a dramatic impersonation of reason. The peculiar accent and emphasis which it will not cease to impose on the obvious lessons of life need not then repel the wisest intelligence. True sages and true civilisations can accordingly flourish under a dispensation nominally supernatural; for that supernaturalism may have become a mere form in which imagination clothes a rational and humane wisdom.
[Sidenote: Moribund dreams and perennial realities.]
People who speak only one language have some difficulty in conceiving that things should be expressed just as well in some other; a prejudice which does not necessarily involve their mistaking words for things or being practically misled by their inflexible vocabulary. So it constantly happens that supernatural systems, when they have long prevailed, are defended by persons who have only natural interests at heart; because these persons lack that speculative freedom and dramatic imagination which would allow them to conceive other moulds for morality and happiness than those to which a respectable tradition has accustomed them. Sceptical statesmen and academic scholars sometimes suffer from this kind of numbness; it is intelligible that they should mistake the forms of culture for its principle, especially when their genius is not original and their chosen function is to defend and propagate the local traditions in which their whole training has immersed them. Indeed, in the political field, such concern for decaying myths may have a pathetic justification; for however little the life of or dignity of man may he jeopardised by changes in language, languages themselves are not indifferent things. They may be closely bound up with the peculiar history and spirit of nations, and their disappearance, however necessary and on the whole propitious, may mark the end of some stirring chapter in the world's history. Those whose vocation is not philosophy and whose country is not the world may be pardoned for wishing to retard the migrations of spirit, and for looking forward with apprehension to a future in which their private enthusiasms will not be understood.
The value of post-rational morality, then, depends on a double conformity on its part with the Life of Reason. In the first place some natural impulse must be retained, some partial ideal must still be trusted and pursued by the prophet of redemption. In the second place the intuition thus gained and exclusively put forward must be made the starting-point for a restored natural morality. Otherwise the faith appealed to would be worthless in its operation, as well as fanciful in its basis, and it could never become a mould for thought or action in a civilised society.
THE VALIDITY OF SCIENCE
The same despair or confusion which, when it overtakes human purposes, seeks relief in arbitrary schemes of salvation, when it overtakes human knowledge, may breed arbitrary substitutes for science. There are post-rational systems of nature as well as of duty. Most of these are myths hardly worth separating from the post-rational moralities they adorn, and have been sufficiently noticed in the last chapter; but a few aspire to be critical revisions of science, themselves scientific. It may be well, in bringing this book to a close, to review these proposed revisions. The validity of science is at stake, and with it the validity of that whole Life of Reason which science crowns, and justifies to reflection.