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The Life of Reason
by George Santayana
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[Sidenote: The will must judge.]

The standard of value, like every standard, must be one. Pleasures and pains are not only infinitely diverse but, even if reduced to their total bulk and abstract opposition, they remain two. Their values must be compared, and obviously neither one can be the standard by which to judge the other. This standard is an ideal involved in the judgment passed, whatever that judgment may be. Thus when Petrarch says that a thousand pleasures are not worth one pain, he establishes an ideal of value deeper than either pleasure or pain, an ideal which makes a life of satisfaction marred by a single pang an offence and a horror to his soul. If our demand for rationality is less acute and the miscellaneous affirmations of the will carry us along with a well-fed indifference to some single tragedy within us, we may aver that a single pang is only the thousandth part of a thousand pleasures and that a life so balanced is nine hundred and ninety-nine times better than nothing. This judgment, for all its air of mathematical calculation, in truth expresses a choice as irrational as Petrarch's. It merely means that, as a matter of fact, the mixed prospect presented to us attracts our wills and attracts them vehemently. So that the only possible criterion for the relative values of pains and pleasures is the will that chooses among them or among combinations of them; nor can the intensity of pleasures and pains, apart from the physical violence of their expression, be judged by any other standard than by the power they have, when represented, to control the will's movement.

[Sidenote: Injustice inherent in representation]

Here we come upon one of those initial irrationalities in the world theories of all sorts, since they are attempts to find rationality in things, are in serious danger of overlooking. In estimating the value of any experience, our endeavour, our pretension, is to weigh the value which that experience possesses when it is actual. But to weigh is to compare, and to compare is to represent, since the transcendental isolation and self-sufficiency of actual experience precludes its lying side by side with another datum, like two objects given in a single consciousness. Successive values, to be compared, must be represented; but the conditions of representation are such that they rob objects of the values they had at their first appearance to substitute the values they possess at their recurrence. For representation mirrors consciousness only by mirroring its objects, and the emotional reaction upon those objects cannot be represented directly, but is approached by indirect methods, through an imitation or assimilation of will to will and emotion to emotion. Only by the instrumentality of signs, like gesture or language, can we bring ourselves to reproduce in some measure an absent experience and to feel some premonition of its absolute value. Apart from very elaborate and cumulative suggestions to the contrary, we should always attribute to an event in every other experience the value which its image now had in our own. But in that case the pathetic fallacy would be present; for a volitional reaction upon an idea in one vital context is no index to what the volitional reaction would be in another vital context upon the situation which that idea represents.

[Sidenote: AEsthetic and speculative cruelty.]

This divergence falsifies all representation of life and renders it initially cruel, sentimental, and mythical. We dislike to trample on a flower, because its form makes a kind of blossoming in our own fancy which we call beauty; but we laugh at pangs we endured in childhood and feel no tremor at the incalculable sufferings of all mankind beyond our horizon, because no imitable image is involved to start a contrite thrill in our own bosom. The same cruelty appears in aesthetic pleasures, in lust, war, and ambition; in the illusions of desire and memory; in the unsympathetic quality of theory everywhere, which regards the uniformities of cause and effect and the beauties of law as a justification for the inherent evils in the experience described; in the unjust judgments, finally, of mystical optimism, that sinks so completely into its subjective commotion as to mistake the suspension of all discriminating and representative faculties for a true union in things, and the blur of its own ecstasy for a universal glory. These pleasures are all on the sensuous plane, the plane of levity and unintentional wickedness; but in their own sphere they have their own value. AEsthetic and speculative emotions make an important contribution to the total worth of existence, but they do not abolish the evils of that experience on which they reflect with such ruthless satisfaction. The satisfaction is due to a private flood of emotion submerging the images present in fancy, or to the exercise of a new intellectual function, like that of abstraction, synthesis, or comparison. Such a faculty, when fully developed, is capable of yielding pleasures as intense and voluminous as those proper to rudimentary animal functions, wrongly supposed to be more vital. The acme of vitality lies in truth in the most comprehensive and penetrating thought. The rhythms, the sweep, the impetuosity of impassioned contemplation not only contain in themselves a great vitality and potency, but they often succeed in engaging the lower functions in a sympathetic vibration, and we see the whole body and soul rapt, as we say, and borne along by the harmonies of imagination and thought. In these fugitive moments of intoxication the detail of truth is submerged and forgotten. The emotions which would be suggested by the parts are replaced by the rapid emotion of transition between them; and this exhilaration in survey, this mountain-top experience, is supposed to be also the truest vision of reality. Absorption in a supervening function is mistaken for comprehension of all fact, and this inevitably, since all consciousness of particular facts and of their values is then submerged in the torrent of cerebral excitement.

[Sidenote: Imputed values: their inconstancy.]

That luminous blindness which in these cases takes an extreme form is present in principle throughout all reflection. We tend to regard our own past as good only when we still find some value in the memory of it. Last year, last week, even the feelings of the last five minutes, are not otherwise prized than by the pleasure we may still have in recalling them; the pulsations of pleasure or pain which they contained we do not even seek to remember or to discriminate. The period is called happy or unhappy merely as its ideal representation exercises fascination or repulsion over the present will. Hence the revulsion after physical indulgence, often most violent when the pleasure—judged by its concomitant expression and by the desire that heralded it—was most intense. For the strongest passions are intermittent, so that the unspeakable charm which their objects possess for a moment is lost immediately and becomes unintelligible to a chilled and cheated reflection. The situation, when yet unrealised, irresistibly solicited the will and seemed to promise incomparable ecstasy; and perhaps it yields an indescribable moment of excitement and triumph—a moment only half-appropriated into waking experience, so fleeting is it, and so unfit the mind to possess or retain its tenser attitudes. The same situation, if revived in memory when the system is in an opposite and relaxed state, forfeits all power to attract and fills the mind rather with aversion and disgust. For all violent pleasures, as Shakespeare says, are cruel and not to be trusted.

A bliss in proof and, proved, a very woe: Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream ... Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight; Past reason hunted and, no sooner had, Past reason hated.

[Sidenote: Methods of control.]

Past reason, indeed. For although an impulsive injustice is inherent in the very nature of representation and cannot be overcome altogether, yet reason, by attending to all the evidences that can be gathered and by confronting the first pronouncement by others fetched from every quarter of experience, has power to minimise the error and reach a practically just estimate of absent values. This achieved rightness can be tested by comparing two experiences, each when it is present, with the same conventional permanent object chosen to be their expression. A love-song, for instance, can be pronounced adequate or false by various lovers; and it can thus remain a sort of index to the fleeting sentiments once confronted with it. Reason has, to be sure, no independent method of discovering values. They must be rated as the sensitive balance of present inclination, when completely laden, shows them to stand. In estimating values reason is reduced to data furnished by the mechanical processes of ideation and instinct, as in framing all knowledge; an absent joy can only be represented by a tinge of emotion dyeing an image that pictures the situation in which the joy was felt; but the suggested value being once projected into the potential world, that land of inferred being, this projection may be controlled and corroborated by other suggestions and associations relevant to it, which it is the function of reason to collect and compare. A right estimate of absent values must be conventional and mediated by signs. Direct sympathies, which suffice for instinctive present co-operation, fail to transmit alien or opposite pleasures. They over-emphasise momentary relations, while they necessarily ignore permanent bonds. Therefore the same intellect that puts a mechanical reality behind perception must put a moral reality behind sympathy.

[Sidenote: Example of fame.]

Fame, for example, is a good; its value arises from a certain movement of will and emotion which is elicited by the thought that one's name might be associated with great deeds and with the memory of them. The glow of this thought bathes the object it describes, so that fame is felt to have a value quite distinct from that which the expectation of fame may have in the present moment. Should this expectation be foolish and destined to prove false, it would have no value, and be indeed the more ludicrous and repulsive the more pleasure its dupe took in it, and the longer his illusion lasted. The heart is resolutely set on its object and despises its own phenomena, not reflecting that its emotions have first revealed that object's worth and alone can maintain it. For if a man cares nothing for fame, what value has it?

This projection of interest into excellence takes place mechanically and is in the first instance irrational. Did all glow die out from memory and expectation, the events represented remaining unchanged, we should be incapable of assigning any value to those events, just as, if eyes were lacking, we should be incapable of assigning colour to the world, which would, notwithstanding, remain as it is at present. So fame could never be regarded as a good if the idea of fame gave no pleasure; yet now, because the idea pleases, the reality is regarded as a good, absolute and intrinsic. This moral hypostasis involved in the love of fame could never be rationalised, but would subsist unmitigated or die out unobserved, were it not associated with other conceptions and other habits of estimating values. For the passions are humanised only by being juxtaposed and forced to live together. As fame is not man's only goal and the realisation of it comes into manifold relations with other interests no less vivid, we are able to criticise the impulse to pursue it.

Fame may be the consequence of benefits conferred upon mankind. In that case the abstract desire for fame would be reinforced and, as it were, justified by its congruity with the more voluminous and stable desire to benefit our fellow-men. Or, again, the achievements which insure fame and the genius that wins it probably involve a high degree of vitality and many profound inward satisfactions to the man of genius himself; so that again the abstract love of fame would be reinforced by the independent and more rational desire for a noble and comprehensive experience. On the other hand, the minds of posterity, whose homage is craved by the ambitious man, will probably have very false conceptions of his thoughts and purposes. What they will call by his name will be, in a great measure, a fiction of their own fancy and not his portrait at all. Would Caesar recognise himself in the current notions of him, drawn from some school-history, or perhaps from Shakespeare's satirical portrait? Would Christ recognise himself upon our altars, or in the romances about him constructed by imaginative critics? And not only is remote experience thus hopelessly lost and misrepresented, but even this nominal memorial ultimately disappears.

The love of fame, if tempered by these and similar considerations, would tend to take a place in man's ideal such as its roots in human nature and its functions in human progress might seem to justify. It would be rationalised in the only sense in which any primary desire can be rationalised, namely, by being combined with all others in a consistent whole. How much of it would survive a thorough sifting and criticism, may well remain in doubt. The result would naturally differ for different temperaments and in different states of society. The wisest men, perhaps, while they would continue to feel some love of honour and some interest in their image in other minds, would yet wish that posterity might praise them as Sallust praises Cato by saying: Esse quam videri bonus maluit; he preferred worth to reputation.

[Sidenote: Disproportionate interest in the aesthetic.]

The fact that value is attributed to absent experience according to the value experience has in representation appears again in one of the most curious anomalies in human life—the exorbitant interest which thought and reflection take in the form of experience and the slight account they make of its intensity or volume. Sea-sickness and child-birth when they are over, the pangs of despised love when that love is finally forgotten or requited, the travail of sin when once salvation is assured, all melt away and dissolve like a morning mist leaving a clear sky without a vestige of sorrow. So also with merely remembered and not reproducible pleasures; the buoyancy of youth, when absurdity is not yet tedious, the rapture of sport or passion, the immense peace found in a mystical surrender to the universal, all these generous ardours count for nothing when they are once gone. The memory of them cannot cure a fit of the blues nor raise an irritable mortal above some petty act of malice or vengeance, or reconcile him to foul weather. An ode of Horace, on the other hand, a scientific monograph, or a well-written page of music is a better antidote to melancholy than thinking on all the happiness which one's own life or that of the universe may ever have contained. Why should overwhelming masses of suffering and joy affect imagination so little while it responds sympathetically to aesthetic and intellectual irritants of very slight intensity, objects that, it must be confessed, are of almost no importance to the welfare of mankind? Why should we be so easily awed by artistic genius and exalt men whose works we know only by name, perhaps, and whose influence upon society has been infinitesimal, like a Pindar or a Leonardo, while we regard great merchants and inventors as ignoble creatures in comparison? Why should we smile at the inscription in Westminster Abbey which calls the inventor of the spinning-jenny one of the true benefactors of mankind? Is it not probable, on the whole, that he has had a greater and less equivocal influence on human happiness than Shakespeare with all his plays and sonnets? But the cheapness of cotton cloth produces no particularly delightful image in the fancy to be compared with Hamlet or Imogen. There is a prodigious selfishness in dreams: they live perfectly deaf and invulnerable amid the cries of the real world.

[Sidenote: Irrational religious allegiance.]

The same aesthetic bias appears in the moral sphere. Utilitarians have attempted to show that the human conscience commends precisely those actions which tend to secure general happiness and that the notions of justice and virtue prevailing in any age vary with its social economy and the prizes it is able to attain. And, if due allowance is made for the complexity of the subject, we may reasonably admit that the precepts of obligatory morality bear this relation to the general welfare; thus virtue means courage in a soldier, probity in a merchant, and chastity in a woman. But if we turn from the morality required of all to the type regarded as perfect and ideal, we find no such correspondence to the benefits involved. The selfish imagination intervenes here and attributes an absolute and irrational value to those figures that entertain it with the most absorbing and dreamful emotions. The character of Christ, for instance, which even the least orthodox among us are in the habit of holding up as a perfect model, is not the character of a benefactor but of a martyr, a spirit from a higher world lacerated in its passage through this uncomprehending and perverse existence, healing and forgiving out of sheer compassion, sustained by his inner affinities to the supernatural, and absolutely disenchanted with all earthly or political goods. Christ did not suffer, like Prometheus, for having bestowed or wished to bestow any earthly blessing: the only blessing he bequeathed was the image of himself upon the cross, whereby men might be comforted in their own sorrows, rebuked in their worldliness, driven to put their trust in the supernatural, and united, by their common indifference to the world, in one mystic brotherhood. As men learned these lessons, or were inwardly ready to learn them, they recognised more and more clearly in Jesus their heaven-sent redeemer, and in following their own conscience and desperate idealism into the desert or the cloister, in ignoring all civic virtues and allowing the wealth, art, and knowledge of the pagan world to decay, they began what they felt to be an imitation of Christ.

All natural impulses, all natural ideals, subsisted of course beneath this theoretic asceticism, writhed under its unearthly control, and broke out in frequent violent irruptions against it in the life of each man as well as in the course of history. Yet the image of Christ remained in men's hearts and retained its marvellous authority, so that even now, when so many who call themselves Christians, being pure children of nature, are without the least understanding of what Christianity came to do in the world, they still offer his person and words a sincere if inarticulate worship, trying to transform that sacrificial and crucified spirit, as much as their bungling fancy can, into a patron of Philistia Felix. Why this persistent adoration of a character that is the extreme negation of all that these good souls inwardly value and outwardly pursue? Because the image of Christ and the associations of his religion, apart from their original import, remain rooted in the mind: they remain the focus for such wayward emotions and mystic intuitions as their magnetism can still attract, and the value which this hallowed compound possesses in representation is transferred to its nominal object, and Christ is the conventional name for all the impulses of religion, no matter how opposite to the Christian.

[Sidenote: Pathetic idealizations.]

Symbols, when their significance has been great, outlive their first significance. The image of Christ was a last refuge to the world; it was a consolation and a new ground for hope, from which no misfortune could drive the worshipper. Its value as an idea was therefore immense, as to the lover the idea of his untasted joys, or to the dying man the idea of health and invigorating sunshine. The votary can no more ask himself whether his deity, in its total operation, has really blessed him and deserved his praise than the lover can ask if his lady is worth pursuing or the expiring cripple whether it would be, in very truth, a benefit to be once more young and whole. That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions. Experience, by its passive weight of joy and sorrow, can neither inspire nor prevent enthusiasm; only a present ideal will avail to move the will and, if realised, to justify it. A saint's halo is an optical illusion; it glorifies his actions whatever their eventual influence in the world, because they seem to have, when rehearsed dramatically, some tenderness or rapture or miracle about them.

Thus it appears that the great figures of art or religion, together with all historic and imaginative ideals, advance insensibly on the values they represent. The image has more lustre than the original, and is often the more important and influential fact. Things are esteemed as they weigh in representation. A memorable thing, people say in their eulogies, little thinking to touch the ground of their praise. For things are called great because they are memorable, they are not remembered because they were great. The deepest pangs, the highest joys, the widest influences are lost to apperception in its haste, and if in some rational moment reconstructed and acknowledged, are soon forgotten again and cut off from living consideration. But the emptiest experience, even the most pernicious tendency, if embodied in a picturesque image, if reverberating in the mind with a pleasant echo, is idolised and enshrined. Fortunate indeed was Achilles that Homer sang of him, and fortunate the poets that make a public titillation out of their sorrows and ignorance. This imputed and posthumous fortune is the only happiness they have. The favours of memory are extended to those feeble realities and denied to the massive substance of daily experience. When life dies, when what was present becomes a memory, its ghost flits still among the living, feared or worshipped not for the experience it once possessed but for the aspect it now wears. Yet this injustice in representation, speculatively so offensive, is practically excusable; for it is in one sense right and useful that all things, whatever their original or inherent dignity, should be valued at each moment only by their present function and utility.

[Sidenote: Inevitable impulsiveness in prophecy.]

[Sidenote: The test a controlled present ideal.]

The error involved in attributing value to the past is naturally aggravated when values are to be assigned to the future. In the latter case imagination cannot be controlled by circumstantial evidence, and is consequently the only basis for judgment. But as the conception of a thing naturally evokes an emotion different from that involved in its presence, ideals of what is desirable for the future contain no warrant that the experience desired would, when actual, prove to be acceptable and good. An ideal carries no extrinsic assurance that its realisation would be a benefit. To convince ourselves that an ideal has rational authority and represents a better experience than the actual condition it is contrasted with, we must control the prophetic image by as many circumlocutions as possible. As in the case of fame, we must buttress or modify our spontaneous judgment with all the other judgments that the object envisaged can prompt: we must make our ideal harmonise with all experience rather than with a part only. The possible error remains even then; but a practical mind will always accept the risk of error when it has made every possible correction. A rational will is not a will that has reason for its basis or that possesses any other proof that its realisation would be possible or good than the oracle which a living will inspires and pronounces. The rationality possible to the will lies not in its source but in its method. An ideal cannot wait for its realisation to prove its validity. To deserve adhesion it needs only to be adequate as an ideal, that is, to express completely what the soul at present demands, and to do justice to all extant interests.



CHAPTER XI—SOME ABSTRACT CONDITIONS OF THE IDEAL

[Sidenote: The ultimate end a resultant.]

Reason's function is to embody the good, but the test of excellence is itself ideal; therefore before we can assure ourselves that reason has been manifested in any given case we must make out the reasonableness of the ideal that inspires us. And in general, before we can convince ourselves that a Life of Reason, or practice guided by science and directed toward spiritual goods, is at all worth having, we must make out the possibility and character of its ultimate end. Yet each ideal is its own justification; so that the only sense in which an ultimate end can be established and become a test of general progress is this: that a harmony and co-operation of impulses should be conceived, leading to the maximum satisfaction possible in the whole community of spirits affected by our action. Now, without considering for the present any concrete Utopia, such, for instance, as Plato's Republic or the heavenly beatitude described by theologians, we may inquire what formal qualities are imposed on the ideal by its nature and function and by the relation it bears to experience and to desire.

[Sidenote: Demands the substance of ideals.]

The ideal has the same relation to given demands that the reality has to given perceptions. In the face of the ideal, particular demands forfeit their authority and the goods to which a particular being may aspire cease to be absolute; nay, the satisfaction of desire comes to appear an indifferent or unholy thing when compared or opposed to the ideal to be realised. So, precisely, in perception, flying impressions come to be regarded as illusory when contrasted with a stable conception of reality. Yet of course flying impressions are the only material out of which that conception can be formed. Life itself is a flying impression, and had we no personal and instant experience, importuning us at each successive moment, we should have no occasion to ask for a reality at all, and no materials out of which to construct so gratuitous an idea. In the same way present demands are the only materials and occasions for any ideal: without demands the ideal would have no locus standi or foothold in the world, no power, no charm, and no prerogative. If the ideal can confront particular desires and put them to shame, that happens only because the ideal is the object of a more profound and voluminous desire and embodies the good which they blindly and perhaps deviously pursue. Demands could not be misdirected, goods sought could not be false, if the standard by which they are to be corrected were not constructed out of them. Otherwise each demand would render its object a detached, absolute, and unimpeachable good. But when each desire in turn has singed its wings and retired before some disillusion, reflection may set in to suggest residual satisfactions that may still be possible, or some shifting of the ground by which much of what was hoped for may yet be attained.

[Sidenote: Discipline of the will.]

[Sidenote: Demands made practical and consistent.]

The force for this new trial is but the old impulse renewed; this new hope is a justified remnant of the old optimism. Each passion, in this second campaign, takes the field conscious that it has indomitable enemies and ready to sign a reasonable peace, and even to capitulate before superior forces. Such tameness may be at first merely a consequence of exhaustion and prudence; but a mortal will, though absolute in its deliverances, is very far from constant, and its sacrifices soon constitute a habit, its exile a new home. The old ambition, now proved to be unrealisable, begins to seem capricious and extravagant; the circle of possible satisfactions becomes the field of conventional happiness. Experience, which brings about this humbler and more prosaic state of mind, has its own imaginative fruits. Among those forces which compelled each particular impulse to abate its pretensions, the most conspicuous were other impulses, other interests active in oneself and in one's neighbours. When the power of these alien demands is recognised they begin, in a physical way, to be respected; when an adjustment to them is sought they begin to be understood, for it is only by studying their expression and tendency that the degree of their hostility can be measured. But to understand is more than to forgive, it is to adopt; and the passion that thought merely to withdraw into a sullen and maimed self-indulgence can feel itself expanded by sympathies which in its primal vehemence it would have excluded altogether. Experience, in bringing humility, brings intelligence also. Personal interests begin to seem relative, factors only in a general voluminous welfare expressed in many common institutions and arts, moulds for whatever is communicable or rational in every passion. Each original impulse, when trimmed down more or less according to its degree of savageness, can then inhabit the state, and every good, when sufficiently transfigured, can be found again in the general ideal. The factors may indeed often be unrecognisable in the result, so much does the process of domestication transform them; but the interests that animated them survive this discipline and the new purpose is really esteemed; else the ideal would have no moral force. An ideal representing no living interest would be irrelevant to practice, just as a conception of reality would be irrelevant to perception which should not be composed of the materials that sense supplies, or should not re-embody actual sensations in an intelligible system.

[Sidenote: The ideal natural.]

Here we have, then, one condition which the ideal must fulfil: it must be a resultant or synthesis of impulses already afoot. An ideal out of relation to the actual demands of living beings is so far from being an ideal that it is not even a good. The pursuit of it would be not the acme but the atrophy of moral endeavour. Mysticism and asceticism run into this danger, when the intent to be faithful to a supreme good too symbolically presented breeds a superstitious repugnance toward everything naturally prized. So also an artificial scepticism can regard all experience as deceptive, by contrasting it with the chimera of an absolute reality. As an absolute reality would be indescribable and without a function in the elucidation of phenomena, so a supreme good which was good for nobody would be without conceivable value. Respect for such an idol is a dialectical superstition; and if zeal for that shibboleth should actually begin to inhibit the exercise of intelligent choice or the development of appreciation for natural pleasures, it would constitute a reversal of the Life of Reason which, if persistently indulged in, could only issue in madness or revert to imbecility.

[Sidenote: Need of unity and finality.]

[Sidenote: Ideals of nothing.]

No less important, however, than this basis which the ideal must have in extant demands, is the harmony with which reason must endow it. If without the one the ideal loses its value, without the other it loses its finality. Human nature is fluid and imperfect; its demands are expressed in incidental desires, elicited by a variety of objects which perhaps cannot coexist in the world. If we merely transcribe these miscellaneous demands or allow these floating desires to dictate to us the elements of the ideal, we shall never come to a Whole or to an End. One new fancy after another will seem an embodiment of perfection, and we shall contradict each expression of our ideal by every other. A certain school of philosophy—if we may give that name to the systematic neglect of reason—has so immersed itself in the contemplation of this sort of inconstancy, which is indeed prevalent enough in the world, that it has mistaken it for a normal and necessary process. The greatness of the ideal has been put in its vagueness and in an elasticity which makes it wholly indeterminate and inconsistent. The goal of progress, beside being thus made to lie at every point of the compass in succession, is removed to an infinite distance, whereby the possibility of attaining it is denied and progress itself is made illusory. For a progress must be directed to attaining some definite type of life, the counterpart of a given natural endowment, and nothing can be called an improvement which does not contain an appreciable benefit. A victory would be a mockery that left us, for some new reason, as much impeded as before and as far removed from peace.

The picture of life as an eternal war for illusory ends was drawn at first by satirists, unhappily with too much justification in the facts. Some grosser minds, too undisciplined to have ever pursued a good either truly attainable or truly satisfactory, then proceeded to mistake that satire on human folly for a sober account of the whole universe; and finally others were not ashamed to represent it as the ideal itself—so soon is the dyer's hand subdued to what it works in. A barbarous mind cannot conceive life, like health, as a harmony continually preserved or restored, and containing those natural and ideal activities which disease merely interrupts. Such a mind, never having tasted order, cannot conceive it, and identifies progress with new conflicts and life with continual death. Its deification of unreason, instability, and strife comes partly from piety and partly from inexperience. There is piety in saluting nature in her perpetual flux and in thinking that since no equilibrium is maintained for ever none, perhaps, deserves to be. There is inexperience in not considering that wherever interests and judgments exist, the natural flux has fallen, so to speak, into a vortex, and created a natural good, a cumulative life, and an ideal purpose. Art, science, government, human nature itself, are self-defining and self-preserving: by partly fixing a structure they fix an ideal. But the barbarian can hardly regard such things, for to have distinguished and fostered them would be to have founded a civilisation.

[Sidenote: Darwin on moral sense.]

Reason's function in defining the ideal is in principle extremely simple, although all time and all existence would have to be gathered in before the applications of that principle could be exhausted. A better example of its essential working could hardly be found than one which Darwin gives to illustrate the natural origin of moral sense. A swallow, impelled by migratory instincts to leave a nest full of unfledged young, would endure a moral conflict. The more lasting impulse, memory being assumed, would prompt a moral judgment when it emerged again after being momentarily obscured by an intermittent passion. "While the mother bird is feeding or brooding over her nestlings, the maternal instinct is probably stronger than the migratory; but the instinct which is more persistent gains the victory, and at last, at a moment when her young ones are not in sight, she takes flight and deserts them. When arrived at the end of her long journey, and the migratory instinct ceases to act, what an agony of remorse each bird would feel if, from being endowed with great mental activity, she could not prevent the image continually passing before her mind of her young ones perishing in the bleak north from cold and hunger."[E] She would doubtless upbraid herself, like any sinner, for a senseless perfidy to her own dearest good. The perfidy, however, was not wholly senseless, because the forgotten instinct was not less natural and necessary than the remembered one, and its satisfaction no less true. Temptation has the same basis as duty. The difference is one of volume and permanence in the rival satisfactions, and the attitude conscience will assume toward these depends more on the representability of the demands compared than on their original vehemence or ultimate results.

[Sidenote: Conscience and reason compared.]

A passionate conscience may thus arise in the play of impulses differing in permanence, without involving a judicial exercise of reason. Nor does such a conscience involve a synthetic ideal, but only the ideal presence of particular demands. Conflicts in the conscience are thus quite natural and would continually occur but for the narrowness that commonly characterises a mind inspired by passion. A life of sin and repentance is as remote as possible from a Life of Reason. Yet the same situation which produces conscience and the sense of duty is an occasion for applying reason to action and for forming an ideal, so soon as the demands and satisfactions concerned are synthesised and balanced imaginatively. The stork might do more than feel the conflict of his two impulses, he might do more than embody in alternation the eloquence of two hostile thoughts. He might pass judgment upon them impartially and, in the felt presence of both, conceive what might be a union or compromise between them.

This resultant object of pursuit, conceived in reflection and in itself the initial goal of neither impulse, is the ideal of a mind occupied by the two: it is the aim prescribed by reason under the circumstances. It differs from the prescription of conscience, in that conscience is often the spokesman of one interest or of a group of interests in opposition to other primary impulses which it would annul altogether; while reason and the ideal are not active forces nor embodiments of passion at all, but merely a method by which objects of desire are compared in reflection. The goodness of an end is felt inwardly by conscience; by reason it can be only taken upon trust and registered as a fact. For conscience the object of an opposed will is an evil, for reason it is a good on the same ground as any other good, because it is pursued by a natural impulse and can bring a real satisfaction. Conscience, in fine, is a party to moral strife, reason an observer of it who, however, plays the most important and beneficent part in the outcome by suggesting the terms of peace. This suggested peace, inspired by sympathy and by knowledge of the world, is the ideal, which borrows its value and practical force from the irrational impulses which it embodies, and borrows its final authority from the truth with which it recognises them all and the necessity by which it imposes on each such sacrifices as are requisite to a general harmony.

[Sidenote: Reason imposes no new sacrifice.]

Could each impulse, apart from reason, gain perfect satisfaction, it would doubtless laugh at justice. The divine, to exercise suasion, must use an argumentum ad hominem; reason must justify itself to the heart. But perfect satisfaction is what an irresponsible impulse can never hope for: all other impulses, though absent perhaps from the mind, are none the less present in nature and have possession of the field through their physical basis. They offer effectual resistance to a reckless intruder. To disregard them is therefore to gain nothing: reason, far from creating the partial renunciation and proportionate sacrifices which it imposes, really minimises them by making them voluntary and fruitful. The ideal, which may seem to wear so severe a frown, really fosters all possible pleasures; what it retrenches is nothing to what blind forces and natural catastrophes would otherwise cut off; while it sweetens what it sanctions, adding to spontaneous enjoyments a sense of moral security and an intellectual light.

[Sidenote: Natural goods attainable and compatible in principle.]

Those who are guided only by an irrational conscience can hardly understand what a good life would be. Their Utopias have to be supernatural in order that the irresponsible rules which they call morality may lead by miracle to happy results. But such a magical and undeserved happiness, if it were possible, would be unsavoury: only one phase of human nature would be satisfied by it, and so impoverished an ideal cannot really attract the will. For human nature has been moulded by the same natural forces among which its ideal has to be fulfilled, and, apart from a certain margin of wild hopes and extravagances, the things man's heart desires are attainable under his natural conditions and would not be attainable elsewhere. The conflict of desires and interests in the world is not radical any more than man's dissatisfaction with his own nature can be; for every particular ideal, being an expression of human nature in operation, must in the end involve the primary human faculties and cannot be essentially incompatible with any other ideal which involves them too.

To adjust all demands to one ideal and adjust that ideal to its natural conditions—in other words, to live the Life of Reason—is something perfectly possible; for those demands, being akin to one another in spite of themselves, can be better furthered by co-operation than by blind conflict, while the ideal, far from demanding any profound revolution in nature, merely expresses her actual tendency and forecasts what her perfect functioning would be.

[Sidenote: Harmony the formal and intrinsic demand of reason.]

Reason as such represents or rather constitutes a single formal interest, the interest in harmony. When two interests are simultaneous and fall within one act of apprehension the desirability of harmonising them is involved in the very effort to realise them together. If attention and imagination are steady enough to face this implication and not to allow impulse to oscillate between irreconcilable tendencies, reason comes into being. Henceforth things actual and things desired are confronted by an ideal which has both pertinence and authority.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote E: Descent of Man, chapter iii.]



CHAPTER XII—FLUX AND CONSTANCY IN HUMAN NATURE

[Sidenote: Respectable tradition that human nature is fixed.]

A conception of something called human nature arises not unnaturally on observing the passions of men, passions which under various disguises seem to reappear in all ages and countries. The tendency of Greek philosophy, with its insistence on general concepts, was to define this idea of human nature still further and to encourage the belief that a single and identical essence, present in all men, determined their powers and ideal destiny. Christianity, while it transposed the human ideal and dwelt on the superhuman affinities of man, did not abandon the notion of a specific humanity. On the contrary, such a notion was implied in the Fall and Redemption, in the Sacraments, and in the universal validity of Christian doctrine and precept. For if human nature were not one, there would be no propriety in requiring all men to preserve unanimity in faith or conformity in conduct. Human nature was likewise the entity which the English psychologists set themselves to describe; and Kant was so entirely dominated by the notion of a fixed and universal human nature that its constancy, in his opinion, was the source of all natural as well as moral laws. Had he doubted for a moment the stability of human nature, the foundations of his system would have fallen out; the forms of perception and thought would at once have lost their boasted necessity, since to-morrow might dawn upon new categories and a modified a priori intuition of space or time; and the avenue would also have been closed by which man was led, through his unalterable moral sentiments, to assumptions about metaphysical truths.

[Sidenote: Contrary currents of opinion.]

[Sidenote: Evolution]

The force of this long tradition has been broken, however, by two influences of great weight in recent times, the theory of evolution and the revival of pantheism. The first has reintroduced flux into the conception of existence and the second into the conception of values. If natural species are fluid and pass into one another, human nature is merely a name for a group of qualities found by chance in certain tribes of animals, a group to which new qualities are constantly tending to attach themselves while other faculties become extinct, now in whole races, now in sporadic individuals. Human nature is therefore a variable, and its ideal cannot have a greater constancy than the demands to which it gives expression. Nor can the ideal of one man or one age have any authority over another, since the harmony existing in their nature and interests is accidental and each is a transitional phase in an indefinite evolution. The crystallisation of moral forces at any moment is consequently to be explained by universal, not by human, laws; the philosopher's interest cannot be to trace the implications of present and unstable desires, but rather to discover the mechanical law by which these desires have been generated and will be transformed, so that they will change irrevocably both their basis and their objects.

[Sidenote: Pantheism.]

To this picture of physical instability furnished by popular science are to be added the mystical self-denials involved in pantheism. These come to reinforce the doctrine that human nature is a shifting thing with the sentiment that it is a finite and unworthy one: for every determination of being, it is said, has its significance as well as its origin in the infinite continuum of which it is a part. Forms are limitations, and limitations, according to this philosophy, would be defects, so that man's only goal would be to escape humanity and lose himself in the divine nebula that has produced and must invalidate each of his thoughts and ideals. As there would be but one spirit in the world, and that infinite, so there would be but one ideal and that indiscriminate. The despair which the naturalist's view of human instability might tend to produce is turned by this mystical initiation into a sort of ecstasy; and the deluge of conformity suddenly submerges that Life of Reason which science seemed to condemn to gradual extinction.

[Sidenote: Instability in existences does not dethrone their ideals.]

Reason is a human function. Though the name of reason has been applied to various alleged principles of cosmic life, vital or dialectical, these principles all lack the essence of rationality, in that they are not conscious movements toward satisfaction, not, in other words, moral and beneficent principles at all. Be the instability of human nature what it may, therefore, the instability of reason is not less, since reason is but a function of human nature. However relative and subordinate, in a physical sense, human ideals may be, these ideals remain the only possible moral standards for man, the only tests which he can apply for value or authority, in any other quarter. And among unstable and relative ideals none is more relative and unstable than that which transports all value to a universal law, itself indifferent to good and evil, and worships it as a deity. Such an idolatry would indeed be impossible if it were not partial and veiled, arrived at in following out some human interest and clung to by force of moral inertia and the ambiguity of words. In truth mystics do not practise so entire a renunciation of reason as they preach: eternal validity and the capacity to deal with absolute reality are still assumed by them to belong to thought or at least to feeling. Only they overlook in their description of human nature just that faculty which they exercise in their speculation; their map leaves out the ground on which they stand. The rest, which they are not identified with for the moment, they proceed to regard de haut en bas and to discredit as a momentary manifestation of universal laws, physical or divine. They forget that this faith in law, this absorption in the blank reality, this enthusiasm for the ultimate thought, are mere human passions like the rest; that they endure them as they might a fever and that the animal instincts are patent on which those spiritual yearnings repose.

[Sidenote: Absolutist philosophy human and halting.]

This last fact would be nothing against the feelings in question, if they were not made vehicles for absolute revelations. On the contrary, such a relativity in instincts is the source of their importance. In virtue of this relativity they have some basis and function in the world; for did they not repose on human nature they could never express or transform it. Religion and philosophy are not always beneficent or important, but when they are it is precisely because they help to develop human faculty and to enrich human life. To imagine that by means of them we can escape from human nature and survey it from without is an ostrich-like illusion obvious to all but to the victim of it. Such a pretension may cause admiration in the schools, where self-hypnotisation is easy, but in the world it makes its professors ridiculous. For in their eagerness to empty their mind of human prejudices they reduce its rational burden to a minimum, and if they still continue to dogmatise, it is sport for the satirist to observe what forgotten accident of language or training has survived the crash of the universe and made the one demonstrable path to Absolute Truth.

[Sidenote: All science a deliverance of momentary thought.]

Neither the path of abstraction followed by the mystics, nor that of direct and, as it avers, unbiassed observation followed by the naturalists, can lead beyond that region of common experience, traditional feeling, and conventional thought which all minds enter at birth and can elude only at the risk of inward collapse and extinction. The fact that observation involves the senses, and the senses their organs, is one which a naturalist can hardly overlook; and when we add that logical habits, sanctioned by utility, are needed to interpret the data of sense, the humanity of science and all its constructions becomes clearer than day. Superstition itself could not be more human. The path of unbiassed observation is not a path away from conventional life; it is a progress in conventions. It improves human belief by increasing the proportion of two of its ingredients, attentive perception and practical calculus. The whole resulting vision, as it is sustained from moment to moment by present experience and instinct, has no value apart from actual ideals. And if it proves human nature to be unstable, it can build that proof on nothing more stable than human faculty as at the moment it happens to be.

[Sidenote: All criticism likewise.]

Nor is abstraction a less human process, as if by becoming very abstruse indeed we could hope to become divine. Is it not a commonplace of the schools that to form abstract ideas is the prerogative of man's reason? Is not abstraction a method by which mortal intelligence makes haste? Is it not the makeshift of a mind overloaded with its experience, the trick of an eye that cannot master a profuse and ever-changing world? Shall these diagrams drawn in fancy, this system of signals in thought, be the Absolute Truth dwelling within us? Do we attain reality by making a silhouette of our dreams? If the scientific world be a product of human faculties, the metaphysical world must be doubly so; for the material there given to human understanding is here worked over again by human art. This constitutes the dignity and value of dialectic, that in spite of appearances it is so human; it bears to experience a relation similar to that which the arts bear to the same, where sensible images, selected by the artist's genius and already coloured by his aesthetic bias, are redyed in the process of reproduction whenever he has a great style, and saturated anew with his mind.

There can be no question, then, of eluding human nature or of conceiving it and its environment in such a way as to stop its operation. We may take up our position in one region of experience or in another, we may, in unconsciousness of the interests and assumptions that support us, criticise the truth or value of results obtained elsewhere. Our criticism will be solid in proportion to the solidity of the unnamed convictions that inspire it, that is, in proportion to the deep roots and fruitful ramifications which those convictions may have in human life. Ultimate truth and ultimate value will be reasonably attributed to those ideas and possessions which can give human nature, as it is, the highest satisfaction. We may admit that human nature is variable; but that admission, if justified, will be justified by the satisfaction which it gives human nature to make it. We might even admit that human ideals are vain but only if they were nothing worth for the attainment of the veritable human ideal.

[Sidenote: Origins inessential.]

The given constitution of reason, with whatever a dialectical philosophy might elicit from it, obviously determines nothing about the causes that may have brought reason to its present pass or the phases that may have preceded its appearance. Certain notions about physics might no doubt suggest themselves to the moralist, who never can be the whole man; he might suspect, for instance, that the transitive intent of intellect and will pointed to their vital basis. Transcendence in operation might seem appropriate only to a being with a history and with an organism subject to external influences, whose mind should thus come to represent not merely its momentary state but also its constitutive past and its eventual fortunes. Such suggestions, however, would be extraneous to dialectical self-knowledge. They would be tentative only, and human nature would be freely admitted to be as variable, as relative, and as transitory as the natural history of the universe might make it.

[Sidenote: Ideals functional.]

The error, however, would be profound and the contradiction hopeless if we should deny the ideal authority of human nature because we had discovered its origin and conditions. Nature and evolution, let us say, have brought life to the present form; but this life lives, these organs have determinate functions, and human nature, here and now, in relation to the ideal energies it unfolds, is a fundamental essence, a collection of activities with determinate limits, relations, and ideals. The integration and determinateness of these faculties is the condition for any synthetic operation of reason. As the structure of the steam-engine has varied greatly since its first invention, and its attributions have increased, so the structure of human nature has undoubtedly varied since man first appeared upon the earth; but as in each steam-engine at each moment there must be a limit of mobility, a unity of function and a clear determination of parts and tensions, so in human nature, as found at any time in any man, there is a definite scope by virtue of which alone he can have a reliable memory, a recognisable character, a faculty of connected thought and speech, a social utility, and a moral ideal. On man's given structure, on his activity hovering about fixed objects, depends the possibility of conceiving or testing any truth or making any progress in happiness.

[Sidenote: They are transferable to similar beings.]

Thinkers of different experience and organisation have pro tanto different logics and different moral laws. There are limits to communication even among beings of the same race, and the faculties and ideals of one intelligence are not transferable without change to any other. If this historic diversity in minds were complete, so that each lived in its own moral world, a science of each of these moral worlds would still be possible provided some inner fixity or constancy existed in its meanings. In every human thought together with an immortal intent there is a mortal and irrecoverable perception: something in it perishes instantly, the part that can be materially preserved being proportionate to the stability or fertility of the organ that produced it. If the function is imitable, the object it terminates in will reappear, and two or more moments, having the same ideal, will utter comparable messages and may perhaps be unanimous. Unanimity in thought involves identity of functions and similarity in organs. These conditions mark off the sphere of rational communication and society; where they fail altogether there is no mutual intelligence, no conversation, no moral solidarity.

[Sidenote: Authority internal.]

The inner authority of reason, however, is no more destroyed because it has limits in physical expression or because irrational things exist, than the grammar of a given language is invalidated because other languages do not share it, or because some people break its rules and others are dumb altogether. Innumerable madmen make no difference to the laws of thought, which borrow their authority from the inward intent and cogency of each rational mind. Reason, like beauty, is its own excuse for being. It is useful, indeed, for living well, when to give reason satisfaction is made the measure of good.

The true philosopher, who is not one chiefly by profession, must be prepared to tread the winepress alone. He may indeed flourish like the bay-tree in a grateful environment, but more often he will rather resemble a reed shaken by the wind. Whether starved or fed by the accidents of fortune he must find his essential life in his own ideal. In spiritual life, heteronomy is suicide. That universal soul sometimes spoken of, which is to harmonise and correct individual demands, if it were a will and an intelligence in act, would itself be an individual like the others; while if it possessed no will and no intelligence, such as individuals may have, it would be a physical force or law, a dynamic system without moral authority and with a merely potential or represented existence. For to be actual and self-existent is to be individual. The living mind cannot surrender its rights to any physical power or subordinate itself to any figment of its own art without falling into manifest idolatry.

[Sidenote: Reason autonomous.].

Human nature, in the sense in which it is the transcendental foundation of all science and morals, is a functional unity in each man; it is no general or abstract essence, the average of all men's characters, nor even the complex of the qualities common to all men. It is the entelechy of the living individual, be he typical or singular. That his type should be odd or common is merely a physical accident. If he can know himself by expressing the entelechy of his own nature in the form of a consistent ideal, he is a rational creature after his own kind, even if, like the angels of Saint Thomas, he be the only individual of his species. What the majority of human animals may tend to, or what the past or future variations of a race may be, has nothing to do with determining the ideal of human nature in a living man, or in an ideal society of men bound together by spiritual kinship. Otherwise Plato could not have reasoned well about the republic without adjusting himself to the politics of Buddha or Rousseau, and we should not be able to determine our own morality without making concessions to the cannibals or giving a vote to the ants. Within the field of an anthropology that tests humanity by the skull's shape, there might be room for any number of independent moralities, and although, as we shall see, there is actually a similar foundation in all human and even in all animal natures, which supports a rudimentary morality common to all, yet a perfect morality is not really common to any two men nor to any two phases of the same man's life.

[Sidenote: Its distribution.]

The distribution of reason, though a subject irrelevant to pure logic or morals, is one naturally interesting to a rational man, for he is concerned to know how far beings exist with a congenial structure and an ideal akin to his own. That circumstance will largely influence his happiness if, being a man, he is a gregarious and sympathetic animal. His moral idealism itself will crave support from others, if not to give it direction, at least to give it warmth and courage. The best part of wealth is to have worthy heirs, and mind can be transmitted only to a kindred mind. Hostile natures cannot be brought together by mutual invective nor harmonised by the brute destruction and disappearance of either party. But when one or both parties have actually disappeared, and the combat has ceased for lack of combatants, natures not hostile to one another can fill the vacant place. In proportion to their inbred unanimity these will cultivate a similar ideal and rejoice together in its embodiment.

[Sidenote: Natural selection of minds.]

This has happened to some extent in the whole world, on account of natural conditions which limit the forms of life possible in one region; for nature is intolerant in her laxity and punishes too great originality and heresy with death. Such moral integration has occurred very markedly in every good race and society whose members, by adapting themselves to the same external forces, have created and discovered their common soul. Spiritual unity is a natural product. There are those who see a great mystery in the presence of eternal values and impersonal ideals in a moving and animal world, and think to solve that dualism, as they call it, by denying that nature can have spiritual functions or spirit a natural cause; but nothing can be simpler if we make, as we should, existence the test of possibility. Ab esse ad posse valet illatio. Nature is a perfect garden of ideals, and passion is the perpetual and fertile soil for poetry, myth, and speculation. Nor is this origin merely imputed to ideals by a late and cynical observer: it is manifest in the ideals themselves, by their subject matter and intent. For what are ideals about, what do they idealise, except natural existence and natural passions? That would be a miserable and superfluous ideal indeed that was nobody's ideal of nothing. The pertinence of ideals binds them to nature, and it is only the worst and flimsiest ideals, the ideals of a sick soul, that elude nature's limits and belie her potentialities. Ideals are forerunners or heralds of nature's successes, not always followed, indeed, by their fulfilment, for nature is but nature and has to feel her way; but they are an earnest, at least, of an achieved organisation, an incipient accomplishment, that tends to maintain and root itself in the world.

To speak of nature's successes is, of course, to impute success retroactively; but the expression may be allowed when we consider that the same functional equilibrium which is looked back upon as a good by the soul it serves, first creates individual being and with it creates the possibility of preference and the whole moral world; and it is more than a metaphor to call that achievement a success which has made a sense of success possible and actual. That nature cannot intend or previously esteem those formations which are the condition of value or intention existing at all, is a truth too obvious to demand repetition; but when those formations arise they determine estimation, and fix the direction of preference, so that the evolution which produced them, when looked back upon from the vantage-ground thus gained, cannot help seeming to have been directed toward the good now distinguished and partly attained. For this reason creation is regarded as a work of love, and the power that brought order out of chaos is called intelligence.

[Sidenote: Living stability.]

These natural formations, tending to generate and realise each its ideal, are, as it were, eddies in the universal flux, produced no less mechanically, doubtless, than the onward current, yet seeming to arrest or to reverse it. Inheritance arrests the flux by repeating a series of phases with a recognisable rhythm; memory reverses it by modifying this rhythm itself by the integration of earlier phases into those that supervene. Inheritance and memory make human stability. This stability is relative, being still a mode of flux, and consists fundamentally in repetition. Repetition marks some progress on mere continuity, since it preserves form and disregards time and matter. Inheritance is repetition on a larger scale, not excluding spontaneous variations; while habit and memory are a sort of heredity within the individual, since here an old perception reappears, by way of atavism, in the midst of a forward march. Life is thus enriched and reaction adapted to a wider field; much as a note is enriched by its overtones, and by the tensions, inherited from the preceding notes, which give it a new setting.

[Sidenote: Continuity necessary to progress.]

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience. In a second stage men are docile to events, plastic to new habits and suggestions, yet able to graft them on original instincts, which they thus bring to fuller satisfaction. This is the plane of manhood and true progress. Last comes a stage when retentiveness is exhausted and all that happens is at once forgotten; a vain, because unpractical, repetition of the past takes the place of plasticity and fertile readaptation. In a moving world readaptation is the price of longevity. The hard shell, far from protecting the vital principle, condemns it to die down slowly and be gradually chilled; immortality in such a case must have been secured earlier, by giving birth to a generation plastic to the contemporary world and able to retain its lessons. Thus old age is as forgetful as youth, and more incorrigible; it displays the same inattentiveness to conditions; its memory becomes self-repeating and degenerates into an instinctive reaction, like a bird's chirp.

[Sidenote: Limits of variation. Spirit a heritage.]

Not all readaptation, however, is progress, for ideal identity must not be lost. The Latin language did not progress when it passed into Italian. It died. Its amiable heirs may console us for its departure, but do not remove the fact that their parent is extinct. So every individual, nation, and religion has its limit of adaptation; so long as the increment it receives is digestible, so long as the organisation already attained is extended and elaborated without being surrendered, growth goes on; but when the foundation itself shifts, when what is gained at the periphery is lost at the centre, the flux appears again and progress is not real. Thus a succession of generations or languages or religions constitutes no progress unless some ideal present at the beginning is transmitted to the end and reaches a better expression there; without this stability at the core no common standard exists and all comparison of value with value must be external and arbitrary. Retentiveness, we must repeat, is the condition of progress.

The variation human nature is open to is not, then, variation in any direction. There are transformations that would destroy it. So long as it endures it must retain all that constitutes it now, all that it has so far gathered and worked into its substance. The genealogy of progress is like that of man, who can never repudiate a single ancestor. It starts, so to speak, from a single point, free as yet to take any direction. When once, however, evolution has taken a single step, say in the direction of vertebrates, that step cannot be retraced without extinction of the species. Such extinction may take place while progress in other lines is continued. All that preceded the forking of the dead and the living branch will be as well represented and as legitimately continued by the surviving radiates as it could have been by the vertebrates that are no more; but the vertebrate ideal is lost for ever, and no more progress is possible along that line.

[Sidenote: Perfectibility.]

The future of moral evolution is accordingly infinite, but its character is more and more determinate at every step. Mankind can never, without perishing, surrender its animal nature, its need to eat and drink, its sexual method of reproduction, its vision of nature, its faculty of speech, its arts of music, poetry, and building. Particular races cannot subsist if they renounce their savage instincts, but die, like wild animals, in captivity; and particular individuals die when not suffered any longer to retain their memories, their bodies, or even their master passions. Thus human nature survives amid a continual fluctuation of its embodiments. At every step twigs and leaves are thrown out that last but one season; but the underlying stem may have meantime grown stronger and more luxuriant. Whole branches sometimes wither, but others may continue to bloom. Spiritual unity runs, like sap, from the common root to every uttermost flower; but at each forking in the growth the branches part company, and what happens in one is no direct concern of the others. The products of one age and nation may well be unintelligible to another; the elements of humanity common to both may lie lower down. So that the highest things are communicable to the fewest persons, and yet, among these few, are the most perfectly communicable. The more elaborate and determinate a man's heritage and genius are, the more he has in common with his next of kin, and the more he can transmit and implant in his posterity for ever. Civilisation is cumulative. The farther it goes the intenser it is, substituting articulate interests for animal fumes and for enigmatic passions. Such articulate interests can be shared; and the infinite vistas they open up can be pursued for ever with the knowledge that a work long ago begun is being perfected and that an ideal is being embodied which need never be outworn.

[Sidenote: Nature and human nature.]

So long as external conditions remain constant it is obvious that the greater organisation a being possesses the greater strength he will have. If indeed primary conditions varied, the finer creatures would die first; for their adaptation is more exquisite and the irreversible core of their being much larger relatively; but in a constant environment their equipment makes them irresistible and secures their permanence and multiplication. Now man is a part of nature and her organisation may be regarded as the foundation of his own: the word nature is therefore less equivocal than it seems, for every nature is Nature herself in one of her more specific and better articulated forms. Man therefore represents the universe that sustains him; his existence is a proof that the cosmic equilibrium that fostered his life is a natural equilibrium, capable of being long maintained. Some of the ancients thought it eternal; physics now suggests a different opinion. But even if this equilibrium, by which the stars are kept in their courses and human progress is allowed to proceed, is fundamentally unstable, it shows what relative stability nature may attain. Could this balance be preserved indefinitely, no one knows what wonderful adaptations might occur within it, and to what excellence human nature in particular might arrive. Nor is it unlikely that before the cataclysm comes time will be afforded for more improvement than moral philosophy has ever dreamed of. For it is remarkable how inane and unimaginative Utopias have generally been. This possibility is not uninspiring and may help to console those who think the natural conditions of life are not conditions that a good life can be lived in. The possibility of essential progress is bound up with the tragic possibility that progress and human life should some day end together. If the present equilibrium of forces were eternal all adaptations to it would have already taken place and, while no essential catastrophe would need to be dreaded, no essential improvement could be hoped for in all eternity. I am not sure that a humanity such as we know, were it destined to exist for ever, would offer a more exhilarating prospect than a humanity having indefinite elasticity together with a precarious tenure of life. Mortality has its compensations: one is that all evils are transitory, another that better times may come.

[Sidenote: Human nature formulated.]

Human nature, then, has for its core the substance of nature at large, and is one of its more complex formations. Its determination is progressive. It varies indefinitely in its historic manifestations and fades into what, as a matter of natural history, might no longer be termed human. At each moment it has its fixed and determinate entelechy, the ideal of that being's life, based on his instincts, summed up in his character, brought to a focus in his reflection, and shared by all who have attained or may inherit his organisation. His perceptive and reasoning faculties are parts of human nature, as embodied in him; all objects of belief or desire, with all standards of justice and duty which he can possibly acknowledge, are transcripts of it, conditioned by it, and justifiable only as expressions of its inherent tendencies.

[Sidenote: Its concrete description reserved for the sequel.]

This definition of human nature, clear as it may be in itself and true to the facts, will perhaps hardly make sufficiently plain how the Life of Reason, having a natural basis, has in the ideal world a creative and absolute authority. A more concrete description of human nature may accordingly not come amiss, especially as the important practical question touching the extension of a given moral authority over times and places depends on the degree of kinship found among the creatures inhabiting those regions. To give a general picture of human nature and its rational functions will be the task of the following books. The truth of a description which must be largely historical may not be indifferent to the reader, and I shall study to avoid bias in the presentation, in so far as is compatible with frankness and brevity; yet even if some bias should manifest itself and if the picture were historically false, the rational principles we shall be trying to illustrate will not thereby be invalidated. Illustrations might have been sought in some fictitious world, if imagination had not seemed so much less interesting than reality, which besides enforces with unapproachable eloquence the main principle in view, namely, that nature carries its ideal with it and that the progressive organisation of irrational impulses makes a rational life.



*** End of Volume One ***



REASON IN SOCIETY

Volume Two of "The Life of Reason"

GEORGE SANTAYANA

he gar noy enhergeia zohe



This Dover edition, first published in 1980, is an unabridged republication of volume two of The Life of Reason; or The Phases of Human Progress, originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons, N.Y., in 1905.



CONTENTS

BOOK II.—REASON IN SOCIETY

CHAPTER I

LOVE

Fluid existences have none but ideal goals.—Nutrition and reproduction.—Priority of the latter.—Love celebrates the initial triumph of form and is deeply ideal.—Difficulty in describing love.—One-sided or inverted theories about it.—Sexual functions its basis.—Structure the ground of faculty and faculty of duty.—Glory of animal love.—Its degradation when instincts become numerous and competitive.—Moral censure provoked.—The heart alienated from the world.—Childish ideals.—Their light all focussed on the object of love.—Three environments for love.—Subjectivity of the passion.—Machinery regulating choice.—The choice unstable.—Instinctive essence of love.—Its ideality.—Its universal scope.—Its euthanasia. Pages 3-34

CHAPTER II

THE FAMILY

The family arises spontaneously.—It harmonises natural interests.—Capacity to be educated goes with immaturity at birth.—The naturally dull achieve intelligence.—It is more blessed to save than to create.—Parental instinct regards childhood only.—Handing on the torch of life.—Adventitious functions assumed by the family.—Inertia in human nature.—Family tyrannies.—Difficulty in abstracting from the family.—Possibility of substitutes.—Plato's heroic communism.—Opposite modern tendencies.—Individualism in a sense rational.—The family tamed.—Possible readjustments and reversions.—The ideal includes generation.—Inner values already lodged in this function.—Outward beneficence might be secured by experiment Pages 35-59

CHAPTER III

INDUSTRY, GOVERNMENT, AND WAR

Patriarchal economy.—Origin of the state.—Three uses of civilisation.—Its rationality contingent.—Sources of wealth.—Excess of it possible.—Irrational industry.—Its jovial and ingenious side.—Its tyranny.—An impossible remedy.—Basis of government.—How rationality accrues.—Ferocious but useful despotisms.—Occasional advantage of being conquered.—Origin of free governments.—Their democratic tendencies.—Imperial peace.—Nominal and real status of armies.—Their action irresponsible.—Pugnacity human.—Barrack-room philosophy.—Military virtues.—They are splendid vices.—Absolute value in strife.—Sport a civilised way of preserving it.—Who shall found the universal commonwealth? Pages 60-87

CHAPTER IV

THE ARISTOCRATIC IDEAL

Eminence, once existing, grows by its own operation.—Its causes natural and its privileges just.—Advantage of inequality.—Fable of the belly and the members.—Fallacy in it.—Theism expresses better the aristocratic ideal.—A heaven with many mansions.—If God is defined as the human ideal, apotheosis the only paradise.—When natures differ perfections differ too.—Theory that stations actually correspond to faculty.—Its falsity.—Feeble individuality the rule.—Sophistical envy.—Inequality is not a grievance; suffering is.—Mutilation by crowding.—A hint to optimists.—How aristocracies might do good.—Man adds wrong to nature's injury.—Conditions of a just inequality Pages 88-113



CHAPTER V

DEMOCRACY

Democracy as an end and as a means.—Natural democracy leads to monarchy.—Artificial democracy is an extension of privilege.—Ideals and expedients.—Well-founded distrust of rulers. Yet experts, if rational, would serve common interests.—People jealous of eminence.—It is representative, but subject to decay.—Ancient citizenship a privilege.—Modern democracy industrial.—Dangers to current civilisation.—Is current civilisation a good?—Horrors of materialistic democracy.—Timocracy or socialistic aristocracy.—The difficulty the same as in all Socialism.—The masses would have to be plebeian in position and patrician in feeling.—Organisation for ideal ends breeds fanaticism.—Public spirit the life of democracy. Pages 114-136

CHAPTER VI

FREE SOCIETY

Primacy of nature over spirit.—All experience at bottom liberal.—Social experience has its ideality too.—The self an ideal.—Romantic egotism.—Vanity.—Ambiguities of fame.—Its possible ideality.—Comradeship.—External conditions of friendship.—Identity in sex required, and in age.—Constituents of friendship.—Personal liking.—The refracting human medium for ideas.—Affection based on the refraction.—The medium must also be transparent.—Common interests indispensable.—Friendship between man and wife.—Between master and disciple.—Conflict between ideal and natural allegiance.—Automatic idealisation of heroes Pages 137-159

CHAPTER VII

PATRIOTISM

The creative social environment, since it eludes sense, must be represented symbolically.—Ambiguous limits of a native country, geographical and moral.—Sentimental and political patriotism.—The earth and the race the first objects of rational loyalty.—Race, when distinct, the greatest of distinctions.—"Pure" races may be morally sterile.—True nationality direction on a definite ideal.—Country well represented by domestic and civic religion.—Misleading identification of country with government.—Sporting or belligerent patriotism.—Exclusive patriotism rational only when the government supported is universally beneficent.—Accidents of birth and training affect the ideal.—They are conditions and may contribute something.—They are not ends.—The symbol for country may be a man and may become an idol.—Feudal representation sensitive but partial.—Monarchical representation comprehensive but treacherous.—Impersonal symbols no advantage.—Patriotism not self-interest, save to the social man whose aims are ideal Pages 160-183

CHAPTER VIII

IDEAL SOCIETY

The gregarious instinct all social instincts in suspense.—It gives rise to conscience or sympathy with the public voice.—Guises of public opinion.—Oracles and revelations.—The ideal a measure for all existences and no existence itself.—Contrast between natural and intellectual bonds.—Appeal from man to God, from real to ideal society.—Significant symbols revert to the concrete.—Nature a symbol for destiny.—Representative notions have also inherent values.—Religion and science indirectly cognitive and directly ideal.—Their opposite outlook.—In translating existence into human terms they give human nature its highest exercise.—Science should be mathematical and religion anthropomorphic.—Summary of this book Pages 184-205



REASON IN SOCIETY



CHAPTER I

LOVE

[Sidenote: Fluid existences have none but ideal goals.]

If man were a static or intelligible being, such as angels are thought to be, his life would have a single guiding interest, under which all other interests would be subsumed. His acts would explain themselves without looking beyond his given essence, and his soul would be like a musical composition, which once written out cannot grow different and once rendered can ask for nothing but, at most, to be rendered over again. In truth, however, man is an animal, a portion of the natural flux; and the consequence is that his nature has a moving centre, his functions an external reference, and his ideal a true ideality. What he strives to preserve, in preserving himself, is something which he never has been at any particular moment. He maintains his equilibrium by motion. His goal is in a sense beyond him, since it is not his experience, but a form which all experience ought to receive. The inmost texture of his being is propulsive, and there is nothing more intimately bound up with his success than mobility and devotion to transcendent aims. If there is a transitive function in knowledge and an unselfish purpose in love, that is only because, at bottom, there is a self-reproductive, flying essence in all existence.

If the equilibrium of man's being were stable he would need neither nutrition, reproduction, nor sense. As it is, sense must renew his ideas and guide his instincts otherwise than as their inner evolution would demand; and regenerative processes must strive to repair beneath the constant irreparable lapse of his substance. His business is to create and remodel those organisms in which ideals are bred. In order to have a soul to save he must perpetually form it anew; he must, so to speak, earn his own living. In this vital labour, we may ask, is nutrition or reproduction the deeper function? Or, to put the corresponding moral question, is the body or the state the primary good?

[Sidenote: Nutrition and reproduction]

If we view the situation from the individual's side, as self-consciousness might view it, we may reply that nutrition is fundamental, for if the body were not nourished every faculty would decay. Could nutrition only succeed and keep the body young, reproduction would be unnecessary, with its poor pretence at maintaining the mobile human form in a series of examples. On the other hand, if we view the matter from above, as science and philosophy should, we may say that nutrition is but germination of a pervasive sort, that the body is a tabernacle in which the transmissible human spirit is carried for a while, a shell for the immortal seed that dwells in it and has created it. This seed, however, for rational estimation, is merely a means to the existence and happiness of individuals. Transpersonal and continuous in its own fluid being, the potential grows personal in its ideal fulfilments. In other words, this potentiality is material (though called sometimes an idea) and has its only value in the particular creatures it may produce.

[Sidenote: Priority of the latter]

Reproduction is accordingly primary and more completely instrumental than nutrition is, since it serves a soul as yet non-existent, while nutrition is useful to a soul that already has some actuality. Reproduction initiates life and remains at life's core, a function without which no other, in the end, would be possible. It is more central, crucial, and representative than nutrition, which is in a way peripheral only; it is a more typical and rudimentary act, marking the ideal's first victory over the universal flux, before any higher function than reproduction itself has accrued to the animal. To nourish an existing being is to presuppose a pause in generation; the nucleus, before it dissolves into other individuals, gathers about itself, for its own glory, certain temporal and personal faculties. It lives for itself; while in procreation it signs its own death-warrant, makes its will, and institutes its heir.

[Sidenote: Love celebrates the initial triumph of form and is deeply ideal.]

This situation has its counterpart in feeling. Replenishment is a sort of delayed breathing, as if the animal had to hunt for air: it necessitates more activity than it contains; it engages external senses in its service and promotes intelligence. After securing a dumb satisfaction, or even in preparing it, it leaves the habits it employed free for observation and ideal exercise. Reproduction, on the contrary, depletes; it is an expense of spirit, a drag on physical and mental life; it entangles rather than liberates; it fuses the soul again into the impersonal, blind flux. Yet, since it constitutes the primary and central triumph of life, it is in itself more ideal and generous than nutrition; it fascinates the will in an absolute fashion, and the pleasures it brings are largely spiritual. For though the instrumentalities of reproduction may seem gross and trivial from a conventional point of view, its essence is really ideal, the perfect type, indeed, of ideality, since form and an identical life are therein sustained successfully by a more rhythmical flux of matter.

It may seem fanciful, even if not unmeaning, to say that a man's soul more truly survives in his son's youth than in his own decrepitude; but this principle grows more obvious as we descend to simpler beings, in which individual life is less elaborated and has not intrenched itself in so many adventitious and somewhat permanent organs. In vegetables soul and seed go forth together and leave nothing but a husk behind. In the human individual love may seem a mere incident of youth and a sentimental madness; but that episode, if we consider the race, is indispensable to the whole drama; and if we look to the order in which ideal interests have grown up and to their superposition in moral experience, love will seem the truly primitive and initiatory passion. Consciousness, amused ordinarily by the most superficial processes, itself bears witness to the underlying claims of reproduction and is drawn by it for a moment into life's central vortex; and love, while it betrays its deep roots by the imperative force it exerts and the silence it imposes on all current passions, betrays also its ideal mission by casting an altogether novel and poetic spell over the mind.

[Sidenote: Difficulty in describing love.]

The conscious quality of this passion differs so much in various races and individuals, and at various points in the same life, that no account of it will ever satisfy everybody.[A] Poets and novelists never tire of depicting it anew; but although the experience they tell of is fresh and unparalleled in every individual, their rendering suffers, on the whole, from a great monotony. Love's gesture and symptoms are noted and unvarying; its vocabulary is poor and worn. Even a poet, therefore, can give of love but a meagre expression, while the philosopher, who renounces dramatic representation, is condemned to be avowedly inadequate. Love, to the lover, is a noble and immense inspiration; to the naturalist it is a thin veil and prelude to the self-assertion of lust. This opposition has prevented philosophers from doing justice to the subject. Two things need to be admitted by anyone who would not go wholly astray in such speculation: one, that love has an animal basis; the other, that it has an ideal object. Since these two propositions have usually been thought contradictory, no writer has ventured to present more than half the truth, and that half out of its true relations.

[Sidenote: One-sided or inverted theories about it.]

Plato, who gave eloquent expression to the ideal burden of the passion, and divined its political and cosmic message, passed over its natural history with a few mythical fancies; and Schopenhauer, into whose system a naturalistic treatment would have fitted so easily, allowed his metaphysics to carry him at this point into verbal inanities; while, of course, like all profane writers on the subject, he failed to appreciate the oracles which Plato had delivered. In popular feeling, where sentiment and observation must both make themselves felt somehow or other, the tendency is to imagine that love is an absolute, non-natural energy which, for some unknown reason, or for none at all, lights upon particular persons, and rests there eternally, as on its ultimate goal. In other words, it makes the origin of love divine and its object natural: which is the exact opposite of the truth. If it were once seen, however, that every ideal expresses some natural function, and that no natural function is incapable, in its free exercise, of evolving some ideal and finding justification, not in some collateral animal, but in an inherent operation like life or thought, which being transmissible in its form is also eternal, then the philosophy of love should not prove permanently barren. For love is a brilliant illustration of a principle everywhere discoverable: namely, that human reason lives by turning the friction of material forces into the light of ideal goods. There can be no philosophic interest in disguising the animal basis of love, or in denying its spiritual sublimations, since all life is animal in its origin and all spiritual in its possible fruits.

[Sidenote: Sexual functions its basis.]

Plastic matter, in transmitting its organisation, takes various courses which it is the part of natural history to describe. Even after reproduction has become sexual, it will offer no basis for love if it does not require a union of the two parent bodies. Did germinal substances, unconsciously diffused, meet by chance in the external medium and unite there, it is obvious that whatever obsessions or pleasures maturity might bring they would not have the quality which men call love. But when an individual of the opposite sex must be met with, recognised, and pursued, and must prove responsive, then each is haunted by the possible other. Each feels in a generic way the presence and attraction of his fellows; he vibrates to their touch, he dreams of their image, he is restless and wistful if alone. When the vague need that solicits him is met by the presence of a possible mate it is extraordinarily kindled. Then, if it reaches fruition, it subsides immediately, and after an interval, perhaps, of stupor and vital recuperation, the animal regains his independence, his peace, and his impartial curiosity. You might think him on the way to becoming intelligent; but the renewed nutrition and cravings of the sexual machinery soon engross his attention again; all his sprightly indifference vanishes before nature's categorical imperative. That fierce and turbid pleasure, by which his obedience is rewarded, hastens his dissolution; every day the ensuing lassitude and emptiness give him a clearer premonition of death. It is not figuratively only that his soul has passed into his offspring. The vocation to produce them was a chief part of his being, and when that function is sufficiently fulfilled he is superfluous in the world and becomes partly superfluous even to himself. The confines of his dream are narrowed. He moves apathetically and dies forlorn.

Some echo of the vital rhythm which pervades not merely the generations of animals, but the seasons and the stars, emerges sometimes in consciousness; on reaching the tropics in the mortal ecliptic, which the human individual may touch many times without much change in his outer fortunes, the soul may occasionally divine that it is passing through a supreme crisis. Passion, when vehement, may bring atavistic sentiments. When love is absolute it feels a profound impulse to welcome death, and even, by a transcendental confusion, to invoke the end of the universe.[B] The human soul reverts at such a moment to what an ephemeral insect might feel, buzzing till it finds its mate in the noon. Its whole destiny was wooing, and, that mission accomplished, it sings its Nunc dimittis, renouncing heartily all irrelevant things, now that the one fated and all-satisfying good has been achieved. Where parental instincts exist also, nature soon shifts her loom: a milder impulse succeeds, and a satisfaction of a gentler sort follows in the birth of children. The transcendental illusion is here corrected, and it is seen that the extinction the lovers had accepted needed not to be complete. The death they welcomed was not without its little resurrection. The feeble worm they had generated bore their immortality within it.

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