Luther A Fox.

Evidence of a future life : from reason and revelation online

. (page 5 of 19)
Online LibraryLuther A FoxEvidence of a future life : from reason and revelation → online text (page 5 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

methods, and was never popular with philosophers.

Hartley made a most important contribution to
the theory by accounting for the moral idea as it
appears in consciousness. It is in our conscious-
ness independent of all motives of interest. It is
not associated with the useful. The moral is not a
means but itself an end. Utilitarianism, both
philosophical and theological, was compelled to ac-
count for this fact. Hartley proposed the theory of
association as the explanation. Things at first
sought as means are often turned into ends. jNIen
seek money as a means of acquiring gratifications,
but at length seek it for itself and become misers.
Men love praise for the advantage it brings, but at
length desire posthumous praise that can never be
of personal benefit.

This theory required years for its operation. It
could not explain the appearance of moral ideas in
the child except by education. It sfill left the
phenomena of self-evidence and the fact of innate-
ness unaccounted for.

Modern materialism found the solution in the


law of heredity. James Mill carried the associa-
tion back to sensation, and reduced even conscious-
ness itself to sensation. As the seven colors of a
rapidly revolving wheel are blended in white, so
the lingering sensations of pleasure are blended in
morality. Sensation is a movement of nerves, is
physical, and, formed into habits, is transmissible.
As the white man propagates the white color, so
the moral sensations are communicated to offspring
and appear as intuitions. Morality, like heroism,
appears in races.

Utilitarianism in all its forms falls under the
charge of selfishness. Its advocates have resented
it, but disclaimers are not disproofs. Bentham's
theory of ''the greatest good for the greatest num-
ber," and Adam's Smith's "sympathy" started
with the happiness of the individuaL "By sym-
pathetic sensibility is to be understood the propen-
sity that a man has to derive pleasure from the
happiness, and pain from the unhappiness of other
sensitive beings," says Bentham.* "The idea of
the pain of another is naturally painful. The idea
of the pleasure of another is naturally pleasurable.
In this, the unselfish part of our nature, independ-
ently of inculcation from within, lies the founda-

* Leckj-'s European Morals.


tion for the generation of moral feelings," says J. S.
Mill.* The defenders of the school have struggled
with the difficulty. Mr. Mill distinguished between
the kinds of pleasure and made the theory respect-
able, but only by abandoning the " fundamental
ground. He attempted to give the steps by which
the personal feeling might become disinterested,
but he introduced a new element to effect the trans-
formation. The charge of selfishness stands unre-

This contradicts the universal judgment of man-
kind as to the essential nature of the moral good.
The world has made a broad distinction between the
moral and the selfish. Language crystallizes opin-
ions and is a better exponent of the public mind
than formal statements. In all languages there are
words expressive of honor, justice, truth, dis-
interested virtue, self-sacrifice; and they convey
widely different ideas from prudence, foresight, in-
terest, self-love. So far as self becomes the end, so
far any action falls in the estimate of men below
the virtuous. The reputed hero becoming known
as inspired only by personal ends at once loses all
the glory of heroism. So we think to-day, and so
has man from the earliest recorded periods thought.

* Essays, Vol. I, p. 137.

88 e:vidence of a future life.

Utilitarianism fails to account for the fact of ob-
ligation. Bentham recognized this and admitted
it by saying that the word "ought" should be
erased from our vocabularies. Darwin put it upon
persistent desire; Bain, upon external authority;
and John Stuart Mill, upon personal feeling.*
This is neither sound philosophy nor good morals.

The sense of obligation according to this theory
is but the permanent influence of authority.
Parents taught their children the prudential
maxims which they had learned from experience.
Legislators enforced them by penalties. Priests,
upon the authority of the deities, inculcated them.
In the lapse of time the authority of personal wills
was transferred to the law itself.

This may explain the habit, but not the sense of
the necessity of obedience. The sense of obligation
is resolved by the theory into a delusion. There is
no difference made by it between imprudence and
sin. As soon, therefore, as we have learned the
true nature of the obligation, it appears in its
original character as purely individual and relative,
and we may repudiate it. We havfe the right to
examine and reject any one of the precepts. Man
made the right, and he can unmake it. He was

* Calderwood. Moral Philosophy, pp. 145-152.


before all law, and each may act as lie thinks best.
Those who blame him are the slaves of prejudice.
Thus utilitarianism as a moral system destroys it-

Utilitarianism reverses the true theory of life.
It exalts the mere feeling above the intellect as the
governing principle.

It has utterly failed to find a rule of life. It has
never laid down a test of virtue or a law that an-
swered the universal idea of the right.

The intuitive theory is in harmony with the uni-
versal opinion of men upon morals. Conscience
asserts itself in consciousness as an independent
faculty, with its distinct sphere and entitled to
an independent place. While taste deals with
beauty, it deals with right. While the reason
in thought apprehends truth, in conscience it
apprehends duty. We can know nothing out of
consciousness, and when men get behind that
they go beyond the range of knowledge and we
decline to follow.

Conscience is universal. Men everywhere have
ideas of right and wrong.* Those tribes which
were at one time reported as destitute of moral

*See Janet's Theory of Morals, Chap. IV, p. 309, and
Quatrefages, Human Species.


conceptions have since been shown to have been
misrepresented. It has been proven also that
there is everywhere essential agreement upon
fundamental moral principles. The differences,
of which so much has been made since the days
of Montaigne, are easily explained on ethical
and psychological grounds. Men often excuse
sins even when they know the right, and often
they have difficulty in applying the principle to
special cases. They never condemn the right
even where they excuse the wrong. This
agreement is a confirmation of the Intuitive
theory and a proof that conscience is a part of
our nature.

The conscience, which holds its place as an
original part of our constitution despite the
efforts of strong men to dislodge it, reveals its
purpose by the nature of its work. It was given
to form character. It was not intended to be a
guide merely to temporal happiness. Prof.
Clifford in the monograph in which he makes un-
blushing and blasphemous professions of atheism,
says that we are under a law of right, and that
we ought to be truthful and honest and chaste
without regard to any ulterior personal ends, and
that no matter how profitable it may be to us, we


ought not to practice deceit. If temporal and
temporary happiness had been its chief end,
conscience seems a blunder. The brute with
only instinct makes fewer mistakes. If that was
its end, the law of selection, according to the
evolution scheme, became erratic and took a
downward course; or, in conferring conscience,
according to the theistic scheme, God appears
to have made a bad choice of means. Instinct
would have been a better guide. But if charac-
ter formed here for a life hereafter is the aim,
conscience was the only means.

Conscience implies freedom of the will. There
are metaphysical difficulties with which Kant's
famous antinomies have made us all familiar. The
necessitarian controversy, which has been carried
on for centuries, has not been settled. There are
apparent causes outside of the will controlling its
volitions. Statistics reveal remarkable uniformity
in human life, and ''positive" philosophers have
boldly predicted a time when the actions of men
will be foretold as we now do natural phenomena.
But many of these difficulties are in appearance
only, and not in reality. Some are real, and we
may not be able to meet all of them. Metaphysi-
cians have found difficulties in physical as well as


mental causality; but no one really doubts that he
knows causes. So no one really doubts that his
will is free. It is a fact of consciousness in every
act of the will. We do not trouble ourselves with
the possibility when we have the fact itself. The
consciousness of freedom gives us the sense of
responsibility. If we are not free we are not under
obligation, and we can not be either punished or
rewarded. We may suffer evils, but conscience
deceives us when it tells us that we are punished.
Thus, our nature becomes a lie. Whatever may
be the other difficulties, they are not so great as
that which the direct denial of the intuition of con-
sciousness involves. The problem of explanation
may be, as Dr. McCosh thinks, insoluble, but the
fact itself is as certain as any fact can be.

The freedom of the will is evidence of immor-
tality. It stands alone among the facts of the
world. Every other cause is under necessity; the
will only is free. Every other power acts blindly;
the will only is self-determining. Everything
else must obey laws imposed from without, and
move inevitably to a given end; the will only has
spontaneity. This shows the will's independence
of nature. That which .is above the range of
natural law cannot be involved in changes pro-


duced by that law. Death, which is natural, cannot
reach it. The consciousness of freedom keeps alive
the consciousness of the distinction between mind
and body, and begets the certainty of its own sur-
vival of the destruction of its organ. This intui-
tion is the data upon which rests the universal
belief in a future life. The belief is a necessary
inference from the intuition.

Freedom and intelligence are the elements of
personality. Because we have intelligence and
freedom we are persons, and, as persons, we have
rights. "Human personality is inviolable." Kant
held that inviolability is involved in the very idea
of personality. Among these rights is that of ex-
istence. It is a right over against every other
individual and against the State. To be deprived
of life without having forfeited it is the greatest of
wrongs. The right to existence is a natural right.
It is a right which God has conferred, and in con-
ferring it He limited himself. He cannot take
away our existence and violate personality by
destroying it, without an act of great injustice.
God never does wrong, and, therefore, the soul is

Conscience is related to the eternal, and in that
relation it reads its own immortality. The law


whose behests it must obe)' is higher than the laws
of nature. We can conceive of any of these physi-
cal laws as coming into force, of being annulled, of
being indefinitely modified. The law of gravita-
tion, the most general of all of them, is not a
necessity of thought, for we can think of worlds
where it does not exist. But we cannot think of
the moral laws as commencing or being abrogated.
If in imagination we stand in empty space while
there was naught but God, we find moral law ready
to assert itself over a free intelligence as soon as it
would come into being. We cannot think of a
world where it would be right to tell a falsehood.
Not even God is above it. He cannot violate it
without wrong. It is, therefore, an absolutely
universal law. The conscience is the response to
that law. It is the voice of eternal principles. The
conscious relation to these principles is a pledge to
the soul that it is itnmortal.

Matter is also related to eternal laws. If it exists
it must exist in space, and if it moves it must move
in time. But^the analogy fails in an essential par-
ticular. Matter knows nothing of these relations.
The consciousness of them gives a nobility and
worth to its subject which does not belong to
unconscious matter. Pascal in his own inimitable


way has given expression to this truth : "Man is
a reed, the weakest thing in nature; but he is a
thinking reed. Even if the universe should crush
him he would be more noble than that which killed
him : for he knows that he dies, and he recognizes
the advantage which the universe has over him.
The universe knows nothing of this." We know
the eternal law because we are akin to it.

Conscience foreshadows a higher tribunal than
any found in the present life. It is a part of our
nature, but it is clothed with an authority which is
above the human. This feature is so prominent
as to give it its name : con and scio^ knowing with.
In conscience we know with God. Its voice is so
authoritative and so little under our control that
God seems to speak through it, pronouncing judg-
ments in our hearts.

The decisions of this tribunal are often perverted.
Its judgments are often drowned. Its penalties
never satisfy for crime. It tells us, therefore, of
another tribunal to review and correct its discus-
sions and administer the rewards which it makes
us feel we deserve.

If there is no other tribunal. Nature's method is
unsuccessful. Its court fails to reach all the cases.
Its executioner's arm may be paralyzed and his


voice stilled. The worse the criminal, the greater
the impunity; while the man who strives to live vir-
tuously is lashed and scourged for his smaller of-
fenses. If death ends all, conscience loses its chief
significance and becomes a troublesome factor,
which for the greatest peace of mind we must
restrain within moderate limits.

Conscience reveals to us our moral defects. It
places before us an ideal character and urges us
up toward it. But it testifies that after our most
earnest efforts we fall very far below perfection.
It declares that this imperfection, not like that in
knowledge or physical strength, is guilt. The
consciousness of imperfection and guilt is univer-
sal. Men in all ages have had some means by
which they sought to propitiate the offended
Deity. Human sacrifices, offered in so many
countries and extending down even into the
Christian era in Rome, testify to the deep sense of
sin in the human heart. The growth of civiliza-
tion taught men increasingly better methods;
Christianity points to the sacrifice on Calvary; but
nothing has removed the sense of guilt. Philoso-
phy that taught that sin is only a sense of imper-
fection necessary in the process of evolution, found
no response in the heart. We are so conscious of


guilt that we read with pitying but sympathetic
emotions of the altars of the prehistoric age so
often red with human blood. Life, as a school
fitting us for another stage of being, has a rational
explanation. But if these high ideals and lofty
aspirations are to perish in the grave, and this
sense of guilt is without eternal significance, why
have they been given us? Why reveal to us a
character so far above attainment? Why lash us
with a sense of guilt when we are only imperfect?
Possibly these utterances of conscience have ele-
vated the race, but they have involved immense
losses in feeling to the individual. If the race only
is benefited, instinct would have accomplished the
same end, and the wounded spirits which con-
science creates could have been avoided. If the
individual is not immortal, the race itself must
perish, and the elevation of the race only post-
pones, but by no means relieves the difficulty.
Without a future life where the ideal may be
realized, life is a mystery, and it may well be
asked — Is life worth living?

Conscience points in so many ways to a future
life, that when it is awake it seems to bear imme-
diate testimony. It is not the criminal made sen-
sible of his crimes who has doubts about immortal-


ity, but it is the easy-going, respectable, moral
man who is skeptical. As conscience is soothed we
lose our sense of the relation to the eternal world,
forget the eternal tribunal, and sink into indiffer-
ence; but when some sin has aroused it and it has
resumed its sceptre, we know we are immortal.
We see, as by intuition, that personal character
cannot perish in a grave.


IF there is no future life, all the ends of our exist-
ence must he met in our present life. We need
no knowledge beyond that which is useful for our
physical and social spheres. But the range of the
mind is far wider than simply practical ends require.
All our higher knowledge has only a remote bear-
ing upon utility. We know more of astronomy
than is needed for navigation, of geology than can
be employed in mineralogy, and of mathematics
than can be used in mechanics. If our intellectual
powers have no higher purposes than the brief
period of life on earth requires, they seem to be an
unnecessary expenditure of means. The end could
have been accomplished in a much simpler way.
The bee builds her cell according to principles she
does not understand. The bird finds its way uner-
ringly through the pathless air. The horse will
work his course in a direct line where man would
be lost. Some one has said, "If this life is all, the
human mind is like a huge engine in a fishing





The mind is formed for knowing truth for its
own sake, and the truth we learn here subserves its
highest end in developing the mental powers. De-
velopment, and thus preparation for grasping
higher truth hereafter, seems to be the highest and
best mental attainment possible to us here. The
scientific man is intentionally ignorant of a great
many things that he may busy himself in seeking
other things. What he wants is the activity for
the sake of enlarging his powers. Aristotle said,
"The end of philosophy is not knowledge, but the
energy employed about knowledge." Lessing's
saying in regard to search after truth is well known.
Mere potency is worthless. The philosophic in-
stinct, driving us onward to increasing power that
is to perish in the grave, is absolutely unmeaning.
The development is purely individual, and if the
individual is annihilated all that is lost. The rest-
less effort after self-improvement incidentally
brings out much truth for the benefit of the race,
but the result is not proportionate to the outlay of
energy. There is an immense waste. The thought
of annihilation leaves us with a deep mystery.
But if the mind fits itself by its present activity foi
fruitful labor in another life, the scheme of Provi-
dence seems wise and beneficent.


The field of knowledge is immeasurable. No one
mind can compass all that is known to men. New
fields are being opened, and each field stretches out
indefinitely. To stand among the first in any de-
partment of science it is necessary that one be a
specialist. Two centuries ago a brilliant genius
like Leibnitz might be a master of jurisprudence, a
rival of Newton in mathematics, an equal of Locke
in philosophy, and a great controversalist in the-
ology; but the day has passed when one man can
be an authority in more than one science. What
is known by the greatest is within the range of
human powers, but life is much too short to learn
all. Several thousand years w^ould be necessary to
read even the books of some of the larger libraries.
The past is offering treasures of vast extent in his-
tory and geology. The future has its possibilities
for every science. God is a subject for infinite
study. • We know enough to create an intense de-
sire to know more of His character and works, but
eternity will not reveal the whole to us. The work
of the life time of some men may seem great when
compared with that of other men, but it is exceed-
ing little compared with what one would like to do.
Men are great as measured among themselves, but
they are the veriest pigmies, the greatest of them,


when measured with the expanse of truth which
lies about us. Can it be believed that all we shall
ever know are the few fragments we have been able
to pick up during the leisure moments afforded
amid the struggles to preserve life ?

The brute knows very little more than is neces-
sary to preserve its life and perpetuate its race.
Those capable of domestication may be taught
enough to make them efficient servants of men.
x\ll beyond that is to the lower animals non-existent.
Nature shows its kindness in withholding from
them any intimations of knowledge above their
reach. But man, the noblest of creatures, and in
many respects Nature's favorite, is exalted above
the beasts only to be tantalized if there is no future
life. He is shown alluring prospects, but only to
be mocked. It had been very much kinder to have
kept his conceptions within the range of that which
is attainable. He could have met all the ends of
life with mental powers only a little above the higher
order of animal intelligence, and greater are not
only not needed but make him unhappy. If it had
been the purpose of Nature to make him the object
of cruelty, with so many resources at command,
why did it not make him more miserable ? What
creature in obeying its natural impulses and com-


plying with the laws of its nature brings upon it-
self unnecessary pain? In seeking truth, and in
developing mental powers, there is obedience to
innate impulse and conformity to natural law, but
the reward is pain. If the present is the only life,
Nature has been not only unwise in the choice of
means, but also unkind to her greatest child.

It is much more reasonable to believe that these-
capacities, in common with all the other powers of
our nature, are given for a wise end and reveal.
to us God's purpose. Our appetite and the power
of digestion show that we were intended to take
food. The social instinct and the idea of justice
show us that we were made for society. Our re-
ligious feelings show us that we were created for
worship. Obedience to these instincts has elevated
men; disobedience has always ended in degradation.
The hermit withdrawing from society and denying
himself proper nourishment, if he escaped idiocy,
became a mere caricature of man. Forced celibacy
has resulted in great evils to the individual and
society. Kveii if religion be regarded as a super-
stition, it must be admitted that when the people
have repudiated it they have always paid a terrible
penalty. If these great mental capacities are not
exceptions to the other parts of our nature, they


were given us for another life, where we may con-
tinue our acquisitions of truth.

The imagination gives intimations of a wider
sphere than the world, and thus, in some degree,
the promise of another life. It gilds life, clothing
in beauty the homely affairs of every-day experi-
ence, and imparts variety to what would otherwise
be most wearisome monotony. It widens to us the
realm of the actual. The poet often proves the
forerunner of the philosopher. It creates new
forms higher than any found in nature. The crea-
tions of fiction and poetry and sculpture have made
many additions to the beauty of the world. It
catches visions of brighter and purer things than
any that have been realized in the things about us.
It serves, then, a most valuable purpose in our
present life. But it has higher ends. The world
is too narrow for the exhibition of the possible, and
through the imagination God has enlarged our
horizon, and thus given us a pledge of a higher
sphere than that of the earth. He lifts us up that
we may have gleams of that which ^ill be enjoyed
hereafter. As ultimate, the world is far from being
the best possible, and our imagination only enables
us to realize its imperfections more fully; but as a
place of training for another life, with imagination


to create ideals, it is admirably adapted to its ends.
The use in multiplying the beauties of the world
and making life happier, therefore, is not the sole
end of the imagination. That it meets well a
lower, is no proof whatever that it was not intended

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryLuther A FoxEvidence of a future life : from reason and revelation → online text (page 5 of 19)