William Ralph Inge.

Personal idealism and mysticism online

. (page 8 of 11)
Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 8 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

opponents of absolutism which forbid us to class


them together as forming a single school of
thought; but they have a bond of union in
their hostility to what they call Intellectualism
and in their rejection of the greater part of
Hegel's contribution to philosophy. Indeed, the
reaction against the so-called Panlogism of Hegel,
which (it is said) leaves the will out of account
both in God and man, was the initial motive
force in the " return to Kant."

This reaction has been to a large extent fostered
in the supposed interests of morality and religion.
I think that, without undue optimism, we may
say that there has been a growing belief in
the supreme value of moral and religious truth,
though at the same time some of the foundations
on which it was supposed to rest have been
partly shaken by the progress of knowledge.
In particular, the proof from occasional Divine
intervention has been discredited, while men are
by no means ready to accept the naturalism
which is offered them as the only alternative.
From so awkward a dilemma there seems to
be no escape except by abating to some extent
the claims of the reason to pronounce upon the
higher kinds of truth, and setting up in opposi-
tion to it some other tribunal, which shall have
at least a co-ordinate authority. This tribunal


can be most easily found in the moral sense or
will, though it is quite possible to divest the
" will to live " of any moral character in the
ordinary acceptation of the .word morality, as
has been done by Max Stirner and Nietzsche,
or to regard it as an evil, as in the system of
Schopenhauer. The religious experience has
pronounced quite decisively that mere thinking
does not necessarily lead to the discovery of the
truth, and that our Lord's words, " If any man
willeth to do His will, he shall know of the
doctrine," convey a most valuable warning
against the danger of relying on the specula-
tive intellect alone to bring us to God. The
proper conclusion, that religion must be loth
thought out and lived out, is too often for-
gotten in the heat of polemics, or rejected as
a compromise which strives to reconcile two
incompatible ideals. In this, however, the
pragmatists are false to their own principles.
It is quite true that the affirmations of the
practical and speculative reason, or, as the more
advanced members of the school prefer to say,
the judgments of fact pronounced by the reason
and the judgments of value pronounced by the
will, cannot be fully harmonised. But this
problem is itself an intellectual one. It is an


untenable position to maintain that judgments
of fact and judgments of value are on such
different planes that they can never come into
conflict. We are continually called upon to
adjust our conduct so as to satisfy both claims.
So far as I can see, every judgment that we
make is at once a judgment of fact and a
judgment of value ; we use our intellects to
assign to our values their right place in the
world of fact, as we use our moral sense to
assign to facts their true place in the world of
ethical values. Values that have no place in
the world of fact are not current coin.

It is now generally recognised that religion
cannot be purely rationalistic. A rationalistic
faith would not be, in the higher sense, rational,
because the reason, as distinct from the under-
standing, is bound to take account of all ex-
perience, while rationalism takes account only
of logical processes. Faith may justly quarrel
with reasons, though not with reason. It follows
that religious doctrines claim some other kind
of truth besides that which belongs to scientific
laws or facts. This view of dogma was stated,
too strongly, by Schopenhauer. " Everything
about religion is, truly speaking, mystery. It
is unjust to demand of a religion that it shall


be true setisu proprio, and the rationalists and
supernaturalists are equally absurd, both sup-
posing that religion must be true in this sense
or not at all. . . . The rationalists are honest
people but shallow heads ; they have no notion
of the profound meaning of the New Testament
myth, and cannot get past Jewish optimism, a
thing which they can understand, and which
suits them. They may be compared to the
Euhemerists of antiquity. . . . Christianity is
an allegory which reflects a true idea ; but
allegory is not itself the truth." x

There are many in our day who feel the half-
truth of this view of dogmatic theology. They
are conscious of the value of dogma, not only
to the ignorant masses, for whom it is, as
Schopenhauer says, an indispensable substitute
for philosophy, but for themselves ; and yet
they cannot disguise from themselves the pro-
found difficulty of accepting all the dogmas of
their faith as literal facts in the phenomenal
sphere. The answer of " neutral monism " would,
I suppose, be that the value-judgments of faith
and the fact-judgments of science are parallel and
complementary aspects of a reality which lies
behind them both. But this view makes the

1 Parcrga and Paralipomena, voL ii.


reconciliation a matter of bare faith, and does
nothing to bring it nearer. Moreover, it gives
no guidance in matters of conduct, where we wish
to know whether the judgment of fact or the
judgment of value is the right one for us to
follow. And lastly, those who wish to conform
to the teaching of the Church, and to take their
part without tormenting scruples in the life and
work of the Christian society, do not find the
purely representative value which this theory
attaches to religious symbols enough to satisfy
them. And so they fly for comfort to that
disparagement of the natural order and its
standards of truth which is so often met with
in contemporary apologetics. This new " sacri-
fice of the intellect" meets us, I think, in its
least respectable form in Herrmann, whose
peculiar apologetics we have already discussed.
Since his position obviously leads to pure sub-
jectivism, he " can make no direct answer " to
the charge that religion for him is " the mere
imagination of an energetic subjectivity." He
bids us take confidence in the thought that
" many other hearts " are also answerable for
" the inexplicable audacity of faith." In fact,
this German Protestant takes refuge in the
securus iudicat orbis terrarum of Newman his


orlis being "many other hearts," whose votes
are neither weighed nor counted. He flies to
revelation, which on his principles must be of
a purely external kind, since he is a declared
enemy of anything like mysticism. Such a
position is, as Pfleiderer says, " more prudent
than reasonable," in one who rejects Catholicism.
Roman Catholic apologists can urge this argu-
ment with much greater force, because for them
the historic Church is the vehicle by which
the Holy Ghost reveals the truth to man-
kind. But in this Church the mass of pro-
positions which, purporting to be judgments of
fact, are, it appears, to be understood as judg-
ments of value or representative ideas of faith,
is intolerably large. And it must be seriously
questioned whether such sceptical orthodoxy can
ever be the basis of a living faith, except in a
few unusually constituted minds.

When the office of the reason has been reduced
so far below that of the will and feelings as it is
by this school, it is not surprising that people
doubt whether serious thought is worth the
trouble that it costs. When a man of Pascal's
intellect allows himself to say : " Se moquer de
philosophie, ce soit vraiment philosopher," shall
not the ordinary man, conscious that, " Traiimen


ist leicht, und denken 1st schwer," gladly excuse
himself from thinking ? He may make a pretence
of passing his convictions through the crucible,
but it is a pretence and no more. It is always
tempting, when our synthetic thinking fails to
keep pace with our analytic, to assume that what
is denied to us as individuals must, therefore,
transcend human powers altogether. How much
simpler it is to " give it up," as children say, and
to justify ourselves with such maxims as Pectus
facit theologum, or " The heart has its reasons,
which the intellect knows not of." The so-called
conflict between the head and the heart is
generally a conflict between reflective and un-;
reflective thought, or between reason and pre-
judice. " The heart " is a popular judge, because 1
it decides in favour of the defendant without
hearing the prosecution.

The doctrine that "whatever helps souls is
true " is a very dangerous one if taken as a
practical guide. It is only the healthy appetite
that relishes wholesome fare. The diseased
appetite sometimes derives satisfaction from what
is peculiarly injurious, but the pleasure and
satisfaction which it feels are real. We need a
criterion by which to test our subjective feelings
of what helps us, and this criterion must be their


relation to external reality. Not values simply,
but the relation of values to reality, is what
religion has to determine. The language of
religion is the language of practical life, but its
subject-matter is objective truth. And at the
very heart of religion is the conviction that our
reason is a reflection of the absolute Reason, our
interests identical with those of the great system
of which we are a part. The rational is real,
not assuredly because our thought determines
reality, but because reality determines thought.

If there is any danger of this anti-intellectualism
spreading beyond the sphere of philosophy and
apologetics (I do not know whether there is) the
result must tend towards a petrifaction of the
whole body of knowledge, a state of things which
history records at more periods than one. The
scientific outlook upon the world is cosmocentric ;
that of the pragmatist is essentially anthropo-
centric. But the higher religion must (as even
Hoffding says) be grounded hi " cosmical vital
feeling." Otherwise, it must renounce the hope
of making peace with science. Science has no
quarrel with idealism ; but it can make no terms
with the selfish idealism the provincialism of
thought which makes man and his interests the
measure of all things. As Planck (summarised


by Pfleiderer) says : " The view which apprehends
all things according to their practical bearings,
requires to be supplemented and corrected by
the opposite, the purely scientific view of the
world, or by reflective knowledge of the original
and inwardly necessary conditions of all being.
As the mere will, taken by itself, is selfishly
blind, and only receives by means of thought
a guiding eye and the law of its action, so
humanity has to be trained out of a one-sided
practical attitude to a free and open sense of
the original law and order of all being, which are
based on the very nature of reality." There is
no reason to think that we humans are the only
immortal spirits in the universe, or even that
this planet was created only for our sakes. Such
ideas are obviously mere survivals of a cosmology
which has long been abandoned, or creations of
an overweening arrogance. To go back to them
is not only to condemn ourselves to a distorted
view of the universe, but to forgo a line of
thought which has a great religious value, as
widening our conceptions of God and abasing
our high thoughts about ourselves.

It is difficult, I know, to criticise a one-sided
view without falling into disproportion on the
other side. In pleading for a juster estimate of


the place of intellect in religion, I have no wish
to disparage the part played in it by the will, or
the 88sthetic faculty. Spinoza identifies will and
intellect, and this is better than to separate them
entirely. We are not bound to arrange our
faculties in order of merit, or to derive one from
another. The only reason why the intellect
must, in a sense, hold the highest place is that
it includes the others an intellectual judgment
is the most complete act of the human mind. The
simplest and most rudimentary psychical activity
seems to be pure impulse, in which the agent
neither wills consciously nor thinks. The second
is the stage of will, properly so called, in which we
know what we want, but not why we want it.
The third and highest is the stage of reflection
or intelligence, in which we know the " why " as
well as the " what." Feeling and will are not
absorbed or suppressed in the exercise of our
highest mental activity, but they are disciplined
and controlled by being brought into subjection
to the realities which are outside of and inde-
pendent of our wills. The difference between an
educated and an uneducated man consists chiefly
in this, that the educated man is guided by his
intellect, the uneducated driven up and down
by his wishes and feelings. It is the intellect


which enables us to take the wide world's view
of things. Heraclitus said that those who are
awake have one world, but dreamers have each
a world to himself. Among all the perverse
judgments in Mr. Benjamin Kidd's book, none is
stranger than his thesis that the intellect divides
men, while the will unites them. Reason is
not the private property of the individual, nor
can it exist except as the concomitant of sociality.
" Man would not be rational or human, if he
were isolated," says Fichte quite truly.

This line of argument may bring cold comfort
to those who are perplexed by what seem to
them the irreconcilable contradictions between
science and dogmatic theology. But let us con-
sider the matter in another light. The funda-
mental postulate of religious faith is that no
vakuf, is ever lojt from the world. In whatever
way we envisage the heavenly as opposed to the
earthly, the perfect as opposed to the imperfect,
whether we represent it under the form of time
or place or substance, the eternal and spiritual
world is God's treasure-house of all that shares
in His nature and fulfils His will. The dread
of religion when menaced by criticism, whether
scientific or philosophical, is always lest some of
its values should be invalidated. Science (using


the word in the most comprehensive sense, for
the study of fact, of whatever kind) is bound
to set this consideration on one side, or rather it
knows only one value, namely, truth. " It is
quite true," says A. E. Taylor, "that logic is not
the only game at which it interests mankind to
play ; but when you have once sat down to the
game, you must play it according to its own
rules, and not those of some other. If you
neglect this caution, you will most likely produce
something which is neither sound metaphysics
nor sound ethics." Religion cannot accept as ab-
solutely true any system in which the demands
of the moral consciousness remain unsatisfied,
and it has a right to point out that this
or that generalisation based on scientific know-
ledge does not satisfy the moral sense. But
to do this is to state a problem, not to solve it.
The business of religion is, as I have said, not
with values apart from facts, nor with facts apart
from values, but with the relation between them ;
and it proceeds on the conviction that whatever
is real is rational and good. The critical under-
standing cannot invalidate values, but only the
forms in which they are enshrined, compelling
a fresh presentation of them. When religious
values are stated and interpreted in terms of fact,


the critical understanding has the right to be
heard. And similarly, the moral sense has the
right to overhaul naturalistic ethics, though not
naturalistic physics. It is plain, therefore, that
no critical results can touch religious values, but
only the casket in which they are enshrined.
Whatever has value in God's sight is safe for
evermore; and we are safe in so far as we attach
ourselves to what is precious in His eyes.

In mystical theology, as I have said, we are
often exhorted to get rid of the will altogether
by laying it at the feet of God. " Those who
accept all that the Lord sends as the very best,"
says Eckhart, "remain always in perfect peace,
for in them God's will has become their will.
This is incomparably better than for our will to
become God's will."

Nothing can be more dangerous, if we may
trust these experienced guides in the spiritual
life, than to seek only satisfaction in religion, or
to choose those doctrines and practices which
give us most comfort, and suit our own idio-
syncrasy best. When Suso asked a holy man,
who came to him in a vision after his death,
what religious exercise was at once the most
painful and the most efficacious, he was told that
no discipline is so sharp or so valuable as to be


forsaken of God; for then a man gives up his
own will, and submits, in obedience to the will of
God, to be robbed even of his God. From the
mystical point of view, this entire suppression of
our wills is not the beginning of an aimless
drifting, but the very contrary. For he who has
given up his own will becomes the instrument of
God's will, he becomes (as Eckhart says) to God
what a man's hand is to a man. Those who
adopt a rigid theory of personality cannot think
of the matter in this way. The utmost to which
they can aspire is, it would seem, a complete
ethical harmony between God's will and our own-
But this is not the experience which the saints
have described for us; and it would not satisfy
them at all. There is no room in the universe
for more than one will, existing in its own right.
Our approach to the likeness of God is not an
approximation to a copy of God. It is rather a
transmutation of our personality into a state in
which God can think and will and act freely
through us, unimpeded by any wilfulness on our
part. No doubt it is the same experience which
is described by one Christian as a surrender of
his will to God, and by another as a vigorous
assertion of his will as a worker or combatant on
God's side. But one description may be more


correct than the other; and there can be no
doubt that it is the former which best corre-
sponds with what the saints have told us about
their own experiences. If they allow the human
will any independent action, it is in the simple
will towards sanctification, which, as St. Paul
says, is " the will of God." In this sense Ruys-
broek says, " Ye are as holy as ye truly will to be
holy." But this must be taken in connection
with other passages, in which the writer incul-
cates the complete surrender of the will. The
essential point is that the motive power is not in
ourselves. We cannot even will to please God
without the help of His will. The experiences of
the saints, as recorded by themselves, offer no
support to a voluntaristic psychology of religion.
"No age of the world was ever strong, except
when faith and reason went hand in hand, and
when man's practical ideals were also his surest
truths." l Faith and reason both claim jurisdiction
over man's whole nature, and therefore no de-
limitation of territory between them is possible-
The present distrust of thought as a way to
religious truth must be a transitory phase. The
spirit of the age, as I have said, is against it.
This is a positive, constructive age; we are in

1 Professor H. Jones, in Hibbert Journal, January 1903.



earnest about our religion, but we are in earnest
about our science too. We are not likely to
abandon the right to seek God's truth in external
nature, nor our hope of finding it. We are not
likely to abandon the great discovery of the
nineteenth century, the close relationship of
human life with all other life in the universe,
and the resulting cosmocentric view of reality.
We are not likely to rest content with Lotze's
theory of a world of human spirits, independent
enough to produce even " surprises for God," as
Professor James suggests, in the midst of a world
which has no real existence and no real signifi-
cance. Of all ways of " cutting the world in two
with a hatchet," this attempt to separate man from
his environment is surely the most unsatisfactory.
It only seems possible because we have not yet
fully realised all the implications of the great
scientific discoveries in the last century. It
takes a very long time for a great discovery to
produce all the readjustments which it ulti-
mately makes inevitable. It may be doubted
whether even Galileo's discovery has yet been
fully assimilated in popular theology or in ordi-
nary thought. If so, it may be a long time yet
before it is realised that any philosophical or
religious theory which separates man from nature


which draws an impassable line anywhere
across the field of existence, whether the line
be drawn at self- consciousness or consciousness,
or anywhere else is untenable. Even the dis-
tinction between living and dead matter, with
which Drummond makes so much play in his
clever attempt to find Calvinism in biology, is
now felt to be of very dubious validity. It is,
I believe, mainly because many are unwilling to
accept this conclusion, preferring to kick against
the pricks in the hope of escaping from it, that
this theory of an irreducible dualism betAveen
value and existence is just now so popular.

For my own part, I cannot see that Christi-
anity, or any spiritual religion, is threatened by
the adoption of a cosmocentric view of reality.
It no doubt commits us to the doctrine, which
has from time to time been maintained in the
Church, that if there are any other spiritual
beings in the universe besides ourselves and
there is an overwhelming probability that there
are many Christ must redeem them as He has
redeemed mankind. It also lends a new force
to the " hope " which even St. Paul, with his
limited knowledge of nature's secrets, enter-
tained : that " the creation may one day be
delivered from the bondage of corruption into


the glorious liberty of the sons of God." In so
far as organisms less highly endowed than our
own partake of life and spirit, they can hardly be
excluded from the sphere of values which we
believe to be indestructible. I believe that the
doctrine that Nature is in various degrees ani-
mated and spiritual throughout, is destined to
gain ground. It is viewed favourably by Lotze,
who, however, fails completely to reconcile it
with his doctrine of personality, and is defended
more consistently by Fechner, whose Tagesansickt
and Zcndavesta deserve to be much better known
to English readers than they are. It is the
logical development of the Logos-doctrine of the
Alexandrians on its cosmological side.

Christian eschatology is not disturbed by this
theory more than it has already been disturbed
by the destruction of the geocentric hypothesis.
We must frankly admit that much of our tradi-
tional language about heaven and hell was taken
over from prse-Christian beliefs, and has now only
a symbolic value. The ancient picture of the
world, as a three-storeyed structure, is accepted
in words both in the Old and New Testament ;
and has manifestly affected such descriptions as
that of the Ascension and the Second Coming of
Christ. Of course, it was recognised, even in


antiquity, by thoughtful persons that such ex-
pressions as above and beneath, heaven and earth,
were metaphors ; just as Plato in the seventh
book of the Republic says : " It makes no differ-
ence whether a person stares stupidly at the sky,
or down upon the ground. So long as his
attention is directed to objects of sense, his soul
is looking downwards, not upwards." For a long
time the local and spatial symbols were regarded
as literally true, concurrently with the spiritual
doctrine that God is everywhere, and heaven
wherever He is. St. Augustine did much to
legitimise the spiritual doctrine, which is no
afterthought, no explaining away of dogmatic
truth. " God," he says, " is present everywhere
in His entirety, and yet is nowhere (ulique totus
d nusquam locorum}. He dwells in the depths
of my being, more inward than my innermost
self, and higher than my highest (interior intimo
meo, superior summo meo). He is above my soul,
but not in the same way in which the heaven is
above the earth." So the scholastic mystics say
that God has His centre everywhere, His circum-
ference nowhere. Abelard says that though the
Ascension of Christ was a literal fact, we are not

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 8 of 11)