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Title: Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy - Five Essays
Author: Santayana, George, 1863-1952
Language: English
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_Five Essays_




Published under the auspices of



I. Locke and the Frontiers of Common Sense                      page 1

Paper read before the Royal Society of Literature on the
occasion of the Tercentenary of the birth of John Locke.
With some Supplementary Notes

II. Fifty Years of British Idealism                                 48

Reflections on the republication of Bradley's _Ethical Studies_

III. Revolutions in Science                                         71

Some Comments on the Theory of Relativity and the new Physics

IV. A Long Way Round to Nirvana                                     87

Development of a suggestion found in Freud's _Beyond the
Pleasure Principle_

V. The Prestige of the Infinite                                    102

A review of Julien Benda's _Sketch of a consistent theory of
the relations between God and the World_

The Author's acknowledgments are due to the Editors of _The New Adelphi_,
_The Dial_, and the _Journal of Philosophy_, in which one or more of these
Essays originally appeared.



A good portrait of Locke would require an elaborate background. His is not
a figure to stand statuesquely in a void: the pose might not seem grand
enough for bronze or marble. Rather he should be painted in the manner of
the Dutch masters, in a sunny interior, scrupulously furnished with all
the implements of domestic comfort and philosophic enquiry: the Holy Bible
open majestically before him, and beside it that other revelation--the
terrestrial globe. His hand might be pointing to a microscope set for
examining the internal constitution of a beetle: but for the moment his
eye should be seen wandering through the open window, to admire the
blessings of thrift and liberty manifest in the people so worthily busy in
the market-place, wrong as many a monkish notion might be that still
troubled their poor heads. From them his enlarged thoughts would easily
pass to the stout carved ships in the river beyond, intrepidly setting
sail for the Indies, or for savage America. Yes, he too had travelled, and
not only in thought. He knew how many strange nations and false religions
lodged in this round earth, itself but a speck in the universe. There were
few ingenious authors that he had not perused, or philosophical
instruments that he had not, as far as possible, examined and tested; and
no man better than he could understand and prize the recent discoveries of
"the incomparable Mr Newton". Nevertheless, a certain uneasiness in that
spare frame, a certain knitting of the brows in that aquiline countenance,
would suggest that in the midst of their earnest eloquence the
philosopher's thoughts might sometimes come to a stand. Indeed, the
visible scene did not exhaust the complexity of his problem; for there was
also what he called "the scene of ideas", immaterial and private, but
often more crowded and pressing than the public scene. Locke was the
father of modern psychology, and the birth of this airy monster, this
half-natural changeling, was not altogether easy or fortunate.[2]

I wish my erudition allowed me to fill in this picture as the subject
deserves, and to trace home the sources of Locke's opinions, and their
immense influence. Unfortunately, I can consider him--what is hardly
fair--only as a pure philosopher: for had Locke's mind been more profound,
it might have been less influential. He was in sympathy with the coming
age, and was able to guide it: an age that confided in easy, eloquent
reasoning, and proposed to be saved, in this world and the next, with as
little philosophy and as little religion as possible. Locke played in the
eighteenth century very much the part that fell to Kant in the nineteenth.
When quarrelled with, no less than when embraced, his opinions became a
point of departure for universal developments. The more we look into the
matter, the more we are impressed by the patriarchal dignity of Locke's
mind. Father of psychology, father of the criticism of knowledge, father
of theoretical liberalism, god-father at least of the American political
system, of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedia, at home he was the ancestor of
that whole school of polite moderate opinion which can unite liberal
Christianity with mechanical science and with psychological idealism. He
was invincibly rooted in a prudential morality, in a rationalised
Protestantism, in respect for liberty and law: above all he was deeply
convinced, as he puts it, "that the handsome conveniences of life are
better than nasty penury". Locke still speaks, or spoke until lately,
through many a modern mind, when this mind was most sincere; and two
hundred years before Queen Victoria he was a Victorian in essence.

A chief element in this modernness of Locke was something that had hardly
appeared before in pure philosophy, although common in religion: I mean,
the tendency to deny one's own presuppositions--not by accident or
inadvertently, but proudly and with an air of triumph. Presuppositions are
imposed on all of us by life itself: for instance the presupposition that
life is to continue, and that it is worth living. Belief is born on the
wing and awakes to many tacit commitments. Afterwards, in reflection, we
may wonder at finding these presuppositions on our hands and, being
ignorant of the natural causes which have imposed them on the animal mind,
we may be offended at them. Their arbitrary and dogmatic character will
tempt us to condemn them, and to take for granted that the analysis which
undermines them is justified, and will prove fruitful. But this critical
assurance in its turn seems to rely on a dubious presupposition, namely,
that human opinion must always evolve in a single line, dialectically,
providentially, and irresistibly. It is at least conceivable that the
opposite should sometimes be the case. Some of the primitive
presuppositions of human reason might have been correct and inevitable,
whilst the tendency to deny them might have sprung from a plausible
misunderstanding, or the exaggeration of a half-truth: so that the
critical opinion itself, after destroying the spontaneous assumptions on
which it rested, might be incapable of subsisting.

In Locke the central presuppositions, which he embraced heartily and
without question, were those of common sense. He adopted what he calls a
"plain, historical method", fit, in his own words, "to be brought into
well-bred company and polite conversation". Men, "barely by the use of
their natural faculties", might attain to all the knowledge possible or
worth having. All children, he writes, "that are born into this world,
being surrounded with bodies that perpetually and diversely affect them"
have "a variety of ideas imprinted" on their minds. "External material
things as objects of Sensation, and the operations of our own minds as
objects of Reflection, are to me", he continues, "the only originals from
which all our ideas take their beginnings." "Every act of sensation", he
writes elsewhere, "when duly considered, gives us an equal view of both
parts of nature, the corporeal and the spiritual. For whilst I know, by
seeing or hearing,... that there is some corporeal being without me, the
object of that sensation, I do more certainly know that there is some
spiritual being within me that sees and hears."

Resting on these clear perceptions, the natural philosophy of Locke falls
into two parts, one strictly physical and scientific, the other critical
and psychological. In respect to the composition of matter, Locke accepted
the most advanced theory of his day, which happened to be a very old one:
the theory of Democritus that the material universe contains nothing but a
multitude of solid atoms coursing through infinite space: but Locke added
a religious note to this materialism by suggesting that infinite space, in
its sublimity, must be an attribute of God. He also believed what few
materialists would venture to assert, that if we could thoroughly examine
the cosmic mechanism we should see the demonstrable necessity of every
complication that ensues, even of the existence and character of mind: for
it was no harder for God to endow matter with the power of thinking than
to endow it with the power of moving.

In the atomic theory we have a graphic image asserted to describe
accurately, or even exhaustively, the intrinsic constitution of things, or
their primary qualities. Perhaps, in so far as physical hypotheses must
remain graphic at all, it is an inevitable theory. It was first suggested
by the wearing out and dissolution of all material objects, and by the
specks of dust floating in a sunbeam; and it is confirmed, on an enlarged
scale, by the stellar universe as conceived by modern astronomy. When
today we talk of nuclei and electrons, if we imagine them at all, we
imagine them as atoms. But it is all a picture, prophesying what we might
see through a sufficiently powerful microscope; the important
philosophical question is the one raised by the other half of Locke's
natural philosophy, by optics and the general criticism of perception. How
far, if at all, may we trust the images in our minds to reveal the nature
of external things?

On this point the doctrine of Locke, through Descartes,[3] was also
derived from Democritus. It was that all the sensible qualities of things,
except position, shape, solidity, number and motion, were only ideas in
us, projected and falsely regarded as lodged in things. In the things,
these imputed or secondary qualities were simply powers, inherent in their
atomic constitution, and calculated to excite sensations of that character
in our bodies. This doctrine is readily established by Locke's plain
historical method, when applied to the study of rainbows, mirrors, effects
of perspective, dreams, jaundice, madness, and the will to believe: all of
which go to convince us that the ideas which we impulsively assume to be
qualities of objects are always, in their seat and origin, evolved in our
own heads.

These two parts of Locke's natural philosophy, however, are not in perfect
equilibrium. _All_ the feelings and ideas of an animal must be equally
conditioned by his organs and passions,[4] and he cannot be aware of what
goes on beyond him, except as it affects his own life.[5] How then could
Locke, or could Democritus, suppose that his ideas of space and atoms were
less human, less graphic, summary, and symbolic, than his sensations of
sound or colour? The language of science, no less than that of sense,
should have been recognised to be a human language; and the nature of
anything existent collateral with ourselves, be that collateral existence
material or mental, should have been confessed to be a subject for faith
and for hypothesis, never, by any possibility, for absolute or direct

There is no occasion to take alarm at this doctrine as if it condemned us
to solitary confinement, and to ignorance of the world in which we live.
We see and know the world through our eyes and our intelligence, in visual
and in intellectual terms: how else should a world be seen or known which
is not the figment of a dream, but a collateral power, pressing and alien?
In the cognisance which an animal may take of his surroundings--and surely
all animals take such cognisance--the subjective and moral character of
his feelings, on finding himself so surrounded, does not destroy their
cognitive value. These feelings, as Locke says, are signs: to take them
for signs is the essence of intelligence. Animals that are sensitive
physically are also sensitive morally, and feel the friendliness or
hostility which surrounds them. Even pain and pleasure are no idle
sensations, satisfied with their own presence: they violently summon
attention to the objects that are their source. Can love or hate be felt
without being felt towards something--something near and potent, yet
external, uncontrolled, and mysterious? When I dodge a missile or pick a
berry, is it likely that my mind should stop to dwell on its pure
sensations or ideas without recognising or pursuing something material?
Analytic reflection often ignores the essential energy of mind, which is
originally more intelligent than sensuous, more appetitive and dogmatic
than aesthetic. But the feelings and ideas of an active animal cannot help
uniting internal moral intensity with external physical reference; and the
natural conditions of sensibility require that perceptions should owe
their existence and quality to the living organism with its moral bias,
and that at the same time they should be addressed to the external objects
which entice that organism or threaten it.

All ambitions must be defeated when they ask for the impossible. The
ambition to know is not an exception; and certainly our perceptions cannot
tell us how the world would look if nobody saw it, or how valuable it
would be if nobody cared for it. But our perceptions, as Locke again said,
are sufficient for our welfare and appropriate to our condition. They are
not only a wonderful entertainment in themselves, but apart from their
sensuous and grammatical quality, by their distribution and method of
variation, they may inform us most exactly about the order and mechanism
of nature. We see in the science of today how completely the most accurate
knowledge--proved to be accurate by its application in the arts--may shed
every pictorial element, and the whole language of experience, to become a
pure method of calculation and control. And by a pleasant compensation,
our aesthetic life may become freer, more self-sufficing, more humbly
happy in itself: and without trespassing in any way beyond the modesty of
nature, we may consent to be like little children, chirping our human
note; since the life of reason in us may well become science in its
validity, whilst remaining poetry in its texture.

I think, then, that by a slight re-arrangement of Locke's pronouncements
in natural philosophy, they could be made inwardly consistent, and still
faithful to the first presuppositions of common sense, although certainly
far more chastened and sceptical than impulsive opinion is likely to be
in the first instance.

There were other presuppositions in the philosophy of Locke besides his
fundamental naturalism; and in his private mind probably the most
important was his Christian faith, which was not only confident and
sincere, but prompted him at times to high speculation. He had friends
among the Cambridge Platonists, and he found in Newton a brilliant example
of scientific rigour capped with mystical insights. Yet if we consider
Locke's philosophical position in the abstract, his Christianity almost
disappears. In form his theology and ethics were strictly rationalistic;
yet one who was a Deist in philosophy might remain a Christian in
religion. There was no great harm in a special revelation, provided it
were simple and short, and left the broad field of truth open in almost
every direction to free and personal investigation. A free man and a good
man would certainly never admit, as coming from God, any doctrine contrary
to his private reason or political interest; and the moral precepts
actually vouchsafed to us in the Gospels were most acceptable, seeing
that they added a sublime eloquence to maxims which sound reason would
have arrived at in any case.

Evidently common sense had nothing to fear from religious faith of this
character; but the matter could not end there. Common sense is not more
convinced of anything than of the difference between good and evil,
advantage and disaster; and it cannot dispense with a moral interpretation
of the universe. Socrates, who spoke initially for common sense, even
thought the moral interpretation of existence the whole of philosophy. He
would not have seen anything comic in the satire of Molière making his
chorus of young doctors chant in unison that opium causes sleep because it
has a dormitive virtue. The virtues or moral uses of things, according to
Socrates, were the reason why the things had been created and were what
they were; the admirable virtues of opium defined its perfection, and the
perfection of a thing was the full manifestation of its deepest nature.
Doubtless this moral interpretation of the universe had been overdone, and
it had been a capital error in Socrates to make that interpretation
exclusive and to substitute it for natural philosophy. Locke, who was
himself a medical man, knew what a black cloak for ignorance and villainy
Scholastic verbiage might be in that profession. He also knew, being an
enthusiast for experimental science, that in order to control the movement
of matter--which is to realise those virtues and perfections--it is better
to trace the movement of matter materialistically; for it is in the act of
manifesting its own powers, and not, as Socrates and the Scholastics
fancied, by obeying a foreign magic, that matter sometimes assumes or
restores the forms so precious in the healer's or the moralist's eyes. At
the same time, the manner in which the moral world rests upon the natural,
though divined, perhaps, by a few philosophers, has not been generally
understood; and Locke, whose broad humanity could not exclude the moral
interpretation of nature, was driven in the end to the view of Socrates.
He seriously invoked the Scholastic maxim that nothing can produce that
which it does not contain. For this reason the unconscious, after all,
could never have given rise to consciousness. Observation and experiment
could not be allowed to decide this point: the moral interpretation of
things, because more deeply rooted in human experience, must envelop the
physical interpretation, and must have the last word.

It was characteristic of Locke's simplicity and intensity that he retained
these insulated sympathies in various quarters. A further instance of his
many-sidedness was his fidelity to pure intuition, his respect for the
infallible revelation of ideal being, such as we have of sensible
qualities or of mathematical relations. In dreams and in hallucinations
appearances may deceive us, and the objects we think we see may not exist
at all. Yet in suffering an illusion we must entertain an idea; and the
manifest character of these ideas is that of which alone, Locke thinks, we
can have certain "knowledge".

     "These", he writes, "are two very different things and carefully to
     be distinguished: it being one thing to perceive and know the idea
     of white or black, and quite another to examine what kind of
     particles they must be, and how arranged ... to make any object
     appear white or black." "A man infallibly knows, as soon as ever he
     has them in his mind, that the ideas he calls white and round are
     the very ideas they are, and that they are not other ideas which he
     calls red or square.... This ... the mind ... always perceives at
     first sight; and if ever there happen any doubt about it, it will
     always be found to be about the names and not the ideas

This sounds like high Platonic doctrine for a philosopher of the Left; but
Locke's utilitarian temper very soon reasserted itself in this subject.
Mathematical ideas were not only lucid but true: and he demanded this
truth, which he called "reality", of all ideas worthy of consideration:
mere ideas would be worthless. Very likely he forgot, in his philosophic
puritanism, that fiction and music might have an intrinsic charm. Where
the frontier of human wisdom should be drawn in this direction was clearly
indicated, in Locke's day, by Spinoza, who says:

     "If, in keeping non-existent things present to the imagination, the
     mind were at the same time aware that those things did not exist,
     surely it would regard this gift of imagination as a virtue in its
     own constitution, not as a vice: especially if such an imaginative
     faculty depended on nothing except the mind's own nature: that is
     to say, if this mental faculty of imagination were free".

But Locke had not so firm a hold on truth that he could afford to play
with fancy; and as he pushed forward the claims of human jurisdiction
rather too far in physics, by assuming the current science to be literally
true, so, in the realm of imagination, he retrenched somewhat illiberally
our legitimate possessions. Strange that as modern philosophy transfers
the visible wealth of nature more and more to the mind, the mind should
seem to lose courage and to become ashamed of its own fertility. The
hard-pressed natural man will not indulge his imagination unless it poses
for truth; and being half aware of this imposition, he is more troubled at
the thought of being deceived than at the fact of being mechanised or
being bored: and he would wish to escape imagination altogether. A good
God, he murmurs, could not have made us poets against our will.

Against his will, however, Locke was drawn to enlarge the subjective
sphere. The actual existence of mind was evident: you had only to notice
the fact that you were thinking. Conscious mind, being thus known to
exist directly and independently of the body, was a primary constituent of
reality: it was a fact on its own account.[6] Common sense seemed to
testify to this, not only when confronted with the "I think, therefore I
am" of Descartes, but whenever a thought produced an action. Since mind
and body interacted,[7] each must be as real as the other and, as it were,
on the same plane of being. Locke, like a good Protestant, felt the right
of the conscious inner man to assert himself: and when he looked into his
own mind, he found nothing to define this mind except the ideas which
occupied it. The existence which he was so sure of in himself was
therefore the existence of his ideas.

Here, by an insensible shift in the meaning of the word "idea", a
momentous revolution had taken place in psychology. Ideas had originally
meant objective terms distinguished in thought-images, qualities,
concepts, propositions. But now ideas began to mean living thoughts,
moments or states of consciousness. They became atoms of mind,
constituents of experience, very much as material atoms were conceived to
be constituents of natural objects. Sensations became the only objects of
sensation, and ideas the only objects of ideas; so that the material world
was rendered superfluous, and the only scientific problem was now to
construct a universe in terms of analytic psychology. Locke himself did
not go so far, and continued to assign physical causes and physical
objects to some, at least, of his mental units; and indeed sensations and
ideas could not very well have other than physical causes, the existence
of which this new psychology was soon to deny: so that about the origin of
its data it was afterwards compelled to preserve a discreet silence. But
as to their combinations and reappearances, it was able to invoke the
principle of association: a thread on which many shrewd observations may
be strung, but which also, when pressed, appears to be nothing but a
verbal mask for organic habits in matter.

The fact is that there are two sorts of unobjectionable psychology,
neither of which describes a mechanism of disembodied mental states, such
as the followers of Locke developed into modern idealism, to the
confusion of common sense.[8] One unobjectionable sort of psychology is
biological, and studies life from the outside. The other sort, relying on
memory and dramatic imagination, reproduces life from the inside, and is
literary. If the literary psychologist is a man of genius, by the
clearness and range of his memory, by quickness of sympathy and power of
suggestion, he may come very near to the truth of experience, as it has
been or might be unrolled in a human being.[9] The ideas with which Locke
operates are simply high lights picked out by attention in this nebulous
continuum, and identified by names. Ideas, in the original ideal sense of
the word, are indeed the only definite terms which attention can
discriminate and rest upon; but the unity of these units is specious, not
existential. If ideas were not logical or aesthetic essences but
self-subsisting feelings, each knowing itself, they would be insulated for
ever; no spirit could ever survey, recognise, or compare them; and mind
would have disappeared in the analysis of mind.

These considerations might enable us, I think, to mark the just frontier
of common sense even in this debatable land of psychology. All that is
biological, observable, and documentary in psychology falls within the
lines of physical science and offers no difficulty in principle. Nor need
literary psychology form a dangerous salient in the circuit of nature. The
dramatic poet or dramatic historian necessarily retains the presupposition
of a material world, since beyond his personal memory (and even within it)
he has nothing to stimulate and control his dramatic imagination save
knowledge of the material circumstances in which people live, and of the
material expression in action or words which they give to their feelings.
His moral insight simply vivifies the scene that nature and the sciences
of nature spread out before him: they tell him what has happened, and his
heart tells him what has been felt. Only literature can describe
experience for the excellent reason that the terms of experience are moral
and literary from the beginning. Mind is incorrigibly poetical: not
because it is not attentive to material facts and practical exigencies,
but because, being intensely attentive to them, it turns them into
pleasures and pains, and into many-coloured ideas. Yet at every turn there
is a possibility and an occasion for transmuting this poetry into science,
because ideas and emotions, being caused by material events, refer to
these events, and record their order.

All philosophies are frail, in that they are products of the human mind,
in which everything is essentially reactive, spontaneous, and volatile:
but as in passion and in language, so in philosophy, there are certain
comparatively steady and hereditary principles, forming a sort of orthodox
reason, which is or which may become the current grammar of mankind. Of
philosophers who are orthodox in this sense, only the earliest or the most
powerful, an Aristotle or a Spinoza, need to be remembered, in that they
stamp their language and temper upon human reason itself. The rest of the
orthodox are justly lost in the crowd and relegated to the chorus. The
frailty of heretical philosophers is more conspicuous and interesting: it
makes up the _chronique scandaleuse_ of the mind, or the history of
philosophy. Locke belongs to both camps: he was restive in his orthodoxy
and timid in his heresies; and like so many other initiators of
revolutions, he would be dismayed at the result of his work. In intention
Locke occupied an almost normal philosophic position, rendered precarious
not by what was traditional in it, like the categories of substance and
power, but rather by certain incidental errors--notably by admitting an
experience independent of bodily life, yet compounded and evolving in a
mechanical fashion. But I do not find in him a prickly nest of obsolete
notions and contradictions from which, fledged at last, we have flown to
our present enlightenment. In his person, in his temper, in his
allegiances and hopes, he was the prototype of a race of philosophers
native and dominant among people of English speech, if not in academic
circles, at least in the national mind. If we make allowance for a greater
personal subtlety, and for the diffidence and perplexity inevitable in the
present moral anarchy of the world, we may find this same Lockian
eclecticism and prudence in the late Lord Balfour: and I have myself had
the advantage of being the pupil of a gifted successor and, in many ways,
emulator, of Locke, I mean William James. So great, at bottom, does their
spiritual kinship seem to me to be, that I can hardly conceive Locke
vividly without seeing him as a sort of William James of the seventeenth
century. And who of you has not known some other spontaneous, inquisitive,
unsettled genius, no less preoccupied with the marvellous intelligence of
some Brazilian parrot, than with the sad obstinacy of some Bishop of
Worcester? Here is eternal freshness of conviction and ardour for reform;
great keenness of perception in spots, and in other spots lacunae and
impulsive judgments; distrust of tradition, of words, of constructive
argument; horror of vested interests and of their smooth defenders; a love
of navigating alone and exploring for oneself even the coasts already well
charted by others. Here is romanticism united with a scientific conscience
and power of destructive analysis balanced by moral enthusiasm. Doubtless
Locke might have dug his foundations deeper and integrated his faith
better. His system was no metaphysical castle, no theological acropolis:
rather a homely ancestral manor house built in several styles of
architecture: a Tudor chapel, a Palladian front toward the new
geometrical garden, a Jacobean parlour for political consultation and
learned disputes, and even--since we are almost in the eighteenth
century--a Chinese cabinet full of curios. It was a habitable philosophy,
and not too inharmonious. There was no greater incongruity in its parts
than in the gentle variations of English weather or in the qualified moods
and insights of a civilised mind. Impoverished as we are, morally and
humanly, we can no longer live in such a rambling mansion. It has become a
national monument. On the days when it is open we revisit it with
admiration; and those chambers and garden walks re-echo to us the clear
dogmas and savoury diction of the sage--omnivorous, artless,
loquacious--whose dwelling it was.

[1] Paper read before the Royal Society of Literature on the occasion of
the Tercentenary of the birth of John Locke.

[2] See note I, p. 26.

[3] See note II, p. 29.

[4] See note III, p. 35.

[5] See note IV, p. 36.

[6] See note V, p. 37.

[7] See note VI, p. 39.

[8] See note VII, p. 43.

[9] See note VIII, p. 46.



Page 3. _This airy monster, this half-natural changeling._

Monsters and changelings were pointed to by Locke with a certain
controversial relish: they proved that nature was not compressed or
compressible within Aristotelian genera and species, but was a free
mechanism subject to indefinite change. Mechanism in physics is favourable
to liberty in politics and morals: each creature has a right to be what it
spontaneously is, and not what some previous classification alleges that
it ought to have been. The Protestant and revolutionary independence of
Locke's mind here gives us a foretaste of Darwin and even of Nietzsche.
But Locke was moderate even in his radicalisms. A human nature totally
fluid would of itself have proved anarchical; but in order to stem that
natural anarchy it was fortunately possible to invoke the conditions of
prosperity and happiness strictly laid down by the Creator. The
improvidence and naughtiness of nature was called to book at every turn by
the pleasures and pains divinely appended to things enjoined and to things
forbidden, and ultimately by hell and by heaven. Yet if rewards and
punishments were attached to human action and feeling in this perfectly
external and arbitrary fashion, whilst the feelings and actions
spontaneous in mankind counted for nothing in the rule of morals and of
wisdom, we should be living under the most cruel and artificial of
tyrannies; and it would not be long before the authority of such a code
would be called in question and the reality of those arbitrary rewards and
punishments would be denied, both for this world and for any other. In a
truly rational morality moral sanctions would have to vary with the
variation of species, each new race or individual or mode of feeling
finding its natural joy in a new way of life. The monsters would not be
monsters except to rustic prejudice, and the changelings would be simply
experiments in creation. The glee of Locke in seeing nature elude
scholastic conventions would then lose its savour, since those staid
conventions themselves would have become obsolete. Nature would henceforth
present nothing but pervasive metamorphosis, irresponsible and endless. To
correct the weariness of such pure flux we might indeed invoke the idea of
a progress or evolution towards something always higher and better; but
this idea simply reinstates, under a temporal form, the dominance of a
specific standard, to which nature is asked to conform. Genera and species
might shift and glide into one another at will, but always in the
authorised direction. If, on the contrary, transformation had no
predetermined direction, we should be driven back, for a moral principle,
to each of the particular types of life generated on the way: as in
estimating the correctness or beauty of language we appeal to the speech
and genius of each nation at each epoch, without imposing the grammar of
one language or age upon another. It is only in so far as, in the midst of
the flux, certain tropes become organised and recurrent, that any
interests or beauties can be transmitted from moment to moment or from
generation to generation. Physical integration is a prerequisite to moral
integrity; and unless an individual or a species is sufficiently organised
and determinate to aspire to a distinguishable form of life, eschewing all
others, that individual or species can bear no significant name, can
achieve no progress, and can approach no beauty or perfection.

Thus, so long as in a fluid world there is some measure of life and
organisation, monsters and changelings will always remain possible
physically and regrettable morally. Small deviations from the chosen type
or the chosen direction of progress will continue to be called morbid and
ugly, and great deviations or reversals will continue to be called
monstrous. This is but the seamy side of that spontaneous predilection,
grounded in our deepest nature, by which we recognise beauty and nobleness
at first sight, with immense refreshment and perfect certitude.


Page 8. _Through Descartes._

Very characteristic was the tireless polemic which Locke carried on
against Descartes. The outraged plain facts had to be defended against
sweeping and arbitrary theories. There were no innate ideas or maxims:
children were not born murmuring that things equal to the same thing were
equal to one another: and an urchin knew that pain was caused by the
paternal slipper before he reflected philosophically that everything must
have a cause. Again, extension was not the essence of matter, which must
be solid as well, to be distinguishable from empty space. Finally,
thinking was not the essence of the soul: a man, without dying, might lose
consciousness: this often happened, or at least could not be prevented
from happening by a definition framed by a French philosopher. These
protests were evidently justified by common sense: yet they missed the
speculative radicalism and depth of the Cartesian doctrines, which had
struck the keynotes of all modern philosophy and science: for they
assumed, for the first time in history, the transcendental point of view.
No wonder that Locke could not do justice to this great novelty: Descartes
himself did not do so, but ignored his subjective first principles in the
development of his system; and it was not until adopted by Kant, or rather
by Fichte, that the transcendental method showed its true colours. Even
today philosophers fumble with it, patching soliloquy with physics and
physics with soliloquy. Moreover, Locke's misunderstandings of Descartes
were partly justified by the latter's verbal concessions to tradition and
authority. A man who has a clear head, and like Descartes is rendered by
his aristocratic pride both courteous and disdainful, may readily conform
to usage in his language, and even in his personal sentiments, without
taking either too seriously: he is not struggling to free his own mind,
which is free already, nor very hopeful of freeing that of most people.
The innate ideas were not explicit thoughts but categories employed
unwittingly, as people in speaking conform to the grammar of the
vernacular without being aware that they do so. As for extension being the
essence of matter, since matter existed and was a substance, it would
always have been more than its essence: a sort of ether the parts of which
might move and might have different and calculable dynamic values. The
gist of this definition of matter was to clear the decks for scientific
calculation, by removing from nature the moral density and moral magic
with which the Socratic philosophy had encumbered it. Science would be
employed in describing the movements of bodies, leaving it for the senses
and feelings to appreciate the cross-lights that might be generated in the
process. Though not following the technique of Descartes, the physics of
our own day realises his ideal, and traces in nature a mathematical
dynamism, perfectly sufficient for exact prevision and mechanical art.

Similarly, in saying that the essence of the soul was to think, Descartes
detached consciousness, or actual spirit, from the meshes of all unknown
organic or invented mental mechanisms. It was an immense clarification and
liberation in its proper dimension: but this pure consciousness was not a
soul; it was not the animal psyche, or principle of organisation, life,
and passion--a principle which, according to Descartes, was material. To
have called such a material principle the soul would have shocked all
Christian conceptions; but if Descartes had abstained from giving that
consecrated name to mere consciousness, he need not have been wary of
making the latter intermittent and evanescent, as it naturally is. He was
driven to the conclusion that the soul can never stop thinking, by the
desire to placate orthodox opinion, and his own Christian sentiments, at
the expense of attributing to actual consciousness a substantial
independence and a directive physical force which were incongruous with
it: a force and independence perfectly congruous with the Platonic soul,
which had been a mythological being, a supernatural spirit or daemon or
incubus, incarnate in the natural world, and partly dominating it. The
relations of such a soul to the particular body or bodies which it might
weave for itself on earth, to the actions which it performed through such
bodies, and to the current of its own thoughts, then became questions for
theology, or for a moralistic theory of the universe. They were questions
remote from the preoccupations of the modern mind; yet it was not possible
either for Locke or for Descartes to clear their fresh conceptions
altogether from those ancient dreams.

What views precisely did Locke oppose to these radical tendencies of

In respect to the nature of matter, I have indicated above the position
of Locke: pictorially he accepted an ordinary atomism; scientifically, the
physics of Newton.

On the other two points Locke's convictions were implicit rather than
speculative: he resisted the Cartesian theories without much developing
his own, as after all was natural in a critic engaged in proving that our
natural faculties were not intended for speculation. All knowledge came
from experience, and no man could know the savour of a pineapple without
having tasted it. Yet this savour, according to Locke, did not reside at
first in the pineapple, to be conveyed on contact to the palate and to the
mind; but it was generated in the process of gustation; or perhaps we
should rather say that it was generated in the mind on occasion of that
process. At least, then, in respect to secondary qualities, and to all
moral values, the terms of human knowledge were not drawn from the objects
encountered in the world, but from an innate sensibility proper to the
human body or mind. Experience--if this word meant the lifelong train of
ideas which made a man's moral being--was not a source of knowledge but
was knowledge (or illusion) itself, produced by organs endowed with a
special native sensibility in contact with varying external stimuli. This
conclusion would then not have contradicted, but exactly expressed, the
doctrine of innate categories.

As to the soul, which might exist without thinking, Locke still called it
an immaterial substance: not so immaterial, however, as not to be conveyed
bodily with him in his coach from London to Oxford. Although, like Hobbes,
Locke believed in the power of the English language to clarify the human
intellect, he here ignored the advice of Hobbes to turn that befuddling
Latin phrase into plain English. Substance meant body: immaterial meant
bodiless: therefore immaterial substance meant bodiless body. True,
substance had not really meant body for Aristotle or the Schoolmen; but
who now knew or cared what anything had meant for them? Locke scornfully
refused to consider what a substantial form may have signified; and in
still maintaining that he had a soul, and calling it a spiritual
substance, he was probably simply protesting that there was something
living and watchful within his breast, the invisible moral agent in all
his thoughts and actions. It was _he_ that had them and did them; and this
self of his was far from being reducible to a merely logical impersonal
subject, an "I think" presupposed in all thought: for what would this "I
think" have become when it was not thinking? On the other hand it mattered
very little what the _substance_ of a thinking being might be: God might
even have endowed the body with the faculty of thinking, and of generating
ideas on occasion of certain impacts. Yet a man was a man for all that:
and Locke was satisfied that he knew, at least well enough for an honest
Englishman, what he was. He was what he felt himself to be: and this inner
man of his was not merely the living self, throbbing now in his heart; it
was all his moral past, all that he remembered to have been. If, from
moment to moment, the self was a spiritual energy astir within, in
retrospect the living present seemed, as it were, to extend its tentacles
and to communicate its subjectivity to his whole personal past. The limits
of his personality were those of his memory, and his experience included
everything that his living mind could appropriate and re-live. In a word,
_he was his idea of himself_: and this insight opens a new chapter not
only in his philosophy but in the history of human self-estimation.
Mankind was henceforth invited not to think of itself as a tribe of
natural beings, nor of souls, with a specific nature and fixed
possibilities. Each man was a romantic personage or literary character: he
was simply what he was thought to be, and might become anything that he
could will to become. The way was opened for Napoleon on the one hand and
for Fichte on the other.


Page 9. __All_ ideas must be equally conditioned._

Even the mathematical ideas which seem so exactly to describe the dynamic
order of nature are not repetitions of their natural counterpart: for
mathematical form in nature is a web of diffuse relations enacted; in the
mind it is a thought possessed, the logical synthesis of those deployed
relations. To run in a circle is one thing; to conceive a circle is
another. Our mind by its animal roots (which render it relevant to the
realm of matter and cognitive) and by its spiritual actuality (which
renders it original, synthetic, and emotional) is a language, from its
beginnings; almost, we might say, a biological poetry; and the greater the
intellectuality and poetic abstraction the greater the possible range. Yet
we must not expect this scope of speculation in us to go with adequacy or
exhaustiveness: on the contrary, mathematics and religion, each in its way
so sure, leave most of the truth out.


Page 9. _He cannot be aware of what goes on beyond him, except as it
affects his own life._

Even that spark of divine intelligence which comes into the animal soul,
as Aristotle says, from beyond the gates, comes and is called down by the
exigencies of physical life. An animal endowed with locomotion cannot
merely feast sensuously on things as they appear, but must react upon them
at the first signal, and in so doing must virtually and in intent envisage
them as they are in themselves. For it is by virtue of their real
constitution and intrinsic energy that they act upon us and suffer change
in turn at our hands; so that whatsoever form things may take to our
senses and intellect, they take that form by exerting their material
powers upon us, and intertwining them in action with our own organisms.

Thus the appearance of things is always, in some measure, a true index to
their reality. Animals are inevitably engaged in self-transcending action,
and the consciousness of self-transcending action is self-transcendent
knowledge. The very nature of animal life makes it possible, within animal
consciousness, to discount appearance and to correct illusion--things
which in a vegetative or aesthetic sensibility would not be
distinguishable from pure experience itself. But when aroused to
self-transcendent attention, feeling must needs rise to intelligence, so
that external fact and impartial truth come within the range of
consciousness, not indeed by being contained there, but by being aimed at.


Page 19. _Conscious mind was a fact on its own account._

This conscious mind was a man's moral being, and personal identity could
not extend further than possible memory. This doctrine of Locke's had some
comic applications. The Bishop of Worcester was alarmed. If actions which
a hardened sinner had forgotten were no longer his, a short memory would
be a great blessing in the Day of Judgment. On the other hand, a theology
more plastic than Stillingfleet's would one day find in this same doctrine
a new means of edification. For if I may disown all actions I have
forgotten, may not things not done or witnessed by me in the body be now
appropriated and incorporated in my consciousness, if only I conceive them
vividly? The door is then open to all the noble ambiguities of idealism.
As my consciousness expands, or thinks it expands, into dramatic sympathy
with universal experience, that experience becomes my own. I may say I
have been the agent in all past achievements. Emerson could know that he
was Shakespeare and Caesar and Christ. Futurity is mine also, in every
possible direction at once; and I am one with the spirit of the universe
and with God.

Locke reassured the Bishop of Worcester, and was humbly confident that
Divine Justice would find a way of vindicating Itself in spite of human
wit. He might have added that if the sin of Adam could not only be imputed
to us juridically but could actually taint our consciousness--as it
certainly does if by Adam we understand our whole material heritage--so
surely the sins done or the habits acquired by the body beyond the scope
of consciousness may taint or clarify this consciousness now. Indeed, the
idea we form of ourselves and of our respective experiences is a figment
of vanity, a product of dramatic imagination, without cognitive import
save as a reading of the hidden forces, physical or divine, which have
formed us and actually govern us.


Page 19. _Mind and body interacted._

The self which acts in a man is itself moved by forces which have long
been familiar to common sense, without being understood except
dramatically. These forces are called the passions; or when the dramatic
units distinguished are longish strands rather than striking episodes,
they are called temperament, character, or will; or perhaps, weaving all
these strands and episodes together again into one moral fabric, we call
them simply human nature. But in what does this vague human nature reside,
and how does it operate on the non-human world? Certainly not within the
conscious sphere, or in the superficial miscellany of experience.
Immediate experience is the intermittent chaos which human nature, in
combination with external circumstances, is invoked to support and to
rationalise. Is human nature, then, resident in each individual soul?
Certainly: but the soul is merely another name for that active principle
which we are looking for, to be the seat of our sensibility and the source
of our actions. Is this psychic power, then, resident in the body?
Undoubtedly; since it is hereditary and transmitted by a seed, and
continually aroused and modified by material agencies.

Since this soul or self in the body is so obscure, the temptation is great
to dramatise its energies and to describe them in myths. Myth is the
normal means of describing those forces of nature which we cannot measure
or understand; if we could understand or measure them we should describe
them prosaically and analytically, in what is called science. But nothing
is less measurable, or less intelligible to us, in spite of being so near
us and familiar, as the life of this carnal instrument, so soft and so
violent, which breeds our sensations and precipitates our actions. We see
today how the Freudian psychology, just because it is not satisfied with
registering the routine of consciousness but endeavours to trace its
hidden mechanism and to unravel its physical causes, is driven to use the
most frankly mythological language. The physiological processes concerned,
though presupposed, are not on the scale of human perception and not
traceable in detail; and the moral action, though familiar in snatches,
has to be patched by invented episodes, and largely attributed to daemonic
personages that never come on the stage.

Locke, in his psychology of morals, had at first followed the verbal
rationalism by which people attribute motives to themselves and to one
another. Human actions were explained by the alleged pursuit of the
greater prospective pleasure, and avoidance of the greater prospective
pain. But this way of talking, though not so poetical as Freud's, is no
less mythical. Eventual goods and evils have no present existence and no
power: they cannot even be discerned prophetically, save by the vaguest
fancy, entirely based on the present impulses and obsessions of the soul.
No future good, no future evil avails to move us, except--as Locke said
after examining the facts more closely--when a _certain uneasiness_ in the
soul (or in the body) causes us to turn to those untried goods and evils
with a present and living interest. This actual uneasiness, with the dream
pictures which it evokes, is a mere symptom of the direction in which
human nature in us is already moving, or already disposed to move. Without
this prior physical impulse, heaven may beckon and hell may yawn without
causing the least variation in conduct. As in religious conversion all is
due to the call of grace, so in ordinary action all is due to the ripening
of natural impulses and powers within the psyche. The _uneasiness_
observed by Locke is merely the consciousness of this ripening, before the
field of relevant action has been clearly discerned.

When all this is considered, the ostensible interaction between mind and
body puts on a new aspect. There are no _purely mental_ ideas or
intentions followed by material effects: there are no material events
followed by a _purely mental_ sensation or idea. Mental events are always
elements in total natural events containing material elements also:
material elements form the organ, the stimulus, and probably also the
object for those mental sensations or ideas. Moreover, the physical strand
alone is found to be continuous and traceable; the conscious strand, the
sequence of mental events, flares up and dies down daily, if not hourly;
and the medley of its immediate features--images, words, moods--juxtaposes
China and Peru, past and future, in the most irresponsible confusion. On
the other hand, in human life it is a part of the conscious
element--intentions, affections, plans, and reasonings--that _explains_
the course of action: dispersed temporally, our dominant thoughts contain
the reason for our continuous behaviour, and seem to guide it. They are
not so much links in a chain of minute consecutive causes--an idea or an
act of will often takes time to work and works, as it were, only
posthumously--as they are general overarching moral inspirations and
resolves, which the machinery of our bodies executes in its own way, often
rendering our thoughts more precise in the process, or totally
transforming them. We do roughly what we meant to do, barring accidents.
The reasons lie deep in our compound nature, being probably inarticulate;
and our action in a fragmentary way betrays our moral disposition: betrays
it in both senses of the word betray, now revealing it unawares, and now
sadly disappointing it.

I leave it for the reader's reflection to decide whether we should call
such cohabitation of mind with body interaction, or not rather sympathetic
concomitance, self-annotation, and a partial prophetic awakening to a life
which we are leading automatically.


Page 21. _To the confusion of common sense._

Berkeley and his followers sometimes maintain that common sense is on
their side, that they have simply analysed the fact of our experience of
the material world, and if there is any paradox in their idealism, it is
merely verbal and disappears with familiarity. All the "reality", they
say, all the force, obduracy, and fertility of nature subsist undiminished
after we discover that this reality resides, and can only reside, in the
fixed order of our experience.

But no: analysis of immediate experience will never disclose any fixed
order in it; the surface of experience, when not interpreted
materialistically, is an inextricable dream. Berkeley and his followers,
when they look in this direction, towards nature and the rationale of
experience and science, are looking away from their own system, and
relying instead on the automatic propensity of human nature to routine, so
that we spontaneously prepare for repeating our actions (not our
experience) and even anticipate their occasions; a propensity further
biased by the dominant rhythms of the psyche, so that we assume a future
not so much similar to the past, as better. When developed, this
propensity turns into trust in natural or divine laws; but it is contrary
to common sense to expect such laws to operate apart from matter and from
the material continuity of external occasions. This appears clearly in our
trust in persons--a radical animal propensity--which is consonant with
common sense when these persons are living bodies, but becomes
superstitious, or at least highly speculative, when these persons are
disembodied spirits.

It is a pity that the beautiful system of Berkeley should have appeared in
an unspiritual age, when religion was mundane and perfunctory, and the
free spirit, where it stirred, was romantic and wilful. For that system
was essentially religious: it put the spirit face to face with God,
everywhere, always, and in everything it turned experience into a divine
language for the monition and expression of the inner man. Such an
instrument, in spiritual hands, might have served to dispel all natural
illusions and affections, and to disinfect the spirit of worldliness and
egotism. But Berkeley and his followers had no such thought. All they
wished was to substitute a social for a material world, precisely because
a merely social world might make worldly interests loom larger and might
induce mankind, against the evidence of their senses and the still small
voice in their hearts, to live as if their worldly interests were absolute
and must needs dominate the spirit.

Morally this system thus came to sanction a human servitude to material
things such as ancient materialists would have scorned; and theoretically
the system did not escape the dogmatic commitments of common sense against
which it protested. For far from withdrawing into the depths of the
private spirit, it professed to describe universal experience and the
evolution of all human ideas. This notion of "experience" originally
presupposed a natural agent or subject to endure that experience, and to
profit by it, by learning to live in better harmony with external
circumstances. Each agent or subject of experience might, at other times,
become an object of experience also: for they all formed part of a
material world, which they might envisage in common in their perceptions.
Now the criticism which repudiates this common material medium, like all
criticism or doubt, is secondary and partial: it continues to operate with
all the assumptions of common sense, save the one which it is expressly
criticising. So, in repudiating the material world, this philosophy
retains the notion of various agents or subjects gathering experience; and
we are not expected to doubt that there are just as many streams of
experience without a world, as there were people in the world when the
world existed. But the number and nature of these experiences have now
become undiscoverable, the material persons having been removed who
formerly were so placed as to gather easily imagined experiences, and to
be able to communicate them; and the very notion of experience has been
emptied of its meaning, when no external common world subsists to impose
that same experience on everybody. It was not knowledge of existing
experiences _in vacuo_ that led common sense to assume a material world,
but knowledge of an existing material world led it to assume existing, and
regularly reproducible, experiences.

Thus the whole social convention posited by empirical idealism is borrowed
without leave, and rests on the belief in nature for which it is


Page 21. _The literary psychologist may come very near to the truth of

Experience cannot be in itself an object of science, because it is
essentially invisible, immeasurable, fugitive, and private; and although
it may be shared or repeated, the evidence for that repetition or that
unanimity cannot be found by comparing a present experience with another
experience by hypothesis absent. Both the absent experience and its
agreement with the present experience must be imagined freely and credited
instinctively, in view of the known circumstances in which the absent
experience is conceived to have occurred. The only instrument for
conceiving experience at large is accordingly private imagination; and
such imagination cannot be tested, although it may be guided and perhaps
recast by fresh observations or reports concerning the action and language
of other people. For action and language, being contagious, and being the
material counterpart of experience in each of us, may voluntarily or
involuntarily suggest our respective experience to one another, by causing
each to re-enact more or less accurately within himself the experience of
the rest. Thus alien thoughts and feelings are revealed or suggested to us
in common life, not without a subjective transformation increasing, so to
speak, as the square of the distance: and even the record of experience in
people's own words, when these are not names for recognisable external
things, awakens in the reader, in another age or country, quite
incommensurable ideas. Yet, under favourable circumstances, such
suggestion or revelation of experience, without ever becoming science, may
become public unanimity in sentiment, and may produce a truthful and
lively dramatic literature.

All modern philosophy, in so far as it is a description of experience and
not of nature, therefore seems to belong to the sphere of literature, and
to be without scientific value.



After fifty years, an old milestone in the path of philosophy, Bradley's
_Ethical Studies_, has been set up again, as if to mark the distance which
English opinion has traversed in the interval. It has passed from insular
dogmatism to universal bewilderment; and a chief agent in the change has
been Bradley himself, with his scornful and delicate intellect, his wit,
his candour, his persistence, and the baffling futility of his
conclusions. In this early book we see him coming forth like a young David
against every clumsy champion of utilitarianism, hedonism, positivism, or
empiricism. And how smooth and polished were the little stones in his
sling! How fatally they would have lodged in the forehead of that
composite monster, if only it had had a forehead! Some of them might even
have done murderous execution in Bradley's own camp: for instance, this
pebble cast playfully at the metaphysical idol called "Law": "It is
_always_ wet on half-holidays because of the Law of Raininess, but
_sometimes_ it is _not_ wet, because of the Supplementary Law of

Bradley and his friends achieved a notable victory in the academic field:
philosophic authority and influence passed largely into their hands in all
English-speaking universities. But it was not exactly from these seats of
learning that naturalism and utilitarianism needed to be dislodged; like
the corresponding radicalisms of our day, these doctrines prevailed rather
in certain political and intellectual circles outside, consciously
revolutionary and often half-educated; and I am afraid that the braggart
Goliaths of today need chastening at least as much as those of fifty years
ago. In a country officially Christian, and especially in Oxford, it is
natural and fitting that academic authority should belong to orthodox
tradition--theological, Platonic, and Aristotelian. Bradley, save for a
few learned quotations, strangely ignored this orthodoxy entrenched
behind his back. In contrast with it he was himself a heretic, with first
principles devastating every settled belief: and it was really this
venerable silent partner at home that his victory superseded, at least in
appearance and for a season. David did not slay Goliath, but he dethroned
Saul. Saul was indeed already under a cloud, and all in David's heart was
not unkindness in that direction. Bradley might almost be called an
unbelieving Newman; time, especially, seems to have brought his suffering
and refined spirit into greater sympathy with ancient sanctities.
Originally, for instance, venting the hearty Protestant sentiment that
only the Christianity of laymen is sound, he had written: "I am happy to
say that 'religieux' has no English equivalent". But a later note says:
"This is not true except of Modern English only. And, in any case, it
won't do, and was wrong and due to ignorance. However secluded the
religious life, it may be practical indirectly _if_ through the unity of
the spiritual body it can be taken as vicarious". The "_if_" here saves
the principle that all values must be social, and that the social organism
is the sole moral reality: yet how near this bubble comes to being
pricked! We seem clearly to feel that the question is not whether
spiritual life subserves animal society, but whether animal society ever
is stirred and hallowed into spiritual life.

All this, however, in that age of progress, was regarded as obsolete:
there was no longer to be any spirit except the spirit of the times. True,
the ritualists might be striving to revive the latent energies of
religious devotion, with some dubious help from aestheticism: but against
the rising tide of mechanical progress and romantic anarchy, and against
the mania for rewriting history, traditional philosophy then seemed
helpless and afraid to defend itself: it is only now beginning to recover
its intellectual courage. For the moment, speculative radicals saw light
in a different quarter. German idealism was nothing if not self-confident;
it was relatively new; it was encyclopaedic in its display of knowledge,
which it could manipulate dialectically with dazzling, if not stable,
results; it was Protestant in temper and autonomous in principle; and
altogether it seemed a sovereign and providential means of suddenly
turning the tables on the threatened naturalism. By developing romantic
intuition from within and packing all knowledge into one picture, the
universe might be shown to be, like intuition itself, thoroughly
spiritual, personal, and subjective.

The fundamental axiom of the new logic was that the only possible reality
was consciousness.

     "People find", writes Bradley, "a subject and an object correlated
     in consciousness.... To go out of that unity is for us literally to
     go out of our minds.... When mind is made only a part of the whole,
     there is a question which _must_ be answered.... If about any
     matter we know nothing whatsoever, can we say anything about it?
     Can we even say that it is? And if it is not in consciousness, how
     can we know it?... And conversely, if we know it, it cannot be not

Bradley challenged his contemporaries to refute this argument; and not
being able to do so, many of them felt constrained to accept it, perhaps
not without grave misgivings. For was it not always a rooted conviction of
the British mind that knowledge brings material power, and that any
figments of consciousness (in religion, for instance) not bringing
material power are dangerous bewitchments, and not properly knowledge?
Yet it is no less characteristic of the British mind to yield
occasionally, up to a certain point, to some such enthusiastic fancy,
provided that its incompatibility with honest action may be denied or
ignored. So in this case British idealists, in the act of defining
knowledge idealistically, as the presence to consciousness of its own
phenomena, never really ceased to assume transcendent knowledge of a
self-existing world, social and psychological, if not material: and they
continued scrupulously to readjust their ideas to those dark facts, often
more faithfully than the avowed positivists or scientific psychologists.

What could ethics properly be to a philosopher who on principle might not
trespass beyond the limits of consciousness? Only ethical sentiment.
Bradley was satisfied to appeal to the moral consciousness of his day,
without seeking to transform it. The most intentionally eloquent passage
in his book describes war-fever unifying and carrying away a whole people:
that was the summit of moral consciousness and of mystic virtue. His aim,
even in ethics, was avowedly to describe that which exists, to describe
moral experience, without proposing a different form for it. A man must be
a man of his own time, or nothing; to set up to be better than the world
was the beginning of immorality; and virtue lay in accepting one's station
and its duties. The moralist should fill his mind with a concrete picture
of the task and standards of his age and nation, and should graft his own
ideals upon that tree; this need not prevent moral consciousness from
including a decided esteem for non-political excellences like health,
beauty, or intelligence, which are not ordinarily called virtues by modern
moralists. Yet they were undeniably good; better, perhaps, than any
painful and laborious dutifulness; so that the strictly moral
consciousness might run over, and presently lose itself in "something
higher". Indeed, even health, beauty, and intelligence, which seemed at
first so clearly good, might lose their sharpness on a wider view. In the
panorama that would ultimately fill the mind these so-called goods and
virtues could not be conceived without their complementary vices and
evils. Thus all moral consciousness, and even all vital preference might
ultimately be superseded: they might appear to have belonged to a partial
and rather low stage in the self-development of consciousness.

With this dissolution of his moral judgments always in prospect, why
should Bradley, or any idealist, have pursued ethical studies at all?
Since all phases of life were equally necessary to enrich an infinite
consciousness, which must know both good and evil in order to merge and to
transcend them, he could hardly nurse any intense enthusiasm for a
different complexion to be given to the lives of men. His moral
passion--for he had it, caustic and burning clear--was purely
intellectual: it was shame that in England the moral consciousness should
have been expressed in systems dialectically so primitive as those of the
positivists and utilitarians. He acknowledged, somewhat superciliously,
that their hearts were in the right place; yet, if we are to have ethics
at all, were not their thoughts in the right place also? They were
concerned not with analysis of the moral consciousness but with the
conduct of affairs and the reform of institutions. The spectacle of human
wretchedness profoundly moved them; their minds were bent on transforming
society, so that a man's station and its duties might cease to be what a
decayed feudal organisation and an inhuman industrialism had made of them.
They revolted against the miserable condition of the masses of mankind,
and against the miserable consolations which official religion, or a
philosophy like Bradley's, offered them in their misery. The utilitarians
were at least intent on existence and on the course of events; they wished
to transform institutions to fit human nature better, and to educate human
nature by those new institutions so that it might better realise its
latent capacities. These are matters which a man may modify by his acts
and they are therefore the proper concern of the moralist. Were they much
to blame if they neglected to define pleasure or happiness and used
catch-words, dialectically vague, to indicate a direction of effort
politically quite unmistakable? Doubtless their political action, like
their philosophical nomenclature, was revolutionary and relied too much on
wayward feelings ignorant of their own causes. Revolution, no less than
tradition, is but a casual and clumsy expression of human nature in
contact with circumstances; yet pain and pleasure and spontaneous hopes,
however foolish, are direct expressions of that contact, and speak for the
soul; whereas a man's station and its duties are purely conventional, and
may altogether misrepresent his native capacities. The protest of human
nature against the world and its oppressions is the strong side of every
rebellion; it was the _moral_ side of utilitarianism, of the rebellion
against irrational morality.

Unfortunately the English reformers were themselves idealists of a sort,
entangled in the vehicles of perception, and talking about sensations and
ideas, pleasures and pains, as if these had been the elements of human
nature, or even of nature at large: and only the most meagre of verbal
systems, and the most artificial, can be constructed out of such
materials. Moreover, they spoke much of pleasure and happiness, and hardly
at all of misery and pain: whereas it would have been wiser, and truer to
their real inspiration, to have laid all the emphasis on evils to be
abated, leaving the good to shape itself in freedom. Suffering is the
instant and obvious sign of some outrage done to human nature; without
this natural recoil, actual or imminent, no morality would have any
sanction, and no precept could be imperative. What silliness to command me
to pursue pleasure or to avoid it, if in any case everything would be
well! Save for some shadow of dire repentance looming in the distance, I
am deeply free to walk as I will. The choice of pleasure for a principle
of morals was particularly unfortunate in the British utilitarians; it
lent them an air of frivolity absurdly contrary to their true character.
Pleasure might have been a fit enough word in the mouth of Aristippus, a
semi-oriental untouched by the least sense of responsibility, or even on
the lips of humanists in the eighteenth century, who, however sordid their
lives may sometimes have been, could still move in imagination to the
music of Mozart, in the landscape of Watteau or of Fragonard. But in the
land and age of Dickens the moral ideal was not so much pleasure as
kindness: this tenderer word not only expresses better the motive at work,
but it points to the distressing presence of misery in the world, to make
natural kindness laborious and earnest, and turn it into a legislative

Bradley's hostility to pleasure was not fanatical: one's station and its
duties might have their agreeable side. "It is probably good for you", he
tells us, "to have, say, not less than two glasses of wine after dinner.
Six on ordinary occasions is perhaps too many; but as to three or four,
they are neither one way nor the other." If the voluptuary was condemned,
it was for the commonplace reason which a hedonist, too, might invoke,
that a life of pleasure soon palls and becomes unpleasant. Bradley's
objection to pleasure was merely speculative: he found it too "abstract".
To call a pleasure when actually felt an abstraction is an exquisite
absurdity: but pleasure, in its absolute essence, is certainly simple and
indefinable. If instead of enjoying it on the wing, and as an earnest of
the soul's momentary harmony, we attempt to arrest and observe it, we find
it strangely dumb; we are not informed by it concerning its occasion, nor
carried from it by any logical implication to the natural object in which
it might be found. A pure hedonist ought therefore to be rather relieved
if all images lapsed from his consciousness and he could luxuriate in
sheer pleasure, dark and overwhelming. True, such bliss would be rather
inhuman, and of the sort which we rashly assign to the oyster: but why
should a radical and intrepid philosopher be ashamed of that? The
condition of Bradley's Absolute--feeling in which all distinctions are
transcended and merged--seems to be something of that kind; but there
would be a strange irony in attributing this mystical and rapturous ideal
to such ponderous worthies as Mill and Spencer, whose minds were nothing
if not anxious, perturbed, instrumental, and full of respect for
variegated facts, and who were probably incapable of tasting pure pleasure
at all.

But if pleasure, in its pure essence, might really be the highest good for
a mystic who should be lost in it, it would be no guide to a moralist
wishing to control events, and to distribute particular pleasures or
series of pleasures as richly as possible in the world. For this purpose
he would need to understand human nature and its variable functions, in
which different persons and peoples may find their sincere pleasures; and
this knowledge would first lend to his general love of pleasure any point
of application in the governance of life or in benevolent legislation.
Some concrete image of a happy human world would take the place of the
futile truism that pleasure is good and pain evil. This is, of course,
what utilitarian moralists meant to do, and actually did, in so far as
their human sympathies extended, which was not to the highest things; but
it was not what they said, and Bradley had a clear advantage over them in
the war of words. A pleasure is not a programme: it exists here and not
there, for me and for no one else, once and never again. When past, it
leaves the will as empty and as devoid of allegiance as if it had never
existed; pleasure is sand, though it have the colour of gold. But this is
evidently true of all existence. Each living moment, each dead man, each
cycle of the universe leaves nothing behind it but a void which perhaps
something kindred may refill. A Hegel, after identifying himself for a
moment with the Absolute Idea, is in his existence no less subject to
sleepiness, irritation, and death than if he had been modestly satisfied
with the joys of an oyster. It is only their common form, or their common
worship, that can give to the quick moments of life any mutual relevance
or sympathy; and existence would not come at all within sight of a good,
either momentary or final, if it were not inwardly directed upon realising
some definite essence. For the rest this essence may be as simple as you
will, if the nature directed upon it is unified and simple; and it would
be mere intellectual snobbery to condemn pleasure because it has not so
many subdivisions in it as an encyclopaedia of the sciences. For the
moralist pleasure and pain may even be the better guides, because they
express more directly and boldly the instinctive direction of animal life,
and thereby mark more clearly the genuine difference between good and

We may well say with Bradley that the good is self-realisation; but what
is the self? Certainly not the feeling or consciousness of the moment, nor
the life of the world, nor pure spirit. The self that can systematically
distinguish good from evil is an animal soul. It grows from a seed; its
potentiality is definite and its fate precarious; and in man it requires
society to rear it and tradition to educate it. The good is accordingly
social, in so far as the soul demands society; but it is the nature of the
individual that determines the kind and degree of sociability that is good
for him, and draws the line between society that is a benefit and society
that is a nuisance. To subordinate the soul fundamentally to society or
the individual to the state is sheer barbarism: the Greeks, sometimes
invoked to support this form of idolatry, were never guilty of it; on the
contrary, their lawgivers were always reforming and planning the state so
that the soul might be perfect in it. Discipline is a help to the spirit:
but even social relations, when like love, friendship, or sport they are
spontaneous and good in themselves, retire as far as possible from the
pressure of the world, and build their paradise apart, simple, and hidden
in the wilderness; while all the ultimate hopes and assurances of the
spirit escape altogether into the silent society of nature, of truth, of
essence, far from those fatuous worldly conventions which hardly make up
for their tyranny by their instability: for the prevalent moral fashion is
always growing old, and human nature is always becoming young again.
World-worship is the expedient of those who, having lost the soul that is
in them, look for it in things external, where there is no soul: and by a
curious recoil, it is also the expedient of those who seek their lost soul
in actual consciousness, where it also is not: for sensations and ideas
are not the soul but only passing and partial products of its profound
animal life. Moral consciousness in particular would never have arisen and
would be gratuitous, save for the ferocious bias of a natural living
creature, defending itself against its thousand enemies.

Nor would knowledge in its turn be knowledge if it were merely intuition
of essence, such as the sensualist, the poet, or the dialectician may rest
in. If the imagery of logic or passion ever comes to convey _knowledge_,
it does so by virtue of a concomitant physical adjustment to external
things; for the nerve of real or transcendent knowledge is the notice
which one part of the world may take of another part; and it is this
momentous cognisance, no matter what intangible feelings may supply terms
for its prosody, that enlarges the mind to some practical purpose and
informs it about the world. Consciousness then ceases to be passive sense
or idle ideation and becomes belief and intelligence. Then the essences
which form the "content of consciousness" may be vivified and trippingly
run over, like the syllables of a familiar word, in the active recognition
of things and people and of all the ominous or pliable forces of nature.
For essences, being eternal and non-existent in themselves, cannot come to
consciousness by their own initiative, but only as occasion and the subtle
movements of the soul may evoke their forms; so that the fact that they
are given to consciousness has a natural status and setting in the
material world, and is part of the same natural event as the movement of
the soul and body which supports that consciousness.

There is therefore no need of refuting idealism, which is an honest
examination of conscience in a reflective mind. Refutations and proofs
depend on pregnant meanings assigned to terms, meanings first rendered
explicit and unambiguous by those very proofs or refutations. On any
different acceptation of those terms, these proofs and refutations fall
to the ground; and it remains a question for good sense, not for logic at
all, how far the terms in either case describe anything existent. If by
"knowledge" we understand intuition of essences, idealism follows; but it
follows only in respect to essences given in intuition: nothing follows
concerning the seat, origin, conditions, or symptomatic value of such
intuition, nor even that such intuition ever actually occurs. Idealism,
therefore, without being refuted, may be hemmed in and humanised by
natural knowledge about it and about its place in human speculation; the
most recalcitrant materialist (like myself) might see its plausibility
during a somewhat adolescent phase of self-consciousness. Consciousness
itself he might accept and relish as the natural spiritual resonance of
action and passion, recognising it in its proud isolation and specious
autonomy, like the mountain republics of Andorra and San Marino.

German idealism is a mighty pose, an attitude always possible to a
self-conscious and reflective being: but it is hardly a system, since it
contradicts beliefs which in action are inevitable; it may therefore be
readily swallowed, but it can never be digested. Neither of its two
ingredients--romantic scepticism and romantic superstition--agrees
particularly with the British stomach. Not romantic scepticism: for in
England an instinctive distrust of too much clearness and logic, a
difficulty in drawing all the consequences of any principle, soon gave to
this most radical of philosophies a prim and religious air: its purity was
alloyed with all sorts of conventions: so much so that we find British
Hegelians often deeply engaged in psychology, cosmology, or religion, as
if they took their idealism for a kind of physics, and wished merely to
reinterpret the facts of nature in an edifying way, without uprooting them
from their natural places. This has been made easier by giving idealism an
objective, non-psychological turn: events, and especially feelings and
ideas, will then be swallowed up in the essences which they display. Thus
Bradley maintained that two thoughts, no matter how remote from each other
in time or space, were identically the same, and not merely similar, if
only they contemplated the same idea. Mind itself ceased in this way to
mean a series of existing feelings and was identified with intelligence;
and intelligence in its turn was identified with the Idea or Logos which
might be the ultimate theme of intelligence. There could be only one mind,
so conceived, since there could be only one total system in the universe
visible to omniscience.

As to romantic scepticism, we may see by contrast what it would be, when
left to itself, if we consider those lucid Italians who have taken up
their idealism late and with open eyes. In Croce and Gentile the
transcendental attitude is kept pure: for them there is really no universe
save spirit creating its experience; and if we ask whence or on what
principle occasions arise for all this compulsory fiction, we are reminded
that this question, with any answer which spirit might invent for it,
belongs not to philosophy but to some special science like physiology,
itself, of course, only a particular product of creative thought. Thus the
more impetuously the inquisitive squirrel would rush from his cage, the
faster and faster he causes the cage to whirl about his ears. He has not
the remotest chance of reaching his imaginary bait--God, nature, or
truth; for to seek such things is to presuppose them, and to presuppose
anything, if spirit be absolute, is to invent it. Even those philosophies
of history which the idealist may for some secret reason be impelled to
construct would be superstitious, according to his own principles, if he
took them for more than poetic fictions of the historian; so that in the
study of history, as in every other study, all the diligence and sober
learning which the philosopher may possess are non-philosophical, since
they presuppose independent events and material documents. Thus perfect
idealism turns out to be pure literary sport, like lyric poetry, in which
no truth is conveyed save the miscellaneous truths taken over from common
sense or the special sciences; and the gay spirit, supposed to be living
and shining of its own sweet will, can find nothing to live or shine upon
save the common natural world.

Such at least would be the case if romantic superstition did not
supervene, demanding that the spirit should impose some arbitrary rhythm
or destiny on the world which it creates: but this side of idealism has
been cultivated chiefly by the intrepid Germans: some of them, like
Spengler and Keyserling, still thrive and grow famous on it without a
blush. The modest English in these matters take shelter under the wing of
science speculatively extended, or traditional religion prudently
rationalised: the scope of the spirit, like its psychological
distribution, is conceived realistically. It might almost prove an
euthanasia for British idealism to lose itself in the new metaphysics of
nature which the mathematicians are evolving; and since this metaphysics,
though materialistic in effect, is more subtle and abstruse than popular
materialism, British idealism might perhaps be said to survive in it,
having now passed victoriously into its opposite, and being merged in
something higher.

[10] _Ethical Studies_, by F.H. Bradley, O.M., LL.D. (Glasgow), late
Fellow of Merton College, Oxford; second edition revised, with
additional notes by the Author. Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1927.



Since the beginning of the twentieth century, science has gained notably
in expertness, and lost notably in authority. We are bombarded with
inventions; but if we ask the inventors what they have learned of the
depths of nature, which somehow they have probed with such astonishing
success, their faces remain blank. They may be chewing gum; or they may
tell us that if an aeroplane could only fly fast enough, it would get home
before it starts; or they may urge us to come with them into a dark room,
to hold hands, and to commune with the dear departed.

Practically there may be no harm in such a division of labour, the
inventors doing the work and the professors the talking. The experts may
themselves be inexpert in verbal expression, or content with stock
phrases, or profoundly sceptical, or too busy to think. Nevertheless,
skill and understanding are at their best when they go together and adorn
the same mind. Modern science until lately had realised this ideal: it was
an extension of common perception and common sense. We could trust it
implicitly, as we do a map or a calendar; it was not true for us merely in
an argumentative or visionary sense, as are religion and philosophy.
Geography went hand in hand with travel, Copernican astronomy with
circumnavigation of the globe: and even the theory of evolution and the
historical sciences in the nineteenth century were continuous with liberal
reform: people saw in the past, as they then learned to conceive it,
simply an extension of those transformations which they were witnessing in
the present. They could think they knew the world as a man knows his
native town, or the contents of his chest of drawers: nature was our home,
and science was our home knowledge. For it is not intrinsic clearness or
coherence that make ideas persuasive, but connection with action, or with
some voluminous inner response, which is readiness to act. It is a sense
of on-coming fate, a compulsion to do or to suffer, that produces the
illusion of perfect knowledge.

I call it illusion, although our contact with things may be real, and our
sensations and thoughts may be inevitable and honest; because nevertheless
it is always an illusion to suppose that our images are the intrinsic
qualities of things, or reproduce them exactly. The Ptolemaic system, for
instance, was perfectly scientific; it was based on careful and prolonged
observation and on just reasoning; but it was modelled on an image--the
spherical blue dome of the heavens--proper only to an observer on the
earth, and not transferable to a universe which is diffuse, centreless,
fluid, and perhaps infinite. When the imagination, for any reason, comes
to be peopled with images of the latter sort, the modern, and especially
the latest, astronomy becomes more persuasive. For although I suspect that
even Einstein is an imperfect relativist, and retains Euclidean space and
absolute time at the bottom of his calculation, and recovers them at the
end, yet the effort to express the system of nature as it would appear
from _any_ station and to _any_ sensorium seems to be eminently

Theory and practice in the latest science are still allied, otherwise
neither of them would prosper as it does; but each has taken a leap in its
own direction. The distance between them has become greater than the naked
eye can measure, and each of them in itself has become unintelligible. We
roll and fly at dizzy speeds, and hear at incredible distances; at the
same time we imagine and calculate to incredible depths. The technique of
science, like that of industry, has become a thing in itself; the one
veils its object, which is nature, as the other defeats its purpose, which
is happiness. Science often seems to be less the study of things than the
study of science. It is now more scholastic than philosophy ever was. We
are invited to conceive organisms within organisms, so minute, so free,
and so dynamic, that the heart of matter seems to explode into an endless
discharge of fireworks, or a mathematical nightmare realised in a thousand
places at once, and become the substance of the world. What is even more
remarkable--for the notion of infinite organisation has been familiar to
the learned at least since the time of Leibniz--the theatre of science is
transformed no less than the actors and the play. The upright walls of
space, the steady tread of time, begin to fail us; they bend now so
obligingly to our perspectives that we no longer seem to travel through
them, but to carry them with us, shooting them out or weaving them about
us according to some native fatality, which is left unexplained. We seem
to have reverted in some sense from Copernicus to Ptolemy: except that the
centre is now occupied, not by the solid earth, but by _any_ geometrical
point chosen for the origin of calculation. Time, too, is not measured by
the sun or stars, but by _any_ "clock"--that is, by any recurrent rhythm
taken as a standard of comparison. It would seem that the existence and
energy of each chosen centre, as well as its career and encounters, hang
on the collateral existence of other centres of force, among which it must
wend its way: yet the only witness to their presence, and the only known
property of their substance, is their "radio-activity", or the physical
light which they shed. Light, in its physical being, is accordingly the
measure of all things in this new philosophy: and if we ask ourselves why
this element should have been preferred, the answer is not far to seek.
Light is the only medium through which very remote or very minute
particles of matter can be revealed to science. Whatever the nature of
things may be intrinsically, science must accordingly express the universe
in terms of light.

These reforms have come from within: they are triumphs of method. We make
an evident advance in logic, and in that parsimony which is dear to
philosophers (though not to nature), if we refuse to assign given terms
and relations to any prior medium, such as absolute time or space, which
cannot be given with them. Observable spaces and times, like the facts
observed in them, are given separately and in a desultory fashion.
Initially, then, there are as many spaces and times as there are
observers, or rather observations; these are the specious times and spaces
of dreams, of sensuous life, and of romantic biography. Each is centred
here and now, and stretched outwards, forward, and back, as far as
imagination has the strength to project it. Then, when objects and events
have been posited as self-existent, and when a "clock" and a system of
co-ordinates have been established for measuring them, a single
mathematical space and time may be deployed about them, conceived to
contain all things, and to supply them with their respective places and
dates. This gives us the cosmos of classical physics. But this system
involves the uncritical notion of light and matter travelling through
media previously existing, and being carried down, like a boat drifting
down stream, by a flowing time which has a pace of its own, and imposes it
on all existence. In reality, each "clock" and each landscape is
self-centred and initially absolute: its time and space are irrelevant to
those of any other landscape or "clock", unless the objects or events
revealed there, being posited as self-existent, actually coincide with
those revealed also in another landscape, or dated by another "clock". It
is only by travelling along its own path at its own rate that experience
or light can ever reach a point lying on another path also, so that two
observations, and two measures, may coincide at their ultimate terms,
their starting-points or their ends. Positions are therefore not
independent of the journey which terminates in them, and thereby
individuates them; and dates are not independent of the events which
distinguish them. The flux of existence comes first: matter and light
distend time by their pulses, they distend space by their deployments.

This, if I understand it, is one half the new theory; the other half is
not less acceptable. Newton had described motion as a result of two
principles: the first, inertia, was supposed to be inherent in bodies; the
second, gravity, was incidental to their co-existence. Yet inherent
inertia can only be observed relatively: it makes no difference to me
whether I am said to be moving at a great speed or absolutely at rest, if
I am not jolted or breathless, and if my felt environment does not change.
Inertia, or weight, in so far as it denotes something intrinsic, seems to
be but another name for substance or the principle of existence: in so far
as it denotes the first law of motion, it seems to be relative to an
environment. It would therefore be preferable to combine inertia and
attraction in a single formula, expressing the behaviour of bodies towards
one another in all their conjunctions, without introducing any inherent
forces or absolute measures. This seems to have been done by Einstein, or
at least impressively suggested: and it has been found that the new
calculations correspond to certain delicate observations more accurately
than the old.

This revolution in science seems, then, to be perfectly legal, and ought
to be welcomed; yet only under one important moral condition, and with a
paradoxical result. The moral condition is that the pride of science
should turn into humility, that it should no longer imagine that it is
laying bare the intrinsic nature of things. And the paradoxical result is
this: that the forms of science are optional, like various languages or
methods of notation. One may be more convenient or subtle than another,
according to the place, senses, interests, and scope of the explorer; a
reform in science may render the old theories antiquated, like the habit
of wearing togas, or of going naked; but it cannot render them false, or
itself true. Science, when it is more than the gossip of adventure or of
experiment, yields practical assurances couched in symbolic terms, but no
ultimate insight: so that the intellectual vacancy of the expert, which I
was deriding, is a sort of warrant of his solidity. It is rather when the
expert prophesies, when he propounds a new philosophy founded on his
latest experiments, that we may justly smile at his system, and wait for
the next.

Self-knowledge--and the new science is full of self-knowledge--is a great
liberator: if perhaps it imposes some retrenchment, essentially it revives
courage. Then at last we see what we are and what we can do. The spirit
can abandon its vain commitments and false pretensions, like a young man
free at last to throw off his clothes and run naked along the sands.
Intelligence is never gayer, never surer, than when it is strictly formal,
satisfied with the evidence of its materials, as with the lights of
jewels, and filled with mounting speculations, as with a sort of laughter.
If all the arts aspire to the condition of music, all the sciences aspire
to the condition of mathematics. Their logic is their spontaneous and
intelligible side: and while they differ from mathematics and from one
another in being directed in the first instance upon various
unintelligible existing objects, yet as they advance, they unite: because
they are everywhere striving to discover in those miscellaneous objects
some intelligible order and method. And as the emotion of the pure artist,
whatever may be his materials, lies in finding in them some formal harmony
or imposing it upon them, so the interest of the scientific mind, in so
far as it is free and purely intellectual, lies in tracing their formal
pattern. The mathematician can afford to leave to his clients, the
engineers, or perhaps the popular philosophers, the emotion of belief: for
himself he keeps the lyrical pleasure of metre and of evolving equations:
and it is a pleasant surprise to him, and an added problem, if he finds
that the arts can use his calculations, or that the senses can verify
them; much as if a composer found that the sailors could heave better when
singing his songs.

Yet such independence, however glorious inwardly, cannot help diminishing
the prestige of the arts in the world. If science misled us before, when
it was full of clearness and confidence, how shall we trust it now that it
is all mystery and paradox? If classical physics needed this fundamental
revision, near to experience and fruitful as it was, what revision will
not romantic physics require? Nor is the future alone insecure: even now
the prophets hardly understand one another, or perhaps themselves; and
some of them interlard their science with the most dubious metaphysics.
Naturally the enemies of science have not been slow to seize this
opportunity: the soft-hearted, the muddle-headed, the superstitious are
all raising their voices, no longer in desperate resistance to science,
but hopefully, and in its name. Science, they tell us, is no longer
hostile to religion, or to divination of any sort. Indeed, divination is a
science too. Physics is no longer materialistic since space is now curved,
and filled with an ether through which light travels at 300,000 kilometres
per second--an immaterial rate: because if anything material ventured to
move at that forbidden speed, it would be so flattened that it would cease
to exist. Indeed, matter is now hardly needed at all; its place has been
taken by radio-activity, and by electrons which dart and whirl with such
miraculous swiftness, that occasionally, for no known reason, they can
skip from orbit to orbit without traversing the intervening positions--an
evident proof of free-will in them. Or if solids should still seem to be
material, there are astral bodies as well which are immaterial although
physical; and as to ether and electricity, they are the very substance of
spirit. All this I find announced in newspapers and even in books as the
breakdown of scientific materialism: and yet, when was materialism more
arrant and barbarous than in these announcements? Something no doubt has
broken down: but I am afraid it is rather the habit of thinking clearly
and the power to discern the difference between material and spiritual

The latest revolution in science will probably not be the last. I do not
know what internal difficulties, contradictions, or ominous obscurities
may exist in the new theories, or what logical seeds of change, perhaps of
radical change, might be discovered there by a competent critic. I base my
expectation on two circumstances somewhat more external and visible to the
lay mind. One circumstance is that the new theories seem to be affected,
and partly inspired, by a particular philosophy, itself utterly insecure.
This philosophy regards the point of view as controlling or even creating
the object seen; in other words, it identifies the object with the
experience or the knowledge of it: it is essentially a subjective,
psychological, Protestant philosophy. The study of perspectives, which a
severer critic might call illusions, is one of the most interesting and
enlightening of studies, and for my own part I should be content to dwell
almost exclusively in that poetic and moral atmosphere, in the realm of
literature and of humanism. Yet I cannot help seeing that neither in logic
nor in natural genesis can perspectives be the ultimate object of science,
since a plurality of points of view, somehow comparable, must be assumed
in the beginning, as well as common principles of projection, and ulterior
points of contact or coincidence. Such assumptions, which must persist
throughout, seem to presuppose an absolute system of nature behind all the
relative systems of science.

The other circumstance which points to further revolutions is social. The
new science is unintelligible to almost all of us; it can be tested only
by very delicate observations and very difficult reasoning. We accept it
on the authority of a few professors who themselves have accepted it with
a contagious alacrity, as if caught in a whirlwind. It has sprung up
mysteriously and mightily, like mysticism in a cloister or theology in a
council: a Soviet of learned men has proclaimed it. Moreover, it is not
merely a system among systems, but a movement among movements. A system,
even when it has serious rivals, may be maintained for centuries as
religions are maintained, institutionally; but a movement comes to an end;
it is followed presently by a period of assimilation which transforms it,
or by a movement in some other direction. I ask myself accordingly whether
the condition of the world in the coming years will be favourable to
refined and paradoxical science. The extension of education will have
enabled the uneducated to pronounce upon everything. Will the patronage of
capital and enterprise subsist, to encourage discovery and reward
invention? Will a jealous and dogmatic democracy respect the
unintelligible insight of the few? Will a perhaps starving democracy
support materially its Soviet of seers? But let us suppose that no
utilitarian fanaticism supervenes, and no intellectual surfeit or
discouragement. May not the very profundity of the new science and its
metaphysical affinities lead it to bolder developments, inscrutable to the
public and incompatible with one another, like the gnostic sects of
declining antiquity? Then perhaps that luminous modern thing which until
recently was called science, in contrast to all personal philosophies, may
cease to exist altogether, being petrified into routine in the
practitioners, and fading in the professors into abstruse speculations.



That the end of life is death may be called a truism, since the various
kinds of immortality that might perhaps supervene would none of them
abolish death, but at best would weave life and death together into the
texture of a more comprehensive destiny. The end of one life might be the
beginning of another, if the Creator had composed his great work like a
dramatic poet, assigning successive lines to different characters. Death
would then be merely the cue at the end of each speech, summoning the next
personage to break in and keep the ball rolling. Or perhaps, as some
suppose, all the characters are assumed in turn by a single supernatural
Spirit, who amid his endless improvisations is imagining himself living
for the moment in this particular solar and social system. Death in such a
universal monologue would be but a change of scene or of metre, while in
the scramble of a real comedy it would be a change of actors. In either
case every voice would be silenced sooner or later, and death would end
each particular life, in spite of all possible sequels.

The relapse of created things into nothing is no violent fatality, but
something naturally quite smooth and proper. This has been set forth
recently, in a novel way, by a philosopher from whom we hardly expected
such a lesson, namely Professor Sigmund Freud. He has now broadened his
conception of sexual craving or _libido_ into a general principle of
attraction or concretion in matter, like the Eros of the ancient poets
Hesiod and Empedocles. The windows of that stuffy clinic have been thrown
open; that smell of acrid disinfectants, those hysterical shrieks, have
escaped into the cold night. The troubles of the sick soul, we are given
to understand, as well as their cure, after all flow from the stars.

I am glad that Freud has resisted the tendency to represent this principle
of Love as the only principle in nature. Unity somehow exercises an evil
spell over metaphysicians. It is admitted that in real life it is not well
for One to be alone, and I think pure unity is no less barren and
graceless in metaphysics. You must have plurality to start with, or
trinity, or at least duality, if you wish to get anywhere, even if you
wish to get effectively into the bosom of the One, abandoning your
separate existence. Freud, like Empedocles, has prudently introduced a
prior principle for Love to play with; not Strife, however (which is only
an incident in Love), but Inertia, or the tendency towards peace and
death. Let us suppose that matter was originally dead, and perfectly
content to be so, and that it still relapses, when it can, into its old
equilibrium. But the homogeneous (as Spencer would say) when it is finite
is unstable: and matter, presumably not being co-extensive with space,
necessarily forms aggregates which have an inside and an outside. The
parts of such bodies are accordingly differently exposed to external
influences and differently related to one another. This inequality, even
in what seems most quiescent, is big with changes, destined to produce in
time a wonderful complexity. It is the source of all uneasiness, of life,
and of love.

     "Let us imagine [writes Freud][11] an undifferentiated vesicle of
     sensitive substance: then its surface, exposed as it is to the
     outer world, is by its very position differentiated, and serves as
     an organ for receiving stimuli.... This morsel of living substance
     floats about in an outer world which is charged with the most
     potent energies, and it would be destroyed ... if it were not
     furnished with protection against stimulation. [On the other hand]
     the sensitive cortical layer has no protective barrier against
     excitations emanating from within.... The most prolific sources of
     such excitations are the so-called instincts of the organism....
     The child never gets tired of demanding the repetition of a game
     ... he wants always to hear the same story instead of a new one,
     insists inexorably on exact repetition, and corrects each deviation
     which the narrator lets slip by mistake.... According to this, _an
     instinct would be a tendency in living organic matter impelling it
     towards reinstatement of an earlier condition_, one which it had
     abandoned under the influence of external disturbing forces--a kind
     of organic elasticity, or, to put it another way, the manifestation
     of inertia in organic life.

     "If, then, all organic instincts are conservative, historically
     acquired, and directed towards regression, towards reinstatement of
     something earlier, we are obliged to place all the results of
     organic development to the credit of external, disturbing, and
     distracting influences. The rudimentary creature would from its
     very beginning not have wanted to change, would, if circumstances
     had remained the same, have always merely repeated the same course
     of existence.... It would be counter to the conservative nature of
     instinct if the goal of life were a state never hitherto reached.
     It must be rather an ancient starting point, which the living being
     left long ago, and to which it harks back again by all the
     circuitous paths of development.... _The goal of all life is

     "Through a long period of time the living substance may have ...
     had death within easy reach ... until decisive external influences
     altered in such a way as to compel [it] to ever greater deviations
     from the original path of life, and to ever more complicated and
     circuitous routes to the attainment of the goal of death. These
     circuitous ways to death, faithfully retained by the conservative
     instincts, would be neither more nor less than the phenomena of
     life as we know it."

Freud puts forth these interesting suggestions with much modesty,
admitting that they are vague and uncertain and (what it is even more
important to notice) mythical in their terms; but it seems to me that,
for all that, they are an admirable counterblast to prevalent follies.
When we hear that there is, animating the whole universe, an _Élan vital_,
or general impulse toward some unknown but single ideal, the terms used
are no less uncertain, mythical, and vague, but the suggestion conveyed is
false--false, I mean, to the organic source of life and aspiration, to the
simple naturalness of nature: whereas the suggestion conveyed by Freud's
speculations is true. In what sense can myths and metaphors be true or
false? In the sense that, in terms drawn from moral predicaments or from
literary psychology, they may report the general movement and the
pertinent issue of material facts, and may inspire us with a wise
sentiment in their presence. In this sense I should say that Greek
mythology was true and Calvinist theology was false. The chief terms
employed in psycho-analysis have always been metaphorical: "unconscious
wishes", "the pleasure-principle", "the Oedipus complex", "Narcissism",
"the censor"; nevertheless, interesting and profound vistas may be opened
up, in such terms, into the tangle of events in a man's life, and a fresh
start may be made with fewer encumbrances and less morbid inhibition. "The
shortcomings of our description", Freud says, "would probably disappear if
for psychological terms we could substitute physiological or chemical
ones. These too only constitute a metaphorical language, but one familiar
to us for a much longer time, and perhaps also simpler." All human
discourse is metaphorical, in that our perceptions and thoughts are
adventitious signs for their objects, as names are, and by no means copies
of what is going on materially in the depths of nature; but just as the
sportsman's eye, which yields but a summary graphic image, can trace the
flight of a bird through the air quite well enough to shoot it and bring
it down, so the myths of a wise philosopher about the origin of life or of
dreams, though expressed symbolically, may reveal the pertinent movement
of nature to us, and may kindle in us just sentiments and true
expectations in respect to our fate--for his own soul is the bird this
sportsman is shooting.

Now I think these new myths of Freud's about life, like his old ones
about dreams, are calculated to enlighten and to chasten us enormously
about ourselves. The human spirit, when it awakes, finds itself in
trouble; it is burdened, for no reason it can assign, with all sorts of
anxieties about food, pressures, pricks, noises, and pains. It is born, as
another wise myth has it, in original sin. And the passions and ambitions
of life, as they come on, only complicate this burden and make it heavier,
without rendering it less incessant or gratuitous. Whence this fatality,
and whither does it lead? It comes from heredity, and it leads to
propagation. When we ask how heredity could be started or transmitted, our
ignorance of nature and of past time reduces us to silence or to wild
conjectures. Something--let us call it matter--must always have existed,
and some of its parts, under pressure of the others, must have got tied up
into knots, like the mainspring of a watch, in such a violent and unhappy
manner that when the pressure is relaxed they fly open as fast as they
can, and unravel themselves with a vast sense of relief. Hence the longing
to satisfy latent passions, with the fugitive pleasure in doing so. But
the external agencies that originally wound up that mainspring never
cease to operate; every fresh stimulus gives it another turn, until it
snaps, or grows flaccid, or is unhinged. Moreover, from time to time, when
circumstances change, these external agencies may encrust that primary
organ with minor organs attached to it. Every impression, every adventure,
leaves a trace or rather a seed behind it. It produces a further
complication in the structure of the body, a fresh charge, which tends to
repeat the impressed motion in season and out of season. Hence that
perpetual docility or ductility in living substance which enables it to
learn tricks, to remember facts, and (when the seeds of past experiences
marry and cross in the brain) to imagine new experiences, pleasing or
horrible. Every act initiates a new habit and may implant a new instinct.
We see people even late in life carried away by political or religious
contagions or developing strange vices; there would be no peace in old
age, but rather a greater and greater obsession by all sorts of cares,
were it not that time, in exposing us to many adventitious influences,
weakens or discharges our primitive passions; we are less greedy, less
lusty, less hopeful, less generous. But these weakened primitive impulses
are naturally by far the strongest and most deeply rooted in the organism:
so that although an old man may be converted or may take up some hobby,
there is usually something thin in his elderly zeal, compared with the
heartiness of youth; nor is it edifying to see a soul in which the plainer
human passions are extinct becoming a hotbed of chance delusions.

In any case each fresh habit taking root in the organism forms a little
mainspring or instinct of its own, like a parasite; so that an elaborate
mechanism is gradually developed, where each lever and spring holds the
other down, and all hold the mainspring down together, allowing it to
unwind itself only very gradually, and meantime keeping the whole clock
ticking and revolving, and causing the smooth outer face which it turns to
the world, so clean and innocent, to mark the time of day amiably for the
passer-by. But there is a terribly complicated labour going on beneath,
propelled with difficulty, and balanced precariously, with much secret
friction and failure. No wonder that the engine often gets visibly out of
order, or stops short: the marvel is that it ever manages to go at all.
Nor is it satisfied with simply revolving and, when at last dismounted,
starting afresh in the person of some seed it has dropped, a portion of
its substance with all its concentrated instincts wound up tightly within
it, and eager to repeat the ancestral experiment; all this growth is not
merely material and vain. Each clock in revolving strikes the hour, even
the quarters, and often with lovely chimes. These chimes we call
perceptions, feelings, purposes, and dreams; and it is because we are
taken up entirely with this mental music, and perhaps think that it sounds
of itself and needs no music-box to make it, that we find such difficulty
in conceiving the nature of our own clocks and are compelled to describe
them only musically, that is, in myths. But the ineptitude of our
aesthetic minds to unravel the nature of mechanism does not deprive these
minds of their own clearness and euphony. Besides sounding their various
musical notes, they have the cognitive function of indicating the hour and
catching the echoes of distant events or of maturing inward dispositions.
This information and emotion, added to incidental pleasures in satisfying
our various passions, make up the life of an incarnate spirit. They
reconcile it to the external fatality that has wound up the organism, and
is breaking it down; and they rescue this organism and all its works from
the indignity of being a vain complication and a waste of motion.

That the end of life should be death may sound sad: yet what other end can
anything have? The end of an evening party is to go to bed; but its use is
to gather congenial people together, that they may pass the time
pleasantly. An invitation to the dance is not rendered ironical because
the dance cannot last for ever; the youngest of us and the most vigorously
wound up, after a few hours, has had enough of sinuous stepping and
prancing. The transitoriness of things is essential to their physical
being, and not at all sad in itself; it becomes sad by virtue of a
sentimental illusion, which makes us imagine that they wish to endure, and
that their end is always untimely; but in a healthy nature it is not so.
What is truly sad is to have some impulse frustrated in the midst of its
career, and robbed of its chosen object; and what is painful is to have an
organ lacerated or destroyed when it is still vigorous, and not ready for
its natural sleep and dissolution. We must not confuse the itch which our
unsatisfied instincts continue to cause with the pleasure of satisfying
and dismissing each of them in turn. Could they all be satisfied
harmoniously we should be satisfied once for all and completely. Then
doing and dying would coincide throughout and be a perfect pleasure.

This same insight is contained in another wise myth which has inspired
morality and religion in India from time immemorial: I mean the doctrine
of Karma. We are born, it says, with a heritage, a character imposed, and
a long task assigned, all due to the ignorance which in our past lives has
led us into all sorts of commitments. These obligations we must pay off,
relieving the pure spirit within us from its accumulated burdens, from
debts and assets both equally oppressive. We cannot disentangle ourselves
by mere frivolity, nor by suicide: frivolity would only involve us more
deeply in the toils of fate, and suicide would but truncate our misery and
leave us for ever a confessed failure. When life is understood to be a
process of redemption, its various phases are taken up in turn without
haste and without undue attachment; their coming and going have all the
keenness of pleasure, the holiness of sacrifice, and the beauty of art.
The point is to have expressed and discharged all that was latent in us;
and to this perfect relief various temperaments and various traditions
assign different names, calling it having one's day, or doing one's duty,
or realising one's ideal, or saving one's soul. The task in any case is
definite and imposed on us by nature, whether we recognise it or not;
therefore we can make true moral progress or fall into real errors. Wisdom
and genius lie in discerning this prescribed task and in doing it readily,
cleanly, and without distraction. Folly on the contrary imagines that any
scent is worth following, that we have an infinite nature, or no nature in
particular, that life begins without obligations and can do business
without capital, and that the will is vacuously free, instead of being a
specific burden and a tight hereditary knot to be unravelled. Some
philosophers without self-knowledge think that the variations and further
entanglements which the future may bring are the manifestation of spirit;
but they are, as Freud has indicated, imposed on living beings by external
pressure, and take shape in the realm of matter. It is only after the
organs of spirit are formed mechanically that spirit can exist, and can
distinguish the better from the worse in the fate of those organs, and
therefore in its own fate. Spirit has nothing to do with infinite
existence. Infinite existence is something physical and ambiguous; there
is no scale in it and no centre. The depths of the human heart are finite,
and they are dark only to ignorance. Deep and dark as a soul may be when
you look down into it from outside, it is something perfectly natural; and
the same understanding that can unearth our suppressed young passions, and
dispel our stubborn bad habits, can show us where our true good lies.
Nature has marked out the path for us beforehand; there are snares in it,
but also primroses, and it leads to peace.



"The more complex the world becomes and the more it rises above the
indeterminate, so much the farther removed it is from God; that is to say,
so much the more impious it is." M. Julien Benda[12] is not led to this
startling utterance by any political or sentimental grudge. It is not the
late war, nor the peace of Versailles, nor the parlous state of the arts,
nor the decay of morality and prosperity that disgusts him with our
confused world. It is simply overmastering respect for the infinite. _La
Trahison des Clercs_, or Treason of the Levites, with which he had
previously upbraided the intellectuals of his time, now appears to consist
precisely in coveting a part in this world's inheritance, and forgetting
that the inheritance of the Levites is the Lord: which, being interpreted
philosophically, means that a philosopher is bound to measure all things
by the infinite.

This infinite is not rhetorical, as if we spoke of infinite thought or
infinite love: it is physico-mathematical. Nothing but number, M. Benda
tells us, seems to him intelligible. Time, space, volume, and complexity
(which appears to the senses as quality) stretch in a series of units,
positions, or degrees, to infinity, as number does: and in such
homogeneous series, infinite in both directions, there will be no fixed
point of origin for counting or surveying the whole and no particular
predominant scale. Every position will be essentially identical with every
other; every suggested structure will be collapsible and reversible; and
the position and relations of every unit will be indistinguishable from
those of every other. In the infinite, M. Benda says, the parts have no
identity: each number in the scale, as we begin counting from different
points of origin, bears also every other number.

This is no mere mathematical puzzle; the thought has a strange moral
eloquence. Seen in their infinite setting, which we may presume to be
their ultimate environment, all things lose their central position and
their dominant emphasis. The contrary of what we first think of them or of
ourselves--for instance that we are alive, while they are dead or
unborn--is also true. Egotism becomes absurd; pride and shame become the
vainest of illusions. If then it be repugnant to reason that the series of
numbers, moments, positions, and volumes should be limited--and the human
spirit has a great affinity to the infinite--all specific quality and
variety in things must be superficial and deeply unreal. They are masks in
the carnival of phenomena, to be observed without conviction, and secretly
dismissed as ironical by those who have laid up their treasure in the

This mathematical dissolution of particulars is reinforced by moral
considerations which are more familiar. Existence--any specific fact
asserting itself in any particular place or moment--is inevitably
contingent, arbitrary, gratuitous, and insecure. A sense of insecurity is
likely to be the first wedge by which repentance penetrates into the
animal heart. If a man did not foresee death and fear it, he might never
come at all to the unnatural thought of renouncing life. In fact, he does
not often remember death: yet his whole gay world is secretly afraid of
being found out, of being foiled in the systematic bluff by which it lives
as if its life were immortal; and far more than the brave young man fears
death in his own person, the whole life of the world fears to be exorcised
by self-knowledge, and lost in air. And with good reason: because, whether
we stop to notice this circumstance or not, every fact, every laborious
beloved achievement of man or of nature, has come to exist against
infinite odds. In the dark grab-bag of Being, this chosen fact was
surrounded by innumerable possible variations or contradictions of it; and
each of those possibilities, happening not to be realised here and now,
yet possesses intrinsically exactly the same aptitude or claim to
existence. Nor are these claims and aptitudes merely imaginary and
practically contemptible. The flux of existence is continually repenting
of its choices, and giving everything actual the lie, by continually
substituting something else, no less specific and no less nugatory.
_This_ world, _any_ world, exists only by an unmerited privilege. Its
glory is offensive to the spirit, like the self-sufficiency of some
obstreperous nobody, who happens to have drawn the big prize in a lottery.
"The world", M. Benda writes, "inspires me with a double sentiment. I feel
it to be full of grandeur, because it has succeeded in asserting itself
and coming to exist; and I feel it to be pitiful, when I consider how it
hung on a mere nothing that this particular world should never have
existed." And though this so accidental world, by its manifold beauties
and excitements, may arouse our romantic enthusiasm, it is fundamentally
an _unholy_ world. Its creation, he adds in italics, "_is something which
reason would wish had never taken place_".

For we must not suppose that God, when God is defined as infinite Being,
can be the creator of the world. Such a notion would hopelessly destroy
that coherence in thought to which M. Benda aspires. The infinite cannot
be selective; it cannot possess a particular structure (such, for
instance, as the Trinity) nor a particular quality (such as goodness). It
cannot exert power or give direction. Nothing can be responsible for the
world except the world itself. It has created, or is creating, itself
perpetually by its own arbitrary act, by a groundless self-assertion which
may be called (somewhat metaphorically) will, or even original sin: the
original sin of existence, particularity, selfishness, or separation from
God. Existence, being absolutely contingent and ungrounded, is perfectly
free: and if it ties itself up in its own habits or laws, and becomes a
terrible nightmare to itself by its automatic monotony, that still is only
its own work and, figuratively speaking, its own fault. Nothing save its
own arbitrary and needless pressure keeps it going in that round. This
fatality is impressive, and popular religion has symbolised it in the
person of a deity far more often recognised and worshipped than infinite
Being. This popular deity, a symbol for the forces of nature and history,
the patron of human welfare and morality, M. Benda calls the imperial God.

     "It is clear that these two Gods ... have nothing to do with one
     another. The God whom Marshal de Villars, rising in his stirrups
     and pointing his drawn sword heavenwards, thanks on the evening of
     Denain, is one God: quite another is the God within whose bosom the
     author of the _Imitation_, in a corner of his cell, feels the
     nothingness of all human victories."

It follows from this, if we are coherent, that any "return to God" which
ascetic philosophy may bring about cannot be a social reform, a transition
to some better form of natural existence in a promised land, a renovated
earth, or a material or temporal heaven. Nor can the error of creation be
corrected violently by a second arbitrary act, such as suicide, or the
annihilation of the universe by some ultimate general collapse. If such
events happen, they still leave the door open to new creations and fresh
errors. But the marvel is (I will return to this point presently) that the
world, in the person of a human individual endowed with reason, may
perceive the error of its ways and correct it ideally, in the sphere of
estimation and worship. Such is the only possible salvation. Reason, in
order to save us, and we, in order to be saved, must both subsist: we must
both be incidents in the existing world. We may then, by the operation of
reason in us, recover our allegiance to the infinite, for we are bone of
its bone and flesh of its flesh: and by our secret sympathy with it we may
rescind every particular claim and dismiss silently every particular form
of being, as something unreal and unholy.

An even more cogent reason why M. Benda's God cannot have been the creator
of the world is that avowedly this God has never existed. We are expressly
warned that "if God is infinite Being he excludes existence, in so far as
to exist means to be distinct. In the sense which everybody attaches to
the word existence, God, as I conceive him, _does not exist_". Of course,
in the mind of a lover of the infinite, this fact is not derogatory to
God, but derogatory to existence. The infinite remains the first and the
ultimate term in thought, the fundamental dimension common to all things,
however otherwise they may be qualified; it remains the eternal background
against which they all are defined and into which they soon disappear.
Evidently, in this divine--because indestructible and necessary--dimension,
Being is incapable of making choices, adopting paths of evolution, or
exercising power; it knows nothing of phenomena; it is not their cause
nor their sanction. It is incapable of love, wrath, or any other passion.
"I will add", writes M. Benda, "something else which theories of an
impersonal deity have less often pointed out. Since infinity is
incompatible with personal being, God is incapable of morality." Thus mere
intuition and analysis of the infinite, since this infinite is itself
passive and indifferent, may prove a subtle antidote to passion, to folly,
and even to life.

I think M. Benda succeeds admirably in the purpose announced in his title
of rendering his discourse coherent. If once we accept his definitions,
his corollaries follow. Clearly and bravely he disengages his idea of
infinity from other properties usually assigned to the deity, such as
power, omniscience, goodness, and tutelary functions in respect to life,
or to some special human society. But coherence is not completeness, nor
even a reasonable measure of descriptive truth; and certain considerations
are omitted from M. Benda's view which are of such moment that, if they
were included, they might transform the whole issue. Perhaps the chief of
these omissions is that of an organ for thought. M. Benda throughout is
engaged simply in clarifying his own ideas, and repeatedly disclaims any
ulterior pretensions. He finds in the panorama of his thoughts an idea of
infinite Being, or God, and proceeds to study the relation of that
conception to all others. It is a task of critical analysis and religious
confession: and nothing could be more legitimate and, to some of us, more
interesting. But whence these various ideas, and whence the spell which
the idea of infinite Being in particular casts over the meditative mind?
Unless we can view these movements of thought in their natural setting and
order of genesis, we shall be in danger of turning autobiography into
cosmology and inwardness into folly.

One of the most notable points in M. Benda's analysis is his insistence on
the leap involved in passing from infinite Being to any particular fact or
system of facts; and again the leap involved in passing, when the
converted spirit "returns to God", from specific animal interests--no
matter how generous, social, or altruistic these interests may be--to
absolute renunciation and sympathy with the absolute. "That a will to
return to God should arise in the phenomenal world seems to be a miracle
no less wonderful (though it be less wondered at) than that the world
should arise in the bosom of God." "Love of man, charity, humanitarianism
are nothing but the selfishness of the race, by which each animal species
assures its specific existence." "To surrender one's individuality for the
benefit of a larger self is something quite different from
disinterestedness; it is the exact opposite." And certainly, if we
regarded infinite Being as a cosmological medium--say, empty space and
time--there would be a miraculous break, an unaccountable new beginning,
if that glassy expanse was suddenly wrinkled by something called energy.
But in fact there need never have been such a leap, or such a miracle,
because there could never have been such a transition. Infinite Being is
not a material vacuum "in the bosom" of which a world might arise. It is a
Platonic idea--though Plato never entertained it--an essence, non-existent
and immutable, not in the same field of reality at all as a world of
moving and colliding things. Such an essence is not conceivably the seat
of the variations that enliven the world. It is only in thought that we
may pass from infinite Being to an existing universe; and when we turn
from one to the other, and say that now energy has emerged from the bosom
of God, we are turning over a new leaf, or rather picking up an entirely
different volume. The natural world is composed of objects and events
which theory may regard as transformations of a hypothetical energy; an
energy which M. Benda--who when he comes down to the physical world is a
good materialist--conceives to have condensed and distributed itself into
matter, which in turn composed organisms and ultimately generated
consciousness and reason. But in whatever manner the natural world may
have evolved, it is found and posited by us in perception and action, not,
like infinite Being, defined in thought. This contrast is ontological, and
excludes any derivation of the one object from the other. M. Benda himself
tells us so; and we may wonder why he introduced infinite Being at all
into his description of the world. The reason doubtless is that he was not
engaged in describing the world, except by the way, but rather in
classifying and clarifying his ideas in view of determining his moral
allegiance. And he arranged his terms, whether ideal or materials, in a
single series, because they were alike present to his intuition, and he
was concerned to arrange them in a hierarchy, according to their moral

Not only is infinite Being an incongruous and obstructive term to describe
the substance of the world (which, if it subtends the changes in the world
and causes them, must evidently change with them), but even mathematical
space and time, in their ideal infinity, may be very far from describing
truly the medium and groundwork of the universe. That is a question for
investigation and hypothesis, not for intuition. But in the life of
intuition, when that life takes a mathematical turn, empty space and time
and their definable structure may be important themes; while, when the
same life becomes a discipline of the affections, we see by this latest
example, as well as by many a renowned predecessor of M. Benda, that
infinite Being may dominate the scene.

Nor is this eventual dominance so foreign to the natural mind, or such a
miraculous conversion, as it might seem. Here, too, there is no derivation
of object from object, but an alternative for the mind. As M. Benda points
out, natural interests and sympathies may expand indefinitely, so as to
embrace a family, a nation, or the whole animate universe; we might even
be chiefly occupied with liberal pursuits, such as science or music; the
more we laboured at these things and delighted in them, the less ready
should we be for renunciation and detachment. Must conversion then descend
upon us from heaven like a thunderbolt? Far from it. We need not look for
the principle of spiritual life in the distance: we have it at home from
the beginning. Even the idea of infinite Being, though unnamed, is
probably familiar. Perhaps in the biography of the human race, or of each
budding mind, the infinite or indeterminate may have been the primary
datum. On that homogeneous sensuous background, blank at first but
secretly plastic, a spot here and a movement there may gradually have
become discernible, until the whole picture of nature and history had
shaped itself as we see it. A certain sense of that primitive datum, the
infinite or indeterminate, may always remain as it were the outstretched
canvas on which every picture is painted. And when the pictures vanish, as
in deep sleep, the ancient simplicity and quietness may be actually
recovered, in a conscious union with Brahma. So sensuous, so intimate, so
unsophisticated the "return to God" may be for the spirit, without
excluding the other avenues, intellectual and ascetic, by which this
return may be effected in waking life, though then not so much in act as
in intent only and allegiance.

I confess that formerly I had some difficulty in sharing the supreme
respect for infinite Being which animates so many saints: it seemed to me
the dazed, the empty, the deluded side of spirituality. Why rest in an
object which can be redeemed from blank negation only by a blank
intensity? But time has taught me not to despise any form of vital
imagination, any discipline which may achieve perfection after any kind.
Intuition is a broadly based activity; it engages elaborate organs and
sums up and synthesises accumulated impressions. It may therefore easily
pour the riches of its ancestry into the image or the sentiment which it
evokes, poor as this sentiment or image might seem if expressed in words.
In rapt or ecstatic moments, the vital momentum, often the moral escape,
is everything, and the achievement, apart from that blessed relief, little
or nothing. Infinite Being may profit in this way by offering a contrast
to infinite annoyance. Moreover, in my own way, I have discerned in pure
Being the involution of all forms. As felt, pure Being may be
indeterminate, but as conceived reflectively it includes all
determinations: so that when deployed into the realm of essence, infinite
or indeterminate Being truly contains entertainment for all eternity.

M. Benda feels this pregnancy of the infinite on the mathematical side;
but he hardly notices the fact, proclaimed so gloriously by Spinoza, that
the infinity of extension is only one of an infinity of infinites. There
is an aesthetic infinite, or many aesthetic infinites, composed of all the
forms which nature or imagination might exhibit; and where imagination
fails, there are infinite remainders of the unimagined. The version which
M. Benda gives us of infinite Being, limited to the mathematical
dimension, is therefore unnecessarily cold and stark. His one infinity is
monochrome, whereas the total infinity of essence, in which an infinity of
outlines is only one item, is infinitely many-coloured. Phenomena
therefore fall, in their essential variety, within and not without
infinite Being: so that in "returning to God" we might take the whole
world with us, not indeed in its blind movement and piecemeal
illumination, as events occur, but in an after-image and panoramic
portrait, as events are gathered together in the realm of truth.

On the whole I think M. Benda's two Gods are less unfriendly to one
another than his aggrieved tone might suggest. This pregnant little book
ends on a tragic note.

     "Hitherto human self-assertion in the state or the family, while
     serving the imperial God, has paid some grudging honours, at least
     verbally, to the infinite God as well, under the guise of
     liberalism, love of mankind, or the negation of classes. But today
     this imperfect homage is retracted, and nothing is reverenced
     except that which gives strength. If anyone preaches human
     kindness, it is in order to establish a "strong" community
     martially trained, like a super-state, to oppose everything not
     included within it, and to become omnipotent in the art of
     utilising the non-human forces of nature.... The will to return to
     God may prove to have been, in the history of the phenomenal world,
     a sublime accident."

Certainly the will to "return to God", if not an accident, is an incident
in the life of the world; and the whole world itself is a sublime
accident, in the sense that its existence is contingent, groundless, and
precarious. Yet so long as the imperial God continues successfully to keep
our world going, it will be no accident, but a natural necessity, that
many a mind should turn to the thought of the infinite with awe, with a
sense of liberation, and even with joy. The infinite God owes all his
worshippers, little as he may care for them, to the success of the
imperial God in creating reflective and speculative minds. Or (to drop
these mythological expressions which may become tiresome) philosophers owe
to nature and to the discipline of moral life their capacity to look
beyond nature and beyond morality. And while they may _look_ beyond, and
take comfort in the vision, they cannot _pass_ beyond. As M. Benda says,
the most faithful Levite can return to the infinite only in his thought;
in his life he must remain a lay creature. Yet nature, in forming the
human soul, unintentionally unlocked for the mind the doors to truth and
to essence, partly by obliging the soul to attend to things which are
outside, and partly by endowing the soul with far greater potentialities
of sensation and invention than daily life is likely to call forth. Our
minds are therefore naturally dissatisfied with their lot and
speculatively directed upon an outspread universe in which our persons
count for almost nothing. These insights are calculated to give our brutal
wills some pause. Intuition of the infinite and recourse to the infinite
for religious inspiration follow of themselves, and can never be
suppressed altogether, so long as life is conscious and experience
provokes reflection.

Spirit is certainly not one of the forces producing spirit, but neither is
it a contrary force. It is the actuality of feeling, of observation, of
meaning. Spirit has no unmannerly quarrel with its parents, its hosts, or
even its gaolers: they know not what they do. Yet spirit belongs
intrinsically to another sphere, and cannot help wondering at the world,
and suffering in it. The man in whom spirit is awake will continue to
live and act, but with a difference. In so far as he has become pure
spirit he will have transcended the fear of death or defeat; for now his
instinctive fear, which will subsist, will be neutralised by an equally
sincere consent to die and to fail. He will live henceforth in a truer and
more serene sympathy with nature than is possible to rival natural beings.
Natural beings are perpetually struggling to live only, and not to die; so
that their will is in hopeless rebellion against the divine decrees which
they must obey notwithstanding. The spiritual man, on the contrary, in so
far as he has already passed intellectually into the eternal world, no
longer endures unwillingly the continual death involved in living, or the
final death involved in having been born. He renounces everything
religiously in the very act of attaining it, resigning existence itself as
gladly as he accepts it, or even more gladly; because the emphasis which
action and passion lend to the passing moment seems to him arbitrary and
violent; and as each task or experience is dismissed in turn, he accounts
the end of it more blessed than the beginning.

[11] The following quotations are drawn from _Beyond the Pleasure
Principle_, by Sigmund Freud; authorised translation by C.J.M. Hubback.
The International Psycho-Analytic Press, 1922, pp. 29-48. The italics
are in the original.

[12] _Essai d'un Discours cohérent sur les Rapports de Dieu et du
Monde._ Par Julien Benda. Librairie Gallimard, Paris, 1931.

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