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Title: Rationalism
Author: Robertson, J. M. (John Mackinnon), 1856-1933
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Rationalism" ***

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       *       *       *       *       *


+Animism.+ By EDWARD CLODD, author of _The Story of Creation_.

+Pantheism.+ By JAMES ALLANSON PICTON, author of _The Religion of the

+The Religions of Ancient China.+ By Professor GILES, LL.D., Professor
of Chinese in the University of Cambridge.

+The Religion of Ancient Greece.+ By JANE HARRISON, Lecturer at Newnham
College, Cambridge, author of _Prolegomena to Study of Greek Religion_.

+Islam.+ By the Rt. Hon. AMEER ALI SYED, of the Judicial Committee of
His Majesty's Privy Council, author of _The Spirit of Islam and Ethics
of Islam_.

+Magic and Fetishism.+ By Dr. A. C. HADDON, F.R.S., Lecturer on
Ethnology at Cambridge University.

+The Religion of Ancient Egypt.+ By Professor W. M. FLINDERS PETRIE,

+The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria.+ By THEOPHILUS G. PINCHES, late
of the British Museum.

+Early Buddhism.+ By Professor RHYS DAVIDS, LL.D., late Secretary of The
Royal Asiatic Society.

+Hinduism.+ By Dr. L. D. BARNETT, of the Department of Oriental Printed
Books and MSS., British Museum.

+Scandinavian Religion.+ By WILLIAM A. CRAIGIE, Joint Editor of the
_Oxford English Dictionary_.

+Celtic Religion.+ By Professor ANWYL, Professor of Welsh at University
College, Aberystwyth.

+The Mythology of Ancient Britain and Ireland.+ By CHARLES SQUIRE,
author of _The Mythology of the British Islands_.

+Judaism.+ By ISRAEL ABRAHAMS, Lecturer in Talmudic Literature in
Cambridge University, author of _Jewish Life in the Middle Ages_.

+The Religion of Ancient Rome.+ By CYRIL BAILEY, M.A.

+Shinto, The Ancient Religion of Japan.+ By W. G. ASTON, C.M.G.

+The Religion of Ancient Mexico and Peru.+ By LEWIS SPENCE, M.A.

+Early Christianity.+ By S. B. BLACK, Professor at M'Gill University.

+The Psychological Origin and Nature of Religion.+ By Professor J. H.

+The Religion of Ancient Palestine.+ By STANLEY A. COOK.

+Manicheeism.+ By F. C. CONYBEARE. (_Shortly._)


+Early Greek Philosophy.+ By A. W. BENN, author of _The Philosophy of
Greece, Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century_.

+Stoicism.+ By Professor ST. GEORGE STOCK, author of _Deductive Logic_,
editor of the _Apology of Plato_, etc.

+Plato.+ By Professor A. E. TAYLOR, St. Andrews University, author of
_The Problem of Conduct_.

+Scholasticism.+ By Father RICKABY, S.J.

+Hobbes.+ By Professor A. E. TAYLOR.

+Locke.+ By Professor ALEXANDER, of Owens College.

+Comte and Mill.+ By T. WHITTAKER, author of _The Neoplatonists,
Apollonius of Tyana and other Essays_.

+Herbert Spencer.+ By W. H. HUDSON, author of _An Introduction to
Spencer's Philosophy_.

+Schopenhauer.+ By T. WHITTAKER.

+Berkeley.+ By Professor CAMPBELL FRASER, D.C.L., LL.D.

+Swedenborg.+ By Dr. SEWALL.

+Nietzsche: His Life and Works.+ By ANTHONY M. LUDOVICI.


+Rationalism.+ By J. M. ROBERTSON.

+Lucretius and the Atomists.+ By EDWARD CLODD.

       *       *       *       *       *






§ 1. THE TERM                                1

§ 2. THE PRACTICAL POSITION                  7

§ 3. THE RELIGIOUS CHALLENGE                12



§ 6. THE MEANING OF REASON                  37

§ 7. THE TEST OF TRUTH                      47

§ 8. ULTIMATE PROBLEMS                      62

§ 9. IDEALS                                 76



The names 'rationalist' and 'rationalism' have been used in so many
senses within the past three hundred years that they cannot be said to
stand quite definitely for any type or school of philosophic thought.
For Bacon, a 'rationalist' or _rationalis_ was a physician with _a
priori_ views of disease and bodily function; and the Aristotelian
humanists of the Helmstadt school were named _rationalistas_ about the
same period by their opponents. A little later some Continental scholars
applied the name to the Socinians and deists; and later still it
designated, in Britain, types of Christian thinkers who sought to give a
relatively reasoned form to articles of the current creed which had
generally been propounded as mysteries to be taken on faith. The claim
to apply 'reason' in such matters was by many orthodox persons regarded
as in itself impious, while others derided the adoption of the title of
'rationalist' or 'reasonist' by professing Christians as an unwarranted
pretence of superior reasonableness. Used in ethics, the label
'rationalism' served in the earlier part of the eighteenth century to
stigmatise, as lacking in evangelical faith, those Christians who sought
to make their moral philosophy quadrate with that of 'natural religion.'
Later in the century, though in England we find the status of 'rational'
claimed for orthodox belief in miracles and prophecies as the only valid
evidence for Christianity,[1] rationalism became the recognised name for
the critical methods of the liberal German theologians who sought to
reduce the supernatural episodes of the Scriptures to the status of
natural events misunderstood; and several professed histories of modern
'rationalism' have accordingly dealt mainly or wholly with the
developments of Biblical criticism in Germany.

New connotations, however, began to accrue to the terms in virtue of the
philosophical procedure of Kant's _Critique of Pure Reason_, though his
_Religion within the Bounds of Simple [blossen] Reason_ went far to
countenance the current usage; and when Hegel subsequently proceeded to
identify (at times) reason with the cosmic process, there were set up
implications which still give various technical significances to
'rationalism' in some academic circles. In the brilliant work of
Professor William James on _Pragmatism_, for instance, the term is
represented as connoting, in contrast to the thinking of 'tough-minded'
empiricists, that of a type or school of 'tender-minded' people who are

     'Rationalistic (going by "principles")

Yet it is safe to say that in Britain, for a generation back, the name
has carried to the general mind only two or three of the connotations in
Professor James's list, and much more nearly coincides with his contrary
list characterising 'the tough-minded':--

     'Empiricist (going by "facts")

--though here again the item 'pluralistic' does not chime with the
common conception, and 'pessimistic' is hardly less open to challenge.
'Intellectualistic' appears to be aimed at Hegelians, but would be
understood by many as describing the tendency to set up 'reason' against
'authority'; and Professor James's 'rationalists,' who would appear to
include thinkers like his colleague Professor Royce, would not be so
described in England by many university men, clergymen, or journalists.
The name 'rationalist,' in short, has come to mean for most people in
this country very much what 'freethinker' used to mean for those who did
not employ it as a mere term of abuse. It stands, that is to say, for
one who rejects the claims of 'revelation,' the idea of a personal God,
the belief in personal immortality, and in general the conceptions
logically accruing to the practices of prayer and worship.

Perhaps the best name for such persons would be 'naturalist,' which was
already in use with some such force in the time of Bodin and Montaigne.
Kant, it may be remembered, distinguished between 'rationalists,' as
thinkers who did not deny the possibility of a revelation, and
'naturalists' who did. But though 'natural_ism_,' has latterly been
recognised by many as a highly convenient term for the view of things
which rejects 'supernaturalism,' and will be so used in the present
discussion, the correlative 'natural_ist_' has never, so to speak, been
naturalised in English. For one thing, it has been specialised in
ordinary language in the sense of 'student of nature,' or rather of what
has come to be specially known as 'natural history'--in particular, the
life of birds, insects, fishes, and animals. And, further, the term
'naturalism,' like every other general label for a way of thinking, is
liable to divagations and misunderstandings. Some thinkers (known to the
present writer only through the accounts given of them by others) appear
to formulate as a philosophic principle the doctrine that the best way
to regulate our lives is to find out how the broad processes of 'Nature'
is tending, and to conform to it alike our ideals and our practice. The
notion is that if, say, Nature appears to be making for the
extermination of backward races, we should try to help the process
forward. It is doubtful whether more than a very small number of
instructed men have ever entertained such a principle. It is certainly
not the expression of the philosophy of those ancients who sought to
'live according to Nature'; and it would certainly not have been
assented to by such modern 'naturalists' as Spencer and Huxley and
Mill. But if the principle is current at all, it makes the name of
'naturalist' as ambiguous philosophically as 'rationalist' can be.[2]

And similar drawbacks attach to another set of terms which have much to
recommend them--'positive,' 'positivist,' and 'positivism.' They stand
theoretically for (1) the provable, (2) the attitude of the seeker for
intelligible proof in all things, (3) the conviction that the rights of
reason are ultimate and indefeasible. But here again, to say nothing of
the equivoque of 'positive,' we are met by a claim of pre-emption, the
claim of Comte to associate the 'ism' specifically with his system,
theoretic and practical. And for the majority of men with positivist
proclivities, the gist of the 'practical application' of Comte is
incompatible with the positive spirit. Positivism with a capital P is
thereby made for them, as it was for Littré, something alien to
positivism as the free scientific spirit would seek to shape it. And a
wrangle over the ownership of the word would be a waste of time.


[1] See _A Full Answer to a late View of the Internal Evidence of the
Christian Religion, in a Dialogue between a Rational Christian and his
Friend_. London, 1777. The orthodox writer deals severely with some
lines of Christian apologetics which have since had vogue.

[2] The somewhat awkward term 'naturalistic,' which is sometimes useful,
is hereinafter used in relation to the sense above given for


The usages being so, most of us who can answer to the term 'rationalist'
may reasonably let its general force be decided for us by the stream of
tendency in ordinary speech; and, recognising the existence of other
applications, one may usefully seek to give a philosophic account of
what its adoption seems to involve. That is to say, the present treatise
does not undertake to present, much less to justify, all the views which
have ever been described as 'rationalistic,' but merely to present
current rationalism in the broad sense indicated, as on the one hand an
outcome of tendencies seen at work in the earlier movements so named,
and on the other hand as apparently committing its representatives to a
certain body or class of conclusions. For there is this capital element
in common for all the stirrings known by the name of rationalism, that
they stand for 'private judgment' as against mere tradition or mere
authority. Early 'rationalists' might indeed seek to put a
quasi-rational form upon tradition, and to give reasons for recognising
authority. But in their day and degree they had their active part in the
evolution of the critical faculty, inasmuch as they outwent the line of
mere acquiescence; and views which to-day form part of uncritically
accepted creeds were once products of innovating (however fallacious)
reasoning. There is no _saltum mortale_ in the evolution of thought. The
very opponents of the rationalist often claim to be more rational than
he, and must at least use his methods up to a certain point. This is
done even by the quasi-skeptical school, of whom some claim to
subordinate reason to some species of insight which they either omit to
discriminate intelligibly from the process of judgment, or do not admit
to need its sanction.

'Rationalism,' then, is to be understood relatively. To be significant
to-day, accordingly, it should stand first and last for the habit and
tendency to challenge the doctrines which claim 'religious' or
sacrosanct authority--to seek by reflection a defensible theory of
things rather than accept enrolment under traditional creeds which
demand allegiance on supernaturalist grounds.

Of such thinkers the number is daily increasing. There are now,
probably, tens of thousands of more or less instructed men and women in
this country who would call themselves rationalists in the broad sense
above specified as now generally current. They are all, probably,
Darwinians or evolutionists, mostly 'monists' in Spencer's way,
'determinists' in the philosophic sense of that term if they have worked
at the 'free-will' problem at all, and non-believers in personal
immortality. Very few, at least, bracket the term 'rationalist' with
'spiritualist' in describing themselves: the two tendencies nearly
always divide sharply, though it cannot be said that in strict logic
they are mutually exclusive. Of most, the philosophic attitude
approximates broadly to that of Spencer, though many recognise and avow
the inexpertness of Spencer's metaphysic. Only a few, probably, if any,
could properly be termed 'skeptics' in the strict philosophic sense of
doubters of all inferences. That is a mental attitude more often
professed by defenders of 'revelation,' as Pascal and Huet, who seek to
make the judgment despair of itself in preparation for an act of assent
which is already discredited by such despair. Yet it belongs to the
rationalistic attitude to be ready, in consistency, to analyse all one's
own convictions and listen candidly to all negations of them. A belief
in the possibility of rational certitude is implicit in every process of
sincere criticism; but the discrimination or gradation of certitudes is
the task of rational philosophy.

As we shall see, quasi-rational certitude as regards the process of
evolution is challenged from two points of view by professed believers
in the reality of that process. One school argues that scientific
conclusions are all uncertain because the ultimate assumptions of
science are unverifiable, and that, accordingly, religious assumptions,
being neither more nor less rational than others, may 'reasonably'
stand. Others argue that the process of judgment or reasoning which is
held to establish scientific truth is not adequate to any theory of
interpretation; and that, accordingly, some species of divination--which
in the terms of the case eludes judgment--is to be relied on. Such
thinkers ostensibly profess to 'reason' to the effect that reasoning is
invalid. Against them, those who claim to hold by reason as the totality
of judgment may fitly call themselves by the name 'rationalist.'

Given such a general attitude, then, to what philosophic form is it
justifiably to be reduced? Those who have longest meditated the question
will perhaps be the least quick to give a precise and confident answer.
If training in the scrupulous use of reason sets up any mental habit in
face of large problems, it is the habit of tentative approach; and the
rationalist of to-day should be a much less readily self-satisfied
thinker than the former claimants to the name. Professor James, indeed,
is able to reconcile an ostensible certainty of rightness of method and
result with much experience in investigation. 'A pragmatist,' he tells
us, 'turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate
habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction
and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from fixed principles, closed
systems, and pretended absolutes and origins.' One is delighted to hear
it; but it is perhaps the course of prudence for most of us to doubt our
power of getting entirely clear of inveterate habits.[3] Scrutiny of
philosophic literature fails to reveal any one who entirely succeeded in
it, even slowly. A constant concern for revision, then, would seem to be
forced upon the professed rationalist, who knows how often the appeal to
reason has yielded mere modifications of error, one unjustifiable
credence ousting another. 'Knows,' one says, because the error is
provable to the satisfaction of the judgment which seeks certainty.
Such negative knowledge is the promise of positive.


[3] 'Pragmatism' soon becomes 'she' in Professor James's hands. Mr.
Schiller seems to prefer 'it'; but he too makes much play with
pragmatism as an entity. Whatever be the amount of 'abstraction'
involved, the verbal method savours of very old-established


It is fitting, then, at the very outset to make a critical scrutiny of
the implications of our term. Rationalism, broadly, implies the habitual
resort to reason, to reflection, to judgment. The rationalist, in
effect, says, 'That which I find to be incredible I must disbelieve,
whatever prestige may attach to its assertion; that which I find to be
doubtful or inconceivable I will so describe. Finding the practice of
prayer to be incompatible not only with any sincere belief in natural
law, but with the professed religious beliefs of the more educated of
those who resort to it, I will not pray. Seeing all religions to be but
halting manipulations of the guesses and intuitions of savages, to be
still as uncritically credulous in their affirmations as they are blind
in their denials, and to be thus mere loose modifications of older
beliefs felt to be astray, I will go behind them all for my own theory
of things, getting all the help I can alike from those who have reasoned
most loyally on the deeper problems involved, and from those who have
striven most circumspectly to understand the process of causation in
the universe.'

So far, the procedure is one of rejecting demonstrably fallacious
beliefs in regard to the general order of things, substantially on the
lines on which tested and testable conclusions have been substituted for
old delusions in what we term 'the sciences.' At every step the
rationalist is assailed, just as were and are the reformers of the
sciences; first by angry epithets, then by bad arguments as to
'evidence,' then by cooler attempts to demonstrate that his method will
lead to moral harm, whether or not to present or future punishment at
the hands of an angry God. In particular he is assured that on his
principles there can be no restraint upon men's evil proclivities; and
that even the most thoughtful man runs endless dangers of wrong-doing
when he substitutes his private judgment for the 'categorical
imperative' embodied either in religious codes or in the current body of
morality.[4] To such representations the critical answer is that
undoubtedly the application of reason to moral issues incurs the risks
of fallacy which beset all reasoning in science so-called; but that, on
the other hand, every one of those risks attaches at least equally to
all acceptance of 'authoritative' teaching. Galileo could not well err
worse than ancient Semites or Christian priests in matters scientific;
and Clifford could not conceivably div agate more dangerously in morals
than did the plotters and agents of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.
Even if we put out of the account the overwhelming record of undenied
wickedness wrought in the name of God and faith, there never has been,
and there is no prospect of our ever seeing, unanimity of moral opinion
among even the most disciplined types of religious believers in
'authority.' Even in the Catholic Church it would be difficult to find
any two men of judicial habit of mind who agree in all points as to what
is 'right.'

Nor is the rationalist's position a whit more open to utilitarian
criticism (for his religious opponents, it will be observed, are
narrowly utilitarian even in professing to combat _his_ utilitarianism)
when he is challenged upon his acceptance of 'the voice of conscience,'
otherwise the 'categorical imperative.' The Kantian argument on that
head is a fallacy of shifting terms. Mental hesitation as to obeying the
sense of 'ought' is the proof of the vacillation of the perception of
'oughtness.' When I feel, first, that I 'ought' to forgive a peculator,
and then that I 'ought' to give him up to 'justice'; or, alternatively,
that I ought to rise earlier, and, again, that I may as well enjoy more
sleep, I have reduced the 'categorical imperative' to the last term in a
calculation. And exactly the same thing is done by the believer who is
perplexed as to the 'voice of God.' Religious history and biography are
full of avowals, on the one hand, of the murderous clash of convictions
alike resting on 'revelation' of all kinds, and, on the other hand, of
the agonies of zealots 'wrestling in prayer' to know what is really the
divine will.[5] Cromwell's life illustrates both orders of dilemma, with
a sufficiency of resultant moral evil to arrest propaganda on the side
of faith. And the philosopher of the 'categorical imperative' miscarries
as instructively as does the soldier of divine will. Kant, on the one
hand, vetoes even the telling of a lie to a would-be murderer to put him
astray, and, on the other hand, commends to 'enlightened' clergymen the
systematic preaching of their religion in a double sense, because
_populus vult decipi_. The 'categorical imperative,' as propounded by
him, is a form of self-deception.

When, again, the psychic facts are critically faced and the 'categorical
imperative' is rationally recognised as either the sum of the persisting
moral judgments or the mere verbalism that we ought to do what we feel
we ought to do, the rationalist is still at no disadvantage, utilitarian
or other. It is not there that his tether tightens. Religious morality,
as finally ratified by the more thoughtful among religious men, is but
the endorsement of 'natural' morality. There is not one social
commandment, as distinguished from religious or ritualist dogma, that
did not emerge as a prescription of the natural moral sense, primitive
or otherwise--a supererogatory proof that the religious prescriptions
are from the same source. All surviving religious ethic is to-day
actually accredited as such, precisely because--and only in so far
as--it conforms to natural judgment. Without resort to that tribunal,
the religionist could not discriminate between the sanction of the sixth
commandment and the law of the levirate, which he has cancelled.

The religious sanction, therefore, is logically null, in terms of the
religious man's own mental processes.[6] There is left him, to discredit
the rationalist, only the threat that the God whom he terms infinitely
good will or may punish the unbeliever for not believing on the strength
of a Bible packed with incredible narrative and indefensible doctrine.
The anti-rationalist position is thus reduced to 'Pascal's wager'--at
once the most childish and, from the standpoint of other and nobler
religious thought, the most irreligious argument ever advanced by a
competent intelligence on the side of faith. Pascal's thesis is that if
the unbeliever is wrong, he runs a frightful risk of future torment;
whereas, if he should after all be right, he will be no worse off after
death for having believed. So the 'belief' required of him is a simple
mindless and faithless conformity to a conditional threat. To such moral
perversity can religion persuade.

To Pascal's wager there have been many retorts. Mill declared that if a
God should doom him to hell for having been unable to believe in such a
God, 'to hell he would go'--glad, by implication, not to be in heaven.
Mansel's sole answer was a puerile attempt at a pious sneer. Clifford,
in effect, denounced the Pascalian appeal for what it was, a base appeal
to fear.[7] But it is unnecessary to resort to such logical
supererogation. There are two obvious and decisive rebuttals to Pascal's
doctrine on purely logical ground. Firstly, his thesis is available to
the Moslem or the polytheist no less than to the Christian; and when put
from either of these sides it leaves the Christian running the very risk
with which he menaces the unbeliever. He may have chosen the wrong God.
Secondly, the hypothetical Good God, if in any intelligible sense worthy
of the name, would conceivably be as likely to send Pascal to hell for
dishonouring him as to send the honest atheist there for refusing to
make-believe. The pietist has dishonoured himself to no purpose.

The _a posteriori_ argument for religious conformity has thus come to
nothing; and the process of argument has revealed the
religio-utilitarian champion of morality as traitor to that cause. There
is left him, indeed, the plea that religious fears and sanctions are
good for the ill-disposed believer, who ought, therefore, not to be
disillusioned. As regards the simple dogma of deity, the position has
the emphatic support of Voltaire. But Voltaire declined to use the
favourite menaces of faith, as do many religionists of to-day; and if
those menaces are to be rationally vindicated, there must first be
raised the question whether they could not be improved upon for the
purpose professed. Leaving that task to those who affect them, the
rationalist may claim to be justified in acting on the maxim that
honesty is the best policy in the intellectual as in the commercial
life. There has been no such historical harvest of moral betterment from
the religion of fear as could induce him of all men to employ it as a
moral prophylactic.

Thus far he figures as the vindicator of simple veracity against those
who, in the name of morals, would make it of no account. He has still to
meet, indeed, the challenge: What of the ill-disposed among your own way
of thinking? If an unbeliever should see his way to gain by falsehood
or licit fraud, what should deter him? Much satisfaction appears to be
derived by many well-meaning people from the propounding of this
dilemma. They may or may not be gratified by the answer that if a
rationalist should not be, by training and bias, spontaneously averse to
lying and cheating, or generally unwilling to do otherwise than he would
be done by, or sensitive enough to the blame of his fellows to fear it,
there is indeed no more security for his veracity or honesty than for
that of a typical Jesuit or a pious company promoter. One can but add
that, seeing that in the terms of the case he began by unprofitably
avowing an unpopular opinion, he is presumably, on the average, rather
less likely to lie for gain than those who confessedly find the sheer
fear of consequences a highly important consideration in their own plan
of life, and who have at the same time the promise from their own code
of plenary pardon for all sins on the simple condition of ultimate


[4] Even Professor F. H. Bradley, the ablest of living English
philosophers, is responsible for the proposition that 'to wish to be
better than the world is to be already on the threshold of immorality'
(_Ethical Studies_, 1876, p. 180). As the book has not been reprinted,
despite much demand, it may be inferred that the author no longer stands
to all its positions.

[5] Thus we are told of the heroic Gordon that he was 'perplexed
perpetually, and perpetually in doubt as to the precise will of God with
him' (W. S. Blunt, _Gordon at Khartoum_, 1911, p. 88).

[6] The logical analysis may be carried further, as by Mr. A. J.
Balfour:--'To assume a special faculty which is to announce ultimate
moral laws can add nothing to their validity, nor will it do so the more
if we suppose its authority supported by such sanctions as remorse or
self-approval. Conscience regarded in this way is not ethically to be
distinguished from any external authority, as, for instance, the Deity,
or the laws of the land' (_A Defence of Philosophic Doubt_, 1879, p.

[7] The same might be said of Mrs. Browning's minatory picture of the
moment's passage

     ''Twixt the dying atheist's negative,
     And God's face waiting after all'--

round the corner with a flail, belike. Religion cannot be more
dishonoured than by the moral ideals of some of its champions.


But we have now clearly imported into the rationalist philosophy a
principle or factor which ostensibly rivals or primes reason. The
rationalist avows a moral bias--an attitude towards his fellows, a moral
'taste,' let us say--which partly determines his reasoned judgment. He
has a conception of goodness in virtue of which he finds 'revelation'
frequently repellent and the popular 'God' a chimera; even as the
believer finds them satisfactory because they are in part conformable to
his moral and speculative bias, and he has been brought up to pretermit
judgment beyond those limits. This bias appears to be partly congenital,
partly acquired; though most men are agreed that many who reveal a given
bias would have presented another had they been differently trained.
Certain forms of congenital bias, that is to say, yield more or less
easily to others, specially fostered or exercised. Whatever be the
respective force of the generative factors, the fact of bias remains;
and there is no escape from the conclusion that it operates in regard to
'intellectual' as well as to 'moral' judgments--to judgments, that is,
of causal interpretation or non-moral discrimination as well as to
judgments upon human action.

The rationalist, in fact, is merely a person who in certain directions
carries the processes of doubt, analysis, and judgment further than do
persons of a different habit of mind. His neighbour, who believes in
'God' or 'the saints' or Mrs. Eddy, may chance to carry those processes
in other directions further than he,--may be more reflective and
experimental and judicious, for instance, in matters of diet,--may even
be an analytical thinker in matters of science to which the so-called
rationalist has given no independent thought. There are well-known
instances of men of science who by analysis widen the bounds of physical
knowledge while accepting, in ways which other men find grotesquely
uncritical, loose propositions on psychic existence. When sounds are
heard from furniture, the rationalist, with his naturalistic bias, looks
for explanations in terms of physics; while the spiritualist, even if he
chance to be a professed physicist, looks for them in terms of
speculative psychics.

Upon a strictly impartial and 'objective' consideration, the two kinds
of bias are seen to be alike forms of craving, desires seeking
satisfaction. Both inquirers seek for 'causes.' But one has the habit of
seeking causes in terms of sequences of known or intelligible processes,
capable of willed repetition; the other yearns to find proof of the
existence of non-material personalities in the cosmos and in his
personal neighbourhood, and, believing in such existence in advance,
either provisionally or rootedly, hopes to bring others to his way of
thinking by a demonstration that certain physical phenomena are not
physically producible. And it must be granted him that herein he is
theoretically at par with the man of science--physical or moral--who,
having spontaneously framed a hypothesis, seeks to find that facts
conform to it. Every man with a hypothesis, broadly speaking, wants to
find that facts are so-and-so.

The rationalist, then, has his bias like another. Though it takes in
part a critical or negative form, it is fundamentally as positive as
another. He has come to crave for coherence and consistency in
narratives, statements, explanations, arguments, propositions, and
systems of thought; even as his 'contrary' or competitor has come to
crave for evidence that something 'supernatural' wields a purposive and
'intelligent' control, mediate or immediate, over all things, using
among others 'supernormal' means. This 'contrary' thinker may or may not
believe in 'spirits' in the ordinary sense, may or may not believe in
the immortality of human minds; but if he is really to be an opponent of
the rationalist bias he is to be classed as having a bias to traditional
or authoritative views of the cosmos, to religious as against
naturalistic explanations of history, to a conception of the human as of
the extra-human processes in terms of a controlling will and purpose. He
too, it is true, must have some craving for coherence and
consistency--else he could not debate and reason at all; but the other
craving in him has primed that.

It is a fallacy, we may note in passing, to suppose that the 'agnostic'
attitude, so-called, is something between the two main forms of bias
here posited. Agnosticism, logically carried out, can differentiate from
other forms of rationalism only in local limitation of belief; and in
practice it is not often found to do even that. The agnostic inevitably
begins in terms of the rationalist bias, in craving for coherence and
consistency of statement; and his most circumspect negations stand for
precaution against inconsistent credulity. But precisely in virtue of
that bias, he is the opponent of the supernaturalist bias. He does not
in effect merely say, 'I do not know': he implicitly says 'You do not
know' to the professor of non-natural knowledge.

Bias, then, being clearly posited, the debate at once turns--as indeed
it usually does even without formal acknowledgment of bias--to a
competition of claims to consistency. All debate presupposes agreement
on something. As antagonists _in_ religion appeal either to God-idea or
to Bible, to probability or to usage, to expediency or to authority, or
to historic evidence for one revelation as against another, so
antagonists upon the fundamentals of religion appeal to accepted laws of
proof, measures of evidence, consistency of reasoning. The most
tenacious of traditionists must put his case in a 'reasoned' form. And
therein, of course, lies the secret of the gradual historic dissolution
of traditional credence in the minds of those who come at all within the
range of the argument. Every act of reasoning--as priesthoods are more
or less clearly aware--is a concession to the rationalist position to
begin with; and only superior skill in fence can ostensibly countervail
the advantage thus given to the disputant who claims that reason must
determine beliefs. Reasoning against the validity of reason is
recognisable as suicidal by all who can reason coherently. If reason be
untrustworthy, what is the value of reasoning to that effect? Either you
go by reason or you do not. If not, you are out of the debate, or you
are grasping your sword by the blade, a course not long to be persisted
in. Even the skeptical defender of religion, following religious
precedent, says, 'Come now, let us reason together.'

Thus we reach the standing anomaly that the defence of faith against
rationalistic criticism alternately takes the courses of pronouncing the
appeal to reason a foolish presumption, and of claiming to reason more
faithfully than the rationalist. The two positions being, to say the
least, incompatible from the point of view of dialectic, we must fight
upon one or the other at a time; and, having briefly dealt with the
former, we may fitly consider at greater length the latter. The more
philosophic assailant of the rationalist, we assume, professes after all
to stand or fall by reasoning. That is to say, he claims to hold his
supernaturalist positions in logical and moral consistency with his
historical positions, his practice as a judge or juror, as a man of
science, as a critic in politics, as a man of honour, as a player of
cricket by the rules of the game. As a matter of fact, however, he at
times goes about the task by way of an undertaking to show, not that his
beliefs are well founded in reason, but that no beliefs are; and that
his beliefs are therefore at least as valid as any one else's. All the
while he is ostensibly appealing to reason, to judgment. That position
in turn must be considered.


The philosophic issue under this head has been usefully cleared for
English readers by Mr. A. J. Balfour in his _Defence of Philosophic
Doubt_; and, in another sense, very usefully for rationalists by the
same writer in his work _The Foundations of Belief_. The gist of the
former treatise is an expansion of the proposition of Hume that all
moral judgments, on analysis, are found to root in a sentiment or bias.
In particular, Mr. Balfour argues that all scientific beliefs so-called,
however immediately proved, rest upon general beliefs which are
'incapable of proof.' It is noteworthy that never through the whole
treatise does Mr. Balfour analyse the concept of 'proof,' though his
main aim is ostensibly to discriminate between proved and unproved
propositions. It may be worth while, then, at this stage, to note the
risks of intellectual confusion in connection with the term proof. The
common conception, implicit in Mr. Balfour's argument, is that
concerning a 'proved' thing either we have, or men of science say we
have, a right of certainty, as it were, which we cannot have concerning
anything not proved or not capable of proof. The simple fact is that the
very idea of proof involves that of uncertainty you seek to prove that
which is not unquestionable. To prove is to _probe_,[8] to test. The
idea of 'demonstration,' which seems commonly to connote special
certainty, carries us no further. It means a 'showing,' a 'letting you
see with your own eyes.' In geometry, it stands for a chain of reasoning
in which every step rests upon previous steps which ultimately rest upon
axioms and definitions agreed upon. There the process is one of
analysis--a showing that a proposition formerly unknown as such is
really contained in or implied by propositions known. Certainty follows.
Yet there is abundant record of 'proofs' or 'tests' which were
fallacious, and of ostensible demonstrations which were flawed--modes of
squaring the circle, for instance. The ultimate in the matter is the
belief arrived at or evoked; and the significant fact for us is, that
beliefs ostensibly so arrived at may be false, because the cited proof
or evidence is erroneous or the demonstration inconsequent.

Certainty, on the other hand, attaches in the highest degree to certain
beliefs that, in the nature of the case, are 'incapable of proof,' that
is, of being tested. No belief is more certain for all men than the
belief that they will all die, though the event, posited as future,
cannot as such be 'tested.' In this case, the connotation of the word
'proof,' nevertheless, is by common consent transferred to the concept
of mortality: the invariable dying of all previous men is allowed to be
'proof,' or decisive evidence, that all living men will die to the last
generation. In regard to some other certainties, the concept of 'proof'
is wholly irrelevant. You cannot 'prove' that you feel a pain, though it
is one of the most certain of all facts for you while it lasts. If,
then, any general scientific or other belief be shown to be 'incapable
of proof,' in this merely negative sense (as distinguished from 'capable
of disproof'), that is no argument against it for any practical or
philosophic purpose. Such a belief is that in the 'uniformity of
nature,' which is held by the same tenure as that in the mortality of
all men. It cannot be 'proved,' either as to the past or the future, in
the sense of being tested, save as regards past particulars, which are
necessarily a small selection from the totality of phenomena. For the
future, in the terms of the case, there can be no proof. Yet no man has
any more doubt as to the rising of the sun to-morrow than as to his own
ultimate death. Concerning this we are quite certain, which we cannot be
as to many things reasonably held to have been 'proved.' Such and such
are our 'certainties.'

What, then, is Mr. Balfour's case against men of 'science,' and those
whom he calls 'the Freethinkers'? It may be put under three heads.

1. They are lax, he thinks, in their conception of proof. As it happens,
he argues against Mill's criticism of the syllogism, which is that there
can be no real inference from the premisses of a syllogism, because in
the major premiss there is already asserted what is afterwards asserted
in the conclusion. Mr. Balfour's reply is, that 'So long as in fact we
do assert the major premiss without first believing the conclusion, so
long will the latter be an inference from the former.' Now, Mill's
express contention is that we never do assert the major premiss without
first believing the conclusion; and the dispute resolves itself into one
as to the proper meaning of 'inference.' Mill is at this point guarding
against erroneous conceptions of proof; his thesis being that the
'proof' of the conclusion is not given in the major, but in the body of
evidence on which that is founded, and which carries the conclusion at
the same time. As the kind of syllogism in question is the old one
about the mortality of Sokrates, Mill here takes as 'proof' the evidence
which all men now reckon sufficient to establish the fact of universal
human mortality, though, as aforesaid, it is not literally a complete
'proof' at all. Mr. Balfour is arguing, if anything relevant to his main
thesis, that a so-called 'inference' which is merely a statement in one
particular of what is believed of all such particulars, is a 'real'
inference, and therefore somehow more valid than inferences not so
drawn. Perhaps he does not mean this: if so, the argument has no bearing
on his main case.

Concerning 'inference,' the proper development of Mill's position would
be that the processes of reasoning properly to be so called are either
hypotheses still to be tested or beliefs held by the tenure of
uncontradicted experience. And inferences of the latter kind are in fact
of the most various degrees of certainty. We 'infer' that we shall all
die, not from the generalisation that all men are mortal, but from the
accepted fact that all men hitherto have been. The major premiss in the
typical syllogism is itself the inference. But we also infer, from a
much narrower experience, that inasmuch as pitchblende, say, has been
found to yield radium in certain very small quantities, other
pitchblende will do so in future. Here the certainty is distinctly less:
few men would wager heavily on it. And we may at once grant to Mr.
Balfour that in this and many other cases 'scientific beliefs' fall far
short of 'certainty,' as that term is established for us by other
beliefs. As Mill put it, inference from particulars never can be
formally cogent. He might have added as aforesaid, that all real
inference as to events is from particulars, and that formal cogency
belongs only to mathematics. Mr. Balfour says he will not 'go so far' as
Mill. So that, whatever be Mill's inconsistencies--and they are
many--Mill was at this point somewhat less confident of belief than Mr.

2. Mr. Balfour impugns what he takes to be 'the most ordinary view of
scientific philosophy, ... that science, in so far as it consists of a
statement of the laws of phenomena, is founded entirely on observation
and experiment,' which 'furnish not only the occasions of scientific
discovery, but also the sole evidence of scientific truth--evidence,
however, which is considered by most men of science not only amply
sufficient, but also as good as any which can be well imagined.'[9] In
this statement there are obvious laxities, which may serve as openings
for idle dispute. No man of science, surely, holds that all statements
of the laws of phenomena are equally well 'proved' by observation and
experiment. They do hold that such a proposition as that of 'the
uniformity of nature,' considered as a 'law of phenomena,' is founded on
observation and experiment, as fully as any proposition of natural mode
can be. But there is obvious room for ambiguity, again, in the
expression 'laws of phenomena.' Let us consider, for instance,

3. Mr. Balfour's contention that the 'law of universal causation' is
incapable of proof, and cannot properly be said to be founded on
observation and experiment. Here the rationalist may safely grant him
his whole case--at least the present writer does. He is right, I submit,
in his criticism of Mill's ostensible attempt to prove that the
so-called 'law of universal causation' is deduced from observation and
experiment. I will further waive the question whether he rebuts the
proof offered by Kant for his proposition that 'the judgment of sequence
cannot be made without the presupposition of the judgment of causality,'
which, like many of Kant's formulas, seems to me very awkwardly phrased.
But I advance without hesitation the proposition that all reflection
upon events involves the conception of universal causation, and that all
reflection upon things involves the conception of them _in eventu_.[10]
And this necessary assumption is not as such a product of observation
and experiment, though we can never exactly say how far experience may
condition[11] our manner of making the assumption. It is quite needless
to trace the history of it in human experience, for it is clearly
pre-human. If from a tree you fire at and wound a tiger who sees you, he
will try to get at you, plainly regarding you as the cause of his wound,
though he may never have been shot or seen a shot fired before. The
accuracy of his inference is worth noting, though he might chance, of
course, to have been wounded by a shot fired by an unseen companion of
yours. It may 'reasonably' be 'inferred' (to use terms which Mr. Balfour
would probably censure), that man has always obeyed the law of _thought_
thus illustrated; and no number of wrong particular inferences can
affect the inevitableness of his assumption that any event has a cause.
The _concept_ of cause roots in primary animal habit.

Is this assumption, then, a 'law of phenomena' in Mr. Balfour's sense?
is it to be ruled out, on his principles, as not being founded on
observation and experiment? and are men of science thereby shown to be
wrong in holding that every scientific statement of the laws of
phenomena is so founded? I do not see how he can thus argue; for he has
expressly contended (p. 135), that 'A law of nature refers to a fixed
relation, _not_ between the totality of phenomena, but between extremely
small portions of that totality.' Is a law of phenomena, then, something
other than a law of nature? This he cannot mean; and the conclusion is
that the so-called 'law of universal causation' is not properly to be
called a law of nature, or a law at all, unless we are so to call a
necessary element of all reflection upon nature.

The dispute here, in short, resolves itself into a question of
terminology; and it is quite likely that many men of science, and many
freethinkers, have used lax terminology. But as regards the
reasonableness of their beliefs, or their way of believing, in contrast
with those of the supernaturalists whom Mr. Balfour champions, he has
thus far made out no hostile case whatever. And when we come to what
appear to be his conclusions, they are such as can wring no
rationalist's withers. Our ultimate premisses, he contends, are
incapable of proof. Granted--if the assumption of universal causation is
to be termed a premiss, as is that of the uniformity of nature. The
practical issue for him appears to be contained in this passage (italics

     'That men ought not to give up on speculative grounds the belief in
     "the uniformity of nature, or any other great principle," I hold,
     as the reader will see if his patience lasts to the end of the
     volume, with as much persistence as any man. But I must altogether
     take exception to the statement, which is the central point of the
     argument just stated, namely, that the fact that these principles
     work in practice is _any ground for believing them to be even
     approximately true_' (p. 145).

Our patience may easily stand the suggested test, since Mr. Balfour's
book is for the most part extremely well written; and unless I have
totally misunderstood him, his conclusions are (_a_) that he and we do
well to accept the general body of accepted scientific doctrines,
including those of the theory of evolution and the uniformity of nature,
without _any ground for believing them to be even approximately true_;
and (_b_) that he and his co-believers do equally well to hold what he
vaguely indicates (p. 324) as 'the Theological opinions to which I
adhere,' _also_ without 'any ground for believing them to be even
approximately true.' In a sentence (p. 320) of which the diction is
noticeably lax, he says:--

     '...I and an indefinite number of other persons, if we contemplate
     Religion and Science as unproved systems of belief standing side by
     side, _feel a practical need for both_; and if this need is, in the
     case of those few and fragmentary scientific truths by which we
     regulate our animal actions, or an especially imperious and
     indestructible character--on the other hand, _the need for
     religious truth, rooted as it is in the loftiest region of our
     moral nature_, is one from which we would not, if we could, be
     freed.... _We are in this matter_,' he adds, '_unfortunately
     altogether outside the sphere of Reason_.'


[8] This is the elucidation of the puzzling phrase, 'the exception
proves the rule,' so often fallaciously used. It comes from the Latin
schoolmen's 'Exceptio _probat_ regulam,' where the meaning is patent

[9] _Defence of Philosophic Doubt_, p. 13.

[10] Compare Professor Royce:--'Our intelligent ideas of things never
consist of mere images of things, but always involve a consciousness of
how we propose to act towards the things of which we have ideas'
(_Gifford Lectures_, 1900, i. 22).

[11] I exclude the possibility that 'experience' might be construed to
mean the entire development of the mind from infancy. Such a
construction would reduce the argument to insignificance all round.


The problem as to 'the sphere of Reason' could not be more effectually
raised. Mr. Balfour clearly implies that there _is_ a sphere of Reason,
but forces a perplexed query as to when he believes himself to enter it.
Evidently, by his own definitions, his whole political life is lived
outside it. Alike his generalisations from past history, and his
predictions of the future, are such as afford 'no ground for believing
them to be even approximately true': those of his opponents, of course,
coming for him under the same category. He would, perhaps, hold himself
to be in the sphere of Reason when following a proposition in
mathematics; but he does not admit himself to be there even when he
consents to believe that he will die, and that he had better avoid
prussic acid. 'No experience, however large,' he insists (p. 75), 'and
no experiments, however well contrived and successful, could give us
_any reasonable assurance_ that the co-existences or sequences which
have been observed among phenomena will be repeated in the future.' Not
'certainty,' be it observed, but 'any reasonable assurance.' That is to
say, we have no reasonable assurance that we shall die.

Obviously the extravagance of this proposition is calculated. The point
is that no belief whatever concerning life and death and morality and
the process of nature can be justified by 'reason'; and that accordingly
no religious belief whatever can be discredited on the score of being
opposed to reason or 'unreasonable.' If not more reasonable than the
most carefully tested or the most widely accepted belief in science, or
the belief that the sun will rise or fire burn to-morrow, or that we
shall all die, it is not less reasonable than they. Therefore, believe
as your bias leads.

It is only fair to Mr. Balfour to say that there is nothing new in his
position, though probably it has never before been quite so violently
formulated. The Greek Pyrrho (fl. 300-350 B.C.) argued that almost all
propositions were doubtful; and some of his followers are said to have
been consistent enough to doubt whether they doubted. In the dialogues
of Cicero we find the skeptical method employed, with supreme
inconsistency, by the official exponents of unbelieved doctrines, to
discredit competing doctrines. Among the pagans it was also turned, with
no special religious purpose, against all forms of dogmatic doctrine by
Sextus the Empiric (fl. 200-250 A.C.); and in the early Christian
dialogue of Minucius Felix a pagan is presented as turning it against
Christianity. In the later Middle Ages it is resorted to by Cornelius
Agrippa, previously a great propounder of fantastic propositions in
science, against the current science of his time, and in favour of a
return to the simplicity of the early Christian creed. Still later, it
was much resorted to, after the Reformation, by Catholics for the
purpose of discrediting Protestantism; and Pascal and Huet, the latter
in particular, sought to employ it against 'unbelief.' Huet left behind
him, as his legacy to his church and generation, what Mark Pattison has
termed 'a work of the most outrageous skepticism'; and Pascal's use of
the method has left a standing debate as to whether he himself was a
'skeptic.' In England, on the Protestant side, Bishop Berkeley put forth
an argument to the effect that the Newtonian doctrine of fluxions
involved the acceptance of unproved 'mysteries,' and that those who
applied it had accordingly no excuse for rejecting the mysteries of

Finally, it is fair to note that Mr. Balfour's nihilistic treatment of
reason has a surprising sanction in Hume, to say nothing of the other
writers who have practically limited reasoning to mathematical
deduction. That great thinker, with his frequent great carelessness,
wrote that

     'Our conclusions from experience [of cause and effect] are not
     founded on reasoning, or any process of the understanding'
     (_Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding_, Sect. iv. Part ii.,
     par. 2).

     'All inferences from experience are effects of custom, not of
     reasoning' (Sect. v., par. 3).

     'All these [spontaneous feelings] are a species of natural
     instincts, which no reasoning _or process of the thought and
     understanding_ is able either to produce or to prevent' (_Ib._ par.

But Hume, be it noted, would in his earlier life have recoiled from Mr.
Balfour's religious Irrationalism, for in his deistic period he wrote
that the belief in Deity is 'conformable to sound reason.' And, what is
more important, he in effect cancelled his own remarks on reason, above
cited, by writing as follows in Note B on the _Inquiry_ cited:--

     'Nothing is more usual than for writers, even on moral, political,
     or physical subjects, to distinguish between reason and experience,
     and to suppose that these species of argumentation (_sic_) are
     entirely different from each other. The former are taken for the
     mere result of our intellectual faculties, which, by considering _a
     priori_ the nature of things, and examining the effects that must
     follow from their operation, establish particular principles of
     science and philosophy. The latter are supposed to be derived
     entirely from sense and observation, by which we know what has
     actually happened from the operation of particular objects, and are
     thence able to infer what will for the future result from them....
     But notwithstanding that this distinction be thus universally
     received, both in the active and speculative scenes of life, I
     shall not scruple to pronounce that it is at bottom erroneous, or
     at least superficial.'

Hume, it will be observed, is not here bent on vindicating the rational
character of direct inference from observation: he had set out in the
text by disparaging customary thinking as non-rational; and he is now
claiming for the 'reasoning' man that experience goes a long way to
generate his reasoning processes. 'The truth is,' he says in his final
paragraph, 'an inexperienced reasoner could be no reasoner at all, were
he absolutely inexperienced.' It is a fragmentary note to a hasty
passage; but at least it concedes that reasoning _is_ largely a matter
of inference from experience, and thus decisively gainsays the assertion
in the text that no inference from experience is an 'effect of
reasoning,' inasmuch as it says such inference is reasoning; that
reasoning is a working of the mind on the facts of life; and that the
common distinction between reasoning and [beliefs derived direct from]
experience 'is at bottom erroneous, or at least superficial.'[12] If, he
says in the fourth paragraph of the Note, 'If we examine those
_arguments_ which, in any of the sciences above mentioned, are supposed
to be the _mere_ effects of reasoning and reflection, they will be found
to _terminate_ at last in some general principle or conclusion for which
we can assign no _reason_ but observation and experience.' If an
argument be not a process of reasoning, neither word is intelligible. If
an argument terminates (=has one end) in a conclusion founded on
observation, and if that observation be a 'reason' for a proposition,
then arguing is reasoning.

If not, what is Mr. Balfour's book? By his own definition, _that_ is
'outside the sphere of Reason,' inasmuch as it is a series of negative
propositions which, like their denied contraries, must be 'incapable of
proof.' What term, then, would he apply to his argument, if he admits
that he is arguing?

The philosophic skeptic, it would appear, has logically overreached
himself--a very usual consummation. There is little sign that any of the
religious skeptics above named ever made any converts to religion; and
there is much 'reason' to think that they turned many to unbelief. Mr.
Balfour from time to time speaks of 'reasonable people' and of
'absurdity.' But he leaves us in the dark as to what absurdity means,
and his thesis excludes from the 'reasonable' class alike all religious
persons and all scientific persons, unless, possibly, mathematicians as
such. Since there is no 'reasonable assurance' for the belief that the
sun will rise to-morrow, and politicians have no ground in reason for
anything they say as such, the mass of the ordinary beliefs of educated
mankind are not reasonable or rational; and since we have no 'reason'
for believing in either mortality or immortality, we can have no reason
for believing (whether we do or not) in Mr. Balfour, who avowedly
believes in both without reason. His book, by implication, is not an
appeal to reason, is not a process of reasoning, and can give no
'reasonable assurance' of anything, positive or negative, to anybody.
All this by his own showing.

The rationalist, it should seem, has small cause to deprecate such
antagonism. He could hardly have a more comprehensive clearing of the
field of dialectic for the formulation of his own conception of reason
and reasoning, and his own appeal to the reason of reasonable people. As

1. _Reason_ is our name for (_a_) the sum of all the judging processes;
(_b_) the act of reflex judgment; (_c_) 'private judgment' as against
obedience to authority; and (_d_) the state of sanity contrasted with
that of insanity; and '_a_ reason' is a fact or motive or surmise which
we judge sufficient to induce us or others to believe or do (or doubt or
not do) something without much or any danger of error, failure, or

2. _Reasoning_ is our name for the process of comparing or stating
'reasons why' certain propositions or judgments should be believed or
disbelieved, or certain acts done or not done.

3. We are emphatically 'in the sphere of Reason' when we are reflecting
and reasoning, as distinct from merely feeling, sensating, desiring, or
hating; but even the feelings are, as it were, part of the stuff of
Reason. Strictly speaking, we are in the sphere of Reason even when we
believe what we are told to believe on matters outside the knowledge of
our instructors (in so far as we credit them with greater wisdom than
our own), or try to believe that what we would like to be true must be
true because we would like it (inasmuch as we are proceeding
reflectively on a 'reason why'); though in these cases we are reasoning
fallaciously--that is, in a way which can lead to manifold error and

4. _Reasonable_ is our approbatory epithet for an action, course, or
person that is guided by reasoning which we see to exclude most risks of
error and injury--save of course where the taking of risk of injury is

Every one of these definitions is justified by the dictionary to begin
with, though the dictionaries, of necessity, note further conflicting
meanings, as when reason is indicated as 'the faculty or capacity of the
human mind by which it is distinguished from the intelligence of the
lower animals,' or hazily distinguished, on philosophic authority, from
'the understanding.' But the lexicographer loyally notes that _a_ reason
is 'a thought or consideration offered in support of a determination or
an opinion'; and that _to_ reason means, among other things, 'to reach
conclusions by a systematic comparison of facts,' 'to examine or discuss
by arguments.' These senses are implicit in daily usage.

The concept of Reason, in short, must include the whole factory of
beliefs. The judging faculty, the judging propensity, is a complex of
instincts, experiences, inferences, and necessities of thought. It
originates at an animal stage, and conserves to the last animal
elements--as when, without any process of calculation, you infer, as it
were through the muscular sense, that a top-heavy omnibus is likely to
overbalance, or that in riding your bicycle round a sharp corner you
must incline your body inwards. It deals with diet and medicine, art and
industry, no less than with theology and science and politics. In the
former, its accepted procedure is obviously a set of survivals of more
or less tested ideas from among an infinity of detected mistakes; and
the moral law of the intellectual life for the rationalist, the
principle which best justifies his assumption of that name, is that
every belief or preference whatever is fitly to be tried by all or any
of the tests by which beliefs have been sifted in the past, or may more
effectually be tested in the future. We are to do with both our
religion and our science in general what we have done in the past and
are still doing with our medicine, our sanitation, our education, our
physics, our historiography.

Without more ado, then, we may proceed to ask how reasons for beliefs
are ultimately to be appraised by reasonable and consistent people--in
other words, how beliefs are honestly to be justified.


[12] So Kant: 'Thoughts without content are void; intuitions without
conceptions are blind' (_Kritik der reinen Vernunft_, ed. Kirchmann,
1870, p. 100); and Comte: 'There is no absolute separation between
observing and reasoning' (_Politique Positive_, 1851, i. 500).


It may have been observed, with or without perplexity, that Mr. Balfour
specified a 'need for religious _truth_' as his ground for holding his
unspecified 'theological beliefs,' this after bracketing Religion and
Science as alike 'unproved systems,' consisting (by implication) of a
body of propositions as to which we have not 'any ground for believing
them to be even approximately true.' The skeptico-religious conception
of truth being thus found to be as nugatory as that of 'reason' put
forward from the same quarter, we are compelled to posit one more
conformable to common sense, common usage, and common honesty. For the
generality of instructed men, truth in secular affairs means not merely
'that which is trowed,' but (_a_) that which we have adequate 'reason'
to trow, and (_b_) that of which our acceptance is consistent with our
way of testing credences of any or all other kinds. The ultimate
criterion of our beliefs, in short, is the consistency with which we
hold them.

By this test the ground is rapidly cleared of skeptico-religious
literature. That puts a spurious problem to mask a real one. The
question for us is not and cannot be whether, seeing that by inference
from experience some of the beliefs we now hold are likely to be found
false by posterity, we have any right to accept one belief and discredit
another. The skeptic is himself doing so in this very argument, and all
the time. His whole intellectual life is one of judgments and
preferences. There is no intellectual life without them. The question is
whether we have applied to any one belief or set of beliefs the tests we
have applied to others: whether, for instance, we can honestly profess
to believe in prayer or the doctrine of the Trinity or heaven and hell
as we believe in Gresham's Law or the effects of quinine or the
roundness of the earth; whether we have criticised the religion in which
we were brought up as we criticise Mohammedanism or any other; whether
we have scrutinised the legends of our creed as we have scrutinised the
legend of King Arthur and his Knights; or whether, on the other hand, we
hold the atomic theory or faith in vaccination by mere authority, while
we dispute about religious teaching in the schools.

This does not mean that we are to apply the same kind of test to every
kind of proposition; that we are to ask for evidence of immortality as
we ask for evidence of the Darwinian theory. The test is one of
consistency. Does the belief in immortality, we are to ask, consist with
either our knowledge or our imagination? Do we hold it critically and
coherently or as a mere congeries of irreconcilable propositions? Do we
ask ourselves what we mean by 'meeting again'? Is it anything more than
a fantasy which we affirm for our own comfort or the supposed comfort of
others, or for the sake of mere conformity with popular sentiment? No
thoughtful man, perhaps, will deny that he holds some of his opinions by
some such easy tenure; were it only for the reason that consistent
ascertainment is often laborious, and that common consent has to be
allowed to take its place in regard to many beliefs of plainly inferior
importance. But religious beliefs are not so classed by those who
seriously debate them; and here, if ever, the challenge to scrutiny and
consistency is imperative.

And so disturbing is the challenge that for centuries past the higher
religious consciousness has been engaged in an unceasing effort to
persuade itself and its antagonists of the secular or mundane
reasonableness of its supernaturalist creed. Religious life is seen
going on at two widely removed standpoints: one that of the emotional
believer who knows no conceptual difficulties, and is concerned only to
maintain in himself and others the quasi-ecstatic state of faith; the
other that of the would-be reasoner who is concerned to secure peace of
mind by arguing down his own misgivings and the positive antagonism of
unbelief. Between those extremes, probably, is lived the mass of
religious life so-called, untouched either by ecstasy or by conceptual
unbelief as distinguished from passive conformity. But the conflict of
the thinking minority is unceasing; and orthodox professions of triumph
deceive no one who is really engaged in the struggle.

On both sides it has long been a question of balancing 'probabilities,'
a conflict of 'reasons.' Bacon, declaring that he would 'rather believe
all the fables in the Golden Legend and the Koran than that this
universal frame is without a mind,' opened a door that let in all the
forces of doubt. The Koran is the form in which the God-idea recommended
itself to the Moslem mind, as the Bible is the form in which it
commended itself to the Christian; and if for each the other is always
fabulising in detail, where could be the certitude of the common
doctrine? Was mind any likelier to be the form of the power of the
universe than any other of the anthropomorphic characteristics of
Jehovah and Allah and Zeus? However that might be, Bacon was appealing
to the sheer sense of probability; the 'Evidences' of Grotius were
addressed to the same kind of judgment; and Pascal's 'wager' was a blank
appeal to the principle of chances plus the instinct of fear. Butler,
anxiously striving to reduce the straggling deistic controversy to its
logical bases, accepted the test of probability as the guide of life;
and Gladstone, his last champion, with all his show of sheer faith,
strenuously endorses the doctrine. The vital question is seen to be,
then, whether the Butlerian 'believer' or the rationalist is the more
loyal to that standard of probability by which each avowedly guides

But Butler, in the very act of professedly basing his case on
probability, introduced the contrary principle. Gladstone, gravely
reprehending that Jesuit doctrine misleadingly termed Probabilism--which
permits of a choice of the less probable course in morals and
belief--supposed himself to be upholding a true Probabilism in Butler.
The fact is that Butler, seeking to checkmate the Deists, committed
himself to anomaly as a mark of revelation. 'You believe,' he virtually
argued, 'in a benevolent God of Nature, though Nature is full of
ostensible cruelty and heartlessness: if these moral anomalies do not
stagger your deism, why should anomalies in the Scriptures be for you an
argument against their being a divine revelation? Should you not rather
expect to find difficulties in the revelation as in Nature?' So that the
champion of the standard of probability ends by putting an element of
improbability as a mark of divine truth.

It was long ago pointed out that Butler's argument was thus as good for
Islam or any other religion as for Christianity. Gladstone framed a
futile rebuttal to the effect that Christianity had marks of truth, in
respect of prophecy and miracles, which Islam lacked--a mere
stultification of the Butlerian thesis. The Moslem could retort that if
his creed succeeded more rapidly than the Christian with special marks
of anomaly upon it, those were presumably the right anomalies! By the
Butlerian analogy of Nature, what sort of anomalies, pray, were to be
expected in a divine revelation? Gladstone actually made it a
disqualification of Islam that it had succeeded by the sword; this when
his own creed had slain more than ever did Islam. But on Butler's
principles, his plea was vain even if true. If a divinely ruled Nature
be red in tooth and claw, why should not the divine faith be so
likewise? What is the lesson, by deistic analogy, of the volcano?

The complete answer to Butler, of course, lies in stating the simple
fact that analogy leads rationally to the conclusion that all the
alleged revelations are alike human products. If every one in turn is
found to embody cosmological delusion, historical falsity, fabulous
narrative, barbarous ethic, and irrational sanctions, all of which are
by each believer singly admitted to be the normal marks of human
stumbling, the case is at an end. The one salient and sovereign
probability is the one that the believer ignores.

When this mountainous fact is realised, the full force of the Butlerian
argument is seen to recoil on its premiss no less than on its
conclusion. The dilemma that was to turn deists into Christians is
simply the confutation of all theism. Upon none of the tested
principles of inference now normally acted on by men of science, men of
business, and men of affairs, is it rationally to be inferred that the
universe is ruled by a superhuman Good Male Person, who loves and hates,
punishes and rewards, plans and reconsiders, injures and compensates. As
little are we entitled to infer that it is governed by a Superhuman Bad
Person, or a number of Superhuman Persons, male or female, good or bad,
or both. The polytheistic and theistic solutions are the natural ones
for unreflecting ignorance and priestly policy, and the latter remains
the natural one for reverent ingrained prejudice, alias inculcated
faith; but it is only so much sophisticated folklore for the student of
life, nature, history, philosophy. The latest forms of it are but
defecations of the earlier. For Arnold, trained in reverence and avid of
reverend sanctions, the deity of his fellows is confessedly but a
'magnified non-natural man'; and his substituted
'Something-not-ourselves-which-makes-for-righteousness,' in turn, is for
his critics but an evasion of the problem of the

In sum, then, the case for rationalism as against the creeds is that
they recognise no rational test for truth, and apply none. They are
all, to say the least, grossly improbable in the light of the fullest
human knowledge; and the acceptance of them means either passive
disregard of the principle of sufficient reason or the habitual
employment of arguments which upon any other kind of issue would be
recognised by all competent men as at best utterly inadequate. Theology
is the most uncandid of all the current sciences; its results are the
most self-contradictory; its premisses the most incoherent. Upon those
theologians, then, who accuse the rationalist of self-will and
prejudice, he is forced to retort the charge with a double emphasis.
They are daily disloyal to the Canon of Consistency, which is for him
the moral law of the intellectual life. Claiming to propound the highest
truth, they override all the tests by which truth is to be known.

The modern defence of 'faith,' whether Christian or theistic, is less
and less an attempt to prove truth of doctrine--save as regards the
defence of historicity; more and more an attempt to prove its usefulness
or its comfortableness. Faith has turned utilitarian, as regards its
apologetics. John Mill erred somewhat, indeed, in endorsing the
statement that down to his time much had been written on the truth of
religion, and 'little, at least in the way of discussion or controversy,
concerning its usefulness.' Christian bishops early learned to claim for
their creed a gift of prosperity; and in the eighteenth century there
was an abundance of utilitarian vindication of the faith. But latterly
this has more and more coloured the whole defence. Either as a promise
of peace or as one of comfort and stimulus, as a plea for emotional
indulgence or for the joy of the sense of deliverance from
responsibility for sin, as a guarantee for good government or as a
condition of general progress, Christianity is defended on any ground
rather than on that of the truth of its narratives or the conformity of
its doctrine to good sense, moral or other. And the pleas are
entertainingly internecine.

One day we are told that it makes for race-survival; the next, that it
is a spiritual stay for races that are dying out, and a great deathbed
comfort to ex-cannibals, with a past of many murders. A creed which
involves a cosmology is recommended, not by such arguments as may
commend a cosmology, but by pleas of subjective agreeableness which in
any discussion of historic fact would be felt to savour of trifling.

And this simple and spontaneous sophistry is in a measure kept in
countenance by quasi-philosophies such as that of the 'Will to Believe'
and that latterly termed Pragmatism. The former, as brilliantly
propounded by the late Professor James, amounts simply to this, that in
matters on which there is no good or sufficient evidence either way, we
do well to believe what we would like to believe. As the precept comes
from the thinker who passed on to students the counsel of Pascal
concerning the opiate value of religious practices,[13] it is easy to
infer how it will tend to be interpreted. And the second philosophy is
like unto the first, in so far as it conveys, under cover of the true
formula that the valid beliefs are those which affect action, the
antinomian hint that if we think we have found any belief a help to
action, it is thereby sufficiently certificated as true.

The rationalist comment on Pragmatism, thus applied, is that it really
discredits the religious beliefs of most men, inasmuch as they never
relate their faith to action in general, would not stake a shilling on a
prayer, have no working faith in providence, and do not in the least
desire to pass from this life to another. But these men do not study
philosophy; while the emotional believers, who really feel their faith
to be a help in life, do not need the pragmatist's precept, and believe
without it.

What is true in Pragmatism is of the essence of Rationalism. Our lives
at their best are made valid for us by our mutual trust, our reciprocal
sincerities; and Rationalism consists in the effort to extend
intellectual and moral sincerity to the study of all problems. It may
permit, none the less, of some such genial or affectionate glozing of
some facts as love and friendship tend to set up in the relations of
persons, tolerance taking on the vesture of sympathy; and it no more
makes for Gradgrindism, or the belittlement of any of the higher joys,
than for concentration on the lower. Its antagonists alternately indict
it for 'gloom' and for licence; for coldness and for 'Epicureanism'; for
seeking only happiness, and for turning happiness out of doors. The
contradictions of the indictment tell of its collective origin in mere
hostility of temper. Rationalism, of all codes and modes of
life-philosophy, must most seek to make the best of life.

Some professed rationalists, indeed, at times grind in the mills of the
Philistines by professing an apprehension lest their fellows, in
pursuing truth, should lose sight of beauty; and such misconceiving
mentors plead confusedly for some formal association of rationalism with
the arts of feeling, with poetry, with music, with drama, with
fiction--as if without cultivating these things _in the name of_
Rationalism we should be divested of them or discredited as not
possessing them. The fallacy is of a piece with that which identifies
Christianity with progress in civilisation. The rationalistic bias is in
actual experience found to be as compatible with any æsthetic bias as
with the scientific, specially so called; though in point of fact a
scientific culture is in itself more conducive to rationalism in respect
of historical and ultimate problems than is culture in the arts, which
are mostly enjoyed, appraised, and even practised without deliberate
resort to critical analysis.

Some rationalists, again, have been found to contend that the critical
analysis of things æsthetic is destructive of æsthetic joy--an error of
errors, involving blindness to the facts that even a science is in
itself ultimately perceptible as an artistic construction, and that all
the arts live and renew themselves by the sense of truth. The solution
of the verbal conflict lies in recognising that rationalism is after all
but a name for considerate consistency in the intellectual life, where
consistency is still so sadly little cultivated, and where established
habits and institutions tend so powerfully to its exclusion; whereas in
the arts there is no call for such specific championship. There the very
joy of novelty is soon potent to overcome the resistance of
habit--which, for the rest, roots in structural or acquired limitations
not greatly dependent upon cultivation or neglect of the rationalistic
habit. A man of science or of critical research may be dull to new
refinements of æsthesis where an unscientific emotionalist _may_ be
sensitive to them.

Recognising all this, the balanced rationalist will shun as a special
sin of religion the ritualising of his joys, the sectarian extension of
his differences of credence to the field of æsthetics. His rationalism
as such implies no one of the special 'isms' of the arts; though there
he may be an 'ist' like another. For him all art, all literature, all
beauty, is so much of Nature's fruitage; and Christian cathedral and
Moslem mosque can yield him pleasures which Christian and Moslem can
never derive from _his_ distinctive intellectual work. He may even take
artistic satisfaction in contemplating the figure of the winged angel
which Christianity took over from Paganism, without believing it to be
the image of a reality, as so many pietists have so childishly done for
thousands of years. 'Religious' music can minister to him in virtue of
the common psychosis. His very names for himself and his intellectual
code are but insistences on complete inner loyalty to a moral law which
most men profess to obey, and which all of necessity obey in many if not
in most matters.

The time is for him even in sight, as it were, when most men will
recognise and live by that law; and when that day comes there will be no
more need to profess rationalism than to profess, as a creed, any of the
daily reciprocities by which society subsists. But till that day comes
he marks himself, and is marked--to his frequent discomfort, it may
be--by his insistence, in the deepest matters, on that law of truth
which so many still persistently subordinate to pleas or preferences of
authority or habit, convention or subjective taste. Avowing it as his
bias, if so challenged, he claims that it is the bias to perfection in
the intellectual life as the bias to order and sympathy is the bias to
perfection in the civil.


[13] See Professor James's _Principles of Psychology_, 1891, ii. 321.


To a surprising degree, the philosophic disputes of the ages turn upon
the same problems; and to an extent that is nothing short of sinister,
they resolve themselves for most of the onlookers, if not of the
participants, into the question of the maintenance of the popular
religion. Thus academic theists in our own day are found resenting the
tendency of ancient freethinkers to discredit and disestablish the Gods
of Olympus, who for the academics themselves, as for everybody else, are
a set of chimeras. Are we to infer that the current academic
philosophies, even where constructive, are no better bottomed than the
popular credences they seek to shelter? Kant's 'critical' philosophy was
by himself soon turned to the account of pulpit religion; Fichte ended
in restating the gospels in terms of his pantheistic personal equation;
Hegel soon attained to the championship of the Prussian State Church;
Lotze has reformulated Christianity to the end of giving it continuance
as a creed for the educated. Nietzsche said with substantial truth that
the vogue of Kant has been that of a philosopher who enabled theological
teachers to put a philosophic face upon a doctrine not otherwise
presentable to their students; and the vogue of Berkeley in England has
been of a similar kind.

In our own day the fortunes of new treatises in popular philosophy turn
upon their adaptability to orthodox sophistics. Our generation has seen
in succession (1) the absurd work of the late Professor Drummond on
'Natural Law in the Spiritual World' welcomed as turning the tables on
'science' by showing that its doctrines are fundamentally at one with
those of the faith; (2) the still more absurd work of Mr. Benjamin Kidd
on 'Social Evolution' hailed as demonstrating by ratiocination that the
reasonable course for society is not to reason; and (3) the incomparably
subtler books of Mr. Balfour acclaimed (whether or not read) as proving
that reason cannot bite on religious opinions, and that we could never
enjoy our music and our dinners as we do if we thought of ourselves
merely as evolved from animal forms, without somewhere inserting Deity
as the sanction and exemplar of our preferences, æsthetic or moral.[14]
Always the acclamation tells of a passion somehow to humiliate
'science,' to put reason in the wrong, to triumph over 'negation,' to
show that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of
in any philosophy which does not make play with 'spirit,' worship, and
the supernatural.

The cure, however, is never found to be permanent; and latterly we see
the not very accommodating philosophy of M. Bergson grasped at as
yielding some kind of weapon wherewith to beat back the advance of the
ever-encroaching assailant. Sooth to say, neither the analyses nor the
syntheses of M. Bergson are in any way damaging to rationalism, or in
any way rationally ancillary to supernaturalism. The anti-rationalists
have clutched eagerly at his dictum that reason, considered as a light
upon the universe, is a poor thing; and that there is something in us
higher than intelligence. Apart from the disparaging form given
(gratuitously) to the content of these propositions, there is nothing in
them that has not been rationalistically put. That is to say, it is a
rationalistic proposition that new truths are reached neither by
deduction nor by induction, but by a leap of the judgment, by
spontaneous guess or hypothesis. What then?

To say or imply that the guessing faculty is something incomparably
higher than intelligence is one of the inconsequences of M. Bergson,
whose very acute analysis is apt to play upon special problems without
controlling his own dialectic procedure. The sobering fact is that the
false hypotheses are reached in the same way as the true, the wrong
guesses in the same way as the right, the delusions in the same way as
the discoveries. The very theses in science which M. Bergson contemns
were reached by the way which he arbitrarily pronounces 'superior' to
the way of reason. And the court of appeal that determines which is
which, is after all just that intelligence or reason which M. Bergson,
imitating one of the old methods he has ably helped to discredit, had
verbally belittled in merely discriminating its function. No prerogative
whatever can thereby be conferred upon either the guessing faculty or
the guesser as such. The 'divining' faculty is not more divine than
another: it is not really more wonderful to catch fish than to cook
them; and the gift of establishing hypotheses is as rare as the gift of
framing them. When all is said, the self-confidence of the
transcendentalist avails for none but himself: as his own craving for
countenance shows, his hypothesis must pass muster before reason if it
is to persuade.

And for this among other reasons, M. Bergson's attack upon Spencer and
other generalisers in science for their 'mechanical' way of conceiving
evolution is no blow to 'science,' as M. Bergson would probably avow,
though he is lax enough to delimit science at times in his dialectic.
His own way of stating evolution is only another mode of science. To
call 'science' superficial is to be so; for the demonstration that any
scientific doctrine is inadequate must itself be science or nothing. And
here again M. Bergson's criticism, though searching, is not new, however
freshly put. In respect of his sociology in particular, Mr. Spencer has
been repeatedly so criticised; and it is here alone that his limitation
of method is really serious, inasmuch as it affects his prescriptions.
As regards the conception of sub-human evolution, his way of reducing
the past to 'pieces' of evolution is not only not injurious, it was the
only way in which evolution in Nature could well have been realised by
men. M. Bergson is all for the 'creative' aspect of evolution, the
Living Now, the emergence of the latest phenomenon as not merely the
result of the one before, but the living manifestation of the whole. But
this is simply the instinctive, pre-scientific relation to the problem,
returned to and restored, as it had need be, to its place in a
scientific schema from which it had been dropped precisely because it
led nowhere.

M. Bergson has suffered, probably, from the zeal even of instructed
exponents, to say nothing of the acclamations of the amateur; but
perhaps even M. Bergson, by reason of his linear mode of advance,
misconceives the full significance of his own restatements of perceptual
and conceptual fact. His theorem has been represented as vindicating the
thesis of Mr. Samuel Butler's 'Luck or Cunning'--the thesis, namely,
that animal survival and progress are to be conceived in terms of gift
or effort rather than of environment; that Lamarckism, once more, is
truer than Darwinism. But the argument overlooks the fact that Cunning
may be envisaged as Luck; and that Lamarckism without Darwinism halts
far worse than Darwinism without Lamarckism. At best, the 'living' view
of evolution is but a complement of the other, a return from analysis to
outcome. Put singly, it is no addition to knowledge.

     'We called the chess-board white: we call it black,'

the onlooker might say, with Browning; while the analyst might retort
that, like the savage, he was quite conscious of the ever-moving point
of life, the Living Now, but preferred to give his mind to the still
and spacious past, and 'to cut it up into pieces' by way of knowing
something about the law of things, past, present, and future.

The morally valid element in M. Bergson's insistence on 'creative
evolution' (again an old term, by the way) is the vindication of
personality as a creative form. But this was not necessary as regards
the rational determinist, whose position really assumed it, though
possibly individual determinists may have obscured the truth by their
phraseology. As of old, anti-rationalists persist in assuming that the
determinist view of things, mostly accepted by the rationalist, impairs
character by reducing will to a 'mechanism.' But that is a calculated
obscuration of the doctrine. It is a bad sophism to assert that 'the
rejection of mechanism by non-libertarians is a mere phrase. Sooner or
later they have to affirm that man is mechanically determined.'[15] It
is not so. 'Going Universe' negates Machine. _That_ concept adheres to
the schema of those who affirm the universe to be _made_: Naturalism
excludes it. Theistic determinism _does_ make man a mere vessel, a tool:
for Naturalism he is an individuation of the Living All. The
intelligent determinist never was and never will be put out by his
conceptual recognition of himself as part of an infinite sequence; and
he has no need of M. Bergson's (untenable) restatement of the problem of
free-will and determinism to the effect that the will is sometimes free
and sometimes not. That is indeed a hopeless fallacy--an illicit
inference from the unduly stressed re-discovery that new truth is
reached by a leap and not by a sequence. To say that we are 'free' when
we have an original idea or guess is to miss the logical truth set forth
by so unsophisticated a philosopher as Locke--that the concept of
'freedom' is irrelevant to every process of thought. M. Bergson insists
on the irrelevance of spatial terms to psychic processes, but overlooks
the equal irrelevance of terms of preventable personal action.

Precisely because he is, so to say, the latest outcome of the universe,
the rational determinist will insist upon 'pulling his weight' and
having things go, as far as may be, in the way he prefers. No one's
right is better! And he can confidently claim that here, where he is
philosophically at one with the thorough-going theist, he has all the
possible moral gain from his determinism without an iota of the theist's
perplexity. That gain consists in the lead to mercy in human affairs.
The theist-determinist is certainly not, as some Christian rhetoricians
(ignorant of Christian history) affirm all determinists must be, either
a coward or a licentious knave, in the ordinary sense. Augustine and
Luther and Calvin and Knox were neither, though all four were sadly
sinful men. But the theistic determinist is open always on the one hand
to the paralysing thought that if he should err he is resisting God, and
on the other to the equally deadly instigation of the thought that those
who resist him are God's enemies. To escape both snares he must turn
thorough pantheist=non-theist. And the upshot is that the theistic
determinist is never merciful, whereas the rational determinist is at
least under a logical compulsion to be so, however he may resist or
divagate. He is free to defend himself, and to defend society; but in so
far as he hates and hurts he is illogical, and in so far as he makes
punishment retaliation, or prevention punitive, he is either confounding
himself or setting lust against light.

Were there no other betterment from the substitution of the non-theistic
for the theistic relation to ultimate problems, this might be held to
outweigh all claims on the other side, to say nothing of the simple
rationality of the negative solution. But that is, of course, in itself
decisive. The logically strongest form of the theistic case as against
the non-theist is that, even as he lives and moves in gravitation
without any subjective consciousness of it, so he may be controlled in
every thought by a transcendent volition. But this argument, which
excludes M. Bergson's formula of our occasional 'freedom' of will,
equally shelters determinism from the contention that we are 'conscious'
of freedom of thought. Even as we are demonstrably conditioned by
gravitation while unconscious of its control, we are demonstrably
conditioned by our experience and structure as regards even our guesses.
Neither the ignorant nor the ungifted man makes the valid new

There remain for use by the theist only the old reproaches that a
non-theistic philosophy is 'desolate,' 'negative,' 'materialistic,' and
incapable of explaining the universe. The last is a mere _ignoratio
elenchi_, for the very essence of the non-theistic challenge is that
every 'explanation of the universe' is an imposture, exposed as such
either by its self-contradictions or by its evasions. The normal theist
either bilks the problem of evil by avowing it to be a mystery--a thing
he cannot explain--or falls back on the alternative evasions that there
cannot be good without evil (that is to say, that good needs evil, which
is thus good) or that 'partial ill is universal good,' and that evil is
thus _non-ens_--which again is a denial of any moral problem. To
complain of 'negation' as such while making such negations as these is
to be more entertaining than impressive.

And to be told that, in putting aside these logomachies, he is depriving
himself of intellectual and moral comfort, is for the rationalist no
perturbing experience. He is what he is because he knows the utter
inanity of the theistic declamation about his putting in place of the
'Immeasurable Divine Eye' a 'vast bottomless Eye-Socket'; knows that for
the vast mass of mankind the imagined Eye has been a menace of all their
myriad ills, that its levin slays them like flies, that the iron has
entered uncounted millions of souls who daily prayed for divine succour.
The prate of his 'negation' is as childish as the complaint of the
avowal that we cannot reach the planet Jupiter, not to say the
constellation Hercules: he does but affirm the incontrovertible truth
that an infinite universe cannot be compassed by our thought, and that
to assert its permeation by 'mind'--a finite process of perception and
discrimination, verbally defined as transcending both--is to pay
ourselves with words. To the Berkeleyan formula that existence is only
as perceived, and that without perception there can be no existence, he
answers, similarly, that the first proposition means only that we
perceive what we perceive, and that the second is mere intellectual
nullity, a verbal pretence to unthinkable knowledge. The further
Zenonian frivolity of the denial of an 'external world' needs from him
no further comment than this, that in the terms of the argument
'external' has no meaning, and the proposition, therefore, none either.
It may be left to the denier of existence 'outside consciousness' to
tell us _where_ consciousness is. The inquiry may perhaps lead him to
the discovery that he, the professed foe of materialism, has been
limiting consciousness to the compass of the skull.

The ultimate claims of the theist to spiritual superiority and serenity
are oddly bracketed with the charges of arrogance and Epicureanism
constantly made by him against his antagonist. All alike are irrelevant
to the issue of truth; and all alike tell of other motives than those of
truth-seeking. Those other motives are substantially what our
theological ancestors called 'will-worship,' self-pleasing, the bias of
pre-supposition, the aversion to surrender. All theistic dialects alike
sing the song of self-esteem. The spiritist pronounces his gainsayer
'impercipient,' thus inexpensively cutting the knot of argument; and,
himself a wilful continuator of the thought-forms of the savage,
declares himself to be transcending the earthiness of the sciences in
virtue of which he is civilised. All this is a poor way of proving
serenity; as poor, at bottom, as the perpetual display of wrath at
gainsaying by men who claim to have the backing of Omnipotence.
Consciousness of intercourse with the supernatural has never ostensibly
availed to give the common run of theists imperturbability in their
intercourse with the naturalist.

And if in the stress of controversy the rationalist should in turn prove
himself capable of perturbation, let him, avowing that he claims no
supernatural stay, at least plead that he sets up no intellectual
'colour line,' and that his gospel is after all fraternal enough. Once
more, he does but ask the theist to take one more step in a criticism
which he has already carried far, with small trouble to himself. Every
religion sets aside every other: the rationalist only sets aside one
more. Every theist has negated a million Gods save one: the rationalist
does but negate the millionth. And in doing this, he is not committing
the verbal nullity of saying, There is no God--a formula never fathered
by a considerate atheist. God, undefined,=_x_; and we do not say, There
is no _x_. Of the defined God-idea, whichsoever, we demonstrate the
untenableness; but in giving the theist an inconceivable universe we
surely meet his appetite for the transcendent.

Rationalism, when all is said, is the undertaking, in George Eliot's
phrase, to do without opium. And perhaps the shrewdest challenge to it
is the denial that the average man can so abstain--a denial which may be
backed by the reminder that the framer of the phrase did not. A jurist
once cheerfully assured the present writer that the mass of men will
never do without alcohol and religion. He was not aware that he was
adapting a Byronic blasphemy. It may be that in a world in which most
men chronically crave alternately stimulants and narcotics, he was in a
measure right. But as one of his two necessaries is already under a
widening medical indictment and avoidance, it may be that the other will
fare similarly. In any case, is not the ideal a worthy one, as ideals


[14] It is an orthodox writer who applies to this ratiocination the tag,
_Credibile est quia ineptum est_, dismissing it as 'a blending of
sceptical analysis with credulous assertion' (Rev. Dr. Mackintosh,
_Hegel and Hegelianism_, p. 219).

[15] Rev. Dr. R. Mackintosh, _Hegel and Hegelianism_, 1903, p. 216.


Ideals, obviously, are part--the best part--of our bias: to that
admission we may unhesitatingly revert. By his bias the rationalist can
afford to be tried. Intellectually he makes truth his paramount
consideration, and morally he insists upon the same sincerity in things
intellectual as men profess to practise in honourable intercourse. I
have heard a distinguished Christian scholar denounce these canons as
commanding such an outrage as telling a child of its mother's shame. The
charge is an illustration of the strange malice of which piety is
capable. No human being ever proposed to communicate all truth of any
kind to children; and the limit to the gratuitous telling of wounding
truth is fixed by normal courtesy and sympathy as regards the sufferings
even of adults. The charge is in fact one more illustration of the
anti-veridical bias of pietism--the need to distort and pervert the case
against the rationalist.

And if pietism can thus distort the bearing of the intellectual canons
of rationalism, much more habitually does it distort the specific
purport of rationalist morals. The fact that naturalism implies
utilitarianism is transformed into the proposition that utilitarianism
means the subordination of all play of sympathy to an incessant calculus
of profit. As we have seen, theism and Christianity alike do chronically
subordinate the veridical instinct--a moral instinct like another--to
lower considerations of utility; and only too often in history do we see
them annulling the instincts of mercy and reciprocity by the law of
dogma. Not by propounders of that test is the rationalist to be put to
shame. The very basis of Christianity, in fine, is an other-world
utilitarianism. 'What _profits_ it a man----?'

Utilitarianism means for him, in brief, what it meant when it first took
shape as a moral plea--the testing of traditional moral canons, and
their annulment when they are seen to be mere survivals of barbarism,
sanctioned only by custom and religion; never the substitution of a
calculus of utility for an accepted moral canon in every act of life.
Any general moral rule rationally seen to be broadly utilitarian is
thereby vindicated _qua_ rule; and to put its practice at the hazard of
every trying emergency would be to sin against the very principle of
utility. For the rest, the rationalist has his moral bias like another;
and in virtue of it, as animating rationalisers of various developments,
has been wrought the main part of the modern purification of working
morality, though the moral instinct in religious men has responded, and
has at times initiated reformation. It is left to the religionist to
argue that a bias which has wrought for truth, justice, and mercy will
somehow fail to preserve other virtues. No reminiscence of the sexual
history of Christian societies can restrain Christian advocates from
imputing to the spirit of reason a tendency to promote promiscuity in
the sex relation and thus to overthrow 'the family.' Holding as they do
that the family is the keystone of society and civilisation, they in
effect argue that the practice of rational calculation of means and ends
will destroy both. Pessimism could no further go; and if this be not the
height of pessimism it is a stress of false-witness which puts the
accuser outside the pale of controversy. As an imputation upon known
rationalists in general the theorem is simply false. The systematic
revival of Aryan polygamy has been a religious process; and the freest
practitioners of sexual choice among reasoning unbelievers, the Russian
Nihilists, have been notoriously monogynous.

It may be hoped that we shall in future hear less and less in these
matters of the extremities of orthodox malice or misgiving, as we hear
less and less of the old plea that whereas a bad believer may be held
in moral check by his religious fears, a bad unbeliever will fear only
the police. The statistics of the jails do not encourage that line of
apologetics; and the records of the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children do not go to show either that rationalism makes
parents cruel or that religion keeps them kind. The plain truth is that
upon bad bias law is the main check; and that the most vaunted religious
methods of developing the good bias of the weak have latterly been
systematically supplemented, in the organisation, for instance, of the
Salvation Army so called, by secular methods which are the avowal of the
final and general futility of the others.

In no other direction are the moral ideals of rationalism less fully
vindicated by the movement of civilisation. The humane and scientific
treatment of criminals has actually been antagonised, in the name of the
Christian doctrine of sin, from the ranks of the Howard Society,
established to promote such humane treatment. Rationalism can no other:
religion seems willing to leave it the credit. Above all, the great
cause of Peace on earth--the very motto (a mistranslation, as it
happens) cited as that of nascent Christianity--visibly depends more
and more on the spread of rational calculation, the spirit of reason,
rather than on that of faith, however faithfully many a good Christian
continues to plead for it. There is no Peace Church: even Quakerism has
latterly had its war-mongers; and there is no record in history that the
doctrine of the Fatherhood of God ever withheld men from fratricidal

We shall still hear, it may be, that the intellectual pride of
rationalism is in tendency anti-democratic; Gibbon and Hume being cited
as cases in point. And the rationalist democrat, shunning the lead of
his antagonist to panacea-mongering, may here at once--or once
more--confess that the spirit of reason in things intellectual is no
guarantee for the immediate elimination of egoism in human relations.
Christianity has claimed to be such a guarantee--with the results we
know. But it is flatly inconceivable that the spirit which challenges
all authority and anomaly in doctrine can tend to conserve either
tyranny or social and political inequality. The very apologists who make
the charge are the successors and coadjutors of those who have charged
upon irreligious philosophy the generating of the French Revolution.
Anti-democratic rationalists there will be, as there have been; but for
every one such there are a hundred of the contrary ideal; and it is not
in conservative parties that they are found to avow themselves. For
rationalism, on the side of thought, must forever mean liberty,
equality, fraternity, 'the giving and receiving of reasons,' the
complete reciprocity of judgment. To all races, all castes, it makes the
same appeal, being as universalist as science, naming no master,
proffering no ritual, holding out no threat. The rationalist, as such,
can have no part in the errant Darwinism which would conserve struggle
because struggle _has_ yielded progress; much less in the
pseudo-Darwinism which would further degrade backward races because they
have been ill-placed. Of race-hatred he cannot be guilty without
infidelity to his first principles.

And if all this be termed vaunting, the objector may, perhaps, be
placated by the repeated avowal that neither is rationalism proclaimed
to be a wholly new way for the nations, nor is the rationalist as such
acclaimed as the monopolist of good. He respectfully urges upon the best
and ablest followers of other flags that under his they will not
deteriorate or be less cherished; that their gifts are precious in his
eyes; that he wants their collaboration for humanity's sake. His
panegyric of Reason is but the praise of what is wisest and best in man:
his 'ism' is the concern to put off dead husks of opinion, to lift all
life to the plane of light. The religionist may, if he must, come over
with permission to call the cultus of truth and sanity a religion: some
there are who suppose themselves to solve the dispute by that means, as
Spencer thought to solve it by inviting Science and Religion to join
hands in an avowal of a common ignorance. Such eirenicons do not seem
widely acceptable: it is really better to let words keep their historic
meanings than wilfully to change their values.

But if the question be whether rationalism is a creed to live by, an
ideal to live by, let these pages be taken as giving part of the answer.

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty at the Edinburgh
University Press

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