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The Varieties Of Religious Experience, By William James
subject of Saintliness left us face to face with the question, Is the
sense of divine presence a sense of anything objectively true? We turned first to mysticism for an answer, and found that
although mysticism is entirely willing to corroborate religion, it is too
private (and also too various) in its utterances to be able to claim a
universal authority. But
philosophy publishes results which claim to be universally valid if they
are valid at all, so we now turn with our question to philosophy. Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious
man's sense of the divine?
imagine that many of you at this point begin to indulge in guesses at the
goal to which I am tending. I
have undermined the authority of mysticism, you say, and the next thing I
shall probably do is to seek to discredit that of philosophy.
Religion, you expect to hear me conclude, is nothing but an affair
of faith, based either on vague sentiment, or on that vivid sense of the
reality of things unseen of which in my second lecture and in the lecture
on Mysticism I gave so many examples. It is essentially private and individualistic; it always
exceeds our powers of formulation; and although attempts to pour its
contents into a philosophic mould will probably always go on, men being
what they are, yet these attempts are always secondary processes which in
no way add to the authority, or warrant the veracity, of the sentiments
from which they derive their own stimulus and borrow whatever glow of
conviction they may themselves possess.
short, you suspect that I am planning to defend feeling at the expense of
reason, to rehabilitate the primitive and unreflective, and to dissuade
you from the hope of any Theology worthy of the name.
a certain extent I have to admit that you guess rightly. I do believe that
feeling is the deeper source of religion, and that philosophic and
theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text
into another tongue. But all
such statements are misleading from their brevity, and it will take the
whole hour for me to explain to you exactly what I mean.
I call theological formulas secondary products, I mean that in a world in
which no religious feeling had ever existed, I doubt whether any philosophic
theology could ever have been framed. I
doubt if dispassionate intellectual contemplation of the universe, apart
from inner unhappiness and need of deliverance on the one hand and mystical
emotion on the other, would ever have resulted in religious philosophies
such as we now possess. Men
would have begun with animistic explanations of natural fact, and criticised
these away into scientific ones, as they actually have done. In the science
they would have left a certain amount of "psychical research,"
even as they now will probably have to re-admit a certain amount.
But high-flying speculations like those of either dogmatic or
idealistic theology, these they would have had no motive to venture on,
feeling no need of commerce with such deities.
These speculations must, it seems to me, be classed as over-beliefs,
buildings-out performed by the intellect into directions of which feeling
originally supplied the hint.
even if religious philosophy had to have its first hint supplied by feeling,
may it not have dealt in a superior way with the matter which feeling
suggested? Feeling is private
and dumb, and unable to give an account of itself.
It allows that its results are mysteries and enigmas, declines to
justify them rationally, and on occasion is willing that they should even
pass for paradoxical and absurd. Philosophy
takes just the opposite attitude. Her
aspiration is to reclaim from mystery and paradox whatever territory she
touches. To find an escape from
obscure and wayward personal persuasion to truth objectively valid for all
thinking men has ever been the intellect's most cherished ideal. To redeem religion from unwholesome privacy, and to give
public status and universal right of way to its deliverances, has been
believe that philosophy will always have opportunity to labor at this
task. We are thinking beings, and we cannot exclude the intellect from
participating in any of our functions.
Even in soliloquizing with ourselves, we construe our feelings
intellectually. Both our
personal ideals and our religious and mystical experiences must be
interpreted congruously with the kind of scenery which our thinking mind
inhabits. The philosophic
climate of our time inevitably forces its own clothing on us.
Moreover, we must exchange our feelings with one another, and in
doing so we have to speak, and to use general and abstract verbal formulas.
Conceptions and constructions are thus a necessary part of our religion; and
as moderator amid the clash of hypotheses, and mediator among the criticisms
of one man's constructions by another, philosophy will always have much to
would be strange if I disputed this, when these very lectures which I am
giving are (as you will see more clearly from now onwards) a laborious
attempt to extract from the privacies of religious experience some general
facts which can be defined in formulas upon which everybody may agree.
Compare Professor W. Wallace's Gifford Lectures, in Lectures and Essays,
Oxford, 1898, pp. 17 ff.
experience, in other words, spontaneously and inevitably engenders myths,
superstitions, dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical theologies, and criticisms
of one set of these by the adherents of another.
Of late, impartial classifications and comparisons have become
possible, alongside of the denunciations and anathemas by which the commerce
between creeds used exclusively to be carried on.
We have the beginnings of a "Science of Religions,"
so-called; and if these lectures could ever be accounted a crumb-like
contribution to such a science, I should be made very happy.
all these intellectual operations, whether they be constructive or
comparative and critical, presuppose immediate experiences as their
subject-matter. They are
interpretative and inductive operations, operations after the fact,
consequent upon religious feeling, not coordinate with it, not independent
of what it ascertains.
intellectualism in religion which I wish to discredit pretends to be
something altogether different from this.
It assumes to construct religious objects out of the resources of
logical reason alone, or of logical reason drawing rigorous inference from
non-subjective facts. It calls
its conclusions dogmatic theology, or philosophy of the absolute, as the
case may be; it does not call them science of religions.
It reaches them in an a priori way, and warrants their veracity.
systems have ever been the idols of aspiring souls. All-inclusive, yet simple; noble, clean, luminous, stable,
rigorous, true;--what more ideal refuge could there be than such a system
would offer to spirits vexed by the muddiness and accidentality of the world
of sensible things? Accordingly, we find inculcated in the theological
schools of to-day, almost as much as in those of the fore-time, a disdain
for merely possible or probable truth, and of results that only private
assurance can grasp. Scholastics and idealists both express this disdain.
Principal John Caird, for example, writes as follows in his
Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion:--
must indeed be a thing of the heart, but in order to elevate it from the
region of subjective caprice and waywardness, and to distinguish between
that which is true and false in religion, we must appeal to an objective
standard. That which enters the
heart must first be discerned by the intelligence to be TRUE.
It must be seen as having in its own nature a RIGHT to dominate
feeling, and as constituting the principle by which feeling must be
judged. In estimating the religious character of individuals, nations,
or races, the first question is, not how they feel, but what they think and
believe--not whether their religion is one which manifests itself in
emotions, more or less vehement and enthusiastic, but what are the
CONCEPTIONS of God and divine things by which these emotions are called
forth. Feeling is necessary in
religion, but it is by the CONTENT or intelligent basis of a religion, and
not by feeling, that its character and worth are to be
Op. cit., p. 174, abridged.
Ibid., p. 186, abridged and italicized.
Newman, in his work, The Idea of a University, gives more emphatic
expression still to this disdain for sentiment. Theology, he says, is a
science in the strictest sense of the word.
I will tell you, he says, what it is not-- not "physical
evidences" for God, not "natural religion," for these are but
vague subjective interpretations:--
Discourse II. Section 7.
he continues, "the Supreme Being is powerful or skillful, just so far
as the telescope shows power, or the microscope shows skill, if his moral
law is to be ascertained simply by the physical processes of the animal
frame, or his will gathered from the immediate issues of human affairs, if
his Essence is just as high and deep and broad as the universe and no more
if this be the fact, then will I confess that there is no specific science
about God, that theology is but a name, and a protest in its behalf an
hypocrisy. Then, pious as it is
to think of Him while the pageant of experiment or abstract reasoning passes
by, still such piety is nothing more than a poetry of thought, or an
ornament of language, a certain view taken of Nature which one man has and
another has not, which gifted minds strike out, which others see to be
admirable and ingenious, and which all would be the better for adopting.
It is but the theology of Nature, just as we talk of the PHILOSOPHY
or the ROMANCE of history, or the POETRY of childhood, or the picturesque or
the sentimental or the humorous, or any other abstract quality which the
genius or the caprice of the individual, or the fashion of the day, or the
consent of the world, recognizes in any set of objects which are subjected
to its contemplation. I do not
see much difference between avowing that there is no God, and implying that
nothing definite can be known for certain about Him."
I mean by Theology, continues Newman, is none of these things:
"I simply mean the SCIENCE OF GOD, or the truths we know about
God, put into a system, just as we have a science of the stars and call it
astronomy, or of the crust of the earth and call it geology."
both these extracts we have the issue clearly set before us:
Feeling valid only for the individual is pitted against reason valid
universally. The test is a
perfectly plain one of fact. Theology based on pure reason must in point of fact convince
men universally. If it did not,
wherein would its superiority consist?
If it only formed sects and schools, even as sentiment and mysticism
form them, how would it fulfill its programme of freeing us from personal
caprice and waywardness? This
perfectly definite practical test of the pretensions of philosophy to found
religion on universal reason simplifies my procedure to-day.
I need not discredit philosophy by laborious criticism of its
arguments. It will suffice if I show that as a matter of history it fails to
prove its pretension to be "objectively" convincing.
In fact, philosophy does so fail.
It does not banish differences; it founds schools and sects just as
feeling does. I believe, in
fact, that the logical reason of man operates in this field of divinity
exactly as it has always operated in love, or in patriotism, or in politics,
or in any other of the wider affairs of life, in which our passions or our
mystical intuitions fix our beliefs beforehand.
It finds arguments for our conviction, for indeed it HAS to find
them. It amplifies and defines
our faith, and dignifies it and lends it words and plausibility. It hardly ever engenders it; it cannot now secure it.
As regards the secondary character of intellectual constructions, and the
primacy of feeling and instinct in founding religious beliefs see the
striking work of H. Fielding, The Hearts of Men, London, 1902, which came
into my hands after my text was written.
"Creeds," says the author, "are the grammar of
religion, they are to religion what grammar is to speech. Words are the expression of our wants grammar is the theory
formed afterwards. Speech never
proceeded from grammar, but the reverse.
As speech progresses and changes from unknown causes, grammar must
follow" (p. 313). The
whole book, which keeps unusually close to concrete facts, is little more
than an amplification of this text.
me your attention while I run through some of the points of the older
systematic theology. You find
them in both Protestant and Catholic manuals, best of all in the innumerable
text-books published since Pope Leo's Encyclical recommending the study of
Saint Thomas. I glance first at
the arguments by which dogmatic theology establishes God's existence, after
that at those by which it establishes his nature.
For convenience' sake, I follow the order of A. Stockl's Lehrbuch der
Philosophie, 5te Autlage, Mainz, 1881, Band ii. B. Boedder's
Natural Theology, London, 1891, is a handy English Catholic Manual; but an
almost identical doctrine is given by such Protestant theologians as C.
Hodge: Systematic Theology, New
York, 1873, or A. H. Strong: Systematic
Theology, 5th edition, New York, 1896.
arguments for God's existence have stood for hundreds of years with the
waves of unbelieving criticism breaking against them, never totally
discrediting them in the ears of the faithful, but on the whole slowly and
surely washing out the mortar from between their joints.
If you have a God already whom you believe in, these arguments
confirm you. If you are atheistic, they fail to set you right.
The proofs are various. The
"cosmological" one, so-called, reasons from the contingence of the
world to a First Cause which must contain whatever perfections the world
itself contains. The
"argument from design" reasons, from the fact that Nature's laws
are mathematical, and her parts benevolently adapted to each other, that
this cause is both intellectual and benevolent. The "moral
argument" is that the moral law presupposes a lawgiver.
The "argument ex consensu gentium" is that the belief in
God is so widespread as to be grounded in the rational nature of man, and
should therefore carry authority with it.
I just said, I will not discuss these arguments technically. The bare fact
that all idealists since Kant have felt entitled either to scout or to
neglect them shows that they are not solid enough to serve as religion's
all-sufficient foundation. Absolutely
impersonal reasons would be in duty bound to show more general
convincingness. Causation is
indeed too obscure a principle to bear the weight of the whole structure of
theology. As for the argument
from design, see how Darwinian ideas have revolutionized it.
Conceived as we now conceive them, as so many fortunate escapes from
almost limitless processes of destruction, the benevolent adaptations which
we find in Nature suggest a deity very different from the one who figured in
the earlier versions of the argument. The fact is that these arguments
do but follow the combined suggestions of the facts and of our
feeling. They prove nothing
rigorously. They only
corroborate our preexistent partialities.
It must not be forgotten that any form of DISorder in the world might, by
the design argument, suggest a God for just that kind of disorder.
The truth is that any state of things whatever that can be named is
logically susceptible of teleological interpretation. The ruins of the
earthquake at Lisbon, for example: the
whole of past history had to be planned exactly as it was to bring about in
the fullness of time just that particular arrangement of debris of masonry,
furniture, and once living bodies. No
other train of causes would have been sufficient.
And so of any other arrangement, bad or good, which might as a matter
of fact be found resulting anywhere from previous conditions.
To avoid such pessimistic consequences and save its beneficent
designer, the design argument accordingly invokes two other principles,
restrictive in their operation. The
first is physical: Nature's
forces tend of their own accord only to disorder and destruction, to heaps
of ruins, not to architecture.
principle, though plausible at first sight, seems, in the light of recent
biology, to be more and more improbable.
The second principle is one of anthropomorphic interpretation.
No arrangement that for us is "disorderly" can possibly
have been an object of design at all. This
principle is of course a mere assumption in the interests of anthropomorphic
one views the world with no definite theological bias one way or the other,
one sees that order and disorder, as we now recognize them, are purely human
inventions. We are interested
in certain types of arrangement, useful, aesthetic, or moral--so interested
that whenever we find them realized, the fact emphatically rivets our
attention. The result is that
we work over the contents of the world selectively.
It is overflowing with disorderly arrangements from our point of
view, but order is the only thing we care for and look at, and by choosing,
one can always find some sort of orderly arrangement in the midst of any
chaos. If I should throw down a
thousand beans at random upon a table, I could doubtless, by eliminating a
sufficient number of them, leave the rest in almost any geometrical pattern
you might propose to me, and you might then say that that pattern was the
thing prefigured beforehand, and that the other beans were mere irrelevance
and packing material. Our
dealings with Nature are just like this.
She is a vast plenum in which our attention draws capricious lines in
innumerable directions. We count and name whatever lies upon the special lines we
trace, whilst the other things and the untraced lines are neither named nor
counted. There are in reality infinitely more things "unadapted"
to each other in this world than there are things "adapted";
infinitely more things with irregular relations than with regular relations
between them. But we look for
the regular kind of thing exclusively, and ingeniously discover and preserve
it in our memory. It
accumulates with other regular kinds, until the collection of them fills our
encyclopaedias. Yet all the
while between and around them lies an infinite anonymous chaos of objects
that no one ever thought of together, of relations that never yet attracted
facts of order from which the physico-theological argument starts are thus
easily susceptible of interpretation as arbitrary human products.
So long as this is the case, although of course no argument against
God follows, it follows that the argument for him will fail to constitute a
knockdown proof of his existence. It
will be convincing only to those who on other grounds believe in him
philosophy can do so little to establish God's existence, how stands it with
her efforts to define his attributes? It
is worth while to look at the attempts of systematic theology in this
God is First Cause, this science of sciences says, he differs from all his
creatures in possessing existence a se.
From this "a-se-ity" on God's part, theology deduces by
mere logic most of his other perfections.
For instance, he must be both NECESSARY and ABSOLUTE, cannot not be,
and cannot in any way be determined by anything else. This makes Him absolutely unlimited from without, and
unlimited also from within; for limitation is non-being; and God is being
itself. This unlimitedness
makes God infinitely perfect. Moreover,
God is ONE, and ONLY, for the infinitely perfect can admit no peer. He is SPIRITUAL, for were He composed of physical parts, some
other power would have to combine them into the total, and his aseity would
thus be contradicted. He is
therefore both simple and non-physical in nature.
He is SIMPLE METAPHYSICALLY also, that is to say, his nature and his
existence cannot be distinct, as they are in finite substances which share
their formal natures with one another, and are individual only in their
material aspect. Since God is
one and only, his essentia and his esse must be given at one stroke.
This excludes from his being all those distinctions, so familiar in
the world of finite things, between potentiality and actuality, substance
and accidents, being and activity, existence and attributes.
We can talk, it is true, of God's powers, acts, and attributes, but
these discriminations are only "virtual," and made from the human
point of view. In God all these
points of view fall into an absolute identity of being.
absence of all potentiality in God obliges Him to be IMMUTABLE.
He is actuality, through and through.
Were there anything potential about Him, He would either lose or gain
by its actualization, and either loss or gain would contradict his
perfection. He cannot,
therefore, change. Furthermore,
He is IMMENSE, BOUNDLESS; for could He be outlined in space, He would be
composite, and this would contradict his indivisibility. He is therefore
OMNIPRESENT, indivisibly there, at every point of space.
He is similarly wholly present at every point of time--in other words
ETERNAL. For if He began in
time, He would need a prior cause, and that would contradict his aseity.
If He ended it would contradict his necessity.
If He went through any succession, it would contradict his
has INTELLIGENCE and WILL and every other creature- perfection, for we have
them, and effectus nequit superare causam.
In Him, however, they are absolutely and eternally in act, and their
OBJECT, since God can be bounded by naught that is external, can primarily
be nothing else than God himself. He
knows himself, then, in one eternal indivisible act, and wills himself with
an infinite self-pleasure. Since He must of logical necessity thus love
and will himself, He cannot be called "free" ad intra, with the
freedom of contrarieties that characterizes finite creatures. Ad extra, however, or with respect to his creation, God is
free. He cannot NEED to create,
being perfect in being and in happiness already.
He WILLS to create, then, by an absolute freedom.
For the scholastics the facultas appetendi embraces feeling, desire, and
thus a substance endowed with intellect and will and freedom, God is a
PERSON; and a LIVING person also, for He is both object and subject of his
own activity, and to be this distinguishes the living from the lifeless.
He is thus absolutely SELF-SUFFICIENT:
his SELF-KNOWLEDGE and SELF-LOVE are both of them infinite and
adequate, and need no extraneous conditions to perfect them.
is OMNISCIENT, for in knowing himself as Cause He knows all creature things
and events by implication. His
knowledge is previsive, for He is present to all time.
Even our free acts are known beforehand to Him, for otherwise his
wisdom would admit of successive moments of enrichment, and this would
contradict his immutability. He
is OMNIPOTENT for everything that does not involve logical contradiction.
He can make BEING --in other words his power includes CREATION.
If what He creates were made of his own substance, it would have to
be infinite in essence, as that substance is; but it is finite; so it must
be non-divine in substance. If
it were made of a substance, an eternally existing matter, for example,
which God found there to his hand, and to which He simply gave its form,
that would contradict God's definition as First Cause, and make Him a mere
mover of something caused already. The
things he creates, then, He creates ex nihilo, and gives them absolute being
as so many finite substances additional to himself.
The forms which he imprints upon them have their prototypes in his
ideas. But as in God there is
no such thing as multiplicity, and as these ideas for us are manifold, we
must distinguish the ideas as they are in God and the way in which our minds
externally imitate them. We
must attribute them to Him only in a TERMINATIVE sense, as differing
aspects, from the finite point of view, of his unique essence.
of course is holy, good, and just. He
can do no evil, for He is positive being's fullness, and evil is negation.
It is true that He has created physical evil in places, but only as a
means of wider good, for bonum totius praeeminet bonum partis. Moral evil He
cannot will, either as end or means, for that would contradict his holiness.
By creating free beings He PERMITS it only, neither his justice nor
his goodness obliging Him to prevent the recipients of freedom from misusing
regards God's purpose in creating, primarily it can only have been to
exercise his absolute freedom by the manifestation to others of his glory.
From this it follows that the others must be rational beings, capable
in the first place of knowledge, love, and honor, and in the second place of
happiness, for the knowledge and love of God is the mainspring of felicity.
In so far forth one may say that God's secondary purpose in creating
will not weary you by pursuing these metaphysical determinations farther,
into the mysteries of God's Trinity, for example.
What I have given will serve as a specimen of the orthodox
philosophical theology of both Catholics and Protestants.
Newman, filled with enthusiasm at God's list of perfections,
continues the passage which I began to quote to you by a couple of pages of
a rhetoric so magnificent that I can hardly refrain from adding them, in
spite of the inroad they would make upon our time.
He first enumerates God's attributes sonorously, then celebrates his
ownership of everything in earth and Heaven, and the dependence of all that
happens upon his permissive will. He
gives us scholastic philosophy "touched with emotion," and every
philosophy should be touched with emotion to be rightly understood.
Emotionally, then, dogmatic theology is worth something to minds of
the type of Newman's. It will
aid us to estimate what it is worth intellectually, if at this point I make
a short digression.
Op. cit., Discourse III. Section 7.
God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. The Continental schools of
philosophy have too often overlooked the fact that man's thinking is
organically connected with his conduct.
It seems to me to be the chief glory of English and Scottish thinkers
to have kept the organic connection in view.
The guiding principle of British philosophy has in fact been that
every difference must MAKE a difference, every theoretical difference
somewhere issue in a practical difference, and that the best method of
discussing points of theory is to begin by ascertaining what practical
difference would result from one alternative or the other being true.
What is the particular truth in question KNOWN AS?
In what facts does it result? What
is its cash-value in terms of particular experience?
This is the characteristic English way of taking up a question. In this way, you remember, Locke takes up the question of
personal identity. What you mean by it is just your chain of particular
memories, says he. That is the
only concretely verifiable part of its significance. All further ideas about it, such as the oneness or manyness
of the spiritual substance on which it is based, are therefore void of
intelligible meaning; and propositions touching such ideas may be
indifferently affirmed or denied. So
Berkeley with his "matter."
cash-value of matter is our physical sensations. That is what it is known as, all that we concretely verify of
its conception. That,
therefore, is the whole meaning of the term "matter"--any other
pretended meaning is mere wind of words.
Hume does the same thing with causation.
It is known as habitual antecedence, and as tendency on our part to
look for something definite to come. Apart
from this practical meaning it has no significance whatever, and books about
it may be committed to the flames, says Hume.
Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown, James Mill, John Mill, and Professor
Bain, have followed more or less consistently the same method; and Shadworth
Hodgson has used the principle with full explicitness.
When all is said and done, it was English and Scotch writers, and not
Kant, who introduced "the critical method" into philosophy, the
one method fitted to make philosophy a study worthy of serious men. For what seriousness can possibly remain in debating
philosophic propositions that will never make an appreciable difference to
us in action? And what could it
matter, if all propositions were practically indifferent, which of them we
should agree to call true or which false?
American philosopher of eminent originality, Mr. Charles Sanders Peirce, has
rendered thought a service by disentangling from the particulars of its
application the principle by which these men were instinctively guided, and
by singling it out as fundamental and giving to it a Greek name.
He calls it the principle of PRAGMATISM, and he defends it somewhat
In an article, How to make our Ideas Clear, in the Popular Science Monthly
for January, 1878, vol. xii. p. 286.
in movement has for its only conceivable motive the attainment of belief, or
thought at rest. Only when our
thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the
subject firmly and safely begin. Beliefs,
in short, are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but
one step in the production of active habits.
If there were any part of a thought that made no difference in the
thought's practical consequences, then that part would be no proper element
of the thought's significance. To
develop a thought's meaning we need therefore only determine what conduct it
is fitted to produce; that conduct is for us its sole significance; and the
tangible fact at the root of all our thought-distinctions is that there is
no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference
of practice. To attain perfect
clearness in our thoughts of an object, we need then only consider what
sensations, immediate or remote, we are conceivably to expect from it, and
what conduct we must prepare in case the object should be true.
Our conception of these practical consequences is for us the whole of
our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive
significance at all.
is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism. Such a principle
will help us on this occasion to decide, among the various attributes set
down in the scholastic inventory of God's perfections, whether some be not
far less significant than others.
namely, we apply the principle of pragmatism to God's metaphysical
attributes, strictly so called, as distinguished from his moral attributes,
I think that, even were we forced by a coercive logic to believe them, we
still should have to confess them to be destitute of all intelligible
significance. Take God's aseity, for example; or his necessariness; his
immateriality; his "simplicity" or superiority to the kind of
inner variety and succession which we find in finite beings, his
indivisibility, and lack of the inner distinctions of being and activity,
substance and accident, potentiality and actuality, and the rest; his
repudiation of inclusion in a genus; his actualized infinity; his
"personality," apart from the moral qualities which it may
comport; his relations to evil being permissive and not positive; his
self-sufficiency, self-love, and absolute felicity in himself:--candidly
speaking, how do such qualities as these make any definite connection with
our life? And if they severally
call for no distinctive adaptations of our conduct, what vital difference
can it possibly make to a man's religion whether they be true or false?
my own part, although I dislike to say aught that may grate upon tender
associations, I must frankly confess that even though these attributes were
faultlessly deduced, I cannot conceive of its being of the smallest
consequence to us religiously that any one of them should be true.
Pray, what specific act can I perform in order to adapt myself the
better to God's simplicity? Or how does it assist me to plan my behavior, to know that
his happiness is anyhow absolutely complete?
In the middle of the century just past, Mayne Reid was the great
writer of books of out-of-door adventure. He was forever extolling the
hunters and field-observers of living animals' habits, and keeping up a fire
of invective against the "closet-naturalists," as he called them,
the collectors and classifiers, and handlers of skeletons and skins. When I was a boy, I used to think that a closet- naturalist
must be the vilest type of wretch under the sun. But surely the systematic
theologians are the closet-naturalists of the deity, even in Captain Mayne
Reid's sense. What is their
deduction of metaphysical attributes but a shuffling and matching of
pedantic dictionary-adjectives, aloof from morals, aloof from human needs,
something that might be worked out from the mere word "God" by one
of those logical machines of wood and brass which recent ingenuity has
contrived as well as by a man of flesh and blood.
They have the trail of the serpent over them.
One feels that in the theologians' hands, they are only a set of
titles obtained by a mechanical manipulation of synonyms; verbality has
stepped into the place of vision, professionalism into that of life.
Instead of bread we have a stone; instead of a fish, a serpent.
Did such a conglomeration of abstract terms give really the gist of
our knowledge of the deity, schools of theology might indeed continue to
flourish, but religion, vital religion, would have taken its flight from
this world. What keeps religion going is something else than abstract
definitions and systems of concatenated adjectives, and something different
from faculties of theology and their professors.
All these things are after-effects, secondary accretions upon those
phenomena of vital conversation with the unseen divine, of which I have
shown you so many instances, renewing themselves in saecula saeculorum in
the lives of humble private men.
much for the metaphysical attributes of God!
From the point of view of practical religion, the metaphysical
monster which they offer to our worship is an absolutely worthless invention
of the scholarly mind.
shall we now say of the attributes called moral? Pragmatically, they stand
on an entirely different footing. They positively determine fear and hope
and expectation, and are foundations for the saintly life.
It needs but a glance at them to show how great is their
holiness, for example: being
holy, God can will nothing but the good.
Being omnipotent, he can secure its triumph.
Being omniscient, he can see us in the dark. Being just, he can punish us for what he sees.
Being loving, he can pardon too.
Being unalterable, we can count on him securely.
These qualities enter into connection with our life, it is highly
important that we should be informed concerning them.
That God's purpose in creation should be the manifestation of his
glory is also an attribute which has definite relations to our practical
life. Among other things it has
given a definite character to worship in all Christian countries.
If dogmatic theology really does prove beyond dispute that a God with
characters like these exists, she may well claim to give a solid basis to
religious sentiment. But
verily, how stands it with her arguments?
stands with them as ill as with the arguments for his existence.
Not only do post-Kantian idealists reject them root and branch, but
it is a plain historic fact that they never have converted any one who has
found in the moral complexion of the world, as he experienced it, reasons
for doubting that a good God can have framed it.
To prove God's goodness by the scholastic argument that there is no
non-being in his essence would sound to such a witness simply silly.
the book of Job went over this whole matter once for all and definitively.
Ratiocination is a relatively superficial and unreal path to the
deity: "I will lay mine
hand upon my mouth; I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now
mine eye seeth Thee." An
intellect perplexed and baffled, yet a trustful sense of presence--such is
the situation of the man who is sincere with himself and with the facts, but
who remains religious still.
Pragmatically, the most important attribute of God is his punitive justice.
But who, in the present state of theological opinion on that point,
will dare maintain that hell fire or its equivalent in some shape is
rendered certain by pure logic? Theology
herself has largely based this doctrine upon revelation, and, in discussing
it, has tended more and more to substitute conventional ideas of criminal
law for a priori principles of reason.
But the very notion that this glorious universe, with planets and
winds, and laughing sky and ocean, should have been conceived and had its
beams and rafters laid in technicalities of criminality, is incredible to
our modern imagination. It weakens a religion to hear it argued upon such a basis.
must therefore, I think, bid a definitive good-by to dogmatic theology.
In all sincerity our faith must do without that warrant.
Modern idealism, I repeat, has said goodby to this theology forever. Can modern idealism give faith a better warrant, or must she
still rely on her poor self for witness?
basis of modern idealism is Kant's doctrine of the Transcendental Ego of
Apperception. By this
formidable term Kant merely meant the fact that the consciousness "I
think them" must (potentially or actually) accompany all our objects. Former skeptics had said as much, but the "I" in
question had remained for them identified with the personal individual.
Kant abstracted and depersonalized it, and made it the most universal
of all his categories, although for Kant himself the Transcendental Ego had
no theological implications.
was reserved for his successors to convert Kant's notion of Bewusstsein
uberhaupt, or abstract consciousness, into an infinite concrete
self-consciousness which is the soul of the world, and in which our sundry
personal self-consciousnesses have their being.
It would lead me into technicalities to show you even briefly how
this transformation was in point of fact effected.
Suffice it to say that in the Hegelian school, which to-day so deeply
influences both British and American thinking, two principles have borne the
brunt of the operation.
first of these principles is that the old logic of identity never gives us
more than a post-mortem dissection of disjecta membra, and that the fullness
of life can be construed to thought only by recognizing that every object
which our thought may propose to itself involves the notion of some other
object which seems at first to negate the first one.
second principle is that to be conscious of a negation is already virtually
to be beyond it. The mere
asking of a question or expression of a dissatisfaction proves that the
answer or the satisfaction is already imminent; the finite, realized as
such, is already the infinite in posse.
these principles, we seem to get a propulsive force into our logic which the
ordinary logic of a bare, stark self-identity in each thing never attains
to. The objects of our thought
now ACT within our thought, act as objects act when given in experience.
They change and develop. They introduce something other than
themselves along with them; and this other, at first only ideal or
potential, presently proves itself also to be actual.
It supersedes the thing at first supposed, and both verifies and
corrects it, in developing the fullness of its meaning.
program is excellent; the universe IS a place where things are followed by
other things that both correct and fulfill them; and a logic which gave us
something like this movement of fact would express truth far better than the
traditional school-logic, which never gets of its own accord from anything
to anything else, and registers only predictions and subsumptions, or static
resemblances and differences. Nothing could be more unlike the methods of
dogmatic theology than those of this new logic.
Let me quote in illustration some passages from the Scottish
transcendentalist whom I have already named.
are we to conceive," Principal Caird writes, "of the reality in
which all intelligence rests?" He
replies: "Two things may
without difficulty be proved, viz., that this reality is an absolute Spirit,
and conversely that it is only in communion with this absolute Spirit or
Intelligence that the finite Spirit can realize itself.
It is absolute; for the faintest movement of human intelligence would
be arrested, if it did not presuppose the absolute reality of intelligence,
of thought itself. Doubt or
denial themselves presuppose and indirectly affirm it.
When I pronounce anything to be true, I pronounce it, indeed, to be
relative to thought, but not to be relative to my thought, or to the thought
of any other individual mind. From
the existence of all individual minds as such I can abstract; I can think
them away. But that which I
cannot think away is thought or self-consciousness itself, in its
independence and absoluteness, or, in other words, an Absolute Thought or
you see, Principal Caird makes the transition which Kant did not make:
he converts the omnipresence of consciousness in general as a
condition of "truth" being anywhere possible, into an omnipresent
universal consciousness, which he identifies with God in his concreteness.
He next proceeds to use the principle that to acknowledge your limits
is in essence to be beyond them; and makes the transition to the religious
experience of individuals in the following words:--
[Man] were only a creature of transient sensations and impulses, of an ever
coming and going succession of intuitions, fancies, feelings, then nothing
could ever have for him the character of objective truth or reality.
But it is the prerogative of man's spiritual nature that he can yield
himself up to a thought and will that are infinitely larger than his own.
As a thinking self-conscious being, indeed, he may be said, by his
very nature, to live in the atmosphere of the Universal Life.
a thinking being, it is possible for me to suppress and quell in my
consciousness every movement of self-assertion, every notion and opinion
that is merely mine, every desire that belongs to me as this particular
Self, and to become the pure medium of a thought that is universal--in one
word, to live no more my own life, but let my consciousness be possessed and
suffused by the Infinite and Eternal life of spirit.
And yet it is just in this renunciation of self that I truly gain
myself, or realize the highest possibilities of my own nature.
For whilst in one sense we give up self to live the universal and
absolute life of reason, yet that to which we thus surrender ourselves is in
reality our truer self. The
life of absolute reason is not a life that is foreign to us."
Principal Caird goes on to say, so far as we are able outwardly to realize
this doctrine, the balm it offers remains incomplete. Whatever we may be in posse, the very best of us in actu
falls very short of being absolutely divine. Social morality, love, and
self-sacrifice even, merge our Self only in some other finite self or
selves. They do not quite
identify it with the Infinite. Man's
ideal destiny, infinite in abstract logic, might thus seem in practice
there, then," our author continues, "no solution of the
contradiction between the ideal and the actual?
We answer, There is such a solution, but in order to reach it we are
carried beyond the sphere of morality into that of religion. It may be said to be the essential characteristic of religion
as contrasted with morality, that it changes aspiration into fruition,
anticipation into realization; that instead of leaving man in the
interminable pursuit of a vanishing ideal, it makes him the actual partaker
of a divine or infinite life. Whether
we view religion from the human side or the divine--as the surrender of the
soul to God, or as the life of God in the soul--in either aspect it is of
its very essence that the Infinite has ceased to be a far-off vision, and
has become a present reality. The
very first pulsation of the spiritual life, when we rightly apprehend its
significance, is the indication that the division between the Spirit and its
object has vanished, that the ideal has become real, that the finite has
reached its goal and become suffused with the presence and life of the
of mind and will with the divine mind and will is not the future hope and
aim of religion, but its very beginning and birth in the soul.
To enter on the religious life is to terminate the struggle.
In that act which constitutes the beginning of the religious
life--call it faith, or trust, or self-surrender, or by whatever name you
will--there is involved the identification of the finite with a life which
is eternally realized. It is
true indeed that the religious life is progressive; but understood in the
light of the foregoing idea, religious progress is not progress TOWARDS, but
WITHIN the sphere of the Infinite. It
is not the vain attempt by endless finite additions or increments to become
possessed of infinite wealth, but it is the endeavor, by the constant
exercise of spiritual activity, to appropriate that infinite inheritance of
which we are already in possession. The whole future of the religious life is given in its
beginning, but it is given implicitly.
The position of the man who has entered on the religious life is that
evil, error, imperfection, do not really belong to him:
they are excrescences which have no organic relation to his true
nature: they are already
virtually, as they will be actually, suppressed and annulled, and in the
very process of being annulled they become the means of spiritual progress.
Though he is not exempt from temptation and conflict, [yet] in that
inner sphere in which his true life lies, the struggle is over, the victory
already achieved. It is not a
finite but an infinite life which the spirit lives.
Every pulse-beat of its [existence] is the expression and realization
of the life of God."
John Caird: An Introduction to
the Philosophy of Religion London and New York, 1880, pp. 243-250, and
291-299, much abridged.
will readily admit that no description of the phenomena of the religious
consciousness could be better than these words of your lamented preacher and
philosopher. They reproduce the very rapture of those crises of conversion
of which we have been hearing; they utter what the mystic felt but was
unable to communicate; and the saint, in hearing them, recognizes his own
experience. It is indeed
gratifying to find the content of religion reported so unanimously.
But when all is said and done, has Principal Caird--and I only use
him as an example of that whole mode of thinking--transcended the sphere of
feeling and of the direct experience of the individual, and laid the
foundations of religion in impartial reason?
Has he made religion universal by coercive reasoning, transformed it
from a private faith into a public certainty?
Has he rescued its affirmations from obscurity and mystery?
believe that he has done nothing of the kind, but that he has simply
reaffirmed the individual's experiences in a more generalized vocabulary.
And again, I can be excused from proving technically that the
transcendentalist reasonings fail to make religion universal, for I can
point to the plain fact that a majority of scholars, even religiously
disposed ones, stubbornly refuse to treat them as convincing.
The whole of Germany, one may say, has positively rejected the
Hegelian argumentation. As for
Scotland, I need only mention Professor Fraser's and Professor Pringle-Pattison's
memorable criticisms, with which so many of you are familiar.
Once more, I ask, if transcendental idealism were <445> as
objectively and absolutely rational as it pretends to be, could it possibly
fail so egregiously to be persuasive?
A. C. Fraser: Philosophy of
Theism, second edition, Edinburgh and London, 1899, especially part ii,
chaps. vii. and viii. A. Seth
and Personality, Ibid., 1890, passim.
most persuasive arguments in favor of a concrete individual Soul of the
world, with which I am acquainted, are those of my colleague, Josiah Royce,
in his Religious Aspect of Philosophy, Boston, 1885; in his Conception of
God, New York and London, 1897; and lately in his Aberdeen Gifford Lectures,
The World and the Individual, 2 vols., New York and London, 1901-02.
I doubtless seem to some of my readers to evade the philosophic duty
which my thesis in this lecture imposes on me, by not even attempting to
meet Professor Royce's arguments articulately.
I admit the momentary evasion. In
the present lectures, which are cast throughout in a popular mould, there
seemed no room for subtle metaphysical discussion, and for tactical purposes
it was sufficient the contention of philosophy being what it is (namely,
that religion can be transformed into a universally convincing science), to
point to the fact that no religious philosophy has actually convinced the
mass of thinkers. Meanwhile let
me say that I hope that the present volume may be followed by another, if I
am spared to write it, in which not only Professor Royce's arguments, but
others for monistic absolutism shall be considered with all the technical
fullness which their great importance calls for.
At present I resign myself to lying passive under the reproach of
religion reports, you must remember, always purports to be a fact of
experience: the divine is
actually present, religion says, and between it and ourselves relations of
give and take are actual. If
definite perceptions of fact like this cannot stand upon their own feet,
surely abstract reasoning cannot give them the support they are in need of. Conceptual processes can class facts, define them, interpret
them; but they do not produce them, nor can they reproduce their
individuality. There is always
a PLUS, a THISNESS, which feeling alone can answer for.
Philosophy in this sphere is thus a secondary function, unable to
warrant faith's veracity, and so I revert to the thesis which I announced at
the beginning of this lecture.
all sad sincerity I think we must conclude that the attempt to demonstrate
by purely intellectual processes the truth of the deliverances of direct
religious experience is absolutely hopeless.
would be unfair to philosophy, however, to leave her under this negative
sentence. Let me close, then,
by briefly enumerating what she CAN do for religion. If she will abandon metaphysics and deduction for criticism
and induction, and frankly transform herself from theology into science of
religions, she can make herself enormously useful.
spontaneous intellect of man always defines the divine which it feels in
ways that harmonize with its temporary intellectual prepossessions.
Philosophy can by comparison eliminate the local and the accidental
from these definitions. Both from dogma and from worship she can remove historic
incrustations. By confronting
the spontaneous religious constructions with the results of natural science,
philosophy can also eliminate doctrines that are now known to be
scientifically absurd or incongruous.
Sifting out in this way unworthy formulations, she can leave a
residuum of conceptions that at least are possible. With these she can deal
as HYPOTHESES, testing them in all the manners, whether negative or
positive, by which hypotheses are ever tested.
She can reduce their number, as some are found more open to
objection. She can perhaps
become the champion of one which she picks out as being the most closely
verified or verifiable. She can
refine upon the definition of this hypothesis, distinguishing between what
is innocent over-belief and symbolism in the expression of it, and what is
to be literally taken. As a
result, she can offer mediation between different believers, and help to
bring about consensus of opinion. She
can do this the more successfully, the better she discriminates the common
and essential from the individual and local elements of the religious
beliefs which she compares.
do not see why a critical Science of Religions of this sort might not
eventually command as general a public adhesion as is commanded by a
physical science. Even the
personally non-religious might accept its conclusions on trust, much as
blind persons now accept the facts of optics--it might appear as foolish to
refuse them. Yet as the science
of optics has to be fed in the first instance, and continually verified
later, by facts experienced by seeing persons; so the science of religions
would depend for its original material on facts of personal experience, and
would have to square itself with personal experience through all its
critical reconstructions. It
could never get away from concrete life, or work in a conceptual vacuum.
It would forever have to confess, as every science confesses, that
the subtlety of nature flies beyond it, and that its formulas are but
approximations. Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into
our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation.
There is in the living act of perception always something that
glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes
too late. No one knows this as
well as the philosopher. He
must fire his volley of new vocables out of his conceptual shotgun, for his
profession condemns him to this industry, but he secretly knows the
hollowness and irrelevancy. His formulas are like stereoscopic or
kinetoscopic photographs seen outside the instrument; they lack the depth,
the motion, the vitality. In
the religious sphere, in particular, belief that formulas are true can never
wholly take the place of personal experience.
my next lecture I will try to complete my rough description of religious
experience; and in the lecture after that, which is the last one, I will try
my hand at formulating conceptually the truth to which it is a witness.
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