Religion and the Modern Mind

by W.T. Stace


page 179

Part 2: Section 6 - Protests and Reactions

ACCORDING TO THE RELIGIOUS VIEW OF THE WORLD THERE IS A purpose in the scheme of things, into which human life must presumably in some way fit, so that human life is itself meaningful as being a part of the cosmic plan. The world is governed "in the end" (whatever that phrase may mean) not by blind physical forces, but by spiritual forces which, in most actual religions, are conceived under the name, God. Moreover, the world is a moral order in which, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, goodness must prevail and justice be done. These are the three essentials of the religious view of the world as stated on page 143. Just as we find the opposite view, the view which contradicts all this, molding the dominant tendencies of the art, literature, and philosophy of the modern period, so we shall find the religious view embodying itself in a series of philosophies, art forms, and literary expressions. In this chapter I shall confine myself to its philosophical embodiments, except that I shall briefly mention its expression in the form of romantic poetry.

For easy reference I reproduce here the right-hand column of the list of modern philosophies given on page 147:

Philosophies of reaction and protest in favor of the religious view of the world Descartes


page 180


Hegel and the post-Kantian idealists


The British and American absolute idealists (e.g., Bradley, Bosanquet, Royce)

The religious elements in the philosophy of Descartes have already been discussed, and I pass therefore to Berkeley who lived in the eighteenth century (1685-1753) and whose philosophy is the first definite protest against the prevailing naturalism of the modern world.

Since Berkeley lived before Hume, the form of naturalism which he opposed was the materialism of Hobbes. The motive of his writings, which he states plainly enough, is to counter the current "scepticism, atheism, and irreligion." Since Hobbes had advocated materialism, Berkeley preaches "immaterialism" or, as it is now more commonly called, "idealism." This latter label is not very fortunate because it would ordinarily be taken to mean an advocacy of high moral ideals. But this is not what the word means in the jargon of philosophers. It refers to a theory about the nature of the universe which has, as such, no reference to morals at all, although it does in the end usually imply some such view as that the world is a moral order. If materialism means the view that everything in the world is material, or a product of matter, idealism is the view that everything in the world is a product of mind. According to materialism matter produces mind; according to idealism mind produces matter. Berkeley's philosophy is only one version of idealism. There have been other versions which differ from his in important ways. What is commmon to them all is that mind or spirit is, in some sense or other, the ultimate source and controller of things.

If we want Berkeley's view of the nature of the universe put in a single sentence, it would be this: The universe consists of minds and their ideas, and of nothing else. What then, we ask, becomes of matter? What are the things which we call material objects?

A careful analysis will show, says Berkeley, that a material

page 181

object is nothing but an idea in some mind. It should be carefully noted that he does not commit the absurdity, sometimes attributed to him, of denying the existence of material objects. He insists that on his theory the sun and the moon, the stars, the trees and the rivers, which we all perceive, are just as real as they are on any other theory. He insists that, on his theory, nothing in which common sense believes is in any way changed. Nature, and the laws of nature, remain what everyone has always supposed them to be. What he undertakes to prove is that this whole vast scheme of things which we call the material world, and which we undoubtedly perceive with our senses, is an "idea" which, as such, can only exist "in a mind." Ultimately, the mind in which all things exist as ideas is the mind of God. A tree or a mountain is an idea in that mind. But God can impress his ideas on minds other than his own, on human and animal minds. When he does so, then we perceive these ideas. We perceive, for instance, a mountain or a tree.

This theory, at first sight, is apt to appear fantastic and absurd. It seems to revolt common sense. But we should remember Whitehead's dictum that every great and new idea is apt to wear, on its first appearance, a certain air of foolishness. When we say that a conception is odd, queer, or even fantastic, this may only mean that it deviates widely from commonly accepted ideas. And commonly accepted ideas are often false. The Copernican hypothesis seemed ridiculous to men whose minds had been molded in the medieval pattern of thought. Common-sense opinions may very well be nothing but very deeply. rooted prejudices. Recent physics seems to impress the same lesson. And, as Russell has said, the truth about the universe, whatever it is, must be queer. Thus the mere fact that Berkeley's opinion seems to conflict with what we naturally believe ought not to decide us against it. We ought to examine and weigh the reasons and arguments which he gives for it. University students, when they first encounter Berkeley's philosophy, usually tend to reject it out of hand as absurd. But they soon come, when they examine his reasons, to respect it. They may never come to accept it as true. But they

page 182

learn that Berkeley was no crackpot, that he was possessed of an exceedingly acute mind, that he gives arguments for his opinions that are subtle and difficult to refute. At the present day there are perhaps no convinced Berkeleians among philosophers. But competent philosophers recognize Berkeley as a great thinker.

Berkeley does not rest his philosophy on any religious assumptions. He does not, for example, begin by "assuming" the existence of God. Had he done anything of that sort, his argument would have been circular. He would have begun by assuming that religious view of the world which it was the object of his philosophy to prove. He assumes at the start nothing except such plain facts as that men perceive mountains and trees and other material objects. He thinks that he can prove his case by a careful analysis of our ordinary acts of sense-perception. He uses a large number of arguments which it is impossible to reproduce here. But what is perhaps his main argument may be put in the following form:

A material object is nothing but the sum of its qualities. Its qualities are all sensations (or "ideas") .

Therefore a material object is nothing but a collection of sensations (or ideas).

Sensations and ideas can only exist in conscious minds. Therefore material objects can only exist as collections of sensations or ideas in conscious minds.

Berkeley does not himself express his argument in this skeleton form. He elaborates each point at length. I have reduced it to its barest outline in order that we may have before us a series of logical steps which we can the more easily examine. It will be noted that, when it is put in this form, its premises do not include anything about God or religion. It rests, not on any religious assumption, but upon statements about such things as qualities and sensations.

The first proposition states that a material thing is nothing but a complex of qualities. This may seem at first sight a rather strange statement. The piece of sugar, you will say, is composed of atoms, not of qualities. But whether you take a whole lump of

page 183

sugar or merely an atom of it, you have in either case, if Berkeley is right, a piece of matter which is nothing but a bundle of qualiities which seem always to stick together and form one thing. The sugar is cubical, white, hard, cool, sweet. These are its obvious qualities as known to common sense. The chemist, no doubt, can tell us much more about it. But whatever he says will consist only in telling us other qualities or properties which we did not know about before. Whatever can be known about it must be something which could be observed by one or other of the senses aided, if necessary, by a microscope or other instrument. If it is observed by the eye, it must be a color or a shape; if by touch, it must be hardness, softness, hotness, coldness, roughness, smoothness, etc.; if by the ear, it must be sound; if by the nose, it must be a smell; if by the tongue, it must be a taste. And all these things—and nothing else but what has been or could be perceived by the senses can even be imagined—are qualities. Therefore the object just is this complex of qualities. If you say there must be something else which is not a quality, try to imagine what it could be. You will find that whatever you say of it will consist in imagining it with some new quality.

If this first proposition is clear, we can go on to the second. The qualities, Berkeley says, are all sensations. What is taste but a sensation in the tongue? What is smell but a sensation felt by the nose? What are hardness and softness but sensations which we have in our fingers, or in some other part of the body, when we press the object? Color is a visual sensation, sound an auditory sensation. There are some qualities which we perceive with more than one of our senses. Shape, for example, is perceived by both sight and touch. But this will make no difference to the argument. All it shows is that shape is both a visual and a tactual sensation.

If this is admitted, then the third proposition in the argument follows at once. A piece of matter is a complex of qualities. Qualities are sensations. Therefore a piece of matter is a complex of sensations.

It must be noted that Berkeley uses the word "idea" as a

page 184

synonym for the word "sensation." He uses both words indifferently. Hence he says that a material object is a complex of ideas, and that the whole world of matter consists of ideas. This usage of the word "idea," which he got from John Locke, is now wholly out of date and seems very strange to us. It is, however, only a verbal peculiarity of Berkeley's, and makes no difference to his argument. Some critics have maintained that the fallacy of his whole argument for idealism lies in his use of the word "idea," which, they say, is question-begging. But this criticism is a mistake since his argument is unaffected if we leave out the word "idea" altogether and use only the word "sensation." He often uses the latter word himself. And it is obvious that if a material object is a bundle of qualities, and all qualities are sensations, then a material object is a bundle of sensations, and it makes no difference whether we call a sensation an idea or not.

Nor, if we leave out the word "idea" from the rest of his argument, which we have still to consider, does it make any difference. The rest of the argument is easy. How can a sensation exist except in a consciousness which feels or is aware of it? There cannot be a toothache which nobody is having or a pain which nobody is suffering. If in the middle of having a toothache you for some reason become unconscious, you no doubt suppose that the abscess which causes it continues to exist, but the pain itself ceases to exist. This is true of all sensations. The existence of a sensation consists in its being felt. Therefore if there is no feeling-and there cannot be a feeling unless there is a consciousness to feel it—there cannot be a sensation. It follows that if a piece of matter consists of sensations it can only exist in a consciousness which is aware of it. With this Berkeley's argument is at an end. He has proved, in his own opinion, that matter consists of ideas in minds.

It is evident that the crucial point of the whole argument lIes in the identification of qualities with sensations. Is a color really a sensation in the same sense as a toothache or a tickling is a sensation? It is true that even psychologists speak of colors as "visual sensations." But may there not be some semantic muddle here? Many philosophers have thought that there is.

page 185

Berkeley, however, has other arguments, besides the mere use of the word "sensation," to back up his contention that a quality is a sensation. The most important argument, which is certainly not verbal, is drawn from the fact that the qualities which are perceived in an object are different for different persons or even for the same person at different times. For instance, the same object which appears red to a person of normal vision will appear green—or at any rate not red—to a color-blind person. But it cannot be both colors at the same time. And the natural conclusion is that the same object is causing different sensations in the two different observers. It is no answer to say that the color seen by the color-blind man is a sensation, but that the one seen by the man of normal vision is the real quality which is in the object. For what the argument really shows is that any color at all is as much dependent upon the structure of the sense organ as it is upon the object seen. And this applies as much to the man of normal vision as to the color-blind man. This is also the reason why scientists have usually believed that atoms have no color. Color is produced by the interaction of the object and the sense organ. Hence without a sense organ there would be no color. But if so, color is a sensation in us and not a characteristic of the object. The same will be true of sound. In the world outside us there are, according to physics, vibrations, but not sound. Sound is a sensation which can only exist if there is an ear.

It is true that there is an inconsistency between Berkeley's view and that commonly held by science. The scientist will say that although colors, sounds, smells, tastes, are sensations which could not exist without sense organs, yet there are outside us atoms which really have such qualities as shape, position, motion, etc. Berkeley, on the other hand, says that shape, position, and motion, are also sensations which can only exist in us. And the reason he gives is that these qualities vary for different observers just as much as colors and tastes do. For instance, a penny appears round from one point of view, elliptical from another. And if the variation of apparent colors proves that colors are sensations, the variation of apparent shapes must prove that they too are sensa-

page 186

tions. This leads to a vastly complicated set of arguments and counter-arguments which it is quite impossible to follow through here. All I can hope to do is to make Berkeley's argument clear, and this has now been done. Matter is a complex of qualities; qualities are all sensations; sensations can only exist in minds; therefore matter can only exist as sensations in minds, and cannot exist without a mind. It would follow from this that material objects would cease to exist when we cease to perceive them, unless we admit that there is some mind which is always perceiving them. We must therefore admit this. And the mind which keeps all things in continual existence can only be the mmd of God.

Criticism of Berkeley's reasoning has filled volumes. Most philosophers think that there are fallacies in it, but it cannot be said that there is agreement as to what the fallacies are. All sorts of logical puzzles are involved. What is important for us to see is that Berkeley's whole philosophy is an expression of the religious view of the world which he consciously puts forward as a counterblast to the naturalistic view which was derived from the scientific revolution, and which had come to be prevalent in Berkeley's time. For if mind, not matter, is the basic reality of things, then it will be true that the world is in the end run by spiritual and not by blind physical forces, which is the first article of the religious view.

The second and third articles of that view, that the world has a purpose and is a moral order, though they cannot perhaps be said to be "proved" by Berkeley's arguments, will naturally folllow. We are reminded of the remark attributed to Socrates: "If mind is the disposer, it will dispose all things for the best." Purpose is a characteristic of mind, not of dead matter. Therefore if the world is run by mind it will be run by purpose, whereas if it is run by matter or material forces alone, it will be purposeless. Logically speaking this does not prove that it might not be run by bad purposes. A mind is not necessarily a good mind. But if we have once embraced the view that the world is governed by

page 187

the purposes of an overruling mind, we are not likely to think that the world-purpose is an evil one.

Berkeley's philosophy, whatever its intrinsic value may be, did not stem the tide of naturalism. It deviated too far from common beliefs and prejudices to be widely accepted. Hence new attempts were made by other philosophers by way of protest and reaction against the scientific view of things.

The next philosopher we have to consider is the great German, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who lived roughly half a century after Berkeley. Seventy years elapsed between Berkeley's Princiiples of Human Knowledge and Kant's epoch-making Critique of Pure Reason. In the interval Hume had written; and as Berkeley's book was aimed at Hobbes, Kant's book was aimed primarily at Hume, although Kant's philosophy was so vast and all-embracing in its scope, so complicated a texture of motifs and philosophical reflections, that one cannot treat it as merely a reaction against Hume.

Kant differs from Berkeley in regard to the influence which he exerted. Berkeley was a lone thinker. He founded no school. He had practically no influence outside the narrow circle of proofessional philosophers, and even among them he never had any convinced disciples even in his own time. He deflected the general thinking of the modern world by scarcely a hair's breadth. His system certainly made no appeal to the masses of men. But Kant caused an upheaval in the history of human thought. He shook the world. Not only were most of the professional philosophers of western Europe, England, and America for a hundred years after his death his intellectual descendants. His spirit dominated the whole culture of the western world for that period. His influence was in the end only thrown off by a sort of intellectual counter-revolution which is well within the memory of living men. Even the poets of the nineteenth century, such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, were in a sense his creations. Himself the most unromantic of men, a little

page 188

dried-up university professor, almost a pedant, a writer of books phrased in a dreadful jargon of technical terms, famous for their difficulty and near-unintelligibility even to scholars, he nevertheeless loosed upon the world that flood of ideas, attitudes, and emotions which collectively is called "romanticism." Perhaps historians of ideas do not commonly account Kant the founder of romanticism. And perhaps no one man can be really so entitled. And had Kant lived into the middle of the nineteenth century, it is probable that he would himself have disclaimed most of his intellectual descendants. Indeed he repudiated immediately some of the constructions put upon his thought by his purely professsional disciples. But I shall try to show, later in this chapter, that the description I have given of him as an initiator of the romantic spirit is correct.

Hume and Kant are perhaps the two great philosophers, the master minds, of the modern period; Hume because he achIeved the perfect expression of naturalism. and became the intellectual ancestor of all naturalists and positivists since his time; Kant because he was the leader of the one great general revolt against naturalism which has occurred during the modern period, and which for a long time seemed likely to succeed. Berkeley protested but his protest was ineffectual. In his day the time was not ripe for a great revolt. The forces of naturalism had not yet clearly expressed themselves, had not become organized into a consistent world-view, had not reached their peak. They dId so in the philosophy of Hume. And it was only after Hume that a really great counter-attack was possible. .

But it is time to turn to the actual content of the phIlosophy of Kant, leaving its effects on the world to be considered later. It is unfortunately impossible to give here even the barest outline of his philosophy as a whole. It is too vast an intellectual construction, synthesizing many different lines of thought, and having many different facets and aspects. I shall have to pick out one single thread of his thought, that one which is most immediately relevant to the story which we are telling.

Kant was perhaps the first thinker to perceive the deeper

page 189

aspects of the antagonism between the naturalistic view of the world and the religious view, and how the former had its roots in science. Other thinkers, Berkeley for example, had seen more special or more superficial aspects of the struggle. Berkeley saw that the crude materialism of Hobbes was inimical to religion, however much Hobbes paid lip service to the conception of God. Every country clergyman must have known that the skepticism of the eighteenth century was anti-religious. But Kant was the first thinker to whom the deep underlying tensions of the modern mind became plain. He did not concern himself with the superrficial symptoms of the modern disease, with what men think about miracles, about the age of the earth, about the verbal inspiration of the Bible. He went to the source of the disease itself. He saw that Newtonian science had produced a general view of the world in which neither religion nor, as he thought, morality were basically possible, though they might linger on as habits. He perceived that there is no room for a living God in a naturalistic world mechanically governed by gravitation and the laws of motion; no room for free will, and therefore none for morality, in a deterministic world in which every detailed occurrence is the result of inexorable laws. He was deeply disturbed by these thoughts.

His philosophy, or at least that aspect of it which I am selecting for discussion, may fairly be represented as an attempt to reconcile the religious view of the world with the scientific view. But there was one great characteristic of his thought which forever distinguishes him from any of the common apologists for religion. Commonly the apologists admit the scientific picture up to a point, but then plead that the human spirit is somehow an exception to natural laws, or that in some way religion must be justified by picking holes in science or by insisting that there are exceptions to the naturalistic scheme. Even Newton did this. Although the solar system is, in general, run by gravitation and the laws of motion, yet exception must be made in the case of those irregularities to which he drew attention. They were corrrected by divine interventions in the natural order. More commonly, and down to our own day, free will has been defended

page 190

by asserting that, although nature in general is deterministic, man is an exception to this rule. Every physical event is wholly determined by causes, but the internal world of man's thoughts and volitions is not. It is an exception to the reign of law which is the basic pre-supposition of science. Even now, after Darwin, it is presumably believed by many that the minds of all animals cease to exist when their bodies die, but that man, although he too is an animal, has an immortal soul.

Kant perceived the shallowness and futility of all such attempts.

If science is accepted, it must be accepted one hundred per cent, and all its implications faithfully faced. He was as anxious to defend science against the attacks of religious men as he was to defend religion against the destructive ideas introduced into the world by scientific men. And the method of defending religion by trying to pick holes in science, or by pretending that there are exceptions to its laws, is as fatal to religion as it would be to science if it succeeded. For it represents religion as crouched in a corner where it is allowed to exist so long as science does not press its claims too far, does not make its decrees universal but allows exceptions. At any moment the scientific axe may fall. And history has shown that this method of defending religion is fatal to it. Every new advance of science narrows the wretched corner in which religion is allowed to survive with its back to the wall. One after another the bastions fall. Something like this has been the actual history of the relations between science and religion. This is the inevitable result of trying to uphold religion by denying the universal application to the whole universe, including man, of the reign of scientific law.

Kant's approach to the problem is wholly different. He will uphold the claims of science one hundred per cent. But he will also uphold the claims of religion one hundred per cent. The whole of science must be true, and the whole of religion must be true, even if they contradict one another. For instance, he acccepted a complete determinism. The reign of natural law, the determination of all events by their causes, must apply not only to the physical world but to the internal world of thoughts and

page 191

volitions as well. The actions of men are as much determined as are the motions of the planets. And yet—there must be free will. Determinism, in Kant's own view, contradicts free will. And yet there must be some way in which both can be true. The same situation holds not only in regard to the problem of free will—which strictly concerns ethics rather than religion proper—but in regard to the problem of the relation of the scientific view of the world in general to the religious view in general. Kant did not set out the essentials of the two views in the same terms as I have set them out in this book. I have brought them to a focus in my own way in the three pairs of antithetical propositions: the world is governed, by spiritual forces; it is not governed by spiritual forces, but by the blind forces of nature—it is guided by purpose; there is no purpose in it—it is a moral order; it is not a moral order. This has the merit that it makes clear the flat contradiction of the two world-views. Kant did not express himself in these terms, but he was perfectly aware of the contradiction—and faced it. Yet somehow both pictures of the world must be true. This is the problem as Kant saw it. And this is one reason for saying that he was the first thinker in the modern world to see the fulness and depth of the problem created by the tensions of the modern mind.

Now there is, as a matter of logic, only one way in which a problem so set can be solved. Contradictory characters cannot apply at the same time to the same thing. But they can apply to two different things. For instance, you cannot have one thing which is both square and circular. But you can have one thing which is square, and another thing which is circular. And you could have one world in which science is true, and another world in which religion is true. This, extremely crudely put, is the principle of Kant's solution. There actually are two worlds. Kant is not referring to, nor serving up again in a new form, the ancient and commonplace pious antithesis of "this world" and "the other world." He is not serving up the same old cabbage with a new sauce. And the word "world," as it is here used in reference to his thought, is a metaphor, and is not meant to be taken literally.

Kant argued roughly as follows. If we consider human knowl-

page 192

edge, or any act of perception or thought, we find that two terms are involved, the subject and the object. On the one side is the mind which perceives, knows, or thinks. This is the subject. On the other side is the thing perceived, known, or thought about. This is the object. The object may be a material thing such as a stone. Or it may be a mind, that of another person or one's own. If one is aware of, or thinks about, one's own mind, then in that case one's mind as knowing or thinking is the subject, and, as known or thought about, it is the object. This is no doubt a speecial case in which the subject and object are one and the same thing. But the point is that in all perceiving, knowing, and thinking—whether the thing perceived or thought about is physical or mental—there is always this antithesis of subject and object.

Suppose that the object is a lump of stone. It is perceived as in space and time. It must exist at some place and at some date. But we not only perceive the stone with our senses. We also think about it or know it. And we think about it always in terms of what are called "concepts." Concepts are simply general ideas as distinguished from ideas of particular things. For instance, "man" is a concept as distinguished from "Socrates" which stands for the thought of a particular man. Kant emphasized certain very general concepts which we apply to absolutely all things, and not merely to some things. For instance, we only apply the concept "man" to men, and not to horses. We only apply the concept "stone" to stones, and not to trees. But there are some concepts which we apply universally to everything which exists. These absolutely universal concepts are distinguished by Kant from all others and given a special name. He calls them "categories." There are, according to him, exactly twelve categories. Among the most important are the following: unity (being one), plurality (being many), totality (being a whole), causality (being a cause or effect), action and reaction (acting on, and being acted upon by, other things).

If we think of anything in the world, we shall find that all these categories, or universal concepts, apply to it. For instance, the stone is one thing, one stone (unity). It is also many, for it is

page 193

composed of many parts (plurality). It is also a whole (totality). Whatever exists is a whole thing. The stone is also a cause of effects of some kind; for instance, it depresses the ground on which it rests; and it is the effect of causes of some kind. Everything which exists is both a cause and an effect. The stone also acts and reacts with other things in the world. For instance, it exerts gravitational attraction and is also itself gravitationally attracted. Everything in the universe, in one way or another—gravitation is only one example—acts and reacts with other things.

Not only do the categories—I have mentioned five out of Kant's twelve—apply to all material things. They also apply to all minds and mental things. Every mind is one mind and has many thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and so on. Every mind is a whole. Every mind is a cause and an effect, and every thought or volition in any mind is causally determined (note that this implies complete determinism). Minds act and react upon one another, and presumably upon things in the physical world too.

The world which we have been describing, the world of things which are in space and time, and to which the categories apply, is one of Kant's two worlds. It may be called the space-time world. It is the world to which science applies, and in which science is one hundred per cent true, without any exceptions whatever. The naturalistic or scientific world-picture is the only truth about it. For this reason God, freedom, and immortality cannot be found in it. God is not to be found, for instance, by going backwards in time to a first cause. The whole conception of God as a first cause is erroneous. Nor is God to be found anywhere in space. That is why, though we sweep the whole heavens with our telescopes, we find no trace of him. God is not in space or in time at all.

It is at this point that we come in sight of the central thought of Kant's system. The space-time world, to which science applies, is not "reality"; it is only "appearance." This conclusion is reached by a number of highly technical arguments which he thinks prove It. They cannot be reproduced in any detail here. One of them

page 194

starts from the analysis of our arithmetical knowledge which I mentioned earlier—the discussion of how we know that 7 + 5 = 12. Another urges that the very thoughts of time and space involve contradictions. He seeks to show by sheer logic that space and time must be both finite and infinite at the same time. And just as round squares cannot be real, because the thought of them contradicts itself, so space and time cannot be real, because the thoughts of them are self-contradictory. Kant concludes that this whole world of space and time cannot be real, but is only appearance.

Kant's view is that space, time, and the categones, are not what he calls "things in themselves." They are not the real things whIch exist outside us and apart from our minds. What are they then? They are the "forms" in which we perceive and conceive things. There must be real things outsIde the mind—here Kant dIffers from Berkeley—but they are not as we perceive them. They are not in time and space, nor do the categories apply to them. In saying that time, space, and the categories are "forms," he means that they are the forms which we impose on things by vlrtue. of the structure of our own minds. They are our ways of perceiving and thinking about things, which we cannot avoid because our minds are so made.

Kant's difficult thought may be very crudely illustrated by supposing a man born with some peculiarity of his eye-structure such that everything appears to hIm green, although in reality many of the things which he sees are white or red or yellow or some other color. Then we might say that the greenness of everything in his experience is an "appearance" due to the structure of his optical apparatus, and that the things themselves are "really" of other colors. According to Kant, the space, time, unity, plurality, causality, which we perceive in everything are like the greenness in our illustration. They are due to the structure, not indeed of the eye or of any physical organ, but of the mind itself. Space and time are necessary forms of our perceiving faculty, while the categories are necessary forms of our conceiving or thinking faculty. Our minds are simply made in such a way that every-

page 195

thing which comes to us from the real world outside passes through these forms of our minds and suffer their distorting innfluence. Therefore, just as the greenness in the illustration is not the reality, but an appearance, so the space, time, unity, plurality, and causality whIch we apprehend in things is not in things in themselves, is not reality, but appearance.

This means that the whole space-time world is an appearance, not a reality. What then is reality like? What are things in themselves. This, according to Kant, we can never know. Reality is unknowable. The very nature of our minds cuts us off completely from any such knowledge, just as the nature of our imaginary man's eye would cut him off from any knowledge of the real colors of things. Our mental structure makes us apprehend things as spatial, temporal, and enmeshed in a network of causes and effects, actions and reactions. The real world cannot be anything lIke this, but about what it is we can have absolutely no knowledge at all. We can say that it is not in space and time, that things in themselves are not unities, pluralities, totalities, causes or effects. We can know what they are not, but we cannot know what they are.

It is now generally believed by most philosophers that most of the arguments by which Kant tries to prove these remarkable conclusions are mistaken. But it by no means follows that the conclusions themselves are false, since true beliefs are often suppported by bad arguments. Indeed we may suspect that great phllosophers are often men who have a flair for intuitively divining—guessing, if you prefer it—some aspect of the truth, and that they then, in their anxiety to give it a firmer foundation think up arguments, very often bad ones, to support it. The function played by intuition, not only in philosophy but in science, is very real, If also very mysterious. It is the characteristic of genius.

But to return to Kant's theory. His "real" world of things in themselves, which is wholly hidden from us by the way our minds are made, is the other of the two worlds to which I referred. There is the space-time world, which is the world of appearance,

page 196

and the world of things in themselves, which is the real world. We cannot know, or prove, anything about this latter, but we can "'postulate" that it is the world to which our religious intuitions refer and in which they hold true. Of the space-time world of appearance the naturalistic or scientific way of thinking will be one hundred per cent true. Of the world of reality, which is outside space and time, the religious way of thinking will be one hundred per cent true. This can never be proved by reason, but neither can it be disproved. For reason is itself a part of our mental structure which leads us to appearance, not reality. Reason, whether by way of proof or disproof, simply has no application to the real world.

This then is the way in which Kant seeks to reconcile the naturalistic view of the world with the religious view. He saw that they contradict one another. Hence they cannot both be true of the same thing. But science is true of the world of appearance, religion of the world of reality. Neither can interfere with the other. No conceivable scientific discovery could ever clash with religion, because all scientific discoveries have reference only to appearance. For the same reason in reverse no religious truth could ever conflict with the dicta of science.

Kant's philosophy lands him, or rather the human mind, as he well knows, in insoluble difficulties. For example, consider what he says about the question of free will. The mind as we know it is a stream of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, volitions, etc., which succeed one another in time. We have one thought now, another a minute later. Thus the mind, as we apprehend it, is in time. It is also subject to causality. One thought causes another to arise; or a thought is caused by an outside object, as when a picture of a house I know causes me to think of the house itself. Thus the mind as we know it is just as deterministically controlled by causes as is the motion of a stone falling under gravity. But for these very reasons, the mind, as we know it, is only an appearance. For whatever is in space or time, and is subject to the categories, such as causality, is appearance. The

page 197

real mind, just like the real stone, is in the unknowable world of things in themselves. The real mind is therefore free. For its determination by causes is only an appearance. Thus the mind is really free, but appears determined and unfree. This is the solution of the problem of free will.

But Kant admits that it is impossible to understand this. How can the real mind, outside space and time, freely produce actions in the space-time world of appearance without interfering with the strict determinism of that world? This is incomprehensible. Hence Kant says that freedom is an idea "the possibility of which no human intelligence will ever fathom, but the truth of which on the other hand, no sophistry will ever wrest from the conviction even of the commonest man "[1] Thus Kant solution ends, on hisown showing, in mystery and contradiction. But it must be pointed out that this is not an inconsistency in his philosophy

On the contrary, it is exactly what, if his philosophy is true we must expect. For it is of the essence of his thought to believe that the very structure of our minds prevents us from knowing reality, and that the attempt to know it and understand it necessarily lands us in mystery and contradiction

What is true of the problem of free wiil is also true of the problem of the nature of God. God, as the ultimate reality, is not in the world of appearance, in the space-time world, but in the world of things in themselves. Hence any attempt to understand what God is necessarily results in contradictions because the structure of our minds gives us access only to appearances.

Whatever the difficulties or even contradictions of Kant's thought, it did at any rate inaugurate an epoch. In the realm of professional phllosophy it produced the great schools of post-Kantian idealism, and later the schools of British and American absolute idealism. These come next on our list of protests and

1 Critical Examination of Practical Reason, book 11, chapter 11, section vi, in Kant's Theory of Ethics (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1889), trans: T.K. Abbott

page 198

reactions against the scientific view of the world. Unfortunately, owing to the very abstruse character of their thinking, we an only mention them in the briefest way.

The German idealists who immediately followed Kant were in one respect his disciples, but also differed from him in a very radical way. They took from him his central idea, that the space-time world is an appearance only. They rejected his conclusion that reality cannot be known. They believed that it is possible for human reason to penetrate through the screen of appearances to the reality behind them. This reality, under the name of the Absolute, was variously conceived by different thinkers of the school. For example, according to Hegel, who is perhaps the greatest of these philosophers, the Absolute is a sort of universal or cosmic reason or rationality. In every case it was conceived as in some way a spiritual, not a material, reality. Even Schopenhauer who, though he differs in important respects from the others, is in a sense a member of this school, supposed that it is a kind of "will." The Absolute became for these thinkers—though one can hardly say this of Schopenhauer—the philosophiical rendering of the popular conception of God. Thus everything in the universe is the product of mind, or of some spiritual essence, not of an individual or human mind, but of an absolute or universal mind. Spiritual forces, then, not material forces, ultimately rule the world. And this, it will be remembered, is the prime tenet of the religious view of the world.

These philosophers are called idealists because, in their view, mind, not matter, is the ultimate reality. Their idealism is very different from that of Berkeley. But idealism in any form is practically always associated with, and is a supporter of, the religious view of the world. German idealism can admit, as Kant did, that the scientific view is the whole truth about the space-time world of appearance, but it believes in a more real world of spiritual being which is, as it were, "behind" the appearances. And this is the world of which religion, in one way or another—possibly through myths, images, and allegories—speaks to us. For exam-

page 199

ple, the God of popular religion may be a myth. But it symbolizes the Absolute.

The absolute idealism of the Germans, after conquering Gerrmany itself, spread over to England and then to America, It produced in England the philosophies of Bradley and Bosanquet, and in America the philosophy of Royce. And in both countries there were many minor figures. These thinkers were not slavish followers of Kant or Hegel. They produced original points of view. But their basic vision—a world of appearance which is the sphere of science, but which is only the manifestation of a more real spiritual world which is behind and beyond—is always the same. Absolute idealism was the ruling philosophy in England and America throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century, although its influence has now almost entirely passed away. This movement of thought, stemming from Kant, also influenced in England such non-professional, non-technical, thinkers as Carlyle; and in America Emerson and the transcendentalists. Emerson's "over-soul" is nothing but the Absolute of the philosophers, suitably rendered in literary form.

This brings us to romanticism. Romanticism is one of the vaguest words in the vocabulary of culture, being surpassed in vagueness only perhaps by the word "humanism." Various writers have put forward different views as to what the "essence" of romanticism is. Sometimes it is conceived as a mode of thought which plays up the importance of feeling, emotion, or the heart in human life, and plays down the part of reason and the head. In this sense Pascal's famous words "the heart hath its reasons which the reason knows not of," though written two centuries before the rise of the romantic movement proper, might nevertheless be taken as its slogan. If so, Rousseau is likely to be produced as its typical exponent or even its founder. This view is not wrong. It draws attention to a real aspect of romanticism. But without quarreling fruitlessly about what is supposed to be the "essence" of romanticism, we may remark that the pref-

page 200

erence of the heart to the head as a way of knowing reality tells us nothing at all about the romantic's view of what the nature of reality is. There are two questions which have to be distinguished.

The first is: what is the romantic's view of the world? The second is: how does he, in his own opinion, come to know the truth of that view? The second question he may answer by saying "the heart, the feelings, the intuitions." But this does not provide any answer to the first question. The heart may be the organ by which he knows, but it is not what he knows.

The question which is important to us here is the first. We want to know, not how the romantic reaches his vision—through the heart or through the heacl—but what his vision is. Is there a romantic view of the world, and what is it? My suggestion is that, according to the romantic, the world which we apprehend with our senses and our reason (or head), the world of space and time, is only an appearance or manifestation of a deeper hidden spiritual quality which lies behind. This, I shall even risk saying, is the "essence" of the romantic world-view. And this is obviously derived from Kant with his two worlds, one appearance, the other reality. This is why I said that Kant is the real founder of romanticism.

This view can hardly be fully documented here. But we can do something to establish it by means of a few quotations from the English romantic poets. I shall stick to common, even hackneyed examples, because the very fact that they are hackneyed means that men have perceived that in them the romantic vision is best expressed.

We will begin with Wordsworth's lines in which he attributes to poor Peter Bell a lack of vision about deeper things: .

A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.

This is not very good poetry. Perhaps it is doggerel. But it is instructive. We may ask prosaically: what more, besides being a

page 201

primrose, can a primrose possibly be? What is the "something more" which Wordsworth himself, the man of vision, professes to see in the primrose? Shall we ask the scientist what more there is in the flower besides the petals, the stalk, the leaves, which we and Peter can see? Certainly the botanist can tell us much more than we know. He knows about the smaller parts, their mechanisms, their functions, and the way they act. The physicist perrhaps can tell us about the atoms of which the plant is composed and how they move. But still, to the botanist and the physicist it remains, after all, nothing but a primrose. Neither of them can tell us what is the something more which the poet perceives.

Perhaps what he perceives is just the beauty of the flower, which is something that the scientist, as a scientist, says nothing about, and which perhaps Peter too has failed to appreciate. This is true. But it does not carry us very far. What is the beauty of nature whIch Wordsworth and the romantic poets are always talking about? It is here, in the answer to this question, that we come upon the essence of romanticism. For to Wordsworth, and the romantics generally, beauty is the shining through the dull envelope of matter of a spiritual reality behind. It is this spiritual reality shining through the veils of matter which is the something more which Wordsworth perceives. He writes:

I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

We may.ask about the sunset what we asked about the primrose. What is the sunset to the scientist? It is a swirl of atoms and

page 202

an interplay of vibrations. Note that this is the whole of what the sunset is. Every detail of it without remainder can be explained in these terms. And, for the purely scientific eye, there is nothing else. But for Wordsworth it is the dwelling place of a spirit. It may exemplify the "laws of nature." But there shines through it the ineffable light of that great presence whose dazzling raiment it is. It is that which is the something more.

Wordsworth does not deny the scientific view that the sunset is the scene of a violent commotion of particles. He simply ignores it as irrelevant. This brings out the relation of romanticism to Kant. Wordsworth could have admitted Kant's view that science is the whole truth about the world of space and time, while religion is true of that other world of spirit which lies behind.

From Wordsworth we may turn to Shelley. He writes:

The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of Eternity.

One could not have a plainer poetic rendering of the Kantian and absolute idealist two-world view. The "dome of many-coloured glass" is the space-time world of appearance. Behind it, and shining through it, is the reality, "the white radiance of Eternity." But one notices a difference from Kant. For him the world of reality is unknowable; it fails to "shine through" so as to be apprehensible to the human mind. For him the dome is not many-colored, but black, cutting off all vision of the sun. Shelley, as well as Wordsworth, corresponds rather to the philosophies of Hegel and the absolute idealists according to whom the Absolute Spirit can be known by the human mind. This knowing by the human mind is the "shining through." But it was Kant, as we have seen, who originated this whole two-world view. The poets express in imagery what the philosophers state in abstract logical propositions. I do not mean of course that the poets first apprehend the logical idea and then mechanically translate it into

page 203

images. The poets might perfectly well be entirely ignorant of the work of the philosophers, though in some cases they were not. I mean that the Weltanschauung which dominates them both clothes itself in the form of abstract ideas in the one case and in the form of imagery and feeling in the other.

The romantic vision passed down through the poets of the nineteenth century. Tennyson's well-known lines illustrate it again:

Flower in the crannied wall
I pluck you out of the crannies
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
LIttle flower—but it I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

The something more which is in the flower is here plainly named by the name of God. And according to the poem, if I knew all about the flower, I should know God. Yet this is not to be found in any textbook of botany. No scientific knowledge of the flower, even if it amounted to scientific omniscience, could ever find God in it. It would find only pistils, stamens, sap, tubes, leaves and, on further analysis, the atoms and electrons which are its smallest components. Thus the world of science does not disclose God either in its smallest or in its greatest parts. But there is another world of thought or knowledge into which the intuition of the poet—and of all of us in so far as we are poets—penetrates. It is thus Kant's thought of the two worlds, in one of which science reigns while in the other it does not, which is the ultimate source and inspiration of Tennyson's poem.

There is a famous line of Wordsworth's in which he speaks of

The light that never was on sea or land ...

We do not usually analyse the meaning of such an expression in cold, logIcal terms. We simply apprehend it intuitively. And this

page 204

alone is what we should do so far as we are concerned with the aesthetic appreciation of it. Nevertheless logical analysis will reveal something which it is worth while for us to note. The light of which the poem speaks never was "on sea or land." Clearly this "sea or land" is a poetic rendering of what the philosopher calls the world of space and time, which is the world of which science tells us. The light does not exist there. Yet it is surely for Wordsworth a greater reality than anything in space or time. It is not in the world of appearances, but in the real world behind.

The relation between philosophical idealism, with its jargon of technical terms, and the romantic poetry of the nineteenth century, is perhaps the clearest and most convincing example of the general conception of the nature of philosophy which I outtlined in Chapter 7. Philosophy is the expression in abstract intellectual terms of the same ideas which express themselves elsewhere—notably in art and poetry—in the form of concrete imagery and feeling. The mere chronology of nineteenth century philosophy and nineteenth century poetry illustrates this in a striking way. There are two streams which run parallel in time, the philosophic and the poetic, each teaching in its own way the same view of the world. The philosophic stream begins with Kant, late in the eighteenth century, passes through the German idealists into the absolute idealists of England and America, Bradley, Bosanquet, and Royce, all of whom flourished and wrote their chief works in the last decades of the nineteenth cenntury. This philosophic stream dried up just about the turn of the twentieth century. There was then a general revolt against idealism and the whole movement of thought which had been initiated by Kant. It was replaced by other philosophies: realism, pragmatism, and positivism. It is now almost wholly dead, claiming only a few minor adherents among older men who were brought up in an earlier climate of opinion.

The parallel poetic stream begins with Wordsworth, also in the late eighteenth century. The romantic spirit can no doubt be found in earlier poets such as Collins, Gray, and Blake. But the great outburst of poetic romanticism comes with Wordsworth

page 205

It produced Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats—the first of whom, Coleridge, was consciously influenced by German metaphysics. It passed down through the nineteenth century, with gradually diminishing force perhaps, through Tennyson, Browning, and even Swinburne, although the last of these poets was, so far as his self-conscious theories were concerned, anti-religious. When did it peter out? Somewhere around the first decade of the present century when a revolt against romanticism took place among the poets and artists. Since then the poets and artists, with a few exceptions, have been anti-romantics. Romanticism in poetry was thus born into the world at roughly the same time as philosophiical idealism, runs parallel with it for a hundred years, then meets with a revolt which comes at the same time as the philosophic revolt, and finally dies at almost the same moment.

How are we to interpret these facts? In my view romanticism in art and idealism in philosophy were born of the same movement of the human spirit. Together they constituted an unsuccesssful counter-attack against the scientific view of the world. This movement, initiated by Kant, was the one great rebellion of the modern world against that view. And if we ask what, in addition to its negation of the scientific view, its positive content was, the answer is that it was plainly a return to the religious view of the world, though not of course to the particular version of that view maintained in the middle ages. In saying that the great counter-attack was unsuccessful I am not making a value judgment. I am not condemning it as a false or unjustified movement. I am merely stating the historical fact that it did not succeed, that it has suffered defeat at the hands of its enemy, the scientific view of the world.

If we look at what has happened since the collapse of idealism and romanticism we shall see this. How shall we characterize the first half of the twentieth century? In my view it has witnessed a return to the scientific view of the world, which constitutes again our present prevailing Weltanschauung. This appears both in the philosophy and in the art of our age. In philosophy there have been three movements, or schools, since the turn of the century.

page 206

All agree in scouting old-fashioned idealism. The first of the three, realism, was essentially a negative philosophy. What it maintained was that the material world is not mental, is not the product of mind. Thus, although it was not consciously or intentionally anti-religious, it repudiated the first article of the religious view of the world as that had been interpreted by the idealistic philosophies. The second school to make its appearance was pragmatism. This philosophy, as I have remarked, can appear on any side of any fence. But though it began, in James, in a religious tone, it has ended, in Dewey, in a full-fledged naturalism. The third movement of thought, positivism, whIch is now the most popular among the younger philosophers, is a return to Hume, the great master of naturalism.

In art and literature, I believe, the same tendencIes can be observed. What is that realism which became fashionable with Zola and his followers and is still alive? The novelist's function as conceived by the realists is simply to describe, exactly and in detail what happens in human affairs. He must not take sides with his characters, with the good or the bad. He must not praise or condemn. He must not see in what happens any significance or meaning, certainly not the interpretation of human life as permeated by any world-purpose. Hence the world which he depicts is the brute fact world of Hume where everythmg which happens does so without any reason, futilely, senselessly It is also the artistic counterpart of the "descriptive" theory of science.

In art criticism, and in philosophies of art, the romantic view that beauty is the shining of spirit through matter is anathema. All current theories of art are naturalistic.

Does not much modern painting tell the same story? That the world or anything in it is a jumble of parts which make no sense seems in many cases to be the inspiring idea. A human body, for instance, is depicted as a jumble of arms and legs and eyes and teeth combined in some chaotic pattern. Very likely such painting may have its technical merits, which ought to be much admired. But the world-view which it reflects seems to be that the universe is a senseless chaos.

page 207

Modern poetry, whatever else is true of it, has certainly been anti-romantic. It may be said there are signs of a contrary spirit. T. S. Eliot's Waste Land gave unforgettable utterance to the modern sense of the futility of everything. But this futility is obviously, even in that poem, deplored by the poet. And Eliot's later poetry is, of course, frankly religious.

What of the future? No one can predict. For my part I see no sign of anything but a continuance of the reign of science and of the naturalistic view of the world. If we map the history of the last three and a half centuries on a large enough scale, we see that a pattern emerges. The seventeenth century gave birth to science. In the eighteenth century the resulting religious skeptiicism organized itself into a consistent naturalistic world-view which found its most perfect expression in the philosophy of Hume. At the end of that century came a violent reaction in favor of the religious view of the world which lasted roughly throughout the nineteenth century. The beginning of the twentieth century saw its defeat and a return to the dominance of the scientific world-view. This revival of naturalism has held its own for fifty years, and we are still in the midst of it. There is nothing on the horizon which portends a change. The philosophy of Whitehead, it is true, was another protest against the mechanism of science, and sought to reintroduce into philosophy the conception of a world governed by purpose. It may fairly be regarded as a reaction in favor of a more religious view of the world. But Whitehead has had up to date almost no influence on the thought of our time. He was, in this respect, like Berkeley, a lone thinker. Berkeley's protest was overwhelmed by the triumphant naturalism of the eighteenth century, and Whitehead's has so far been overwhelmed by the triumphant positivism of our own, although one cannot say that it may not exert influence in the future.

Nor can we look to the current Neo-Thomism to stem the naturalistic tide. It is certainly a reaction against naturalism, and has attained popularity in some quarters. It offers a positive re-

page 208

ligious philosophy. But it contains no new insight capable of launching a great spiritual revival comparable to romanticism. On the contrary it goes back to the middle ages for its inspiration. Nor does it even restate the "eternal verities" on which it professes to rely in forms capable of being assimilated by the modern mind. Even truths which are in their essence eternal have to be continually reformulated in new expressions for each new age. But Neo-Thomism seeks only to reinstate ancient and outworn formulations almost without alteration. It is likely to remain the more or less official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church, extending itself only to a few scattered sympathizers outside that organization.

Are there any other signs of a change of heart? It is said that the churches, empty in the twenties and thirties, are a little fuller now. It is said that students are more religious. There may be some movements in poetry and art which seem to speak with the same voice. But we must be careful not to mistake ripples on the surface for a major movement of the waters of time. We have had two great wars, and this fact is sufficient to explain the probably only momentarily increased religiosity. Such a cause is merely negative. It produces a sense of emptiness, a dissatisfaction with the philosophy of the time. It cannot of itself produce a positive new movement. A great movement of the human spirit requires some great idea—such as that which originated in the philosophy of Kant—to inspire it. No signs of the emergence of any such idea are at present discernible.

There is no doubt that naturalism, with its corollary of the futility of human life, has brought despair into the world. It is the root-cause of the modern spiritual malaise. It is impossible to say to what extent modern perplexities and problems have material—in the main economic—causes, and to what extent their sources are spiritual and intellectual. But at least the spiritual darkness of the modern mind has its source in the scientific view of the world.

Back to Contents

Next: The Problem of Religious Truth





W.T. Stace: Mysticism and Philosophy

W.T. Stace: Religion and the Modern Mind

W.T. Stace: Theory of Existence and Knowledge

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.
         ... W. T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind