Religion and the Modern Mind

by W.T. Stace


page 248

Part 3: Section 2 - The Problem of Morals

THE SECOND GREAT PROBLEM WHICH THE RISE OF SCIENTIFIC naturalism has created for the modern mind concerns the foundaations of morality. The old religious foundations have largely crumbled away, and it may well be thought that the edifice built upon them by generations of men is in danger of collapse. A total collapse of moral behavior is, as I pointed out before, very unlikely. For a society in which this occurred could not survive. Nevertheless the danger to moral standards inherent in the virtual disappearance of their old religious foundations is not illusory.

I shall first discuss the problem of free will, for it is certain that if there is no free will there can be no morality. Morality is concerned with what men ought and ought not to do. But if a man has no freedom to choose what he will do, if whatever he does is done under compulsion, then it does not make sense to tell him that he ought not to have done what he did and that he ought to do something different. All moral precepts would in such case be meaningless. Also if he acts always under compulsion, how can he be held morally responsible for his actions? How can he, for example, be punished for what he could not help doing?

It is to be observed that those learned professors of philosophy or psychology who deny the existence of free will do so only in

page 249

their professional moments and in their studies and lecture rooms. For when it comes to doing anything practical, even of the most trivial kind, they invariably behave as if they and others were free. They inquire from you at dinner whether you will choose this dish or that dish. They will ask a child why he told a lie, and will punish him for not having chosen the way of truthfulness. All of which is inconsistent with a disbelief in free will. This should cause us to suspect that the problem is not a real one; and this, I believe, is the case. The dispute is merely verbal, and is due to nothing but a confusion about the meanings of words. It is what is now fashionably called a semantic problem.

How does a verbal dispute arise? Let us consider a case which, although it is absurd in the sense that no one would ever make the mistake which is involved in it, yet illustrates the principle which we shall have to use in the solution of the problem. Suppose that someone believed that the word "man" means a certain sort of five-legged animal; in short that "five-legged animal" is the correct definition of man. He might then look around the world, and rightly observing that there are no five-legged animals in it, he might proceed to deny the existence of men. This preposterous conclusion would have been reached because he was using an incorrect definition of "man." All you would have to do to show him his mistake would be to give him the correct definition; or at least to show him that his definition was wrong. Both the problem and its solution would, of course, be entirely verbal. The problem of free will, and its solution, I shall maintain, is verbal in exactly the same way. The problem has been created by the fact that learned men, especially philosophers, have assumed an incorrect definition of free will, and then finding that there is nothing in the world which answers to their definition, have denied its existence. As far as logic is concerned, their conclusion is just as absurd as that of the man who denies the existence of men. The only differrence is that the mistake in the latter case is obvious and crude, while the mistake which the deniers of free will have made is rather subtle and difficult to detect.

Throughout the modern period, until quite recently, it was

page 250

assumed, both by the philosophers who denied free will and by those who defended it, that determinism is inconsistent with free will. If a man's actions were wholly determined by chains of causes stretching back into the remote past, so that they could be predicted beforehand by a mind which knew all the causes, it was assumed that they could not in that case be free. This implies that a certain definition of actions done from free will was assumed, namely that they are actions not wholly determined by causes or predictable beforehand. Let us shorten this by saying that free will was defined as meaning indeterminism. This is the incorrect definition which has led to the denial of free will. As soon as we see what the true definition is we shall find that the question whether the world is deterministic, as Newtonian science implied, or in a measure indeterministic, as current physics teaches, is wholly irrelevant to the problem.

Of course there is a sense in which one can define a word arbitrarily in any way one pleases. But a definition may nevertheless be called correct or incorrect. It is correct if it accords with a common usage of the word defined. It is incorrect if it does not. And if you give an incorrect definition, absurd and untrue results are likely to follow. For instance, there is nothing to prevent you from arbitrarily defining a man as a five-legged animal, but this is incorrect in the sense that it does not accord with the ordinary meaning of the word. Also it has the absurd result of leading to a denial of the existence of men. This shows that common usage is the criterion for deciding whether a definiition is correct or not. And this is the principle which I shall apply to free will. I shall show that indeterminism is not what is meant by the phrase "free will" as it is commonly used. And I shall attempt to discover the correct definition by inquiring how the phrase is used in ordinary conversation.

Here are a few samples of how the phrase might be used in ordinary conversation. It will be noticed that they include cases in which the question whether a man acted with free will is asked in order to determine whether he was morally and legally responsible for his acts.

page 251

Jones I once went without food for a week.
Smith Did you do that of your own free will?
Jlones No. I did it because I was lost in a desert and could find no food.

But suppose that the man who had fasted was Mahatma Gandhi. The conversation might then have gone:

Gandhi I once fasted for a week.
Smith Did you do that of your own free will?
Gandhi Yes. I did it because I wanted to compel the British Government to give India its independence.

Take another case. Suppose that I had stolen some bread, but that I was as truthful as George Washington: Then, if I were charged with the crime in court, some exchange of the following sort might take place:

Judge Did you steal the bread of your own free will?
Stace Yes. I stole it because I was hungry.

Or in different circumstances the conversation might run:

Judge Did you steal of your own free will?
Stace No. I stole because my employer threatened to beat me if I did not.

At a recent murder trial in Trenton some of the accused had signed confessions, but afterwards asserted that they had done so under police duress. The following exchange might have occurred:

Judge Did you sign this confession of your own free will?
Prisoner No. I signed it because the police beat me up.

Now suppose that a philosopher had been a member of the jury. We could imagine this conversation taking place in the jury room.

Foreman of the Jury The prisoner says he signed the confesssion because he was beaten, and not of his own free will.

page 252

Philosopher This is quite irrelevant to the case. There is no such thing as free will.
Foreman Do you mean to say that it makes no difference whether he signed because his conscience made him want to tell the truth or because he was beaten?
Philosopher None at all. Whether he was caused to sign by a beating or by some desire of his own—the desire to tell the truth, for example—in either case his signing was causally determined, and therefore in neither case did he act of his own free will. Since there is no such thing as free will, the question whether he signed of his own free will ought not to be discussed by us.

The foreman and the rest of the jury would rightly conclude that the philosopher must be making some mistake. What sort of a mistake could it be? There is only one possible answer. The philosopher must be using the phrase "free will" in some peculiar way of his own which is not the way in which men usually use it when they wish to determine a question of moral responsibility. That is, he must be using an incorrect definition of it as, implying action not determined by causes.

Suppose a man left his office at noon, and were questioned about it. Then we might hear this:

Jones Did you go out of your own free will?
Smith Yes. I went out to get my lunch.

But we might hear:

Jones Did you leave your office of your own free will?
Smith No. I was forcibly removed by the police.

We have now collected a number of cases of actions which, in the ordinary usage of the English language, would be called cases in which people have acted of their own free will. We should also say in all these cases that they chose to act as they did. We should also say that they could have acted otherwise, if they had chosen. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi was not compelled to fast; he chose to do so. He could have eaten if he had wanted to.

page 253

When Smith went out to get his lunch, he chose to do so. He could have stayed and done some more work, if he had wanted to. We have also collected a number of cases of the opposite kind. They are cases in which men were not able to exercise their free will. They had no choice. They were compelled to do as they did. The man in the desert did not fast of his own free will. He had no choice in the matter. He was compelled to fast because there was nothing for him to eat. And so with the other cases. It ought to be quite easy, by an inspection of these cases, to tell what we ordinarily mean when we say that a man did or did not exercise free will. We ought therefore to be able to extract from them the proper definition of the term. Let us put the cases in a table:

Free Acts
Unfree Acts
Gandhi fasting because he wanted to free India.

The man fasting in the desert because there was no food.

Stealing bread because one is hungry.
Stealing because one's employer threatened to beat one.
Signing a confession because one wanted to tell the truth.
Signing because the police beat one.
Leaving the office because one wanted one's lunch.
Leaving because forcibly removed.

It is obvious that to find the correct definition of free acts we must discover what characteristic is common to all the acts in the left-hand column, and is, at the same time, absent from all the acts in the right-hand column. This characteristic which all free acts have, and which no unfree acts have, will be the defining charracteristic of free will.

Is being uncaused, or not being determined by causes, the characteristic of which we are in search? It cannot be, because although it is true that all the acts in the right-hand column have causes, such as the beating by the police or the absence of food in the desert, so also do the acts in the left-hand column. Mr. Gandhi's fasting was caused by his desire to free India, the man's

page 254

leaving his office by his hunger, and so on. Moreover there is no reason to doubt that these causes of the free acts were in turn caused by prior conditions, and that these were again the results of causes, and so on back indefinitely into the past. Any physiologist can tell us the causes of hunger. What caused Mr. Gandhi's tremendously powerful desire to free India is no doubt more diffiicult to discover. But it must have had causes. Some of them may have lain in peculiarities of his glands or brain, others in his past experiences, others in his heredity, others in his education. Defenders of free will have usually tended to deny such facts. But to do so is plainly a case of special pleading, which is unsuppported by any scrap of evidence. The only reasonable view is that all human actions, both those which are freely done and those which are not, are either wholly determined by causes, or at least as much determined as other events in nature. It may be true, as the physicists tell us, that nature is not as deterministic as was once thought. But whatever degree of determinism prevails in the world, human actions appear to be as much determined as anything else. And if this is so, it cannot be the case that what distinguishes actions freely chosen from those which are not free is that the latter are determined by causes while the former are not. Therefore, being uncaused or being undetermined by causes, must be an incorrect definition of free will.

What, then, is the difference between acts which are freely done and those which are not? What is the characteristic which is present to all the acts in the left-hand column and absent from all those in the right-hand column? Is it not obvious that, although both sets of actions have causes, the causes of those in the left-hand column are of a different kind from the causes of those in the right-hand column? The free acts are all caused by desires, or motives, or by some sort of internal psychological states of the agent's mind. The unfree acts, on the other hand, are all caused by physical forces or physical conditions, outside the agent. Police arrest means physical force exerted from the outside; the absence of food in the desert is a physical condition of the outside world. We may therefore frame the following rough definitions. Acts

page 255

freely done are those whose immediate causes are psychological states in the agent. Acts not freely done are those whose immediate causes are states of affairs external to the agent.

It is plain that if we define free will in this way, then free will certainly exists, and the philosopher's denial of its existence is seen to be what it is—nonsense. For it is obvious that all those actions of men which we should ordinarily attribute to the exercise of their free will, or of which we should say that they freely chose to do them, are in fact actions which have been caused by their own desires, wishes, thoughts, emotions, impulses, or other psychological states.

In applying our definition we shall find that it usually works well, but that there are some puzzling cases which it does not seem exactly to fit. These puzzles can always be solved by paying careful attention to the ways in which words are used, and remembering that they are not always used consistently. I have space for only one example. Suppose that a thug threatens to shoot you unless you give him your wallet, and suppose that you do so. Do you, in giving him your wallet, do so of your own free will or not? If we apply our definition, we find that you acted freely, since the immediate cause of the action was not an actual outside force but the fear of death, which is a psychological cause. Most people, however, would say that you did not act of your own free will but under compulsion. Does this show that our definiition is wrong? I do not think so. Aristotle, who gave a solution of the problem of free will substantially the same as ours (though he did not use the term "free will") admitted that there are what he called "mixed" or borderline cases in which it is difficult to know whether we ought to call the acts free or compelled. In the case under discussion, though no actual force was used, the gun at your forehead so nearly approximated to actual force that we tend to say the case was one of compulsion. It is a borderline case.

Here is what may seem like another kind of puzzle. According to our view an action may be free though it could have been predicted beforehand with certainty. But suppose you told a lie, and it was certain beforehand that you would tell it. How could

page 256

one then say, "You could have told the truth"? The answer is that it is perfectly true that you could have told the truth if you had wanted to. In fact you would have done so, for in that case the causes producing your action, namely your desires, would have been different, and would therefore have produced different effects. It is a delusion that predictability and free will are incompatible. This agrees with common sense. For if, knowing your character, I predict that you will act honorably, no one would say when you do act honorably, that this shows you did not do so of your own free will.

Since free will is a condition of moral responsibility, we must be sure that our theory of free will gives a sufficient basis for it. To be held morally responsible for one's actions means that one may be justly punished or rewarded, blamed or praised, for them. But it is not just to punish a man for what he cannot help doing. How can it be just to punish him for an action which it was certain beforehand that he would do? We have not attempted to decide whether, as a matter of fact, all events, including human actions, are completely determined. For that question is irrelevant to the problem of free will. But if we assume for the purposes of arguument that complete determinism is true, but that we are nevertheless free, it may then be asked whether such a deterministic free will is compatible with moral responsibility. For it may seem unjust to punish a man for an action which it could have been predicted with certainty beforehand that he would do.

But that determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility is as much a delusion as that it is incompatible with free will. You do not excuse a man for doing a wrong act because, knowing his character, you felt certain beforehand that he would do it. Nor do you deprive a man of a reward or prize because, knowing his goodness or his capabilities, you felt certain beforehand that he would win it.

Volumes have been written on the justification of punishment.

But so far as it affects the question of free will, the essential prinnciples involved are quite simple. The punishment of a man for doing a wrong act is justified, either on the ground that it will

page 257

correct his own character, or that it will deter other people from doing similar acts. The instrument of punishment has been in the past, and no doubt still is, often unwisely used; so that it may often have done more harm than good. But that is not relevant to our present problem. Punishment, if and when it is justified, is justified only on one or both of the grounds just mentioned. The question then is how, if we assume determinism, punishment can correct character or deter people from evil actions.

Suppose that your child develops a habit of telling lies. You give him a mild beating. Why? Because you believe that his personality is such that the usual motives for telling the truth do not cause him to do so. You therefore supply the missing cause, or motive, in the shape of pain and the fear of future pain if he repeats his untruthful behavior. And you hope that a few treatments of this kind will condition him to the habit of truth-telling, so that he will come to tell the truth without the infliction of pain. You assume that his actions are determined by causes, but that the usual causes of truth-telling do not in him produce their usual effects. You therefore supply him with an artificially injected motive, pain and fear, which you think will in the future cause him to speak truthfully.

The principle is exactly the same where you hope, by punishing one man, to deter others from wrong actions. You believe that the fear of punishment will cause those who might otherwise do evil to do well.

We act on the same principle with non-human, and even with inanimate, things, if they do not behave in the way we think they ought to behave. The rose bushes in the garden produce only small and poor blooms, whereas we want large and rich ones. We supply a cause which will produce large blooms, namely fertilizer. Our automobile does not go properly. We supply a cause which will make it go better, namely oil in the works. The punishment for the man, the fertilizer for the plant, and the oil for the car, are all justified by the same principle and in the same way. The only difference is that different kinds of things require different kinds of causes to make them do what they should. Pain may be the

page 258

appropriate remedy to apply, in certain cases, to human beings, and oil to the machine. It is, of course, of no use to inject motor oil into the boy or to beat the machine.

Thus we see that moral responsibility is not only consistent with determinism, but requires it. The assumption on which punishment is based is that human behavior is causally determined. If pain could not be a cause of truth-telling there would be no justification at all for punishing lies. If human actions and volitions were uncaused, it would be useless either to punish or reward, or indeed to do anything else to correct people's bad behavior. For nothing that you could do would in any way influence them. Thus moral responsibility would entirely disappear. If there were no determinism of human beings at all, their actions would be completely unpredictable and capricious, and therefore irresponsible. And this is in itself a strong argument against the common view of philosophers that free will means being undetermined by causes.

We may now turn to the central question of the foundations of morality. In earlier ages morality was seen as grounded in religion. This view appeared historically, of course, in a variety of different forms according to what men's religious beliefs were, and according to their comparative naivete or sophistication. Its most naive form is the belief that what is right or wrong is simply determined by the will of God, God being conceived anthropomorphically as a great mind or consciousness which created and governs the world. And perhaps its most sophisticated form is found in the more abstruse and recondite systems of absolute idealism. The popular concept of God is in them replaced by the metaphysical Absolute. But this Absolute is, like God, the source of moral and other values. The one thing common to all forms of a religious basis of morals is the belief that the distinction between moral good and evil is in some way rooted in the concept of the world as a moral order.

The great advantage of such a religious view is that morals are given a firm foundation in the unchanging nature of the world,

page 259

and not a shaky foundation in the shifting quicksands of human nature. Moral values and laws are necessarily objective in the sense in which I have used that word in this book. A value, on our definition, is objective if it is independent of any human ideas, feelings, or opinions. The will of God is independent of any human psychology. So is the world-purpose, if we assume that such a purpose exists. So also is the philosopher's Absolute. And if moral values are founded in any of these, they are objective.

Nor will it, on any such view, make sense to talk of the relativity of morals. There will be one set of moral values and standards valid for all men, not varying from age to age or from culture to culture. For those values and standards proceed from one unchanging God, or from one constant world-purpose, or from one eternal Absolute. Different ages, different cultures, may indeed have different opinions about what things are good and bad, as they may have different opinions about anything else. There will in this sense be a relativity of morals. But variations of moral opinion will be explained by any religiously or metaaphysically based ethical philosophy in the same way as variations of opinion on any other subject. There can be only one truth about what is good or evil, just as there can be only one truth about the shape of the earth at a particular time, though opinions. can vary on both subjects.

We have seen how the old views changed under the impact of the ever-growing dominance of the scientific view of the world. Objectivism in morals has given way to subjectivism. The beliefs in God, or in a cosmic purpose, though they may linger on in the minds of the majority, or on their lips, as mental or verbal habits, have been drained of effective meaning. The metaphysical Absolute—that thin abstraction substituted for God by a few intellectuals—never had any hold on men's minds. Therefore it became no longer possible to define morality in terms of divine or cosmic purposes. But since it has to be defined in terms of some purpose, there remained no alternative but to believe that what is good is what serves human purposes, and that what is bad is what obbstructs them, and that good and evil have no other nature or

page 260

meaning. This is at once to jump from objectivism to subjectivism, from the belief that the world is a moral order to the belief that it is not. This was the step which the modern mind took.

But if morals are subjective, are they not then necessarily relative? The apparent necessity of the transition from subjectivism to relativism lies in the consideration that all human beings do not have the same purposes; that purposes differ from person to person, or from social group to social group. If we define good as that which pleases men, or serves their purposes, or as that to which they have some subjective attitude of liking or approval, it would seem to follow of necessity that the same thing or action may be good to one person and bad to another, according to their respective likings or attitudes. And this is to say, not merely that men's opinions about right and wrong will differ—which is true on any view—but that what is actually right for one person will be actually wrong for another, that slavery was right in the ancient world, because the ancients approved it, though it is doubtless wrong for us because we disapprove it.

The collapse of moral theory, though perhaps not of moral practice, seems to follow. Does it not follow that although men may think some things good and others bad, there is in fact no objective distinction between good and evil at all? Moreover there is no room left, on such a theory, for progress in moral ideals. It is commonly supposed that there can be, indeed that there has been, such progress. Surely we have progressed in our moral ideals somewhat since the age of the cave man? We think that Confucius had better and higher moral ideas than those of some uncivilized and savage tribe. Or we think that Jesus effected an improvement in moral ideals. There was a time when "an eye for an eye" was the standard. Jesus preached unlimited forgiveness and love of one's neighbor. Even those who reject all supernaturalist conceptions of Jesus admit that this was a great moral advance. But belief in ethical relativity makes nonsense of all this. We cannot on such a basis say that one set of moral ideas is better than another, but only that they are different. For in a society which approved of an eye for an eye that standard was not merely

page 261

thought right, it was right. It was just as right, therefore, as the Christian standard is among Christian peoples. Therefore Jesus, if he supposed that he was introducing better moral ideas, was deluded. He was in fact wasting his time. For he was not changing a worse into a better. He was merely preaching a different moral code which was no improvement on the old one. He was merely substituting Tweedledum for Tweedledee. Also, if we should now come to approve of the international morals, or immorals, of Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, or to approve of the reintroduction of the law of the jungle into human affairs, this would not be a deterioration, for these things would then become right and good. A reversion to slavery, witch-burning, or human sacrifice, would become right and proper if only we should all come to approve of them again.

These are the consequences of giving up our belief in a religious foundation of morals. Has the modern mind made any mistake? Can we either revert to a religious foundation for our moral ideals or, in the alternative, discover a firm secular foundation which will not yield the disastrous results of our present subjectivism and relativism?

The view which I shall attempt to maintain is that morality has in fact a secular basis which can be made reasonably solid, and which does not result in a chaotic relativism, i.e., that an ethics which is universal for human kind can be reached within the framework of a purely naturalistic and non-religious philosophy; but that nevertheless moral aspirations and ideals have a deeper foundation in, and ultimately flow from, religion. We can assume that moral values are subjective and the world not a moral order and still accept a universally valid ethics. But actually moral values are objective and the world is a moral order, so that the older view of morality as based in religion gives a truer and proofounder understanding both of morals and of the world than does the merely naturalistic view. I believe that Bergson was right in suggesting that morality has two sources. One of these is the social pressure of purely utilitarian considerations. This source is, of course, secular and naturalistic. The other source is in mysticism,

page 262

which is, for us, identical with religion. The moral aims which flow from these two sources fit into one another, harmonize and fuse together i man society, so t a in this fusion they become indistinguishable and appear as a single homogeneous set of ideal ends, a single morality. [My emphasis: DCW]

I will begin with the secular source of morals. We may agree that it is utility or, in other words, human happiness. I shall assume, for the sake of argument, a wholly naturalistic view of the world, according to which morals are entirely dependent on human purposes and have no cosmic significance whatever. I shall attempt to show that even if we dismiss religion as nothing but a set of falsehoods without even any symbolic truth, yet, even so, the modern mind has made a mistake in thinking that all morals must be relative.

The thinking of the modern world may be represented as having taken three steps. First, it accepted the naturalistic view of the world. Second, it deduced subjectivism from naturalism. For it argued that moral values must serve some purpose, and if there is no divine or cosmic purpose, the only remaining alternative is that their function is to serve human purposes, which constitute therefore their only foundation. And this view is, by definition, subjectivism. It took the third step when it deduced relativism from subjectivism, saying that, if morals are dependent on human purposes, they will be different for different men or different groups of men, because human purposes differ from man to man or from group to group. I shall not challenge the first two steps of the argument, but I shall challenge the third. I shall assume that morals are subjective—which they must be if there is no religious or cosmic basis for them—and that the world is not a moral order. But I shall maintain that relativism does not follow from subjectivism, and that the modern mind has made a radical error in supposing that it does. I shall say that, even if we place morality on a purely secular basis, there is yet a morality which is true for all men and not merely binding on this or that social group. Moreover, this secular morality will include not only the lower ranges of morality, the minimum of moral behavior

page 263

required for survival, but even that universal love and compassion which are also commanded by the religious vision. For the two sources of morality do not conflict. They dovetail together, and fuse into one.

The essential reason for the transition which the modern mind has made from subjectivism to relativism lies in the proposition that the purposes of men are all different from one another. For it follows from this that there can be no common human morality. In one form or another the basic argument for moral relativity always founds itself on this one alleged fact of human nature, the variety of human purposes, wishes, needs, appetites, and aversions.

Now it is obvious at a glance that any such proposition as "human beings have different purposes" is utterly vague. Does it mean that no two human beings ever lived who shared a single purpose in common? If so, it is plainly false. Two or more men may agree to rob a bank. It is clear that, although there are certainly differences of purpose among men, the extent of these differences ought to be investigated if we are to have anything like an accurate picture of the human situation. Certainly groups of men may share a common purpose. And can we deny, without any investigation at all, that there may be purposes which all men share and which are common to the human race? Apparently the group-relativists of our own day must at least suppose that there are purposes which are in some sense common to very large social groups, to nations, and perhaps to whole cultures and civiliizations. For they tell us that there are moral rules which are bindding within the social group. This can only be true if in some sense the social group is united in a common purpose—perhaps in the sense that a great majority of its members share the purpose, though there may be a few who do not. But if a whole culture may share some purposes, why is it impossible that the whole human race may share some purposes?

What is the importance of this question? It lies in the fact that any purpose which is common to a number of men, whether the number is small or large, will give rise to rules of conduct which

page 264

all those men must obey if they are to achieve their purpose. For instance, if a band of men agree to rob a bank, this will impose on them all certain rules. For example, none of them must tell the police of their design. We should not call this a moral rule—though the robbers might—but it is a rule of conduct. And it is obligatory on all the members of the group if they are to succeed in their purpose. In the same way, if there are any purposes which are common to all humanity, this fact will give rise to rules of conduct—not necessarily moral rules—which all men ought to obey if they are to achieve those purposes. I believe that there are at least three such common human purposes which are the sources of universal rules of conduct. They are:

(1) Self-preservation: This is the source of a number of universal rules of conduct which may be called rules of prudence or safety.

(2) Physical Health: This common human purpose gives rise to a vast body of rules, which are the same for all men, under such heads as sanitation and diet, and which also includes the rules of medical science. These may be called medical rules.

(3) Happiness: This may also be called by such names as welfare, richness of living, self-realization, abundance of life, power, health of the soul, etc. The rules which are founded in it are called moral rules.

These three ends constitute a hierarchy in the sense that the second includes and advances beyond the first, while the third includes and goes beyond the second. The rules of conduct to which all of them give rise are universal and common to all men and in no way relative to any age, culture, or civilization. The reason for this is the same in each of the three cases, namely, that they are common human ends which require common means, that is, common modes of conduct to achieve them.

To begin with self-preservation. All men desire their self-preservation in the sense that each desires at least his own. I am not committing the fallacy of supposing that all men desire self-preservation in the sense that each desires the preservation of the

page 265

lives of all the others. As a matter of fact men do commonly desire the continued existence of at least some other persons, for instance, their children and other people in the society immediately surrounding them. But this is not necessary for my argument. The same remarks apply to the other two common ends.

Of course there are occasional cases of men who do not desire to preserve their own lives. Suicides are the obvious example. But it is true that all men want to preserve their own lives in the same rough or general sense in which it is true that all men have two legs, two eyes, etc. There may be men born without any legs. But all normal men have two legs. And all normal men normally, that is throughout most of their lives, wish to continue in existence.

This fact is the foundation of many rules of conduct. Here are a few: .

Do not jump off the top of the Empire State Building.

Do not cross the street without looking.

Do not eat poison.

These are no doubt negative rules. Positive ones would be:

Eat enough food to keep you alive.

Keep on breathing.

Put out a fire which starts in your house.

All this seems very trivial. But the more obvious it is the better it supports my argument. There are two points to be made. First, it cannot be denied that these are genuine rules of conduct, of things which we ought and ought not to do. We should not call them moral rules. They are rules of prudence or safety. Secondly, they are universal in their scope. They apply to all men—except suicides. It would be absurd to say that they are relative to an age, a social group, or a culture. It would be absurd to say that, allthough it is bad for an American to jump off the Empire State Building, it is quite all right for a Frenchman to do so. It is conceivable—though not at all likely—that there might be a whole tribe or other social group which rejected one or other of them. They might have some different code of safety, and in that sense

page 266

codes of safety might be called relative to different social groups. But if any man, or group of men, or even all men, should be mad enough to think they could safely jump off the Empire State Building, they would be mistaken. These rules are binding upon all normal men everywhere, and in all ages and societies, because they are necessarily corollaries of a common human purpose, self-preservation.

The next common human end is physical health. All normal men desire their own health—not necessarily that of other men. There may be men, for all I know, who want to have cancer. But they are very few. Notice that this end includes and transcends the end of self-preservation. He who wishes to keep in good health must at least first of all wish to retain bare existence. But he also wants something more. He wants not only bare existence, but a happy life so far as the mere physical condition of his body will ensure it. For this is the meaning of physical health. What is health, and what is disease? Health is that condition of the body which ensures continuance in existence as long as possible and ensures during such continuance a happy and pleasant life so far as that depends on nothing but the condition of the body. Disease is any condition of the body which leads to death or to pain, misery, discomfort, and so on. (This, of course, is not meant to include as disease a painful condition of the body which a surgeon may have to induce temporarily in order to achieve greater health in the end.)

If we admit that, in the sense explained, all men desire their own health-apart from abnormal cases—this, because it is a common human purpose, will give rise to many rules of conduct which will be applicable to human beings generally. Here are a few:

Do not overeat or overdrink.

Take a balanced diet.

Take enough exercise and fresh air.

Be clean.

Take proper sanitary measures for the disposal of sewage.

page 267

These are rules of conduct. We should not ordinarily call them moral rules—perhaps dietetic, sanitary, hygienic rules, and so on. We notice also that, except in regard to a point shortly to be mentioned, they are none of them relative. They are rules which all men, in any age or culture, ought to follow if they wish to be healthy. No one would say that overeating and overdrinking are bad for the health of Americans, but may be good for the health of Chinese. It may be the case, as with the rules of safety, that there may be disagreements about them in different cultures, and in that sense relativity. I believe that the ancient Egyptians thought that the urine of a cow applied to the eyes would cure blindness. They had a different medical rule from ours. But their rule was mistaken.

Yet we should notice that, in spite of these considerations, there is a slight element of genuine relativity about some of these rules. For they contain words like "enough" and "too much." Even "Be clean" must, I suppose, be interpreted to mean "Be clean enough." For no one would advise a man to spend ten hours a day brushing his teeth. And it is at this point that an element of relativity seems to enter the picture. For "enough" and "too much" are vague words. What is enough for one person may be too much for another. Some people, for maximum physiical health, require more food, some less; some more exercise, some less; and so on. This means that such and such an amount of food may be "good" for me, but "bad" for you. This is a sort of relativity. The doctor will take account of individual differences of constitution. He may order more for one person, less for another. But the rule, "Don't overeat," will still be universal and and non-relative. The general rule is universal and non-relative, but because it is vague and imprecise, it has to be applied differently in different cases when it comes down to details. And this may be called relativity, not merely of opinion, but of the rule itself. This is very instructive because we shall find exactly the same situation, due to the same sort of causes, in the sphere of morality.

We should also notice that not only more or less common-

page 268

sense rules of diet and sanitation flow from the common purpose of health, but the whole of the laws of medical science including those which are unknown to laymen; and that these medical rules are universal and non-relative for the same reason as the others. If you have cancer, tuberculosis, or Bright's disease, then you should take such and such treatments. These are rules of conduct. You may say that they are rules for the doctor to follow, not for you. But that is chiefly because you do not know the rules yourself and have to get the doctor to apply them to you. These rules are not relative to cultures. If the cure for appendicitis is to cut out the appendix, this will be just as true for a Hottentot as for an Englishman. Of course there will be different opinions in diffferent ages and countries about the best cures. There may even be differences between doctors in the same country at the same time. This is like the differences of opinion about moral questions.

Moreover there is, in matters of detail, an area of relativity here. Some people may require more of a drug, some less. In particular cases a drug which generally does good may do harm. There are people who cannot take penicillin or quinine without unpleasant results. The doctor knows the general rules, but will apply them somewhat differently according to individual needs. Only the general rules are universal and non-relative.

We come finally to moral rules. These depend on the common end of happiness. This is at least common in the sense that each man desires his own happiness, whether he also desires that of other people or not. Philosophers have become very impatient with the word "happiness," because they say that no one knows what it means. This is true in one sense, false in another. There are two quite different levels of "knowing what a word means." One is to know the definition of it, and this may be called scientific or philosophical knowing. The other consists in being able to recognize the object or situation for which the word stands, so that you know when to apply it and when not to apply it, and do not make mistakes in this. This does not usually require any knowledge of definitions and may be called common-sense knowing. For instance, not being a biologist, I do not know the biologi-

page 269

cal definition of a horse. In fact I do not know any definition, not even that which a farmer or owner of horses might give, if they could gIve any definition at all. In this sense it may be said that I do not know the meaning of the word "horse." But I know how to apply the word. I use it rightly. I apply it only to horses, never to elephants. In this common-sense way I know the meaning of the word.

Do we know the meaning of the word "happiness"? When the philosopher says that we do not, he means that no one has ever yet discovered exactly how to define it, though some philosophers have tried. In this he is probably right. But everyone who knows the English language has a common-sense knowledge of the meaning of the word. We can use it appropriately. We usually know when we are happy and when we are not. We know the difference between a happy marriage and an unhappy one. I therefore think that, in spite of the philosopher's objections, the word "happiness" is just as respectable as the word "horse." Hence I propose to continue using it. But if anyone prefers to speak of welfare, or the enrichment of life, he is welcome.

Every man—except perhaps a few abnormal individuals—desires at least his own happiness. It is therefore a common human end in our sense of the phrase, and must give rise to universal non-relative rules, though there may be different opinions about what these are. It may be objected that "happiness" is a blanket word which is applied to different things by different people. What makes one person happy makes another unhappy. And if so, the assertion that we all desire the same thing may seem to be false, or only true in a verbal sense. I will postpone this objection for later discussion.

Just as physical health includes and transcends bare self-preservation, so happiness includes and transcends physical health. It includes health, for although sick people may sometimes be happy, they would usually be happier if they were not sick. Physical health is in a general way a condition of happiness. But happiness transcends health because it involves something more. What more? Perhaps one may say that what it includes,

page 270

over and above a happy condition of the body, is a happy condition of the personality, and I think that we shall have to include a man's personal relations here, for instance his relations with his wife and children and with other human beings with whom he comes in contact. Perhaps this is rather to extend the common meaning of the word "personality," but this does not seem to matter. A man's happiness at any rate will include not only bodily health, but health of personality as well as happy personal and social relations. It may also include ordinary amusements and pleasures, and the satisfactions to be derived from music, poetry, science, philosophy, if he happens to care for these things.

If happiness is allowed to be a common human end, shared by all normal men, to what rules of conduct, applicable to all normal men, will it give rise? I will mention a few:

Love your neighbor.

Get rid of hatred, malice, jealousy, envy, and so on.

Do not steal, lie, break faith, etc.

These are not rules of prudence or safety or diet. They are what are commonly called moral rules. It is much more difficult to show that all men should follow these rules if they wish to be happy than it is to show that they should follow rules of safety if they wish to preserve their lives, or medical rules if they wish to be healthy. But I believe that this is true. I believe that moral rules simply are rules of human happiness. And if so, they will be universal and not relative to any culture in exactly the same way, and for the same reason, as rules of safety and of health are so.

I think it is not possible to prove this—at any rate at present—in the sort of exact and rigorous way in which scientific truths are established, but that it is nevertheless supported by general human experience. And it would seem that the great moralists, such as Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates, have been the best interpreters of that experience. Perhaps more intuitively than by any conscious process of generalizing from experience they divined that obedience to such precepts is the best way of achieving hap-

page 271

piness, best for society at large, and best for each individual.

The connection of some moral rules with happiness is more obvious than that of others. It is pretty clear that lying and stealing lead in general to unhappiness in a society, while their opposites tend to increase human welfare. It is perhaps less obvious that if you wish to be happy you should love everybody, though it seems fairly clear that a life based on malice and hatred produces misery not only in others but in the man who indulges in them.

We must not claim too much. It is possible that a dishonest man may be happy, and we have all known happy liars. Some people seem to get along pretty well even though they lead immoral lives. Perhaps what we may claim is something of this sort—that although a particular man may sometimes "get away with" a dishonest way of living, and perhaps not suffer at all, yet this is an utterly unsafe and unsound way of conducting one's life. It is certain that a general rule which prescribed all-round dishonesty and untruthfulness would be disastrous, and that a general rule which prescribes honesty and truthfulness will, if carried out, increase human happiness. After all, it is the same with rules of health, which we nevertheless recognize as universal and non-relative. You may possibly get away with bodily uncleanliness, and with unbrushed teeth, without suffering in your health. But to be cleanly is the only sound rule, and this is universally true for all men and in no way relative to any particular culture or age. Even the man who neglects it with impunity acts wrongly and ought to have obeyed it if he wished for health. And the same is true of the man who disobeys moral rules without suffering.

It was admitted that it is more difficult to show some moral rules to be rules of happiness than others. What about the rule of universal love? Is that universal and applicable to all men? It is non-relative because it is true of all men, regardless of race or period or culture, that if the rule of love were followed, if we got rid of all anger, hatred, and envy, all men would be the happier. To be for a moment Utopian, suppose that this rule were followed as between nations, that they got rid of all international grasping

page 272

and selfishness, is it not obvious that this would be a far happier world? The command to love all men is held before us as a remote ideal, in the direction of which we can hope to move, although we shall never reach the end. Its non-relativity lies in the fact that it is an ideal equally for all men in the sense that the more they approximate to the moral ideal the nearer will they come to the common end of happiness which they all desire.

Let us put the matter in another way. Agricultural scientists discovered that certain kinds of chemicals increase the health and productivity of plants, while other substances destroy their health. This is not a relative truth. It is true in all ages and countries. The great moralists have made a similar discovery. It is that hatred increases human misery, and that love increases human happiiness. Neither is this dependent on culture or color of skin. It is a general truth about human beings everywhere, just as the other is a general truth about plants everywhere. It is true that you can subject the proposition about fertilizers to laboratory tests in a way which can hardly be applied to the proposition about love. Yet the latter too is not without its evidence, which lies in the general experience of humanity. The world is the laboratory of the moralist.

And suppose that some social group should deny this moral truth. There may be some Melanesian tribe which believes that hatred is for them the best way to happiness. Does this prove relativity? Not at all. All it shows is that those people are making a disastrous mistake about their own happiness. It is true of them, as of us, that the rule of love, if followed, would lead them to a happier life. The rule of love is therefore one that they too ought to follow if they wish to achieve their own greatest happiness.

It is sometimes said that a man or group is the best, or even the only, judge of his or its own happiness. There is of course some truth in this. But it is more important to point out its element of falsehood. Men just as often make mistakes about what will lead to their own happiness as about what will conduce to their physical health. That is why we need moralists as well as doctors.

There is a point in our argument which needs clearing up. It

page 273

was asserted that happiness is a common purpose shared by all normal men in the sense that each man desires his own happiness at least. But how can this give a reason for attending to the happiness of other people, and not only to his own? And this amounts to asking why he should love his neighbor. This is the crucial question for any naturalistic or secular ethics. For instance, J. S. Mill in his famous Utilitarianism told us that doing right consists in doing actions which produce the greatest amount of happiness. He adds: "The standard is not the agent's own happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether. . . . The greatest happiness principle is the greatest happiness of mankind and of all sentient creatures." No doubt this is a perfectly correct description of the moral principle. To care for the happiness of others as well as my own is just what morality is. But Mill fails to give any foundation, either religious or secular, for this duty. Why a man should work for his own happiness is obvious. Selfishness is a sufficient answer. But why should he work for the happiness of others? Unless some reason can be given we have failed to discover the secular foundation of morals.

So far as I can see the only answer which the naturalist can give is that the great discovery of moral geniuses such as Christ and Buddha was precisely this: that the selfish life is not the happy life, and that the best road to one's own happiness is to forget one's happiness and work for that of others. Why this should be so it is perhaps impossible to say. It is just a fact about human nature. And probably the only reason which can be given for it is found in the famous words of John Donne:

"No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde: And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."

It is imposssible for a man to be happy while all around him are miserable, because he is "involved in mankind," and their happiness is his happiness. Therefore if he wishes to be happy himself, he must

page 274

work for their happiness. The man who asks, "Why should I care for any happiness except my own?" wrongly supposes that he is a human atom independent of other human atoms; that he is an "island," and not part of the continent. He starts from an atomistic conception of human nature which is simply false.

It may be said that this gives the wrong reason for being good. It appeals to self-interest. I am to love others out of selfishness. And this is precisely what the good man does not do and must not do. To do this is simply to be selfish and not good. Thus this whole explanation of morality does violence to morality. It gives a non-moral reason for being moral.

This criticism is not wholly fair. We must distinguish between the motive for being good and the intellectual reason for being so. It is not suggested by the naturalist who gives the above account of the matter that the good man should be motivated by a desire for his own happiness. If he acts from that motive he will defeat himself. His motive should be pure self-disregarding love. It is of the essence of the good man's state of mind that he forgets his own happiness. But the question asked was not about motives, but about reasons. It is an intellectual question asked by the philosopher. The good man as such simply does not ask such a question at all. He does not have to be convinced by arguments, either by this or any other. And if the philosopher is also a good man, neither will he, in his capacity as a moral man, ask any such question. But although he does not, in acting, ask for a reason or argument to convince him, he may surely as a thinker be interested to discover whether any intellectually convincing argument could be given. And if a man does ask this legitimate question of theory, then the answer suggested by the passage from Donne is the only one that can be given on a secular or naturalistic basis.

In discussing rules of health we saw that although they are universal and non-relative, yet when we come down to their detailed application we run into an area of relativity. The physician can say, "Do not overeat." This is a universally valid rule for all men. But when we come to apply it we find that more food is necessary for the health of one man and less for that of another.

page 275

The same thing is true in moral matters. The moralist, who is the physician of the soul, can lay down general rules which are valid for all men, but their detailed application is relative to the different constitutions of different individuals. "Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you." This is universal. But its application is relative to the needs and natures of the "others." What is it that I should do to others? Not identically the same things to all, and not identically the same things as I should want done to me. I do not insist that because being a professor gives me the sort of life I want, everyone in the world should be a professor. I do not insist that because X likes chocolate I should force chocolate on Y who hates it. "Do unto others ... " means that we should do to each according to his needs or desires. And the needs and desires of men differ.

This means that only very general, even vague, moral rules are non-relative. The Sermon on the Mount inculcates general moral attitudes, and gives specific illustrations of some of them. Detailed injunctions lie in an area of relativity. But the thorough-going ethical relativist makes the mistake of supposing that there are no universally valid moral rules at all.

This too is the answer to the criticism, mentioned earlier, that "happiness" is only a blanket word which covers a multitude of different things. It is true, the critic says, that all men desire happiiness, but it is false that this gives a common end which all men share, and which will give rise to universally valid rules. For happiness lies in different things for different people, so that in fact they all desire different things, and there is no common end.

Up to a point this is true. Some men are happy as engineers, others as musicians. Some like dinner parties, others do not. But there are certain things which are universally conditions of the best happiness of all men. And it is regarding these that the great moral precepts hold. Being an engineer is not a condition of happiness for all men, though it may be for a few. But being justly treated is such a universal condition. Therefore being an engineer is not a part of morality, but being just is. Love, unselfishness, justice, honesty, the keeping of faith, are universally conditions

page 276

which will increase human happiness. Hatred, selfishness, injustice dishonesty, faithlessness, are universally conditions which increase human misery.

To say these things is not to suggest an "absolute" standard of morals. That "there are no absolutes nowadays" is one of those unintelligent parrot-cries which are commonly mistaken for thought. But we need not insist on this here, for we are not claiming that an absolute ethic can be founded on secular consideraations. We may call the view here taken "non-relative." By an absoolute moral standard I understand one which would be absolutely and eternally valid throughout the universe like the mathematical truth 2 + 2 = 4. This would be true whatever human beings are like, or even if there were no human beings in existence. Fifty billion years ago two and two made four. They make four on the remotest nebula in space. But the moral law that one should love one's neighbor depends—on the naturalistic view which I am here explaining—on human nature. That love tends to increase happiiness is just a fact about human nature which might not be true if human nature were wholly different. It might not be true of beings living on Mars; and it might not be true of our own descendants a million years hence if they have evolved into creatures quite different from ourselves. We may say if we like that the great uniiversal moral laws are relative to human nature. But they are not relative to particular cultures or periods, which is what is usually meant by saying that morals are relative.

The view which I have suggested avoids the disastrous consequences of the common relativism. For instance, we saw that on the relativist view it is impossible to say that the moral standards of one culture are better or higher than those of another. We can only say that they are different. And from this it followed that there could be no progress in moral standards, and that "love your neighbor" cannot be considered an advance on "an eye for an eye." But on the view suggested here what is right does not depend on what individual men or social groups feel or think. It depends upon facts about human nature as such, not on regional idiosyncrasies. That love increases human happiness is a fact which is

page 277

true for all men. Those therefore who preach hatred or even an eye for an eye, are not merely taking a different view. They are mistaken. And those who discovered that love is the best source of happiness are taking a better and truer view, and are making an advance. Progress in moral ideals is therefore a reality.

Thus there is a possible secular basis for morals even if we accept subjectivism. The view that morality is founded in human happiness is subjectivistic in our sense because it makes morality depend upon human purposes, on human psychology, and not on the nature of the world outside man. Hence what has been shown is that relativism does not follow from subjectivism, and that the modern mind has made a mistake in thinking that it does. And it has been shown that morality can be given a secular basis which will save it from the collapse of moral theory implied by relativism.

We may turn finally to the religious foundation of morals. It is no longer possible to discover this by taking literally the creeds and dogmas of any particular religion. For these creeds are myths. We cannot found morals in a crude anthropomorphic conception of "the will of God," nor even in the idea of a world-purpose.

Since for us the essence of religion is found in the mystic experience of the saint, the only possible solution of our problem is that a basis for morals must lie in that experience. The moral urge must be seen as flowing out of that experience. And undoubtedly this is true. For the experience is, according to the account of all who have it, not merely cognitive or emotional, but above all a value-experience. It is blessedness, calm, peace. It is also, or contains as an integral part of itself, an infinite compasssion and love for all men. And such compassion and love are the fountains of all higher morality.

But it is not enough to state the mere fact that love flows out of the mystic vision. For if no reason is given for this, it might in that case be a mere accident. The mystic vision is the unifying vision in which "all is one," in which all distinctions are transcended. What, it might be asked, has this peculiar state of mind,

page 278

wholly unpractical and visionary, got to do with practical life? The love of man for man is after all a practical affair having to do with the daily routine of our lives. And if it is true that mystics do feel, as a result of their ecstasy, an increased love for their fellow beings, may not this be a mere superficial phenomenon? The mystic may have a sense of emotional uplift which will cause him, at least for the moment, to feel kindly to his fellows in much the same way as an intoxicant does? And can any such mere emotional afflatus be made the foundation of ethics?

But the connectionl between mysticism and love is not thus accidental and superficial. There is a necessary metaphysical relation between the two. The foundation of this relation lies in the fact that in the mystic vision all distinctions, and therefore the distinction between one man and another, are transcended. Selffhood, in the sense in which I am one self and you are another, is gone. But it is out of such selfhood that all moral evil, especially hatred and envy of others, arises. He who achieves the vision sees that his self is the self of all men, that he is in them and they in him. There is for him no such distinction between an "I" and a "you" as would cause him to seek something for the "I" and deny it to the "you," to hate another while loving himself, to cause pain to another while grasping at pleasure for himself. He lives in all men and all men live in him. His desire, his love, therefore, is not for himself but for all men. It is this which makes mysticism the source of the moral life and provides the religious foundation of ethics.

This is why, although the way of the saints is not simply the moral way—to say this is to leave out its specific religious essence—yet it always includes and results in a moral life. The saints are good men, although this is not the essence of sainthood. It is a fact that the divine vision normally transforms the lives of those who have it, making them centers from which radiate enhancements of moral aspiration and illumination among their fellow men.

But of what use, it will be asked, is this to the masses of men who have had, and can have, no glimpse of that unifying vision

page 279

of the saints and mystics? Their morality cannot flow from an experience which they do not have. The saint may find a basis for morals in this experience, but how can we who lack it do so? And in particular how can this help in regard to the problem of relativity? How does it help to show that what is good is good for all men, and that what is evil is evil universally? The saint's vision is essentially private to himself. Hence what seems good to the saint will be good for the saint, but what reason is there to say that it will be good also for us? We could find a basis for a universally valid morality only in a universal value experience. And the saint's experience, so far from being universal, is perhaps the rarest of any experience known to man. Hence the solution proposed does not solve the problem of relativity. Nor does it give any foundation at all for morality, even a relative morality, for those who lack the mystic experience.

I have already given the answer to this sort of objection in the last chapter. The principle there stated in the context of religion has only to be applied in the context of morality. Not only is the saintly experience potentially in all men in the sense that all could have it in certain conditions—for instance, if they subjected themselves to some rigorous and long discipline. It is actually present in all men now, though in a low degree in most of us. What ordinary men call religious feeling is a dim "seeing through a glass darkly" of what the saint sees in brilliant illumination.

If this is so, moral aspiration will flow out of the religious experience common to all men in proportion as it is dim or bright. And since that experience is basically the same in all men—the differences being differences of degree—the morality which flows out of it will be the same everywhere, the same for all men, though some will apprehend it more clearly, others more obscurely. Perrhaps something like this is the truth which lies at the bottom of the old myth of "conscience." It is a myth if it is taken literally as meaning a magical and infallible inner voice which tells a man on every occasion what he ought to do. But it is true if it is taken symbolically as standing for an inner light of the divine vision shining clearly only in the very few, more dimly in the rest of us.

page 280

And we may also think that what some philosophers have called moral "intuitions" are in reality an influx into our ordinary connsciousness of elements from that radically different kind of menntality, intuitive and non-discriminating, of which mystics speak, which in most of us is sunk in the depths of the unconscious. This would explain the apparently mysterious character of such intuitions, and would also explain many of the paradoxes with which ethical philosophers have wrestled.

Does the view which has here been expressed justify the statement made earlier in this chapter that although, even if we take the naturalistic view that moral values are subjective and that the world is not a moral order, a sound basis for morality can be given, yet actually moral values are objective and the world is a moral order? Are we not compelled to think that even if ideal and moral aspirations flow out of the religious experience of the saints and, more dimly, out of that of common men, yet this experience being itself no more than a human thing, morals will still be subjective and the world not a moral order?

To answer this question we have to refer again to the conclusions reached in the last chapter. That the mystic vision is merely subjective is the sole truth if we take our stand within the order of time and make that our frame of reference. But there is another equally legitimate frame of reference. If we take our stand within the mystic moment itself, if we view it from within instead of from the outside, then it alone is the truth; and it is, rather, the time-order which is subjective illusion. The same will be true of the moral ideals, the value experiences, which are enclosed in the religious vision and which overflow from it into our daily lives in time. From a naturalistic standpoint they are merely subjective. But in that other frame of reference, which is the eternal order, they are eternal truths. Properly speaking we should say of them, as we did of God himself, that they are neither subjective nor objective. But we may also say of them that they are both subjective and objective since the universe contains both frames of reference. The error of the naturalist is to admit the reality only of the time-order. But the eternal order is as much a part of the

page 281

universe, and therefore of reality, and therefore the moral values which belong to it are in the same sense real and objective. This means that from the standpoint of time the world is not a moral order, but that from the standpoint of the eternal it is a moral order. And both truths have an equal right to our acceptance because we live in both orders.

It is not true that moral ideals are merely human devices for achieving survival and increased pleasure or happiness. They do indeed serve these ends, and can be naturalistically justified thereby; but that is not all. A naturalistic ethics can at best only lamely explain why, if morality is nothing but this, men will face torture and death—which are surely not an increase of comfort or security—for the sake of ideals. In the long and tragic struggle of life on this planet from lower to higher forms; in the terrible sufferings of mankind reaching upward to grasp at nobler ways of living, constantly falling backward, yet as constantly striving higher; in the vague aspirations of men for immortality, for a more blessed mode of existence, for God, for a life which shall be not merely animal but also divine; in all this can be seen, not merely the futile, because ultimately purposeless, efforts for survival or pleasure by an animated piece of clay, but an influx into the darkness of such a life of a light which has its source in that which is eternal.

Back to Contents



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