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Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies . Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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THE need to believe. That is the title which, in my mind, I find I give to these subtle, brilliant, delicate, violent, and altogether delightful and intolerable essays of Professor William James. The “will to believe,” he himself has entitled them and the main subject they treat of: as a lesser apologist, some years ago, had called a similar book the “Wish to Believe.”

The wish, the will to believe—suggestive enough titles certainly. But, if I may paraphrase Faust’s commentary on St. John: in the beginning, before the wish, or the will, there was something else; in the beginning was the need. The need to believe—that is to say, a given mental constitution, typical like all others, whose spontaneous and inevitable tendencies have been reinforced by such portion of its surroundings as it found akin to itself. But, at that rate, what about truth—abstract truth? Surely we all of us want to get at that. Of course we all do, and each of us more than every one else. But abstract truth has to page: 194 be sought for by methods, to be sought for, moreover, in one direction or another; and these methods and this direction depend, in things spiritual more particularly, upon our intimate constitutional habits, and represent that need to believe, or not to believe, one sort of thing rather than another; the need which, as remarked, must come before the wish or the will. This is prejudging the question. Yes; but prejudging it equitably. For, while postulating on the part of Professor James a constitutional need to believe, of which his arguments are mere explanations and excuses, I admit from the first that a corresponding need not to believe (that is, not to believe the same as Professor James), and even a will not to believe, is at the bottom of the counter‐arguments with which I shall endeavour to oppose him. Indeed, the whole small usefulness of the following notes depends, in my eyes, on their embodying a picture of the type of mind which does not need to believe, to set opposite Professor James’s incidentally drawn portrait of the mind which does need to believe; and this for the benefit of that unbiassed abstract reader who exists only in the average (and perhaps not even there), and for the better setting forth of what I hold to be a great and consolatory fact, to wit, that there are luckily a great variety of human types, and a good many ways of working out ones spiritual welfare, of being saved in life, if not after death.

This being the case, and Professor James’s arguments seeming to me only modernised versions of what has been alleged ever since the beginning of such controversies, I need make no excuses for the venerable page: 195 staleness of my counter‐arguments. For when, as in this particular case, it is a great Goliath of Science who comes forward with newly furbished weapons from the old orthodox armoury, it is no disgrace to the poor David of Ignorance to fill his sling, not with smooth pebbles from the brook, but with a handful of rusty rationalistic shot.


There enters, according to Professor James’s title (and I am not, I hope, misunderstanding him in saying according also to Professor James’s ideas), something into belief besides the evidence and the logical process of which, according to old‐fashioned notions, belief was exclusively composed. Or rather, belief is the outcome of something which our dogmatising fathers who believed exclusively in the intellect (because they denied that their adversaries had any) allowed only as an ingredient and factor of variation in error. A kindlier disposition towards our opponents, and a more rigorous scrutiny of our own mental processes, has led us moderns to perceive that logical proof and ocular demonstration are not much more than negative powers, and that a stronger motor than they is needed to set a‐going the lazy and much impeded mechanism of human belief. This is one of the great achievements of modern mental science; and its convincing elucidation is one of the finest successes of Professor James’s own splendid work in Psychology.

Belief in the existence of anything is primarily set afoot by a practical or emotional requirement; and it page: 196 is only far, far on in intellectual development (and even there only pushed by pleasurable impulses to ransack facts or construct theories) that we meet with ideas, with beliefs, existing for their own sake and born solely of other ones. But primarily, as I said, we believe in a thing because we feel in some way that tends towards it: we set about looking for water not because certain aspects of the place afford an intellectual persuasion of its presence, but because we want to drink it; and the intellectual element of evidence and logic (disregarded so long as we are not thirsty) comes in only to direct or to check this incipient belief, this conception produced by desire. The psychological theory of belief was formulated centuries ago (though not by a philosopher), in the adage about wishes being horses. In the earlier stage belief is indistinguishable from expectation, and expectation (as we know from infants’ proceedings about food and grown‐up people’s views about the duties of others) is merely a conceptional wish, frequently not merely independent of reality, but absolutely hostile to it. This is the first stage. The beggars of the old adage raise their foot into the stirrup, and up! but alas, no horses are there to bestride! The child eagerly bites into a sweet, delicious orange, and (forgive my vulgarity) spits out a very sour lemon. We all of us go to our neighbour clamouting for sympathy and assistance, and find that our neighbout takes a different view, and has his own affairs to look after. The result of such experience, of the beggar’s attempt to ride, is a modification of the belief which is a kind of desire into the more complex sort of belief which, as often as not, page: 197 runs counter thereunto. The experience, being usually disagreeable, is supplemented or replaced, by what we call logic, which dispenses us from biting into fruit which may be sour, clamouring for sympathy which may be refused, and generally, like those beggars, getting a bad fall off imaginary horses. Experience and logic, at any rate, modify our conceptions; and such modified conceptions are what we mean when, in any scientific or practical way, we speak of belief. Moreover, it is such belief as this upon which, from a wholesome fear of accidents, we usually try to base our actions. In this, manner does impulse—the impulse, if we may call it so, of prudence—stimulate our lazy minds and, inducing us to modify our expectations by knowledge, counteract the previous impulse to believe in the existence of everything we want.

Such is the platitudinous history of the formation of belief, in those practical matters where certainty is necessary and attainable. Now this alteration of expectation by actuality, this rude elimination of the element of mere personal desire out of what we call belief, does most conspicuously not take place in one of belief’s chief categories, and (by a curious coincidence) in the very category which has usurped the name without further qualifications. In matters religious and philosophical (which are so largely the same under different titles), wishes really do become horses; at all events, every beggar contrives to enjoy a ride, whether on Pegasus or a stickhorse only he himself is left to judge. We are all of us, either individually or grouped into creeds and schools, allowed in such page: 198 matters as God, the Soul, Immortality, and all the transcendent questions, to express our preferences and our requirements as we should never dare express them in physics or chemistry, or the most rudimentary housewife’s science. It is no exaggeration to say that we could not boil an egg without a severe elimination of the personal element of consideration of wish and will, and needs of our nature—such as is never applied to religious and philosophical beliefs. This difference shows, as apologists have often remarked, that belief in things spiritual conforms to different rules from belief in things temporal. And therein I agree completely. But if religious thought can thus dispense with the kind of certainty required even for the simplest practical affairs, this must surely be only because no practical decisions are really based upon it; because it is not a means to an end, but an end, even like art, in itself. The persistence in all views on spiritual matters, of that element of desire, nay, of every individual and momentary feeling which has been eliminated from more material kinds of belief, shows that such views are useful not as a basis for action, but as an expression and embodiment of emotional and constructive impulses inherent in what we may call the soul. Such a view is no disparagement to religion; if anything, the contrary. There are activities, surely, which, instead of merely stoking, so to speak, for the maintenance of themselves and of other activities, are advantageous to life by increasing and regulating its complexities; nay, which perhaps constitute, in the eyes of a rational human being, life’s only worthy end and object. To despise such activities is the equivalent, page: 199 on the psychologist’s part, of a certain kind of political economy, preaching abstinence from all the good which wealth can buy for the sake of increasing that wealth itself, which, apart from its use, can have no meaning.

If, therefore, will can enter into belief, it is only, to my mind, as an expression of need, of the craving of this part of our constitution. And in so far as the needs of different men differ, and the needs of different historical periods and racial types differ still more, it is not surprising that while science and the practical applications thereof have tended to that ever greater unity which we associate with the notion of objective truth, the creations of the religious instinct, the expressions of the will not to know, nor to succeed, but to believe, have been as various as the product of the æsthetic faculties.

I am not speaking disrespectfully of religious thought, in saying that it is far less akin to science than to art, indeed, in its highest manifestation, perhaps merely a category of the æsthetic phenomenon; for as I do not agree with Professor James that the æsthetic sensibility is an accident in evolution like the capacity for sea‐sickness, I am not bound (although I have no will to believe) to agree with another, non‐unitarian psychologist, that “religion is a malady of the soul.”

Indeed, when I come to think of it, it seems as if I had more sympathy with religious people instead of less, just because I disbelieve in religion’s objective validity or value: at all events, my sympathies are less restricted than those of the various religious persons themselves, High Church, Low Church, Anglican, Romans follower of Ali and follower of Omar, nay even page: 200 (I fear) of Professor James himself, who lays about him freely against the excessive demands of Catholics and Calvinists, the insufficient demands of agnostics—in fact against everybody who is not of his own way of thinking. If desire, suitability to one’s own feelings (which I take to be the meaning of “moral coherence”), enters into religious belief; why then there must enter into it the temperamental peculiarities and the peculiarities of civilisation by which these non‐logical demands are differentiated from each other; and if truth is to result from it all, why insist that only one view can be true—or rather, why not insist that to himself each single individual must necessarily be in the right? Once admit a will to believe, and the divergences between, say, the God of the Hebrews (Patriarchs and Prophets indiscriminately) and the God of Marcus Aurelius, and the God of Dante, and the God of Emerson, must be as legitimate and as significant of truth as the coincidences between them. Neither should Professor James warn us against going into excessive detail about the Divinity and admonish us to be satisfied, so to speak, with the Divinity being there at all. Professor James, indeed, is satisfied with God being there, and perhaps being there to satisfy Professor James; but that would not at all suffice for Dante, who wanted a God to apply filthy chastisements for sins he “did not feel inclined to”; nor for Cardinal Newman, who wanted a God to set afoot a world capable of Original Sin and Redemption; nor for the poor old woman who wants a God able to take pleasure in a twopenny taper.

And why should we sympathise less with all these page: 201 divergent religious needs than with those of Professor William James? Only, because we happen to be nearer his general way of thinking, because we happen to admire him enormously, while we are indifferent to the Eternal Punishment of Gluttons (as set forth by Dante), to Original Sin (as understood by Newman), and to cheap wax lights (as regarded by the devout old lady). And here let me say that, unless we consider all religions as equally a nuisance (and perhaps even if we do so consider them), it would surely be more consistent, kinder, and therefore better bred, more wholesome for our own spiritual life, such as it may be, if we could get to speak and even think respectfully of the sincere and disinterested elements in every kind of belief. Agnosticism can afford to be fairer to Romanism than Protestants can be, fairer to Calvinism than it is possible for Ritualists, more decent to each and every honest and beautiful faith than any other honest and beautiful faith is wont to be. I may claim even more for the attitude towards various religious faiths of those who can dispense with any, for the thorough‐paced agnostic. Since, should there really exist, immanent and hidden in this world of phenomena, of humanly perceived and interpreted appearances, an Ens Realissimum in any way resembling the creatures who worship and burn, turn about, the images they have made of him, if there be such an One—is it not justifiable to suppose that, having created such various moral soils and climates and germs, the unknown First Cause might love to watch the different growths of soul, and cherish the diversity of his spiritual garden?

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But these are the scruples of a determinist, whose individual fate it is to have no will to believe the same things as Professor James.

He, on the other hand, who does will to believe, has rather a complicated arrangement to make, which, to the best of my power, I desire to understand and put before the reader fairly. There is—such is the pith of the arguments—there is of course a non‐rational element existing quite legitimately in belief: the individual believer has an individual constitution, and this has got individual needs, tendencies, impulses, repulsions, desires. But—and in this but is the whole morality and philosophy of the business—but these constitutional, hence inevitable, fatal needs, are only reasons among which the will chooses. And the will, which makes the choice, is overruled, determined by none of these inevitable motives, is independent of the individual constitution; it promenades its glance, poising freely in vacuo, upon the whole series of inevitable tendencies; and it makes its choice freely. Hence it would seem that, so far from the Will to believe being, as I have represented it, a Need to believe; the Will to Believe can exist even where there is a constitutional need NOT to believe. And by this arrangement we are all responsible for our beliefs, since we are responsible for our wills—or is it our wills which are responsible for us?—and there is no reason on earth for being polite towards bigotry or scepticism, seeing that Cardinal Newman, M. Renan, Professor page: 203 Clifford, and especially Hegel, were perfectly free to think differently from the remarkably reprehensible way in which they did.

There is, therefore, a clear space round the will. It sits somewhere in the midst of motives, seeing them plainly, but quite safe from their laying hands on it. This would be a curious position—though it has not seemed an impossible one to most persons—for the Will to enjoy, or rather for the myriads of Wills all poised in vacuo like a spider in the midst of a web which shouldn’t touch him. But the situation becomes quite different, and the position of the will far less conspicuous, if we admit with Professor James that there is no real reason for conceiving the isolated wills as surrounded by anything continuous in itself; there are holes round the wills because there are holes here, there, and everywhere. The universe is no longer homogeneous in necessity of action and reaction; the universe is honeycombed, nay actually held in solution, by a foreign something called chance. Even in the most trivial matters, we may watch the movements of chance, and verify the absolute freedom of the human will. Listen to Professor James:

“Do not all the motives that assail us, all the futures that offer themselves to our choice, spring equally from the soil of the Past; and would not either one of them, whether realised through chance or through necessity, the moment it was realised, seem to us to fit that past, and in the completest and most continuous manner to interdigitate with the phenomenon already there.” The Past, for instance, has led Professor James, as he tells us, to the possibility page: 204 of choosing to take one street rather than the other. He shows us two separate and possible universes, one in which he has chosen the one street, another in which he has chosen the other street; and asks which of the two is the more rational universe, summing up the demonstration with the remark: “In every outwardly verifiable and practical respect, a world in which the alternatives that now actually distract your choice were decided by pure chance would be by me absolutely undistinguished from the world in which I now live.” But that is just it. There seems a chance, an alternative, wherever we do not see with eyes or with experience the totality of a process. To me it seems pure chance that the omelette collapses instead of swelling, for I do not see what should make it do either; but my cook knows and blushes for her awkwardness. In watching an illness, even to a doctor, there may seem to be a chance, because the doctor does not know all that is going on. That a particular grain of sand should have made straight for Cromwell’s vitals, with the result of killing him, seemed a matter of chance to Pascal, because it was all happening unseen in another man’s body; but had Pascal been experimenting in his study with grains of sand he would not have accepted chance as an explanation. Chance in fact is a name for the residuum, for what we do not know or do not care about, and in all speculations there must be, perpetually changing, such a residuum. Chance will come in wherever we cease to look or fail to see into a process. It indicates our ignorance not merely of what will happen, but of what is happening. There seems no sufficient reason, more‐ page: 205 over, why, if we admit chance as a condition in the act of willing, which is one of the most obscure and entangled mysteries of our nature, one which observation seems almost unable to arrive at—we should not admit chance also as a condition in the perfectly clear and well‐known phenomena which lie under our eye. Why should chance not make the water in a boiler freeze? Yet, if such a thing occurred, we should merely jump to the conclusion that some new factor of change had come in unnoticed by us; we might even say that some saint or fairy had been abroad, and that his preference had upset the ways of the elements. But we should not invoke chance. Indeed, in my ignorance of science I have an idea (perhaps mistaken) that scientific experiments are sometimes made, medical diagnosis for instance, on the express exclusion of chance: a substance put into something, a mixture made inside a pot or inside a human being, and, according to the results given by the new element, some conclusion drawn about the previous contents of pot or human being. But I am ignorant of science, and may be mistaken; so I will only draw on literature for confirmation, and remark that it seems odd that even Pope should have refused chance a place in the material universe and relegated it to the secret operations of what were called the faculties of the mind: “And binding Nature fast in Fate, Left free the Human Will.” This snipping of the web of cause and effect, this bringing in of independent factors from the back of page: 206 beyond, is perhaps a necessary conclusion from the facts and tendencies of recent science; of this I am too ignorant to judge. Connected with the will to believe, it seems to me (what such a will to believe surely authorises) a voluntary result of the old, old theological dilemma of squaring omnipotence and moral perfection. For, if God is the first cause, God is the only cause, and the primary cause of every secondary and successive cause whatsoever. If God made man, and man made mischief, then primarily that mischief was of God’s making. Nor would there have been anything at all shocking in this, if the world had contained only metaphysicians, and religion had ministered only to a logical and constructive desire for a beginning of all things.

But the world was peopled also with persons liable to molest their neighbours, and with other persons thus molested; and religion was also required to sanction, by a system of prohibitions, of rewards and of punishment, the practically indispensable craving for justice. For, by a very natural contradiction, mankind has always acted as if the individual will were free enough to be responsible, but determinable enough to be influenced by threats and promises. Now it would never have done (as has been formulated by M. Paul Bourget’s determinist villain) for men to answer the judging divinity by pointing out that he was responsible for the very acts he was about to punish. “Ihr lasst den Armen schuldig werden”—at all events, such views were safe only in philosophical novels, like Job and Wilhelm Meister.

Moreover, besides the practical dangers which such page: 207 a view as this might have entailed, there was the emotional distress it must bring to another class of persons, who asked of religion not the solution of a metaphysical riddle, nor the sanction of an ethical policy, but something perhaps more indispensable than either, an embodied maximum of sympathy, of helpfulness, of lovingkindness, of all the beautiful qualities which mankind showed only in the sample. Some such dilemma there must have been in every religion which was more than mere nature worship or less than pure metaphysics; and it would be interesting could one study the various modes of eluding it. The best plan was clearly to isolate, to prevent the clashing, of conceptions of the divinity so originally incongruous as the Metaphysical First Cause, the Ethical Judge, and the emotional Lover of the Soul. Christianity effected this by the miraculous intervention of human free will and disobedience. The miracle was, indeed, far from satisfactory: man’s will, separated, in order to be completely responsible, from all the rest of causation, was not logically controllable by a categorical imperative, since an imperative, an order, an enforcement, is inconceivable towards a will which is not conditioned; and on the other hand the very freedom of man’s will must have been granted by a First Cause who, if omnipotent, could have chosen to obviate so terrible a danger. The solidarity between God and Evil still existed, the responsibility for Man’s and Nature’s wickedness had been merely concealed; suspicion, nay certainty of this, growled through every possible form of disbelief and heresy. But the solidarity had been reduced to a minimum, the responsibility had been page: 208 relegated to an infinitely distant Past, and the church, luckily perhaps for mankind, decided that any difficulty there might remain in the matter was silenced by the inscrutability of God’s ways to man. Thus things were pacified by the doctrine of Original Sin, which to the rigorously logical mind of Newman seemed “almost as certain as that the world exists and as the existence of God.”

In this way it became possible for every man to cherish a personal divinity, by virtually breaking up the unity of the monotheistic idea. For in the individual conscience the total self‐contradictory Godhead exists, most probably, only in short (and most often painful) flashes of synthesis; from which each individual nature selects and magnifies those aspects which answer to its deepest individual wants. A logical God there no doubt is, a perfectly consistent First Cause, in the thought of the metaphysician or theologian, untroubled by questions of sentiment or conduct. The whole Bible, on the other hand (save Job) and every other manifestation of Puritanism, past or present, testifies to the undisturbed subjective reign of a God of Righteousness, from whom all injustice, however logically demonstrable, has been passionately purged away. While, on the other hand, one of the most blessed sights in life are the glimpses we get of a Godhead, consubstantial with so many exquisite human hearts, in the perfection of whose goodness all evil, in reality or in dogma, is dissolved and neutralised away. But the total and definite divinity, monstrous in absurd and wicked contradictions, can never have been clearly discerned without horror, and has in the practical page: 209 exercise of every creed been invariably broken up or hidden away. To say this is no disrespect, but quite the contrary, to the noble though discrepant instincts fortuitously meeting and clashing in what we have called religion. And, as regards, on the other hand, an objective primary Reality, let not anything I have said be construed into a grotesque judgment concerning the existence of such a One. If, as all philosophical progress unites in thinking, and as Kant has made it so easy for us all to grasp, if it is true that all that we know we can know only in the terms of our senses and our organic intellectual necessities, then must the Objective First Cause remain for ever hopelessly hidden from our knowledge and our imagination; and the God, whatsoever he be, whom we worship, we hope for or deny, be but an idol of our own making, an idol the more potent that he is a part of ourselves; but an idol in judging of whose qualities and whose possibilities we are only judging our own thoughts, and desires, and dreams; and the Objective Real Cause might, had he qualities or form, rebuke us as the Spirit of the Earth did Faust:— “Du gleichst dem Geist den du begreifst, nicht Mir!”


The cruxes of theology, and theology’s ways of settling them are, as Mr. Richard Le Gallienne has shown in a small book which is suggestive and charming, for the most part only the dilemmas and ways page: 210 out of them of metaphysics. But the difference between the thinker bent upon religious edification, and the thinker of mere rationalistic habits, is that the latter is not forced to attempt anomalous unifications in the person of a divinity. Professor James has failed to see this great advantage of the Agnostic’s intellectual and moral position; and, being a Unitarian, he declines to hear of subjective divinities; he wills to believe in an objective and substantive Godhead. By constructing an elaborate system of air‐tight compartments filled with Freewill which are connected with, but not pressed upon by, surrounding causality, he has saved the unity of the Creator by sacrificing, very explicitly, the unity of Creation. And in so doing he erroneously imagines that he has attained the only morally endurable conception of the relations of man with what is not man. “If,” writes Professor James of his opponent, the determinist, “if all he means is that the badness of some parts does not prevent his acceptance of a universe whose other parts give him satisfaction, I welcome him (it is always Professor James who speaks) as an ally. He (the determinist) has abandoned the notion of the whole, which is the essence of deterministic monism, and views things as a pluralism, just as I do in this paper.”

Not by any means, Professor James; I can, as a human being, take exception to any amount of things in the universe without in the least postulating a pluralism. The fact of various items being parts of the same whole, that is to say, being bound to act and react on one another, does not in the least imply that the action and reaction in question should be accom‐ page: 211 panied in any of them by the particular condition or feeling called pleasure or approval. Indeed, since pleasure and disapproval do undoubtedly exist, one might deduce from their existence the very fact that various items do act and react upon one another; in other words that there is an unbroken chain of causation, a causal whole; whereas, if the universe were full of gaps in the sequence, approval and disapproval would necessarily be by so far diminished. There is, therefore, no pluralistic view implied in the recognition that one tiny piece of the great whole, the portion calling itself Man, is so constituted, and constituted in virtue of the nature of the whole, as to feel, to judge the larger portion in which it is embedded, according to standards inevitably arising out of its special constitution and surroundings. In synthesising its piece of the universe according to its synthetic system, and dividing that piece of the universe into facts which delight and facts which revolt its special mode of being, mankind is so far from breaking up the total unity that its human synthesis and analysis, its repugnance and its preference, are themselves traceable to the action and reaction between itself and the adjacent parts, so to speak, of that whole; actions and reactions due, no doubt, in their turn to the actions and reactions of infinite other parts which are hidden from the faculties which the whole has given to that part of itself called mankind, and given thus limited and determined.

The very essence of determinism is the belief that man’s likings and dislikings, nay, his modalities of perception and reasoning, are due to the causal chain of processes which have constituted him, which do page: 212 constitute him man; man, and not horse, dog, or cat; man, and not tree or stone; man, and not angel, Demiurgus, or God; and that, so far as there is a difference in the determined constitution, in the determinating sequence, man’s likings and dislikings and feelings and thoughts are not shared by horse, dog, cat, tree, stone, angel, Demiurgus, or God.

Or God. Taking up, therefore, the idol we all make and alter and endow with that name, I may say that only thorough‐paced determinism can, it seems to me, really break that wretched solidarity between the First Cause, postulated by man’s reason, and the Principle of Good demanded by man’s heart. For, how can we ask of a First Cause, which our reason insists on as absolutely unconditioned (else it would not be First Cause at all) participating in the moral instincts and preferences which are involved in the very nature of man? And how, on the other hand, can we, because our reason insists on the existence of a bare First Cause, and on the existence, moreover, of infinite realities necessarily hidden from our faculties, which perceive only what we call phenomena, why should we, how could we, silence those demands for justice, kindness, harmony, which are an inevitable part of our constitutions ? We cannot help judging the Universe, we cannot help judging God, and finding both at fault. But, if we are reasonable, we cannot help at the same time recognising that the Universe and the God we are judging are mere creations of our own faculties; that good and evil as we conceive it, or even good and evil at all, are qualities which exist for certain only relatively to mankind; that it is only an exuberance of page: 213 an activity better turned to the criticism of ourselves, which makes us criticise also the creations—perhaps the utterly gratuitous creations—of our own human mind, makes us rage at the ugliness of the picture of our painting, and sorrow at the cruelty of the idol we have wrought. As to the great Realities, we cannot fall foul of them, since we cannot even conceive them. This is the reconciliation between our reason and our desires, which can console such of us as admit the merely subjective nature of what our religious instincts, harmonious or discordant in their action, are for ever making us hope and believe.

But the person who wills, or needs to believe, in an objective First Cause and in an objective intention in the universe (or in part of the universe), is liable to think that the morality of man receives its principal sanction from a similar morality on the part of God. To Professor James, it would seem, a disbelief in the second contradicts, or largely invalidates, a belief in the first. To me, on the contrary, it seems as if the recognition that we know only our own desires and fancies about the order of the universe, ought, rather, to make us give more implicit obedience to what is evidently the order, the necessity of man’s nature. We find no trace—Professor James is the first to admit it—no trace of morality in the proceedings of physical nature; he might have added that we find distinct traces of what would be immorality for us in the proceedings of our very near animal relatives. What can this prove save that morality is a necessity, a law special to man; and what stronger sanction can morality obtain than the fact that it is specially neces‐ page: 214 sary for us? Suppose, by way of comparison, that we ask which is the more cogent reason for eating, or sleeping, or taking a walk, the fact that all our neighbours do as much, and that we are bound to them by similarity; or the fact that each of us, individually, cannot live comfortably without eating, or sleeping, or taking a walk? Surely the greater cogency is the nearer to ourselves. If it were otherwise, we should be bound to disregard the command, the necessity of our individual constitution, and imitate our neighbours not merely in the points in which there is unanimity of nature and interest, but also in the points in which there is discrepancy. Similarly between mankind and the universe. The moral imperative is an imperative because man’s constitution and circumstances enforce it; it is an order which cannot be disobeyed, because it comes from within. Would the sanction be greater if the imperative applied also to the universe beyond man, if the order came from without? Were such the case, and did the cogency of an imperative depend upon the number and the variety of the classes which obeyed it; did solidarity with the non‐human universe instead of solidarity inside mankind, and, moreover, inside the human individual constitution, determine our actions—then we should be bound to set at defiance all our human instincts of righteousness merely because we recognised that the universe, which is bigger than mankind, conformed to a standard which is not that of human rightdoing at all. So far as we can see, there is a different right and wrong, or perhaps no right and wrong at all, outside the human being and human society. Certain philosophers, and particularly page: 215 certain mystics, have seen this plainly, and settled the question in a strictly logical manner. Our moral instincts, they have justly perceived, although necessary to us and to this earthly existence, need have no use in an existence carried on on different lines. These instincts may therefore be merely temporary; and, our spiritual essence once freed from bodily and social requirements, it is conceivable that we may shed such narrowing and distorting prejudices, and get to like those arrangements of the universe which we now call evil, quite as well as the others which we now call good; or rather, we may give up such earthly provincialisms as approval and disapproval, and sit quite happily at the First Cause’s right hand, perfectly satisfied with the mere knowledge of the chain of causality.


This is exceedingly logical. But it is not moral. Our instincts for good somehow refuse to be satisfied with the assurance that they are temporary and necessary hallucinations, and accordingly we find that such a solution of the great riddle does not commend itself to Professor James any more than to that wholesome and practical, if rather rough and ready, moralist, the Church, which has never omitted to burn the persons, or at least the books, of those who advanced this particular justification of God’s ways to man. The Church and Professor James have felt very strongly that life would be unendurable without a maximum of moral feeling on man’s part; and that such a maximum page: 216 requires that man should blindly strive and cry out for morality, eternally and everywhere. Besides, a divinity is wanted, not merely to satisfy the logical and the emotional wants of mankind, but also to sanction, to enforce morality and, even more, to satisfy man’s moral cravings. Hence a constant juggling with ideas, juggling whose efficacy depended on the extent to which mankind was able to close either the eye of morality or the eye of logic. Original Sin was one of the dodges which succeeded when the eye of morality was closed; when the eye of reason, always a little short‐sighted, was winked, it was possible to arrange matters by splitting the divine essence into a Father who did all the bad obscure business of creation, and a Son filling the centre of vision with the effulgence of self‐sacrifice and redemption; indeed, I cannot but think that the more rationalised Christianity of Professor James loses incalculably by the reduction to a minimum of the divinity of Christ. Be this as it may, the church through all the centuries, and Professor James through all his volume, have found themselves perpetually in presence of the old, old dilemma, not the dilemma of determinism with which Professor James has dealt explicitly, but the much worse, because implicit, dilemma of “justifying the Ways of God to Man.”


Professor James’s will to believe has taken him into the thick of it. For, not satisfied with breaking up the causal connexion of the Universe and filling up page: 217 the gaps with Free Will and Chance, he has felt the need of reinstating into this discontinuous and parti‐coloured scheme of things a First Cause who shall satisfy the moral cravings of man.

According to a favourite theological habit, Professor James sees in these moral cravings an implied promise that they must be satisfied. Now, satisfaction is undoubtedly connected with demand. Only, a demand does not imply that its satisfaction is actually taking place, but rather the contrary. We suffer very keenly from the insufficient morality of the universe. This is a reason for our trying to increase it by our own efforts and in our own sphere; it is not a reason for supposing that the very cause of our suffering is really trying to diminish our doing so. Why not believe at once that there must be a fire hidden somewhere in a room because we feel ourselves perishing with cold? Let us make up a fire ourselves, and all will be set right.

Right for some persons, but evidently not for others. What they want is not to be warm, but to feel sure that the host who has (in their view) invited them to his house, has disliked the notion of their being cold. Any increase in Good which Man brings into things does not satisfy Man’s desire that things should be good apart from him.

Hence another argument. No longer that we are mistaken in making such a fuss about good and evil, but rather, that the very fuss we make will, in some sort, oblige the First Cause to reveal how very, very much more good there is in the universe than we ever guessed. This argument is, like all the other page: 218 arguments (and my counter‐arguments), as old as the hills. But Professor James has contrived to put it into a form most modern and most scientific, alas! although to my mind not very cogent. Since, of all devices for putting me in conceit with a First Cause, the one least likely is that of representing the First Cause as a Vivisector. For it is upon the description of the agonies and the terror of a poor dog in the process, as Professor James consolingly puts it, of “performing a function incalculably higher than that which prosperous canine life admits of,” that is based the argument in question: if mankind could only understand as much more of the universe and the purposes of the Creator as the physiologist’s assistant understands of the uses of vivisection than the vivisected dog, then surely mankind might be expected (as the dog would be) to “religiously acquiesce” in being, so to speak, vivisected by the divinity. This argument has seen so much service in various theological forms, that it must evidently afford satisfaction to a large number of persons with a will to believe sufficient to overcome certain repugnances. But there are other persons to whom vivisection, even of dogs, is not a subject for “religious acquiescence”; to whom the very wickedest imaginable act would be to hide from the creature thus immolated any reason which might justify, any good which might counterbalance, its unmitigated anguish. For if there are minds so constituted as to require deism for their moral well‐being, even deism garnished with such analogies, there are certainly many others (and perhaps even among really pious believers) who either break loose from any deistic page: 219 creed, as from a species of Moloch worship, or remain within its pale, suffering frightful doubts or stultifying their reason, merely because they have got enslaved to the logical demand for some original cause of all things. Why has Omnipotence allowed us to develop moral instincts which necessarily condemn some of Omnipotence’s conspicuous proceedings? Why given us reason enough to see only the evil, and withheld the extra amount which would have revealed the eventual good? Surely one‐half of religiously‐constituted men and women have suffered from this thought, whether expressed in symbols of original sin and redemption through innocent blood, or awakened quite unmetaphorically by the individual cruelties of Fate. For there are worse things to think of than even the Brockton murderer (to whom Professor James perhaps unnecessarily introduces us), and which stick more in one’s throat, mine at least, than any human act of meanness and brutality. Cast your eye over the circle of your own acquaintance and you will understand what I mean: cases where two creatures are separated by death at the moment of a tardy, sighed‐for union; worse, cases where a creature, who has never had any gladness in life, sees its poor little candle of happiness snuffed out in a few months, or weeks, with the life of a wife or husband; cases where we are abashed at the bare thought of offering condolence, and which exist at every moment and in every street. Is the thought of such things as these made more supportable by the belief that the Creator might have made them seem less bad if only he had cared?

To such of us as feel in this manner, a universe page: 220 whence the First Cause has been banished, like the gods of Lucretius, seems a thing almost too good to be true. And some of us, assuredly, have felt a new lease of moral life accompanying the gradual or sudden recognition that all we know of good and of evil is confined to man; that we are spiritually akin only to our own kind; and that the ambiguous divinity, who has tortured us with good instincts and evil examples, is but a Frankenstein’s Monster of our own making.


But to those who have suffered from them, such thoughts are too painful almost to bear recalling; the recollection thereof, like that of Dante’s forest, renews the horror.

So let us turn to the more human side of this controversy, which, viewed in a kindly spirit, is not without its pleasant humours. For on few occasions does the ingenuous self‐importance of mankind show out more than when mankind sets about making its graven images. The practical activities of life, and the scientific ones, are hampered by material facts and intellectual necessities often foreign to the individual; and even artistic creation, one of man’s freest activities, is, after all, limited by questions of school and fashion, of teachers and of public. But each individual is working for himself solely and solitarily, expressing only his own wants and likings, when busy about the idol labelled God.

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Talk of monotheism, forsooth! Why there are as many gods as there are believers, and even more, for each believer may make himself a whole Olympus full in a lifetime, each god, of course, being, turn about, the true one. Take, for instance, the matter of liking and disliking, or rather of disliking, for in most people personality shows more in that. We all of us proceed on the assumption that God cannot like what we dislike, nor dislike what we like; and if we all agree that he cannot possibly like evil, it is simply because evil admits of as many specifications as there are persons to do the specifying. I personally cannot believe that God can like vivisection; but Professor James, as we have seen, has compared God to a person engaged in that pursuit; on the other hand, it is plain that Professor James thinks that God cannot bear people who think like M. Renan, who, in his turn (as regards irony and indulgence rightly) perhaps surmised that God thought very much like himself. Meanwhile Mr. Ruskin, not without show of reason, thought God could not possibly like St. Peters; Galileo, a religious savant, that God could not like the Ptolemaic System; Origen, and other early Christians catalogued in Flaubert’s Temptations of St. Anthony, that God could not possibly like Sex; some other early Christians (and later transcendental philosophers)that God could still less possibly like a Material Universe. And meanwhile, among these conflicting statements, the one thing at all demonstrably certain is the existence of St. Peters, the Ptolemaic System, Sex, the Material Universe, and all the rest; and the one thing logically presumable is that since they do exist, the cause of all page: 222 existence must have been somehow mixed up in their existing ....

I have said that people’s religious views are even more determined (for I am fatally incapable of believing in a free will to believe) by their dislikings than by their likings. Dislike is a stronger feeling, as a rule, than liking; it is also one which suffers much more from need of sympathy (since the thing you like is in a way company), and, therefore, cries out for some one to share it. Moreover, there may be a degree of truth in the statement of certain pessimistic philosophers, that owing to some mysterious internal arrangement, mental or bodily, dislike—or as some people call it, disapproval, reprobation—gives a maximum of activity with a minimum of work, in other words, pleasure; gives you a sort of comfortable feeling of something to push against, and generally enlarges the happy flow of the vital spirits. I do not wish to be responsible for this notion; personally I am always trying to believe that I do not like disliking, and even if my practice bear it out, I feel I—well, I am bound to use the word—I dislike the theory of the pleasantness of disliking. Let me therefore appeal to the authority of Professor James, and thereby also end this digression on what we expect from our graven images, by resorting to what Professor James apparently expects from the one which he worships:—

“When, ...” he writes, “we believe that a God is there, and that he is one of the claimants ... the strenuous mood awakens at the sound. It saith among the trumpets ha! ha! it smelleth the battle afar off; the thunder of the captains and the shouting. Its blood page: 223 is up; and cruelty to lesser claims, so far from being a deterrent element, does but add to the stern joy with which it leaps to answer to the greater.

This is tremendous; and the passage I have italicised inspires me with fear of what may, some day, befall certain persons mentioned in previous pages of the Volume. I feel reassured, however, on reflecting that M. Renan and Professor Clifford, and especially Hegel, are safely gathered to their fathers; that there are neither Alexandrian libraries to burn nor witches (or, rather, the latter would be salaried as mediums); and that Jacobin clubs, if they arise nowadays, are sure to guillotine at once so great a man of science as Professor James at the instigation of some nostrum‐dealing Marat.

The God in whom Professor James wills to believe himself, and also wills that his neighbours should do alike, is, as the above quotation has suggested to the reader, essentially a Man of War. Now it is no good, even for a divinity, to be a Man of War in time of peace. Peace, therefore, is not at all what Professor James looks forward to (indeed, he more than once symbolises it as a tea‐table presided over by Mr. Herbert Spencer), but rather a universe which shall be a happy hunting‐ground for good and active men, presided over by a good and active God, with a certain amount of wickedness and misery preserved in it on purpose. And here is really Professor James’s solution, not so much reasoned and explicit, but constitutional and implied, of the existence of evil. It becomes good as a necessary condition of the exercise of goodness. “Not the absence of vice,” he exclaims, “but Vice page: 224 there, and Virtue holding it by the throat, seems the ideal human state”; and this being the case, it becomes plain that a perfectly good omnipotence could not have created mankind less sinful than it is. Indeed, all possible objections are forestalled by this conclusive view. For if one objected, that holding anything by the throat is but a low‐class employment for Virtue, and that pleasure in cruelty to lesser claims smacks of our childish desire to be the detective who may lie and cheat in order to circumvent cheats and liars, or even, of our ancestors’ taste for fine avengers àla Titus Andronicus; if one suggested that a more amiable ideal was set before us by Jesus Christ, a very little reflection would prove that this was futile: that too much amiability would weaken the moral muscle, and that in the ideal state the breed of villains, as in hunting counties the breed of foxes, must be considered as sacred.

So much for Evil in the form of Vice. Professor James goes further in his justification of the First Cause. If vice is required for the sake of keeping mankind actively virtuous, a certain amount of misery is quite as necessary to enable mankind to feel happiness. For—

“Regarded as a stable finality, every outward good (and Professor James, by specifying innocence, also adds every inner grace) becomes a mere weariness to the flesh. It must be menaced, be occasionally lost, for its goodness to be fully felt as such. Nay, more than occasionally lost. No one knows the worth of innocence till he knows it is gone for ever.” And so on.

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That is conclusive. But if, therefore, this is the best of all possible universes, and its being bad is just a part of its goodness, why then there is no problem of evil at all, and there was no need for a will to believe in Chance, in Free Will, in ultimate justice on the human pattern, and in the Divinity being a kindly Vivisector. The best of all possible First Causes must evidently have created the best of all possible universes; and we might, without more ado, have rested in the optimism of Dr. Pangloss, as set forth by Voltaire in his Candide.


But that immortal handbook of philosophy contains another saying which suits me and those who will not to believe, better; a saying less cosmic, no doubt, but easier to understand and act upon. “Tous les évènements sont enchainés dans le meilleur des mondes possible; car enfin, si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied, &c., &c. .... Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide; mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

Now, in the first place, it seems to me that the Panglossian theology, where he has adopted it, has betrayed Professor James into a statement which is damaging to the fruitful garden of human nature; when, in order to explain away the presence of misery in the world, he has insisted that without it we should cease to perceive happiness. But I have studied modern psychology in the splendid work of quite a different page: 226 Professor, William James (also of Harvard however, and who has collaborated in all the finest part of the present volume with his namesake), and can therefore state theoretically, what for the rest I should have always expected, that no one believes any longer in the old notions of necessary relativity between items of cognition; and that hot is hot, smooth is smooth, pleasant is pleasant, owing to direct relations between outer objects and ourselves, and would be so if cold, and rough, and disagreeable had remained in mente dei. And thus the normal human being requires no set‐off to happiness, since he is so compounded that the mere ordinary variations in himself and his surroundings afford the variety necessary for it to be conscious. Hunger and satisfaction, sleep and waking, exercise and rest, alternate with each other in a rhythm of change and repetition requiring no stimulus of starvation or insomnia or ennui; even as the never‐ending alternations of day and night, seasons and places, the never‐ending changefulness of charm in material beauty and in the things of the intellect and the sentiment, require no irrelevance of hideousness, or wickedness, or unintelligibility (though such is furnished us in plenty!) to make us keenly enjoy them. Nay, health itself, which seems a relative conception, is a very positive reality, letting us know its presence by the joyousness and energy in which the very thought of disease is utterly forgotten. The powers of the universe have indeed, alas, given mankind hard things to suffer; but let us do them justice: they have not made that suffering a condition of happiness, like Professor page: 227 James’s Creator (and Created?) of restless and blasés mortals.

Thus much of the little garden which the experienced hero of Voltaire urged us to cultivate: the garden of strictly human capacities, human morality, human logic, human sense of beauty and fitness, all bounded by the faculties of man; nay, perhaps all contained within man’s limited faculties, and created by them: for who can tell what wilderness of Realities may lie beyond, of wilderness or even of not being? I do not mean by this that we should check the passionate desire and speculation about that beyond. Indeed, the mirages which mankind sees beyond the flaming bounds of space and time are, in my opinion, as much an integral part of the human enclosure whence they are projected as the images thrown out by a magic lantern belong in reality to the room where they seem not to be, rather than to the stage across which they appear to move. Nay, among the things in this garden, wherein we are thus fatally enclosed, let us cherish as among the choicest some of these same fata morgana sights which it projects on to the inane beyond. Our ideas of an order of the universe, when such ideas are the result of mankind’s wish for harmony and justice, are, after all, a kind of reality, a reality to the faculties which produce them; and the divine figures, radiant in triumph, or ineffably touching in sorrow, who have heightened the joy and softened the suffering of the ages that are gone, have not only been the finest realities to those who believed in their objective existence, but ought, were we modest and wise, to remain among the most real page: 228 existences for the feeling of those who, like me, believe them to be but subjective creations. And in the falling to pieces of the old creeds, and the extrication therefrom of the various possible modes of conceiving a union of the spirit of man with the universe, Professor James has surely forgotten the best.

He dismisses as immoral such union as consists of a mere knowledge of God by his ways, and decides in favour of a union with God by co‐operation with his intentions, by the conforming of our action to his wish. But besides these modes of unification, there remains another, which can be traced in the sentiment, if not in the dogma, of most of the creeds of the past, and in the instincts of many agnostics of the present, in the utterances of all great poets, believing or unbelieving, in the forefront of whom, with his hymn to the Sun, stands Francis of Assisi. I am speaking of the unification by love. By love, not as submission, but as enjoyment. There is a stage of consciousness which Professor James apparently omits in his list, or confuses with one of the other stages: the stage not of perception, nor of cognition, nor of volition, but of a consummation which seems the result, and teleologically speaking, the rational end of the never‐ceasing flux of action from without and reaction from within. One may say of it, with Goethe’s Chorus Mysticus, “hier wirds Ereignis”; but it is the attainable, not the unattainable, which is accomplished. Sensitiveness, cognition, volition, action; is there not in this incessant circling chain an omitted link called satisfaction? For satisfaction, to which all human page: 229 states tend (however balked in so doing), is in its turn the great replenisher of the various activities which subserve it. Can we grasp the universe, make it ours, assimilate as much of it as possible, in a fashion more complete than when we enjoy the universe, love it, make use of the universe joyfully? Nay, is it not this state of consummation, of satisfaction, of identification of man’s wants and nature’s possibilities, the only state in which the old problem of evil is solved, is banished and forgotten?

Not all that we know of the universe and the universe’s ways conduces to this. Far from it. But what do cognition, volition, action, strive after save diminishing to the utmost our occasion of coming in contact with such of the ways of the universe as offend us? Perception, thought, decision, are all of them combined in an effort, which becomes ceaselessly more complex, to avoid pain and obtain pleasure, to forego the smaller pleasure for the sake of the larger, to avoid the greater pain by taking counsel of the smaller. All these activities tend, as I have said, to a state of harmony with our surroundings, a state of appreciation, of love of the happiness we feel.

And this state is just the one in which it becomes easiest to believe that what we call Evil may be merely what is unsuitable to us, and what, once eliminated from our neighbourhood, may find some proper sphere elsewhere, and become good to organisms different from ours. It is this kind of religious feeling which, in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, gave birth to art, man’s one successful attempt to extract only good from the universe. And it is, very likely, in the short page: 230 spells of such feeling that mankind has recovered strength sufficient to endure, to hope, and to strive.


This also is a matter of individual constitution and habit. Those who require such a way of looking at life, inevitably will to believe in its possibility, and thereby realise it; for in matters of feeling, even if in no others, wishes are really horses and we all may ride.

And herewith I return to my starting‐point, to wit, that the chief use of such speculations as these of Professor James’s, and the use, I trust also, of my answers thereto, is to make us acquainted with various and equally desirable types of mind, each with its uses and drawbacks.

Is it possible for these different types of mind ever fully to understand the nature, the habits of each other? Will it be possible, for instance, for Professor James to realist that the writer of these notes is one of his warmest admirers? And is it then possible for me, while marshalling my counter‐arguments, to remember the hundred points of agreement, the hundred luminous suggestions with which Professor James’s essays have delighted me?

Alas, perhaps not. Of all things in the world, thorough perception of one’s neighbour’s existence is, on the whole, the most difficult. But in proportion to the difficulty should be the effort. Particularly on the part of those who, like myself, will to believe page: 231 that man’s highest work is the realisation of a human ideal; and that the only Godhead which can make binding laws for man, is the divinity consubstantiate with his best self, and shaped in the glorified image of those he loves most.