"The Philosophy of the Spirit"
by Horatio W. Dresser
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Horatio Dresser was one of the great American philosophers of the early 20th Century. His books were widely read but few are still in print, and this one has not been available for many, many years. This eBook contains the full text of the 1908 edition.
THERE is a tradition that certain subjects are sacred and can never become matters of scientific inquiry. One of these ineffable subjects is the relationship of God to man in the highest ranges of human experience, particularly in those beatific moments when, in expectant solitude or social worship, the soul communes with the Father. But in these self-conscious days psychology has been triumphantly carried into all fields, and if psychological descriptions have sometimes been irreverent it is a question, not of retreat, but of the analysis which affords the most appreciative description. The success which has attended the psychology of religion shows that very much is to be gained by undertaking an account of the higher experiences of men. What must be said in behalf of the sacred or ineffable may be added when science has achieved its utmost. In the following pages I have ventured to mediate between science and religion by endeavouring to be appreciatively true to the everlasting realities of the religious life while taking account of and passing beyond the results attained by modern psychology. If no subject should more deeply inspire our reverence than that of the presence of God, none is more worthy of our thought. Accordingly I offer what I believe to be a contribution to the study of problems which pertain to a field midway between the philosophy of religion and constructive idealism. Advocates of various points of view may meet in this common field to study questions that are rightfully prior to the development of their special views. Each may make such qualification as he will, but all must be concerned with the issues here shown to be fundamental.
The point from which all men must start is experience. The point on which they may all eventually agree is in the description of experience on its subjective side. What lies beyond will long be matter of dispute, for some will maintain that experience brings us into direct relation with a higher order of being, while others will insist that it is merely a question of human analysis and of the values which analytic thought assigns. The experience which is said to give direct evidence of the presence of God is only one of a number in this regard. Hence in the following discussions I have begun farther back, with the facts of universally verifiable experience, before considering the special case. I have pointed out that to understand the living flux of experience we must study the immediate side of our nature in general. Having directed attention to the immediate elements of all experience, I undertake a fresh analysis of the factors that may rightfully be supposed to enter into the experience of the divine presence, always reserving room for that which may lie beyond psychological description. The various factors well in hand, and certain misapprehensions removed, it becomes possible to assess theories, such as mysticism, which have been brought forward in explanation of the divine presence. Mysticism, although rejected, is treated more appreciatively than by most critics. It becomes clear that whether or not an experience be said to reveal the divine presence it is first a question of the theory of human nature implied, and the interpretation put upon immediate experience in general.
The volume begins with an illustration drawn from universal experience which gives the clue to the entire discussion of the idea and presence of God, and outlines the problems, allied interests, and methods. The second chapter formulates a conception of Spirit, defined in essentially philosophical terms as implying the unity of the divine selfhood and the orderly proceeding forth of the divine creative activity. The third chapter is a justification of the critical or human point of view, in contrast with the dogmas which condemn inquiries such as the present investigation. The interest of the fourth chapter is wholly practical and relates to the ideal attitude to be maintained by those who are seeking the realities of the eternal life. The subsequent chapters undertake to establish the relationship of God to the natural world and to the commonplace by considering various hypotheses in regard to peculiar faculties, special gifts, authoritative intuitions, decisive feelings, and religious emotions. The result is not that the presence of God is reduced to the common-place but that many considerations are brought into view which devotees of special sides of our nature neglect. No faculty or experience is found that is solely authoritative, yet all considerations in question point forward to the discussion of the last chapter in which they are treated as phases of the witness of the Spirit.
The discussion of immediate experience centres about the life of feeling, and the theories analysed and rejected are mainly those in which one-sided emphasis is placed upon human sentiency. Hence other phases of human nature, together with the implied theories, are passed by with briefer reference. That is to say, there are doctrines founded on the supposition that the life of feeling, intuition, or a mysterious “God-sense,” is mystically continuous with the life of man. These doctrines are briefly classifiable as immediatisms, and they are characterised by disparagement of the human intellect and of rationalism in all its forms. In contrast with this general procedure, there is another conception of human experience which starts with the presupposition that man is a many-sided being. From this point of view there is contiguous relationship between God and man without mystical union, conjunction without identity of selfhood. That is, God is present to man’s nature not merely on the side of feeling but man is able to apprehend the divinely real and true through reason. Furthermore, the volitional reaction, the effect on man’s conduct, should be taken into account. But to establish this richer conception of human nature and human experience is to vindicate the rights of the intellect, hence to show that there must be rational interpretation of the presence of God. It is this conception of the manifold character of human responsiveness which points the way to the present discussion. The book is polemical only so far as mystical or merely empirical immediatisms are concerned: it is constructive in terms of an idealistic study of the entire problem of immediacy.
The central problem is further suggested by the questions often raised, namely, Is man’s first duty to obey that which is first in experience––his instincts, emotions, impulses, leadings––or should he endeavour to improve on experience of all types? Is there any spontaneous prompting that is directly authoritative? Granted that man has departed from nature and devised ways of his own, is there a way of escape from the conflicts which ensue between original promptings and conventional systems? Granted modern criticism, with its self-consciousness and the truths it has brought to light, how shall we escape from the paralysis of agnosticism into the life of productive belief? Plainly, these issues must be wrestled with afresh in our day, for it is a day when men are sent back to experience with new conviction. The method of solution would appear to be to test each conception to the full for what it may be practically worth, then compare the results in terms of ultimate standards and the profoundest philosophic systems. For merely practical considerations are not all-sufficient. The great systems are by no means dead. The life has not departed from the church and the other great institutions. The central clue will be found through a new adjustment between the systems of authority and the revelations of the modern spirit.
In accordance with the practical methods of the day, the conception of God defined as immanent Spirit is here tested in the light of its direct bearings on human experience. But experience is shown to be unmeaning unless it have real relation to a higher order of existence corresponding to the values assigned by enlightened self-consciousness. In contrast, then, with those who regard religion as “the conservation of values”––to borrow Höffding’s phrase––the spiritual life is here regarded as actually revealing superior existences. In contrast with naturalism, the attempt is made to relate the natural with the spiritual. The start is made with the results of the critical philosophy steadily in mind, and the argument keeps close to those results. Nevertheless, the main purpose is to direct attention rather to the Spirit than to the human limitations which might sceptically be taken to exclude the Spirit. Hence the constructive doctrine assimilates an element from empiricism without agreeing with the mystic, or other devotees of the life of feeling. In the last analysis, the problem of immediacy is the same wherever found, and if the main argument be conclusive it will be plain that one must assimilate the realities of immediate experience while passing beyond all empiricism by undertaking a thorough idealistic reconstruction of experience. Hence the volume closes with suggestions of a system which is here treated merely as an implication.
The book as a whole involves some changes in method as compared with earlier volumes. Having published several volumes of essays, written at various times and not in the order published, in the present book I have undertaken a systematic development of the main interest throughout namely, the relationship of the immanent Spirit to man. That interest was involved in too many issues in the preceding volumes. Here it is disengaged from special topics and considered without reference to the practical mysticism with which the writer’s teaching has been erroneously identified by the public. Were there space to make the distinctions clear, it would be plain that the philosophy of this book is radically different from therapeutic mysticism in all its forms. Such mysticism involves acceptance of the ideas of God, human nature, and immediate experience here rejected in favour of the idealistic view above mentioned. The earlier volumes, because they dealt with practical interests were supposed to be merely practical, hence they have been hastily classified under the head of various new doctrines. The present discussion shows that the main interest is decidedly idealistic. As matter of fact, the present doctrine has been developed without reference to, or even criticism of, current popular beliefs, but as a result of technical studies begun long before the earlier books were written. The culminating study was a comparison between modern empiricism, as expressed in such works as Professor James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, and the logic of Hegel. The decisive issues are embodied in Chapter II, which is a summary of studies in the concept of immediacy carried on a number of years ago in the logical seminary at Harvard. Out of these researches, in which I had the benefit of the constructive criticism of Professor Royce, grew the problem of the relationship of immediate experience to the religious and idealistic interests of the earlier volumes. Hence the study of the presence of God is regarded as typical of a general logical problem.
The study has been made as untechnical as possible so as to be verifiable in terms of common human experience. Nevertheless, the conception of immediate experience is the writer’s point of departure from the merely practical to the technically philosophical. Hence the chapter on immediacy is supplemented by an essay on the logic of Hegel in which the decisive analysis is found. Readers whose interests are prevailingly practical may omit Chapter II and the Supplementary Essay, and yet find all that is required for practical purposes. But it is just this assumption that truth is true enough if it serves us “for practical purposes” to which this book takes most emphatic exception. It was precisely because one believed in the value of fundamental principles that this long investigation seemed worth while. That investigation was twofold for many years, and the essentially practical branch of it has been developed in the preceding volumes: the present work marks a departure inasmuch as the technical, constructive clue is published in the same volume with the practical analysis.
The Supplementary Essay belongs with Chapter II, and should not be regarded as the conclusion of the book. The problem is stated less technically in the first seventeen sections, and the main problem in regard to irrationality is discussed, with certain references to pragmatism, in Sec. 126 and the sections following. Sections 37-63, 68-77, 89-108, may be omitted by those who do not care for dialectic detail. The conclusions of the Essay point forward to constructive idealism. That is, one believes, with Hegel, that it is the third or reconstructive moment of thought which makes clear the truly real. Neither sentiency nor reason is proved all-sufficient. Reason is dependent on the immediacies of experience, hence cannot create its items out of its own pure selfhood; while mere experience never takes us beyond the realm of appearances. One believes more firmly than ever in spontaneity, receptivity, guidance, intuition, and the rich values of the religious life; but one turns to Hegel, who teaches a man how to interpret immediate experience fundamentally, rather than to those who disparage one side of our nature (the rational) while imperfectly mediating the other (the element of sentiency). Hegel is not the prejudiced rationalist he is supposed to be, but the most faithful to the concrete of the great philosophers. Well might devotees of the modern pragmatic movement take their clues from him, instead of giving up the ideals of metaphysics before they have even reckoned with the great systems.
THE SCOPE OF THE INQUIRY
ONE of the most deeply suggestive events in nature is the reawakening of life in the spring-time, with the sense of fresh beauty and newness of being which it brings, as though spring had never arrived before. The same landscape lies around us, the same grass-plots and flower-beds are there. Once more the familiar changes take place, from early March with its promising winds to the sunny skies and budding life of April and the wondrous green beauty of May. Once again the birds arrive, to make the heart glad and awaken us with their morning song. Again the beauties of late spring blend with the customary scenes of early summer. Everywhere regularity reigns. Yet it is not nature’s orderliness which then impresses us but the new life astir in things. No mere reference to what nature was yesterday, last year, or the year before, can explain this miracle. The great fact is the presence of life, life, that perennial power which annuls time, transforms the familiar into the new, and compels ancient nature to be born again.
The same miracle is wrought in the human heart. A true friend never ages. There is neither time nor space where love abides. When the heart speaks, however many times it may have uttered the identical words, or prompted the same act of gracious service, it is as if love had never expressed itself before. The variations of love’s familiar themes constantly surprise us by their novelty. The entire world is transformed at love’s bidding. If we are ever in danger of servitude to the dull routine of our natural existence, it is love that saves us. In a single hour the prosaic details of ordinary life take on a new beauty. The ugliest environment may thus be transfigured and the most difficult task made sacred. Consciously or unconsciously, it is love that sends us forth anew when we seek truth, beauty, or goodness. We may cherish the belief that some other prompting will send us as far and as high. But take love away, remove us from those who encourage, inspire, and sympathies, and we discover that love is the great essential. Love grows with the years and it is not the sudden upheavals of passion which genuinely transfigure the world for us. Love has the power to assimilate all moments unto herself so that we live in an eternal present. Most of all when we love, when we are loved, do we know God. If “God is love,” we have in deepest truth the secret of this everlasting wonder, this constant renewal of that which otherwise were old. The entire universe, nature with its varied forms and types of life, the human world with its struggles and achievements, may be said to be each moment created anew by the Love which imbues it.
More memorable still is the reawakening of faith within us after a period of doubt and struggle. There are times when we are immersed in circumstance and can make no headway. We are overwhelmed by limitations, beset by obstacles, and victory seems impossible. Whatever happens, we are constantly made aware that we are decidedly human. Moreover, there are arguments without number to convince us of our finitude. Yet even when the prospect is darkest, when all convictions appear to be shattered, a new light gleams across the mind. That which a moment before seemed to be insuperable limitation now proves to be the essential condition of a new life. The point of view is suddenly shifted from the besetting circumstance which made belief impossible to the power which creates the circumstance. The outlook is enlarged beyond all description, mind and heart alike experience a new impetus. The dull facts which in our agnosticism we insisted upon are still there, but clothed with meaning, instinct with philosophic suggestiveness. Nothing surpasses the transfiguring might of the new conviction which now inspires the mind.
It is this greatest of miracles in the universe of beings and things, in the human mind and heart, which I shall consider in the ensuing discussions. Life itself in whatever form is a miracle. Fatigued beyond all apparent power of recovery, downcast beyond all visible hope, we lie down to rest presently to awaken into the fresh vigour of being. The fact of being, the gift of life, is basal. Our thought takes its clue from thence only to find that the fact surpasses the description. Such being the case, it would seem well to give life freer play through us with the hope that it may write its own description. And what more fitting symbol of the imbuing Presence could be found than this same renewal of life within and without?
It has too long been customary to speak of God as static, fixed, immutable. We have been told again and again that “God created the heavens and the earth,” as if that were all He ever could do. We have heard times enough that God is inscrutable, that “His ways are past finding out.” It is an exceedingly familiar thought, that God is so far transcendent that to define is to limit Him. To be sure, so much is said nowadays about God defined as immanent, as active in if not identical with all forms of energy, that we are in danger of passing to the other extreme and indulging in a new pantheism, as if God were the mere substance of nature. But we have not heard enough about God as Spirit, viewed as going forth from His own plenitude in forms of perennially creative life, brooding over the face of the waters, and leading His children along the varied pathways of the soul. Thus regarded, God is essentially dynamic, achieving; it is life, movement, growth, that reveals Him. When one seriously pauses to reflect, it is plain that the presence of life is what chiefly leads the mind to conceive of God. The God of life is in reality the true God.
The idea of God as manifested through all modes and forms of life is intermediate between the old-time deism and modern pantheism. This intermediate conception need not at present be complicated by the problems of the infinite and the transcendent. It is concerned for the moment with God as found in action, yet is not limited by the consideration of what is taking place today. God is thus conceived as ever-present, as fully active at one point or in one time as at any other. The great consideration is the meaning of His presence at all times and in all places. Hence attention is directed to the thought of God anew. For it is neither a question of the “far-off divine event” nor of the mere deeds accomplished in the near-by present, but of the Power which ever accomplishes. To dwell upon the remote event is to forget that God is even now giving of His life. To be alone concerned with the things done is to be subservient to the time-spirit, hence to lose sight of all save circumstance. But to dwell in thought with the Power that works in all who labour, lives in all who love, is to begin to know what the Spirit is.
It is no doubt audacious to speak in behalf of the Spirit. We have grown so accustomed in these cautious days to speak of the deed that has been wrought, omitting all mention of the actuating principle, that an apology seems almost to be needed when one ventures to speak of God. Yet even the most negligent do not hesitate to assume enough knowledge to declare that God is “inscrutable,” “unknowable,” or beyond all definition. It is far more modest to consider the actual achievements of the Spirit––that is, to accept the miracle of life as an earnest of the reality of God. Moreover, the miracle is confessedly accepted as symbolical. It is not claimed that the Spirit is absolute. A recent writer has said that “when you make a thing absolute, far from emphasising its nature, you remove its nature.” It is seriously to be questioned whether those who so freely use the adjectives “absolute,” “inscrutable,” and the like, have even a vague idea of the meaning intended to be conveyed. To say what one means is to be definite, concrete, to indicate details, not to indulge in generalities. When one ceases to apply epithets which theoretically remove the divine nature from all further consideration, one is surprised to find what a wealth of concrete clues men already possess. If in due course it seriously becomes a question of absolute Being, it is because the concrete clues logically lead to the conception.
It is plain that the idea of the divine presence has been greatly neglected. We have heard so much about the relativities of knowledge, the merely human conditions and factors, that many have lost the power to believe. The same theorists who insist upon human relativities declare that God is “unknowable.” Thus the same doctrine brings man too near and puts God afar. But the true God is discoverable amidst the limitations, if at all. The human factors well in hand, it is opportune to consider the reality which is made known through them. The doubts which perplexed men for a season were profitable, but mere doubts are of little value till their positive content be made explicit. The considerations which make for a philosophy of Spirit are already at hand, already in the minds of the people, otherwise it would indeed be audacious to undertake the development of such a philosophy. In fact it is the awakening of the mind into freshness of conviction, even amidst the deadening sense of relativity, that may be set down as evidence that the Spirit exists.
At the outset we may regard the quickening life of nature, the ever-fresh welling up of love in the human heart, as typical of the relationship of God to the world. The more precise definition of the term “Spirit” may he postponed, together with the discussion of the critical issues which the conception involves. Our first need is to approach the conception of God from the immediate point of view which regards Him as the Father achieving a purpose. Our clues are taken, not from speculative needs implying a demand for a formally correct conception, but from essentially human interests pointing forward to a concrete idea of God’s efficiency. We are first to learn, or endeavour to learn, what God is doing, then from this concrete consideration pass to the question of the essential nature of God. Our motive throughout is to direct interest afresh to the ever-living God of the human heart and of progressive achievements, in contrast with the agnostic argument which has steadily removed God from human ken.
There are two general sources of the agnosticism which for several decades has made it difficult for men to declare their positive faith in God, the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the philosophy of evolution. Kant’s analysis of human reason withdrew the interest from what may be denominated the divine factors and placed it upon the essentially human factors of all our experience and thought. Our own rational constructive power was thus seen to be the central agency. The conception of God, together with the lesser conceptions of the world as a complete system and the human soul as a real being, unitary and immortal, thus became “ideals of pure reason” rather than ideas which implied positive knowledge of the existence of their objects. To be sure, Kant restored the higher objects of belief in his ethical philosophy––that is, as postulates of practical reason. Thus, as he himself said, he did “away with knowledge to make room for faith.” But the fashion in philosophy was set by his conclusions in regard to pure reason. It seemed poor consolation to restore the conceptions of God, freedom, and immortality as objects of faith, as opposed to objects of knowledge. The attempt to prove the existence of God in the old- time ontological way not only ceased with Kant, but it became difficult even to believe in God in the former fashion. Hence increasing attention was given to the limitations of human knowledge, the study of human nature regarded as relatively independent.
Likewise with the philosophy of evolution. Although God was not left wholly out of account, the new philosophy gave rise to a tendency which has since become a habit, namely, to dwell upon the factors of heredity, natural selection, and environment, or to bestow emphasis upon such principles as “the survival of the fittest,” the law of “use and disuse.” Hence the old-time theories of design gave place to theories of nature in which little or nothing was said about purpose save so far as the mere struggle for existence was concerned. Instead of indulging in the mere generality, “God created the world,” men began to show how existing forms of life came into being through the gradual transformation of that which pre-existed. Thus the idea of God fell more and more into the background, and it became customary to describe what happened without reference to its ultimate cause. Once more, then, interest was directed to relative factors, as opposed to divine agency. Herbert Spencer with his negative conception of the “Unknowable,” and Huxley with his agnosticism, furthered the growth of this evolutionary relativism.
Again, the new or higher criticism has steadily led to withdrawal of emphasis from supposed supernatural and divine factors, and to the placing of it upon essentially human conditions. So much stress has been placed upon environmental influences, the variations and imperfections of texts, the hindrances of language, of psychological conditions, and of human nature generally, that it has become impossible to believe in the Bible as the literal word of God. The gain has been enormous so far as actual knowledge of the Bible is concerned, and from the point of view of acquaintance with human nature and the natural development of religious consciousness. But except for the profounder scholars it has made belief in the direct power of God extremely difficult. And even for scholars it has been difficult if not impossible to reconcile the conception of God as Father with the idea of God as the immanent agency of natural evolution.
Meanwhile those who have “preserved the faith” are the less critical people who cling to the simplicity of belief in authoritative revelation. Such people not only unqualifiedly condemn the critical philosophy and scientific agnosticism, but discard the higher criticism of the Bible. In the midst of those who point out that the idea of God is essentially man’s creation, they have the courage to speak “from God’s point of view.” If their assumption in thus speaking in behalf of God appears to be great, their humility is greater, inasmuch as they place so little stress upon their own thought and minimise themselves in their zeal. One cannot agree with these people. It is impossible to take a backward step when man has once begun to think. Nevertheless there is truth in these contentions. Undoubtedly it is possible to make too much of the merely human self and its powers of thought.
The result of the interaction between the critical philosophy and orthodoxy has been gradual recognition of the truth in both points of view. God has been restored to His place as creator, or rather has been given a worthy place for the first time. It is now perfectly consistent to be at once a theist and a believer in the gradual development of all organic forms. Many problems of the higher criticism are far from being settled but the extreme views are surely doomed, for they assumed too much and excluded more. One may assimilate the results of such criticism, yet still regard the world, the travail of the human soul, from “the point of view of God.” For the emphasis has been changed and a new view of human nature has taken the place of the one in which only the divine factors in religious experience were considered. There is nothing to fear, when the limitations of human language and thought are dwelt upon. The philosophy of Spirit wins its triumphs precisely by virtue of these relativities. Without submitting our beliefs to critical investigation we could hardly have continued to believe.
The point of view of these discussions is not an eclectic or harmonising standpoint, but one which involves a reconstruction of the conception of God, and a new criticism of psychological and other human factors. Nor does it imply a naive return to the religious conceptions of man’s childhood. It is first of all sympathetic, so far as the real objects of religious belief are concerned. But the point of view will also prove to be progressively critical and reconstructive. It is frankly an outgrowth of modern thought. Such thought involves the gradual enlargement of our ideas of God to meet the needs of the scientific conception of nature. It shows that we may well proceed as far as the philosophy of evolution carries us and still insist that the idea of God has place, especially as the most important questions concerning the origin of life, the transition from the inorganic to the organic kingdom, the transition from matter to mind, and the questions that relate to the origin of species still remain to be answered. After all, it is rather a question of the continuous manifestation of Spirit, the continuous origin of life, than of the occasional divine activities which were once deemed interventions. If modern criticism alters our knowledge of human nature, so much the more must we modify our conception of the relationship of God to man. If we now know in some measure how God works through nature, we also know something about His mode of activity within men. Hence there is no reason to close the account when we have merely enumerated and described the finite factors.
There are truths in the naive conception of God as Father that are as important as this new knowledge of human nature. If one is unable to reconcile the enlarged conception of the God of natural evolution with the more childlike thought of the Father to whom one prays, the resource is not to banish the naive belief, but to bear the two conceptions along side by side. Some have done this for years. They have continued to address prayers to the Father who “heareth in secret,” while philosophically arguing for a decidedly different first principle as an eternal Ground. To bear the two conceptions in mind to the end may well be to discover that there is no incompatibility.
Likewise with the more mystical idea of God, on the one hand, and the negative criticism which undertakes to show that there is no object behind the mystic experience except the poetic or picturesque symbols in which the mystic clothes his vision. The critic may be as severe as he likes and reduce the experience of the presence of God to a mere blank. Such criticism is profitable because it clears the air, relieves mysticism of its misconceptions and exaggerations. But it by no means proves the unreality of the vision. The light it throws is upon the human factors, the type of mediation which the mystic makes, his mode of symbolic reconstruction. The immediate religious experience still remains to be investigated. It remains even after the religious psychologist has analysed the experience and made clear its conditions and its laws so far as he is able to discern them.
The prime difficulty with such criticism, whatever the subject under consideration, is that it believes the account to be complete when everything has been said that at present can be said about spiritual experience, divine revelation, or the idea of God, regarded from the merely human side. But the fact that I in my finitude am unable explicitly to state all that God’s presence means to me is no reason for rejecting the rest. Our human philosophy must fail somewhere, precisely because it is human and attempts to state, as best man may, the reality and significance of his experience. If God was also present in that experience the philosopher could hardly expect to describe everything that occurred. There is no reason for falling back upon a sense of mystery. But there is ground for the plea that one must make allowances for factors that are more than human. One could hardly expect to know and describe the divine nature through and through. No one is able to enumerate all of God’s purposes, or tell how and when they are to be realised. Possibly God has access to man in ways which even the psychologists and the critics of the Bible have been unable to discover. Modesty as well as reason constrains us to state what we discover on the finite side, and leave abundant room for what may exist on the divine part.
What we know is the experience of the presence of God, or the revelation from God, after it has made its impression upon man, not what took place before man felt the divine presence. It is perfectly legitimate to dwell upon the human result. But it is equally legitimate to speak reverently and modestly from “the point of view of God,” to dwell poetically, appreciatively, on the God ward side. This in the end involves less assumption, for whose universe is this? Who is manifested in nature? Who is revealed in the soul of man? What is man that he should rear himself into supreme prominence in the world?
Say if you will that it is merely an hypothesis that God exists. There is surely room for differences of terms. If to you the notion of the immediate presence of the Spirit is superfluous, you nevertheless have in mind a rival hypothesis the test of which will be its rational applicability. Now, that is all that a conception of God as efficient Spirit claims to be at the outset. Its validity will be the power of this idea to explain events not adequately accounted for by the conception of an absentee God, or the notion of a God accepted half-heartedly as existent only in our reason. Moreover, even as an ideal of pure reason, the conception of God as immanent Spirit might have a distinct advantage over previous conceptions, an advantage which could be discovered only through actual use; and the pragmatic efficiency might well lead to rational belief. Let us agree, then, to test the conception for whatever it may be worth.
One arrives at the conception somewhat as follows: We awaken to philosophic thought to find ourselves carried on from day to day amidst a series of events which we briefly denominate “experience.” No man knows whence he came in a merely matter-of-fact sense of the word. No one knows why the universe came to be. The significant consideration is that we find ourselves existing, philosophising in a world which was here before we thought, which we accept as what it proves to be, and upon whose structure we reflect. Finding ourselves thus engaged we conclude to do well what we have somehow begun. Life is a gift, we are constrained to live; we cannot help feeling, thinking, acting. It is plain that as thus constrained we belong to a somewhat––call it a power, a law. For although we frequently please ourselves with the fond conceit that we have much to do with our life, it is plain that what is within our power is mainly the ability to react, to respond in some manner, already largely determined, in the presence of this wonderful gift called “life.” Having said as much as we please about man in his intellectual might, the last word is to be said in behalf of the power or experience that constrains him.
We might denominate this strange constraining power “fate,” but that would be to emphasise the stern relentlessness of life at the expense of other considerations. We might call it “law,” but that term chiefly implies the existence of mechanical or other forces which act in accordance with law. Shall we then denominate it “power”? That would be to emphasise the deeds wrought, the suffering by the way, the hard conditions of survival. There is a gentler side to life, a love, spirit, or beauty. If “all’s love, yet all’s law,” there is still need of a term expressive of wisdom, purpose, or that which gives unity and meaning to the system which thus exemplifies law. Our reason, dwelling upon the facts of nature, with its hard struggles, its warring forces, and its cruel laws, leads to one conception. Our heart, dwelling upon more human considerations, leads to another view. The one conception is relatively impersonal, the other decidedly personal. The question is, how to unite the two. The supreme power or reality would appear to be no less highly organised than a self, and a necessity of thought leads us to use the term “self” even after we discover that, as applied to God, the conception is founded on knowledge of human nature. We are led to the conception of a divine personality both by a study of man’s inner life and by the discovery of unity, system, purpose in the cosmos. When it is a question of an adequate conception of the power or love that constrains us we are led to adopt such a term as “Spirit,” a term which is expressive of both the divine reason and the divine will. And if God be Spirit, we may appropriately speak of the universe as in reality spiritual, and of our own experience as a gift of the Spirit.
We might indeed have been less ambitious and called the ultimate somewhat that owns and uses us simply “x.” We might have denominated it “life” and concluded to rest content with mere descriptions of the way in which life acts. Better still, we could have used the now frequently employed term “pure experience.” But this seems too vague, as if indifferently inclusive of both finite experience and the experience of this higher power. We need a term which suggests the hovering nearness of that which guides even while it carries forward. Whatever the term employed, it is given a certain significance by the facts and laws which thoughtful men discover.
Life, for example, takes a certain course through us, moves with regularity, with observable rhythms, sequences, and eventuations. We did not choose that course. We have accepted and are undertaking to describe it that we may the better adapt ourselves to and understand it. Let us agree to make an account of it which shall be as nearly adequate as possible. If the facts are too numerous to lend themselves to our most comprehensive formulas, let us state that our formulas include thus much and that there is still thus much more. Having admitted that our formulas are faulty, that it is a question of a Reality that is more than our poor words can compass, we may resolve to be persistently true to this its elusiveness while still remaining faithful to our logically defined concepts. Our formulas may thus serve to suggest our ignorance or to systematise our knowledge, as the case may be. Whatever the point of emphasis, it is incumbent upon us not to forget what lies beyond the fences which we speculatively rear. If our fences hedge in they also shut out. Life itself is poured in and around all.
It is significant that the element which most eludes us when it is a question of positive knowledge and accurate description, is precisely the one to which we most persistently cling despite its elusiveness. The certain divine something which gives to life its august sense repeatedly reappears in our thought, though by every device known to scepticism we assail it. It is a certain added element which must be appredated rather than described. Now, the critics seize upon this our inability to say what we would, this persistence in clinging to a belief, and call it dogmatism or superstition. These critics have so won attention that it has become a habit to spend a large measure of time endeavouring to refute them. But one may make concessions to the critic without limiting the data to the considerations which come into his view. In order to establish idealism, for example, one must meet the objections of the materialist. Yet the prime consideration is the nature of the experience and the reasoning which compel us to be idealists. One must have the courage of one’s idealistic convictions even though the critic be unconvinced. Likewise one should have the courage to speak as if from “the point of view of God,” even though the mere mention of such a point of view affright the critic who fails to see what is thereby meant. When we venture to speak for the Spirit, it is not alone a question of what we do not say, when we end in mere poetic suggestiveness, but of what we do say.
Now, as we shall see later, the term “Spirit” is peculiarly fitting in this connection. If ambiguous, the term nevertheless has positive content. Whatever the vicissitudes which await us, therefore, the undertaking on which we embark is in behalf of the Spirit. That is, this term is one which we choose as representative of the universal element which men characterise differently but which they mean when they speak of the Power or Life which owns and uses them. We are confessedly developing a philosophy, making an interpretation. The first essential is precisely this wondrous quickening Life which men adore in the perennial spring and in the recurrent miracles of the human heart. Inasmuch as we are sharers of its life, observers of its beauty, we may freely make use of the facts of its universal presence, and make the best account we can of its gifts. It is not fitting to contest the terms or dispute the formulas until we have characterised the renewing Presence and considered whether our account be loyal to it. If it is by the Spirit that we live, by it we must think and make good our thoughts. Hence in what follows we shall place the first stress on the witness of the Spirit within the mind, heart, and conduct of man.
We assume at the outset, then, the existence of a world and finite selves having experience of or within that world. The traditional mode of investigating and accounting for such experience would be to start with the facts of consciousness, analyse them into their elements and their logical references; and then proceed with the development of a closely reasoned system. There would first be a conception of experience, then of the world, and in due course of its ultimate Ground. The present method begins with experience, regarded as primarily an activity, and proceeds to an evaluation of certain of its factors in relation to a conception of the Spirit. We reserve for later consideration the analytical demonstration of the conception of reality here adopted. If the conception prove effective as here employed, its effectiveness will already be an argument in its favour. That is to say, idealistic analysis is apt to begin with the development of those references within consciousness which point to the existence of a world of things and a world of selves, the difficulty being to emerge from the realm of one’s own selfhood into a world of other beings. The present study starts with experience as found, and implying certain evaluations, and looks upward to God rather than outward upon the world. The first appeal is to that latent evidence within us which points beyond mere belief to a philosophy, evidence which until we. find the constructive clue appears to be susceptible of numerous interpretations. That is, the same considerations make for disbelief or for faith according to the way we view them. There are times when we seem to be incapable of performing intellectual synthesis. But those are the periods when our wealth has increased faster than our powers of generalisation. The resource is, rest, time for assimilation, for those marvellous syntheses of which the mind is capable when left to its spontaneous devices. There is a richness in these gradually developed syntheses which analytical thought can scarcely equal. Experience seemingly makes its own synthesis within us, and constructs into the totality of a new insight data which appeared to be utterly inconsistent. To awaken into a vision of wholeness where we once saw only fragments is to begin to have a philosophy of Spirit.
If we were to consider the witness of the Spirit at large our undertaking would involve a philosophy of history, a reinterpretation of the facts of natural evolution, and an idealistic interpretation of the universe as a whole. Another branch of the philosophy of Spirit would be distinctively ethical. Again, a philosophy of the Spirit is also a philosophy of religion, and as such implies a criticism of other philosophies of religion. The present inquiry is chiefly limited to the inner life––that is, to a study of the higher nature of man regarded from a point of view farther back than the point where the philosophy of religion and philosophical idealism begin to diverge. That is to say, there are certain prior questions which should be considered before one may rightfully claim that the beginning of a philosophy of experience is fundamental. The theoretical study of religion is apt to begin with the promulgation of certain long-cherished beliefs which have been zealously guarded from the attacks of scientific criticism, while philosophical idealism frequently begins with an antagonism with respect to religious beliefs that is quite out of place. Philosophy and religion are not wholly separable. At the beginning and at the end, at least, they are closely united; and each suffers if not put into clear relation with the other. The prior questions which relate to both are at once practical and logical. It is with one of these problems in logic and in practical life that the present volume is concerned.
The prior question might be stated thus: What is the nature of the immediate element in practical life, in religious experience, and in human thought as a whole? That is, what stands first in authority in human experience; is it feeling, emotion, intuition, reason, a certain type of life, a special mode of thought? What is the order of reality and truth in religious experience and thought, judged in the light of philosophical values? With what does human thought begin when it undertakes to meet life reflectively and to start with that which is appropriately first? What faculty or power is authoritative in these estimates of practical life, religious experience, and in philosophical considerations? Shall the immediate element be expressed in terms of mere experience––that is, shall it be merely descriptive, impressionistic; or, is there a point of view alike faithful to immediate experience as man apprehends it and to the demands which constructive reason imposes?
However the question be stated, it is plain that, prior to an analytical study of human experience with a view to the development of a philosophical system, every thinker should first consider the rights of that which is first, or immediate, in contrast with that which is secondary, or mediate. Just as in practical life a man is sure to be governed by his conclusions in regard to the relative worth of certain “faculties”––for example, conscience, so in religious and philosophical matters very much depends on the estimate put upon the phase of human experience accepted as supreme over the rest. The arbitrary, imperious man in practical life is, tacitly at least, a believer in the primacy of the will, while the cool-headed, judicious person chooses an intellectualism. Running through human life and human thought there is an unescapable contrast between will and intellect, feeling and understanding, spirit and reason, spirit and form. Usually a practical belief or philosophy takes its rise without previous examination of these. This book undertakes to make good the deficiency by directing attention to the neglected issues. The close relationship of the religious and the philosophical topics considered is due to the fact that the immediacy of religious experience furnishes the best illustration of immediacy in general. Whatever one’s conclusions may be with regard to the so-called higher nature of man viewed in relation to the experience of the presence of God, those conclusions are sure to be profoundly influential alike in the subsequent philosophy of religion adopted and in the type of constructive rationalism chosen.
Psychologically stated, the problem is this: What are the constituents of the higher nature of man? If said to consist of a power of immediate feeling, direct apprehension, or appreciative intuition, what is the character of the implied immediacy, the first-ness, or original relationship? If said to be the spirit in man, what is spirit? If described in purely empirical terms, what is the relation of such higher experience to reason? Out of the psychological description would naturally grow a new evaluation of feeling, emotion, and intuition. A further question would be, How far does the psycho- logical description of higher experience point the way to a theory of its reality?
Prior to the question of the nature of conscience and the reality of mystic experience there is, for example, the larger question, Is there within man a “faculty” for the immediate apprehension of the Spirit? Is there a “voice of God in the soul of man”? If so, what are the conditions of activity of this faculty? Is it universal or a gift bestowed on but few? If not, through what types of experience does man apprehend the divine presence? Granted primary forms of experience, types of guidance, what relation does immediate insight or experience bear to subsequent experience and critical thought? Is immediacy of experience or sentiment universally primary in reality and authority? What place should be assigned to emotion and feeling in a philosophy of the Spirit? These are some of the questions. Then there are the problems already hinted at which grow out of the comparison of facts with ideals, experiences which are precisely describable and those which we appreciatively characterise as we are able, in symbolic language and figures of speech. These interests lead to the more fundamental question, Is there a real order of higher powers or beings corresponding to these values and figures of speech? Granted a theory of immediate experience, it will then be possible to treat mysticism afresh, and consider in what terms, whether theistic or pantheistic, immediate religious experience can best be interpreted.
In terms of logic, our question is, What relation does the immediate element in experience bear to the thought which formulates it, which prepares the way for a theory of knowledge and of reality? It is first a question of the starting-point of thought, what thought must assume in order to make headway; and then of the method to be employed in dealing with data accepted as immediate. When man looks abroad over the face of nature or into the world of mind, what stands first in order of reality, or at least in the order of thought? Does the philosopher evolve an abstract starting-point out of his own brain, pronounce it rational, then impose it on the world as a genuine account of the universe? Or, does he begin with experience, with all its irrationality, then progressively develop its rationality? Is the logical process purely formal, or does the logician deal with the actual subject-matter of human experience? What, in general, is the concept of the immediate, psychically and otherwise regarded? In the present inquiry the study of the immediacy of religious experience is taken as a type of the general logical problem.
The question once defined, the next problem is, What method shall be pursued? If one is interested to evaluate human experience afresh, one must keep close to experience and avoid technical subtleties. On the other hand, one cannot be exact without being technical. The most promising course would appear to be this, to begin with actual, verifiable life, then introduce technicalities only so far as necessary for precision. Modern pragmatism, with its emphasis on the workability of human conceptions, supplies the first method; Hegel, whose Logic includes the pragmatic method, yet passes far beyond it, has examined the immediate with the thoroughness requisite for constructive purposes. The Supplementary Essay, appended to this volume, contains a study of the immediate element from the point of view of the Hegelian logic.
However our subject be formulated in advance, the central consideration is the interest with which one approaches facts and laws as familiar to some as the coming of spring. For it is the spirit of approach, as much as the subjects considered, that is to be our guide. One can hardly hope to say anything wholly new to those who have lived with the great poets, essayists, and seers, and with the Gospels. Each of us had evidence of the existence of the Spirit. The soul’s own revelations, understood, are far more significant than any descriptions which other men may give. Unless we already bore within us the evidence for the great realities here to be considered, what is said would signify little. Yet it is precisely the new way of characterising old experiences which for many constitutes the revelation of the Spirit. The Spirit making the world anew is no doubt the real revelation. The Spirit never pauses, and the great miracle is not so much what it leaves with us as what it is while it pulsates through us and achieves its work. Since it is the Spirit alone that giveth life, we may well reflect on the conditions under which the life is given, and learn the better to apprehend the Spirit’s presence.
It is possible to outline in a few words a theory of the Spirit and of adaptation to its guiding presence. Hence the question arises, Why undertake this elaborate investigation, why complicate the situation by raising critical issues? The answer is that, while simplicity is the key-note, thoroughness of thought tested by depth of experience is required to discover and rest upon a simple philosophic basis. If, for example, we agree that the Spirit is made known through experience, through life, that it pursues a certain course and the art of life consists in adjusting our conduct to its promptings, the question at once arises, What are those promptings, how are they to be discriminated, whither do they lead? Much depends upon our answer, and the answer cannot at first be simple. In this field more than in any other it is the life that avails; a mere theory of the Spirit is but one point. Granted a certain degree of spiritual consciousness, it is a question both of the development of that consciousness through increasing spirituality and the growth of understanding through the study of its laws and conditions.
Moreover, all sides of our nature must be satisfied, and people have tried to be spiritual by maiming themselves. If a doubt be raised, if critical issues come to the fore, and too great emphasis be put upon the relativity of knowledge, the doubts must be resolved in the completest fashion. It is one of the most important considerations in the spiritual life––this estimation of the sceptical or self-conscious period through which man passes in his transition from uncritical faith to the manhood of spiritual thought. Many are in this intermediate stage at present. They are down under circumstance, immersed in the relativities, confronted with unruly facts. For them there is no return to the unthinking stage of the world. Having begun to think, the only resource is to think thoroughly, courageously.
Then, too, there are certain great problems of the spiritual life which many of us have tried to put aside in part unsolved. There is the long, long problem of the relationship between intuition and the paradox-productive understanding. If we crucify the intellect we have no peace. If we rear paradoxes they haunt us. Persist as we may that spiritual things must be spiritually discerned, we know that reason is divine too, that our faith is unstable until we can give convincing reasons in terms of well-systematised facts.
Again, it matters greatly what theory we hold in regard to the way in which God is made known, that is, what part of our nature is fundamental or most spiritual. For we exclude or invite communion with the Spirit according as our theory of human nature varies, to say nothing of the variations caused by different theological conceptions. Insist as we may that the spiritual life, the presence of the Spirit, is wholly an affair of “feeling” which should be accepted precisely as it comes, the undeniable fact is that from first to last our conduct, our attitude, and our emotions are profoundly affected by what we believe, by our first principles. We may even be unaware that we possess any first principles. But if so, there is all the more reason why we should awaken to the fact, and learn that when we seemed to be entirely free from the intellect we were steadily making use of its processes.
Yet, again, there is the persistent problem of the relationship between the individual and the universal, that is to say, the place of man with respect to the Spirit. On the one hand, we find the individual disparaged and the Spirit so greatly emphasised that some form of absolutism or pantheism is the result. Again, we find that man is belittled for the sake of exalting God as a person. Man’s sinful nature is so greatly enlarged upon that the finite self supposably is capable of nothing except error and sin. On the other hand, so much is made of the finite self that the opposite extreme is the result. Apparently the Spirit is nothing to us without persons, yet persons may obscure the Spirit. The question therefore rises, What allowances must be made for the personal equation? Shall we seek, the Spirit directly or through persons? Is God to be found in solitude or amidst society? If we must lose self in order to find God, what becomes of our selfhood, why are we disparate individuals?
Once more, there is the question of the relationship between the natural and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal. If men have not raised artificial barriers between the natural and the spiritual, they have often erred in their emphasis upon the one or the other. Plainly, a philosophy of Spirit must be concerned with this partly solved problem, and its relation to practical life cannot be ignored. We cannot sweep away all distinctions between the natural and the spiritual any more than we can dispense with all distinctions between good and evil. The question is, Where shall the line be drawn?
In a sense all these questions are one and the same, namely, What shall we do with the self, in all its pride, its independence, its assertiveness, its waywardness, and its doubts, yet with all its innocence, its virtue, and its ability? A philosophy of Spirit would indeed be simple with the self removed, but the self––well, that is the whole problem. How to set the self aside is one half of the question, how to join it with the Spirit is the other half. We could believe, have faith, make headway, if it were not for the self. But we cannot long ignore or disparage the self. If its facility for getting in the way constitutes the great difficulty, so that all our friction, all ennui, all distrust, pessimism, misery, is chargeable to the self, it is nevertheless this same self which gives us the direct clue to the divine nature. We may build up the self to our undoing or our sanctification according as we regard it. At any rate there is no vicarious philosophising possible here. He who would know God must find Him through his doubts, his conflicts, and his tribulations, or fail to discover Him in the profounder sense. A philosophy of Spirit may be simple, but truth is not easily won, and the truth concerning the Spirit may well engage a man as long as he shall have power to think.
Meanwhile our surest clue is discoverable through the preservation of spontaneity. Since the Spirit is a renewing presence, coming in its own way, with its own high purposes to fulfill, our part at its best is undoubtedly to do that “lowly listening” which invites “the right word,” to maintain an attitude of ever-ready receptivity. This willingness to follow wherever the Spirit leads is all the more incumbent upon us in this age inasmuch as we have indulged in individualism without limit and taken up an enormously active mode of life. If we are to have a philosophy of Spirit we must possess the Spirit, live by it. To possess it we must first let it possess us. To live by it we should await its leading, give untrammeled expression to its revelations. The Spirit, in other words, must write its own philosophy in our minds and hearts. On the feminine side of our nature we cannot be too open, too willing and responsive, when it is a question of the coming of the Spirit. To maintain in advance that we know the ways of the Spirit or that we can regulate its influences upon us is to exclude its presence and intrude individual thought. To watch it as it comes, noting every detail, formulating every law, would be to find that it had eluded us. When it breathes upon us it is time for humility, for reverent acceptance, not a time to ask questions or give place to doubts. If the message of today seemingly contradict the message of yesterday or last year, accept it no less reverently and learn the deeper consistency which the Spirit’s own future revelations shall make known.
The Spirit quickens whom it will and when it will. The Spirit is the supreme fact––let this be recognised first and last. Having pleased ourselves with the fancy that we have much to do with life, it is time to know that it is the Spirit which works, the Spirit that lives in us and gives us wisdom, love, and power. If we have been taking credit to ourselves, thinking, speaking, and acting as if the life and light within us were our own, then let us cease to make these claims, and bow the head in reverential acknowledgment of the life that is ours only by divine gift. All life, all power, all wisdom, is such a gift; all thinking and all philosophy, too, that is, all spiritual philosophy that is true and carries the weight of eternal reality. Therefore if we are to possess a philosophy of Spirit we must gather our data here and there as the Spirit unfolds its laws within us, as it illumines our pathway. By thus preserving an essentially receptive attitude we shall be able in large measure to strike at the root of what I have called the real problem, namely, the relation of the finite self to the Spirit. In spontaneous obedience the self is seen at its best, or may soon become its best, for only by being ready to follow shall man receive that illumination without which all his endeavours to wrest from the Spirit its secrets shall come to naught. Not until one no longer cares either to wrestle or to spy shall that central message be given. To receive the message is indeed to see that the Spirit is a renewing presence, for in a moment’s insight all the universe is transformed, all the facts are made beautiful and significant.