Studies in Hegelian Cosmology. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart 1901
61. The question whether there is a God has attracted much attention, for the ordinary definition of God makes the question both important and doubtful. But, according to Hegel’s use of the word God, it ceases to he either doubtful or important. For he defines God as the Absolute Reality, whatever that reality may turn out to he. To question the existence of such a God as this is impossible. For to deny it would mean the denial that there was any reality at all. This would be contradictory, for what, in that case, would happen to the denial itself? But the same reasons which make the existence of such a God quite certain make it also quite trivial. For it tells us nothing except that there is some reality somewhere. We must know of what nature that reality is, if our conviction of its existence is to have any interest, either for theory or practice.
Thus Hegel’s treatment of God’s existence and nature will proceed differently from that which is generally employed. The common plan is to use the word to connote certain definite attributes, and then to enquire if a being answering to this description really exists. But Hegel defines God to mean whatever really exists, and then the important question is to determine the nature of this reality. Instead of “Is there a God?” we must ask “What is God’s nature?” In ordinary usage, and in the usage also of many philosophers, the word God connotes, among other attributes, personality. And on the personality of God depend most of the other attributes commonly ascribed to him. An impersonal being could be omnipotent, indeed, and could “work for righteousness.” It could also be rational, in the sense that its nature was such as to present an harmonious and coherent whole to the reason of the observer. But an impersonal being could not be wise or good. It could not love men. Nor could the emotions of acquiescence and admiration with which men might regard it be sufficiently like the emotions of one man towards another to merit the name of love. Certainly they would be very different emotions from those with which the believers in a personal God regard him.
For the ordinary conception of God, then, the attribute of personality seems of paramount importance. And so, when we are considering Hegel’s system, the question “Does God exist?” may be fairly turned into the question “Is God a person?” Unquestionably Hegel regards God as infinite, as a unity, as spirit, as making for reason and righteousness.
If we add personality to these qualities we have the ordinary conception of God. On the other hand, if we deny the personality, we get the conception of a being to whom, in ordinary language, the name of God would not be applied.
But what exactly is meant by personality? I may know, though it is difficult to define, what I mean when I say that I am a person. But it is clear that the nature of an infinite and perfect being must be very different from mine. And within what limits must this difference be confined, if that infinite and perfect being is to be called a person? The characteristic which determines personality seems, on the whole, to be generally placed in the “I” – the synthetic unity of apperception.
When a being distinguishes itself from its content – when, in other words, it finds in that content an element which is never absent, though never present in isolation, which is always the same, and whose presence determines the content to be the content of that particular being, then we call that being personal. I know that I can say “I am.” I know that a College cannot say “I am.” If we conceive that it is consistent with God’s nature to say “I am,” we shall hold that God is a person, but not otherwise.
62. Is Hegel’s God a person? The word God is so closely connected in ordinary usage with personality, that the question put in this way, has an unjustifiable suggestion in its terms of an affirmative answer. And as Hegel has another name for ultimate reality – the Absolute – it will be less confusing if we use it in future, remembering that the Absolute and God are for Hegel identical, and that if, for Hegel, a personal God exists at all, he must be the Absolute. It is, I think, best to use neuter pronouns in referring, during this discussion, to the Absolute, or to Hegel’s God.
The use of masculine pronouns would prejudge the question of the personality of the Absolute in the affirmative, while the more general neuter pronouns do not prejudge it so much in the negative. Moreover the view which I shall endeavour to defend is that the Absolute, as demonstrated by Hegel, must not be considered as personal, and is more appropriately called “it” than “he.”
63. Hegel regards the Absolute as a unity. He regards it, not as an external and mechanical unity, not even as an organic unity, but as the deepest unity possible – one in which the parts have no meaning but their unity, while that unity, again, has no meaning but its differentiations.
And this unity is unquestionably, according to Hegel, spirit. We may go further. There is no reason to think that Hegel held it possible for spirit to exist, except in the form of persons, while there is every reason to think that he regarded persons as the highest form of spirit. It does not follow from this, however, that the Absolute is a person.
It might be said of a College, with as much truth as it has been said of the Absolute, that it is a unity, that it is a unity of spirit, and that none of that spirit exists except as personal. Yet the College is not a person. It is a unity of persons, but it is not a person itself. And, in the same way, it is possible that the Absolute may be a unity of persons, without being a person. Of course the Absolute is a far more perfect unity than a College.
The bearing of this on the question of its personality will be discussed later on. I believe that Hegel did not himself regard the Absolute as personal.
It seems clear from the Philosophy of Religion that the truth of God’s nature, according to Hegel, is to be found in the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost (which must be distinguished from the idea of the Holy Ghost in the Kingdom of the Father). And the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost appears to be not a person but a community. But Hegel’s own opinion on this subject will be discussed more conveniently in a later chapter. In this chapter I wish to consider, not Hegel’s own opinions on the personality of the Absolute, but the conclusions on the subject which ought logically to be deduced from his conception of the Absolute as determined in the Logic.
64. What light does the dialectic itself throw on our problem? We saw in the last chapter that we must conceive the Absolute as differentiated into individuals, and that we must conceive the unity as being in each of these individuals. We saw, further, that we could only conceive this as happening if the unity was for each of its individuals. And we saw that the only way in which we could imagine a unity to be for each of its individuals was for each of those individuals to be conscious of the unity. The unity is for each of the individuals. Are we also entitled to say that each of the individuals is for the unity? Such a relation, indeed, would not justify us in concluding that the Absolute was a person, any more than the relation already established justified us, by itself, in concluding that the individuals in the Absolute were persons. We do not know, and cannot imagine, any way in which A can be for B, except by B’s consciousness of A. But other ways may exist, and so, in proving that A must be for B, we do not actually prove that B must be conscious.
Such a result, however, would render the consciousness of B probable, and might be the basis of a more definite proof.
When we consider how strictly reciprocal is the dependence which exists between the unity and the individuals, it might seem probable that the individuals are for the unity. I believe, however, that this view is mistaken, and that, while the unity is for the individuals, the individuals are not for the unity. In more concrete language, the Logic does not suggest to us to consider the Absolute as a whole to be conscious, and therefore a person. I shall endeavour to show further on that the Logic cannot by itself forbid us to think of the Absolute as a person.
In the first place, there is no necessity of thought which compels us to regard the individuals as existing for the unity. We were driven to regard the unity as existing for the individuals, because we found it necessary that the unity should exist in each individual. Now in the ordinary sense of inclusion it was clearly impossible for the unity to be in each of the individuals which are parts of it, and the only alternative was that it should be in each of them in the sense of being for each of them.
It is as necessary, no doubt, to regard the individuals as being in the unity, as to regard the unity as being in each of the individuals. But then there is no difficulty in regarding the individuals as being in the unity in the ordinary sense of inclusion. So far from this being difficult, it is part of the definition of a unity of individuals that it includes them. And therefore we have no right to say that the individuals are for the unity.
They are in it – that is proved. But the further step – that they can only be in it by being for it – is wanting.
65. And I think we may go further than this, and say that it is impossible that the individuals should be for the unity, in the sense in which we held it to be necessary that the unity should be for the individuals.
For the whole significance of one being for the other was that there was some difference between them. If there was no difference, the one would be the other, and the whole conception, as we have got it here, of one being for the other would collapse. All the meaning we gave to the expression that A was for B was that the content of the one was also the content of the other. If A and B are different, this means something. But if A and B are identical then it would only mean that a thing’s content was its content – which is not a new conception, but a useless tautology.
Let us apply this. The unity and the individuals are identical – the unity has no nature except to be the individuals, and the individuals have no nature except to be the unity. This Hegel demonstrates in the category of Teleology. But the unity is something different from each of the individuals, and, therefore, if the content of the unity is found in each of the individuals, there is a meaning in saying that it is for each of the individuals. On the other hand, the unity is not different from all the individuals together. (It is, of course, not equivalent to a mere sum or aggregate of the individuals, because it is their real unity. But then they exist as a real unity, and not as a mere sum or aggregate, so that the unity is identical with the individuals as they really are.) If therefore the content of the unity is identical with that of the individuals, this merely means that the content is identical with itself – not that it is identical with the contents of anything else. And so the conception of the individuals being for the unity becomes unmeaning.
66. The correctness of such a view may be challenged on the ground of its atomism. If each of the many individuals has this quality which is denied to the single unity, we have, it may be said, reduced the unity to a comparative unreality. All the reality is transferred to the separate individuals, who are each centres for which all reality exists, and the unity falls back into the position of a mere aggregate, or, at the most, of a mechanically determined whole.
If this were the case, we should certainly have gone wrong. Hegel has shown in the categories of Teleology and Life that the unity must be as real as the individuals. And, so far from dropping this in the final categories of the Logic, we saw in the last chapter that the reason why we pressed on to the category of Cognition was that in no other way could the full reality of the unity be made compatible with the full reality of the individuals.
If, therefore, the denial that the individuals existed for the unity, subordinated the unity to the individuals, and involved an atomistic view, the position would have to be changed somehow. But I believe that it does nothing of the sort, and that, on the contrary, it is the objection to it which implies an atomistic theory, and is therefore invalid.
A system of individuals of which each is conscious of the other (to go back to a concrete example of the notion before us) is of course differentiated. Each of the conscious beings is an individual, and stands out, by that, separate from the others. But they are just as much united as they are separated. For A can only be conscious of B in so far as they are united, and it is only, in such a system, by being conscious of B that A is an individual, or, indeed, exists at all. Common sense, however, clings by preference to the categories of Essence, and is consequently atomistic. To common sense, therefore, such a system is more thoroughly differentiated than it is united. But the dialectic has proved this to be a mistake. It has shown that in such a system the unity is as real as the differentiation, and it is only to an objector who ignores this that a system bound together by the mutual knowledge of its parts can be accused of atomism.
To think that the unity of the system would be greater if the individuals were for that unity is a mistake. It is true that each individual is also, in one sense of the word, a unity, and that the unity of the system is for each individual. But the sense in which an individual, which gets all differentiation from without, is a unity, is entirely different from the unity of the system. This has nothing outside to which it can be related, and it gets all its differentiations from within – from the individuals composing it. Such a difference in the nature of the two unities prevents us from arguing that they ought to unify their differentiations in the same way.
Indeed, if the system unified its internal differentiations in the same way that the individual unifies its external differentiations – by having them for itself – it seems difficult to deny that it would be an individual too. And if it was an individual, it would stand side by side with the other individuals, and could not be their unity – which is just what we set out by declaring that it was. And this supports our previous conclusion – that the two relations, though equally real, are not similar, and that, while the unity is for each individual, they are not for the unity.
67. Since, then, the individuals cannot be for the unity, the dialectic gives us no reason to suppose that the unity either is a conscious being, or possesses any qualities analogous to consciousness. In that case it gives us no reason to suppose that the Absolute, as a whole, is personal.
But the dialectic does not give us by this any reason to deny personality to the Absolute. To suppose that it did would be to confound unjustifiably the category of pure thought, which Hegel calls Cognition, with the concrete fact after which it is named. To avoid such confusion altogether is very difficult. Hegel himself did not always succeed in doing so – for example in the category of Chemism, and in the details of the Subjective Notion and of Life. And this constitutes the chief objection to his practice of naming categories after the concrete subject-matter which best illustrates them. Such a plan is no doubt very convenient for an author whose penetration had discovered many more stages of thought than could be described by existing terminology. And it was also stimulating to the learner, assisting him to call up a vivid picture of the category, and suggesting its practical application and importance. But these advantages are more than counterbalanced by the dangers of such a nomenclature.
One of these concerns the dialectic itself. Any concrete state contains many abstract ideas as its moments, and if we call one of the abstract ideas by the name of the concrete state, we shall run considerable risk of mixing it up with the others, and of supposing that we have deduced by pure thought more than we really have deduced.
And there is another danger, arising from a question which is logically prior to the last difficulty. Is the abstract idea, which is named after the concrete state, really an essential element of that state at all? This is a question which cannot be settled by the dialectic process, which only deals with such abstract ideas as can be reached by pure thought, and cannot discuss the question whether a particular pure thought can be found by analysis in a particular empirical fact. By giving such a name to the category, the dialectic assumes that the answer to the question is in the affirmative, but does not prove it. Should the assumption be mistaken, the only injury done to the dialectic itself will be that the category has acquired an inappropriate name, which may be misleading.
But if, in the application of the dialectic, we assume that such a category is always true of the part of experience after which it is named, we may go hopelessly wrong.
In the case before us, it is clear, as I have endeavoured to show above, that, according to Hegel’s category of Cognition, nothing can cognize unless it has something outside itself to be cognized, and that consequently it is impossible that the unity, which has nothing outside itself, should cognize anything. But it by no means follows from this that we can deny cognition or consciousness to that unity. For such a step would imply that Hegel’s category of Cognition was the essential characteristic of what is ordinarily called thought, and, whether this is true or false, it is certainly not proved. All the thought, indeed, of which we are immediately conscious is of this sort, for we know no thought directly but our own, and we are finite beings. But supposing that Lotze was right in asserting that an all-embracing reality could be conscious of itself, then we should have to admit that it was not an essential characteristic of thought to be for the thinker in the way in which the unity is for the individual – and in which the individual is not for the unity – in Hegel’s category. Of course this would not involve any inaccuracy in the dialectic. The dialectic asserts that the individuals are not for the unity in a specified sense. There is nothing incompatible with this in the assertion that the unity is nevertheless conscious.
68. Lotze’s views on this point are of peculiar interest to us. He did not, indeed, accept Hegel’s view of the Absolute without important modifications. But he agreed with him in identifying God with the Absolute – in making God not only the supreme but the sole reality. And this God he asserted to be personal, and defended his conclusion by arguments some of which, if valid, would equally apply to the Absolute as conceived by Hegel. Under these circumstances it may be profitable to consider these arguments in some detail. They will be found in the Microcosmus, Book IX Chap. IV. The Outlines of the Philosophy of Religion prove that the subsequent development of his philosophy did not change his views on this subject.
In the first place, Lotze holds it to be “an immediate certainty that what is greatest, most beautiful, most worthy, is not a mere thought, but must be a reality, because it would be intolerable to believe of our ideal that it is an idea produced by the action of thought, but having no existence, no power, and no validity in the world of reality." This argument we shall consider later. His other two arguments he sums up as follows – “ Self-hood, the essence of all personality, does not depend upon any opposition that either has happened or is happening of the Ego to a Non-Ego, but it consists in an immediate self-existence which constitutes the basis of the possibility of that contrast whenever it appears.
Self-consciousness is the elucidation of this self-existence which is brought about by means of knowledge, and even this. is by no means necessarily bound up with the distinction of the Ego from a Non-Ego which is substantially opposed to it.
“In the nature of the finite mind as such is to be found the reason why the development of its personal consciousness can take place only through the influences of the cosmic whole which the finite being itself is not, that is, through stimulation coming from the Non-Ego, not because it needs the contrast with something alien in order to have self-existence, but because in this respect, as in every other, it does not contain in itself the conditions of its existence. We do not find this limitation in the being of the Infinite; hence for it alone is there possible a self-existence, which needs neither to be initiated nor to be continuously developed by something not itself, but which maintains itself within itself with spontaneous action that is eternal and had no beginning.
“Perfect Personality is in God only; to all finite minds there is allotted but a pale copy thereof; the finiteness of the finite is not a producing condition of this Personality, but a limit and a hindrance of its development.” 
69. Taking the first of these contentions we must remark that the term Non-Ego is rather ambiguous, when the relation of an Ego to a Non-Ego is spoken of. It may mean something that is not an Ego at all, or it may only mean something that is not the Ego which forms the other term of the relation. In this sense two Egos might each be the other’s Non-Ego. It is in this wider sense that we must take it if we are to consider any relation which on Hegelian principles can be regarded as essential to the Ego. For Hegel certainly thinks that nothing is real but spirit, and we saw reason in the last chapter to believe that all spirit must be taken as selves. It follows that no Ego could come into relation with anything but another Ego, which would, as far as that relation went, be the Non-Ego of the first.
We may, no doubt, unreservedly accept Lotze’s statement that “no being in the nature of which self-existence was not given as primary and underived could be endowed with self-hood by any mechanism of favouring circumstances however wonderful." This completely harmonises with the conclusion reached in the last chapter, that it was impracticable to regard a self as anything but a fundamental differentiation of the Absolute. But the question still remains whether it is not an essential part of the eternal, primary and underived nature of each self that it should be related to some reality outside it.
Lotze further remarks that the “Ego and Non-Ego cannot be two notions of which each owes its whole content only to its contrast with the other; if this were so they would both remain without content....
Hence every being which is destined to take the part of the Ego when the contrast has arisen must have the ground of its determination in that nature which it had previous to the contrast" and, therefore, independent of the contrast.
Now it is quite true that if we tried to explain the Ego exclusively from the reality outside to which it is in relation, we should have fallen into a vicious circle, since that reality could only be explained with reference to the Ego. But it by no means follows from the impossibility of explaining the isolated Ego by the isolated Non-Ego, that the Ego can be explained without its Non-Ego, or is conceivable without it. There is a third alternative – that the isolated Ego cannot be explained at all, being an unreal abstraction which shows its unreality by its inexplicability, and that Ego and Non-Ego can only be explained when they are taken together as mutually explaining each other. The idea of the Ego is certainly more than the mere fact that it is related to the Non-Ego, but this does not prevent the relation to the Non-Ego being essential to the nature of the Ego. If, to take a parallel case, we tried to explain the idea of a parent merely in terms of the idea of a child, we should have fallen into a vicious circle, since we should find that the idea of a child could not be explained except in relation to the idea of a parent. But it would not be correct to argue from this that a parent could exist, or be conceived, without a child. They are certainly not “two notions of which one owes its whole content to its contrast with the other,” but that does not prevent each of them from being meaningless without the other.
70. The Ego, therefore, would not necessarily become inexplicable, even if it could not be conceived except in relation to the Non-Ego. Can it be conceived otherwise? Lotze answers this question in the affirmative, so far as the Infinite Being is concerned. It, he says, “does not need – as we sometimes, with a strange perversion of the right point of view, think – that its life shall be called forth by external stimuli, but from the beginning its concept is without the deficiency which seems to make such stimuli necessary for the finite being, and its active efficacy thinkable." Undoubtedly the Infinite Being can exist without stimulation from the outside. For as there is no outside, the only other alternative would be that the Absolute – that is, all reality – should be nonexistent.
But does it exist as a person? Lotze says that “every feeling of pleasure or dislike, every kind of self-enjoyment (Selbstgenuss) does in our view contain the primary basis of personality, that immediate self-existence which all later developments of self-consciousness may indeed make plainer to thought by contrasts and comparisons, thus also intensifying its value, but which is not in the first place produced by them." And we may so far agree with this, as to admit that personality consists in saying “I,” not in saying “Smith,” “table,” or any other names which may be applied to the Non- Ego. But the question remains whether it is possible for the Absolute to say “I,” since it can name no Smith, and no table, distinct from itself.
The consciousness of the Non-Ego is not personality. But is it not an essential condition of personality? Each of us is a finite person. And each of us finds that, for him, the consciousness of the Non-Ego is an essential condition of his personality.
Each of us infers that he is surrounded by various other finite persons.
And of each of them we have reason to infer that a consciousness of some Non-Ego is essential to his personality. Such a consciousness the Absolute cannot possess. For there is nothing outside it, from which it can distinguish itself.
It is true that the Absolute is by no means a blank unity. It is differentiated, and the differentiations are as essential as the unity. If it were merely its own aspect of unity, then it would have something to distinguish itself from – namely its differentiations. But then the Absolute is not merely the aspect of unity. If it were, it would not be all reality in its true and ultimate form. It would only be one aspect of that reality – an abstraction, and, therefore, taken by itself, false. This is not what Hegel and Lotze mean by the Absolute. The Absolute is the full reality – the differentiated unity, or the unified differentiations. And there is nothing which is in any way outside this, or which can in any way be distinguished from this.
It is true, again, that the Absolute is something very different from any one of its differentiations, or from the sum, or from the mechanical aggregate, of all its differentiations. But this will not provide the Absolute with anything different from itself. For the differentiations do not exist as isolated, and do not exist as a sum, or as a mechanical aggregate.
They only exist as they are unified in the Absolute. And, therefore, as they really exist, they have no existence distinguishable from the Absolute.
71. The Absolute, then, has not a characteristic which is admitted to be essential to all finite personality, which is all the personality of which we have any experience. Is this characteristic essential to personality, or only to finite personality? We know of no personality without a Non-Ego. Nor can we imagine what such a personality would be like.
For we certainly can never say “I” without raising the idea of the. Non- Ego, and so we can never form any idea of the way in which the Absolute would say “I.” We cannot, indeed, say with complete certainty that it could not be done. It is abstractly possible that in some way utterly inexplicable to us the Absolute may be personal. But this is the barest and most worthless abstraction of possibility. To say that something which is utterly unimaginable may be true, because some unimaginable way may exist of bringing it about, is, by itself, merely trivial. On the same principle we could say that the Absolute might be scarlet. It is true that we do not know, and cannot imagine, scarlet except as spatially extended, and the Absolute is not spatially extended. But this may perhaps be only a peculiarity of finite scarlet. Infinite scarlet may be able to exist out of space.
But although all such arguments from bare possibility are merely trivial when taken by themselves, yet they may have a very different aspect when conjoined with some positive argument. If any line of reasoning leads us to the conclusion that the Absolute must somehow be personal, then the possibility that it can be personal, even if it has to be in some quite unimaginable way, becomes of real value.
72. Before considering, however, what positive arguments there may be for the personality of the Absolute, we must note that they will all have the disadvantage that the personality which they support is of a kind which is beyond both our experience and our imagination. In this respect a criticism which Lotze makes recoils on himself. He complains that those who deny the personality of the Absolute separate spirit from personality in an unjustifiable manner, since they are never separated in our experience. To this we may reply that one theory, at least, which denies personality to the Absolute, does not do this. For it admits that all spirit is differentiated into persons, but denies that the unity of persons need itself be personal. And experience gives us examples of this in every body corporate. On the other hand Lotze himself, when he speaks of a personal Absolute, commits the very fault which he deprecates. For personality without a Non-Ego is just as alien to our experience as spirit without personality. A conclusion is not, of course, proved to be false, because neither our knowledge nor our imagination enables us to see how it can be true. But whatever amount of doubt is thrown on a conclusion by such an inability on our part, belongs, in this controversy, not to the denial of the personality of the Absolute, but to its affirmation.
73. To supplement his arguments for the possibility of the personality of the Absolute, Lotze gives, as we have seen, two positive arguments to prove that the personality is real. The first is that we are immediately certain that the most perfect must be real. The second is that the points in which the Absolute differs from a finite being are points which make it more truly personal than any finite being can be.
It is only as suggesting the immediate certainty of the reality of the most perfect that Lotze allows any validity to the Ontological Argument.
As a formal demonstration it cannot survive Kant’s criticism. The Cosmological Argument does not profess to prove a personal God, and the Physico-Theological Argument, if it proved anything, could only prove, at the most, an external creator of the part of reality which we know. It could never prove that all reality formed a whole which was a person.
“It is an immediate certainty,” says Lotze, “that what is greatest, most beautiful, most worthy, is not a mere thought, but must be a reality, because it would be intolerable to believe of our ideal that it is an idea produced by the action of thought but having no existence, no power, and no validity in the world of reality. We do not from the perfection of that which is perfect immediately deduce its reality as a logical consequence; but without the circumlocution of a deduction we directly feel the impossibility of its non-existence, and all semblance of syllogistic proof only serves to make more clear the directness of this certainty. If what is greatest did not exist, then what is greatest would not be, and it is impossible that that which is the greatest of all conceivable things should not be. Many other attempts may be made to exhibit the internal necessity of this conviction as logically demonstrable; but all of them must fail.” Nor can we, he continues, “prove from any general logical truth our right to ascribe to that which has such worth its claim to reality; on the contrary, the certainty of this claim belongs to those inner experiences to which, as to the given object of its labour, the mediating, inferring, and limiting activity of cognition refers.
74. If we take this strictly, we can merely note the fact that Lotze had this immediate certainty as a biographical incident of more or less interest. Nothing that he has said can be of any force in determining the opinion of others. If A has this immediate certainty, he believes that the greatest must be real, but he believes it, not because Lotze has this certainty, or because he himself ought to have it, but because he has it.
This immediate certainty can neither be confirmed nor shaken by any external considerations. For if it were affected by reasons, it would be a logical conclusion, which is just what it is not. But if, on the other hand B has not got this immediate certainty – and it is beyond doubt that many people have not got it – then that concludes the controversy so far as he is concerned. We must not argue that he is wrong to have it, because it is a reasonable belief, or because most people have it, or because the people who have it are cleverer or better than those who do not. Whether these statements are true or not, they are completely irrelevant.
For, if they were relevant, then the conclusion would not rest on the fact that it is believed, but on the fact that it ought to be believed – that is, that there are reasons why we should believe it. Now the whole contention was that it was not believed for reasons.
When a man asserts that he has an immediate certainty of a truth, he doubtless deprives other people of the right to argue with him. But he also – though this he sometimes forgets – deprives himself of the right to argue with other people. Even the statement of his immediate certainty can only be justified if it is put forward as a reason for declining controversy, or as a contribution to psychological statistics, or to his own biography. To volunteer it as a contribution to the study of the subject to which the certainty refers is – in at least one sense of the word – impertinent. Nothing can be more important to me, in respect of any branch of knowledge, than my own immediate certainties about it.
Nothing can be less important than the immediate certainties of other people.
75. But if the assertion that the most perfect must be real took up a less lofty position, and presented itself as a proposition which reason directed us to believe, what could then be said of it? If it is put forward as the basis on which to found a system of metaphysics, it must clearly, I think, be condemned as worthless. The most that could be said against the denial of it would be that, if that denial was true, the world would be a wicked and miserable place. And what right have we to take this as a reductio ad absurdum? How do we know that the world is not a wicked and miserable place? It is all very well for our aspirations after virtue and happiness to say that they must live. But what if the universe replies that it does not see the necessity? It can scarcely be denied that it has the power to act on its convictions.
76. The question takes a very different form, however, if we regard an idealist system of metaphysics as being already demonstrated. For if the universe is proved to be rational, and we can further prove that it could not be rational unless a certain proposition be true, it will, of course, be perfectly logical to conclude that the proposition must be true. Now Hegel unquestionably holds the Absolute to be an harmonious whole. And we saw reason to believe, in the last chapter, that the fundamental differentiations of the Absolute were all persons, and that the whole nature of the Absolute is adequately expressed in the conscious relations between persons. If therefore, it can be proved that the consciousness of the personality of the Absolute is essential to harmonious conscious relations between the persons who compose it, we should have a good ground for believing in the personality of the Absolute. Now sin and misery are incompatible with the harmony of conscious beings. If they are to be harmonious they must be virtuous and happy – or else in some higher state which transcends and includes virtue and happiness. And so if the consciousness of the personality of the Absolute was shown to be essential to the virtue and happiness of finite persons, we could, on the basis of Hegel’s philosophy, legitimately conclude that the Absolute was a person.
But how can the consciousness of the personality of the Absolute be shown to be essential to the virtue and happiness of finite persons? It would not suffice if it were shown to be essential for the virtue and happiness of every human being who is now living, or who has lived since the beginning of history. For what must be shown is that, without the belief in a personal Absolute, finite persons could not be perfectly virtuous and happy. And the fact that no person has been so yet, if it were a fact, would prove nothing of the sort. We are very far as yet from perfection. And so we continually make demands on reality which are so far from being conditions of perfect and harmonious existence, that, if realised, they would utterly destroy all harmony. In our ignorance we suppose our happiness to lie in what could only lead to our misery, we seek as a help what would prove a hindrance. That this is so in many cases is one of the common-places of moralists. Now, even if the belief in the personality of the Absolute was invariably requisite, as far as our experience reached, to happiness or virtue, how can we tell that this is not one of those cases? How can we tell that wiser men would not find greater happiness elsewhere, that better men would not rise without its aid to loftier virtue? We may not be able to say positively that they would, but that is not sufficient. If we are to be able to deduce, in this way, the personality of the Absolute, we must be able to say positively that they would not.
77. It is superfluous to point out, moreover, that mankind has by no means been unanimous in demanding a personal God. Neither Brahmanism nor Buddhism makes the Supreme Being personal, but each of them holds that it is possible for men to reach a state of perfect blessedness.
And, in the western world, many wise men have been both virtuous and happy, who denied the personality of God. It is sufficient to mention Spinoza and Hume. I am far from suggesting that we have any reason, on such inductions as these facts would open to us, to conclude that the denial of God’s personality tends to greater virtue or happiness than its assertion. But I think that they are conclusive against any attempt to prove that the assertion always leads to greater virtue or happiness than the denial.
78. The only way in which we could hope to prove that the consciousness of the personality of the Absolute was essential either to perfect virtue or to perfect happiness would be by an argument a priori.
For we are still too far removed from perfect virtue and happiness, for any inductions from our present condition to have the least value. If, however, we could by an a priori argument so determine the nature of a perfect finite being as to include, as a necessary element in its perfection, the consciousness of a personal Absolute, we should then know that the personality of the Absolute was an essential characteristic of a perfect universe, and therefore, on the basis of Hegel’s idealism, might be accepted as true.
But, so far as I know, no attempt has been made to do this. And it is not easy to see on what ground such a demonstration could be based. Of course, if the Absolute were personal, no finite being could be perfect without perceiving it, since otherwise the limitation of his knowledge, or its erroneous character, would destroy the harmony of his nature. But, if the Absolute were not personal, I can conceive nothing in the recognition of that fact which need mar the harmony of the person who recognizes it. He will know the other finite persons in the universe. He will feel that his relations with them are consistent with his own deepest and most fundamental nature. Why should he be dissatisfied because the unity in which those relations bind him and them is not itself a person?
79. We now pass to Lotze’s second positive argument. He asserts that “of the full personality which is possible only for the Infinite a feeble reflection is given also to the finite; for the characteristics peculiar to the finite are not producing conditions of self-existence, but obstacles to its unconditioned development, although we are accustomed, unjustifiably, to deduce from these characteristics its capacity of personal existence. The finite being always works with powers with which it did not endow itself, and according to laws which it did not establish – that is, it works by means of a mental organization which is realised not only in it, but also in innumerable similar beings. Hence in reflecting on self it may easily seem to it as though there were in itself some obscure and unknown substance – something which is in the Ego though it is not the Ego itself, and to which, as to its subject, the whole personal development is attached. And hence there arise the questions – never to be quite silenced – What are we ourselves? What is our soul? What is our self – that obscure being, incomprehensible to ourselves, that stirs in our feelings and our passions, and never rises into complete self-consciousness? The fact that these questions can arise shows how far personality is from being developed in us to the extent which its notion admits and requires. It can be perfect only in the Infinite Being which, in surveying all its conditions or actions, never finds any content of that which it suffers, or any law of its working, the meaning and origin of which are not transparently plain to it, and capable of being explained by reference to its own nature. Further the position of the finite mind, which attaches it as a constituent of the whole to some definite place in the cosmic order, requires that its inner life should be awakened by successive stimuli from without, and that its course should proceed according to the laws of a psychical mechanism, in obedience to which individual ideas, feelings, and efforts press upon and supplant one another.
Hence the whole self can never be brought together at any one moment, our self-consciousness never presents to us a complete and perfect picture of our Ego – not even of its nature at any moment, and much less of the unity of its development in time.
In point of fact we have little ground for speaking of the personality of finite beings; it is an ideal, which, like all that is ideal, belongs unconditionally only to the Infinite, but like all that is good appertains to us only conditionally and hence imperfectly."
80. It may be freely admitted that a perfect personality is a self-determined whole, not hampered and thwarted from the outside, and that the Absolute is such a whole. It must also be granted that every finite self is in relation to, and determined by, its surroundings. But it does not follow from these admissions, either that the finite person is not a perfect realisation of personality, or that the Absolute is a person at all. For determination from outside is compatible with complete self-determination, and thus the finite person may be a self-determined whole.
And, on the other hand, not every self-determined whole is a person, and the Absolute may therefore be self-determined without being personal.
Every self-determined whole is a unity. And every unity must, as Hegel teaches us, have a multiplicity connected with it. But there are two ways in which this may happen. The multiplicity may be simply inside the unity which it differentiates. Or it may be outside that unity. It can never be merely outside it, for in that case it would not affect it at all. But, in this case, it is in the unity, only because, and in so far as, it is also outside it. We may say of these different relations to multiplicity that in the first case the unity is a system of differentiations, in the second it is a centre of differentiations. One unity is as real as the other, but they differ, and the difference is important.
The Absolute has the first sort of unity. Its multiplicity is necessarily due to differentiations inside it, since nothing exists outside it. On the other hand the finite self has the second sort of unity. Its multiplicity is in one sense inside it, since nothing can differentiate consciousness which is not in consciousness. But, on the other hand, the multiplicity is equally outside the self. All knowledge, all volition, all emotions involve a reference to some reality other than the self which knows, wills, and feels.
Suppose the self to exist alone, all other reality being destroyed, and all the content of the self goes, and the self with it.
It is difficult to illustrate this distinction by other examples, because it is found in perfection nowhere else. There is nothing but the Absolute which has no external relations. There is, I think, nothing but a finite person which has no completely internal relations. But we may perhaps make the point clearer by comparing the nature of a state with that of a citizen (taking him merely as a citizen, not in any of his other aspects).
The state and the citizen are equally unities. They are equally dependent on multiplicity. But the state has a multiplicity within itself, and can be conceived without reference to anything external. As, in fact, it has reality outside it, it has relations to external objects. But if it were the only thing in the universe, it would. not fail for want of multiplicity, since it has differentiations outside itself. The position of a citizen is quite different.
His existence as a citizen depends on the existence of other human beings. For, although a man might be able to exist in a world which, beside himself, contained only the lower animals and inorganic matter, it is clear that he could not be a citizen. Withdraw the relations to his fellow-citizens, and the citizen ceases to exist as such.
(It may be remarked that when these two sorts of unities are considered by an atomistic system of metaphysics, the failure to recognize their reality leads to a different fallacy in each case. In the case of a unity of system, atomism concludes that, since it has no particular existence separate from its parts, it is a mere aggregate of those parts, and has no qualities except the resultant of the qualities which such parts would have when isolated. In the case of a unity of centre, atomism denies that it has any reality at all, since it has no reality in isolation from other things. Thus in such a system as Hume’s, the universe becomes a mere aggregate, but the soul is rejected altogether. The comparative favour extended to the unity of system is to be ascribed to the belief that units can be added together without altering them. If atomism realised that any sort of combination must affect internally the combined units, it would be forced to reject the universe as utterly as it rejects the self.)
81. There is no doubt to which of these two species of unities the finite person belongs. His existence obviously depends on his external relations. Indeed, as was said above, there is no other example, except the finite self, which completely realises this type. But it does not follow that the finite person is, therefore, imperfect as a person. A perfect person must, certainly, be self-determined. But then there is nothing to prevent the finite person from being self-determined.
Hegel has shown in the Logic, when treating of Quality, that determination by another involves determination by self. But the self-determination which is considered in such an early stage of the dialectic, is, of course, a comparatively abstract and unreal notion. If a person is to be considered as self-determined, a fuller and deeper self-determination must be meant. It is characteristic of a person that he has an ideal, to which his actual existence may or may not conform. There would be no meaning in saying that a stone ought to have a different shape from that which it actually has – unless we were considering some external relation which the stone bore to conscious beings. It has no ideal of existence, which would enable us to say that, in itself, it was less perfect than it ought to be. But there is a very intelligible meaning when it is said of a drunkard or a fool – either by himself or by others – that he is not what he should be, and this without reference to his effect upon any other person.
When an individual proposes an end to himself, as every person does, we cannot call such an individual self-determined unless that ideal is realised in his actual condition. And, if it is so realised, we call him completely self-determined – with some reservation in the case of an ideal which we conceive to be imperfect, and therefore transitory. Now there is no reason whatever why a finite person should be incapable of realising his ideal nature. He can only do so, no doubt, by his relations to others. But why should he be unable to do it perfectly in this way? The finite persons that we know have no aspect of their nature which does not come under knowledge, volition, or emotion. If all these were realised in their perfection – whether that perfection lay in themselves, or in some higher unity to which they all led – we could conceive nothing more wanting to the perfect development of the person. Now so far from knowledge, volition, and emotion being hampered, or restrained from perfection, by the relation to outside reality of the person who experiences them, we find that they actually consist in his relations to outside reality.
82. We may notice, too, that as our personality becomes more self-determined, its relations with outside reality become more vivid, intimate, and complex. A man of clear thought, firm will, and intense feelings, living under favourable circumstances in a community of civilized men, is surely a more perfect person, and more completely self-determined than an idiot, or a baby. But such a man certainly realises more vividly than an idiot or a baby the distinction between himself and the surrounding reality, and is more fully conscious of the way in which his relations to that reality permeate and determine his whole nature.
There can be only one meaning in calling a thing imperfect without qualification – that it does not realise the ideal inherent in its nature.
Now what necessary imperfection in the realisation of my nature is brought about by the mere fact that I am not the universe? What postulate or aspiration is involved in personality which is incompatible with external relations on the part of the person? Lotze mentions none, nor can I conceive what they would be.
Of course, if the relations of the person with the rest of reality are such as to cramp and thwart the development of his ideal nature, then the personality will be rendered more or less imperfect. But then the imperfection – which is never quite absent, no doubt, in the world we live in – is not the result of the finitude. It is not because we are in relation to other reality that we are imperfect, but because we are in the wrong relations.
Relation to something external does not in itself destroy the harmony of the related object. No doubt it does so in any being which does not accept and acquiesce in the relation. For then there would be conflict and not harmony. Nothing could be less harmonious than the state of a finite being who was trying to realise an ideal of isolation. But if the ideal which he posited was one of life as a part of a vitally connected whole – and such an ideal does not seem repugnant to our nature – what want of harmony would be introduced by the fact that he was a member of such a whole?
83. There is thus no reason to hold that a finite person is necessarily an imperfect person. And, even if this were so, it would give us no reason to believe that the Absolute was a person. It is true that the Absolute is not finite, and is not related to anything outside itself. And therefore it has a quality which, if it were a person, would make it the only perfect person, on this theory of what constitutes the perfection of personality. But, even if it were essential to a perfect person to have nothing outside him, it would not follow that to be the whole of reality was sufficient to constitute a perfect person, or even to constitute a person at all. Personality, Lotze has told us, consists in self-enjoyment, in “direct sense of self," and, even if we admit his contention that only the Infinite could have this perfectly, it does not follow that the Infinite has it at all. (I am using Infinite here in the more ordinary sense of the word. By Hegel’s usage a “finite” person who was not the whole reality but was completely harmonious with himself would be as infinite as the Absolute.)
84. Thus Lotze’s argument has two defects. He has not shown that the finitude of finite persons makes them imperfect, and he has not shown that the perfect self-determination of the Absolute is the self-determination of a person. In leaving the consideration of Lotze’s treatment of the subject, it is to be noticed that our objections to it do not challenge Lotze’s right to consider the Absolute as personal. For he regarded the Absolute as not exhausted by its manifestations, and those manifestations as to a certain extent, from an ethical point of view, outside the Absolute. And this obviously introduces fresh considerations. We have only dealt with those of his arguments for the personality of the Absolute which are also applicable to the Absolute as Hegel has conceived it.
85. These criticisms of Lotze may suggest to us a more direct and independent argument. The finite person is dependent, for the element of differentiation and multiplicity, on its relations with outside reality. And, while that element is, in one sense, inside the person, in another sense it is outside him. For the person distinguishes himself from every element of his content. There is no part of that content which he cannot make into an object, and so put over against himself as the subject.
There must, therefore, be some element in the person other than the differentiation or multiplicity – some element which is not only inside the person in the sense in which the multiplicity is inside, but which is also inside in the sense in which the multiplicity is outside. For unless something remains inside, in this sense, it would be impossible to say that anything was outside. This element can have no differentiation or multiplicity in it. For all multiplicity belongs to the content which can be distinguished from the self, and which can therefore be said, in this sense, to fall outside the person. It follows that the element in question must be absolutely simple and indivisible – a pure unit.
Here again we must be on our guard against a class of objections to such conclusions as this, which, while professing to be objections to atomism, are really based upon it. To deny that an element in a whole can have a nature, which it would be impossible for the whole itself to have, is an atomistic fallacy. For it tacitly assumes that a complex whole is built up out of its elements, and that those elements could exist, or at any rate be imagined, outside of the whole. In that case they would themselves be wholes, and could have no characteristics incompatible with this. But we shall avoid this error, if we remember that a self-subsistent whole can be analysed into elements which are not self-subsistent, and which cannot ever be imagined in isolation.
In the present case we must admit that such a simple and indivisible unity, if taken for a separate being, would not only be utterly insignificant, but could not exist at all. The only category under which we could bring it would be Pure Being, and it does not require much speculative subtlety to see, in this case, that Pure Being is equivalent to Nothing.
But then we do not assert that such an indivisible element does exist by itself. On the contrary, it only exists in connection with the element of multiplicity, and cannot exist, or be conceived, without it.
It is also evident that no such person could exist, or be conceived as existing, apart from all other reality. For the element of the not-self in each person is obviously dependent on the existence of outside reality.
And the only other element in the person – the indivisible unity to which the element of the not-self stands in relation – cannot exist except as combined with the element of the not-self. It follows, certainly, that an isolated self is impossible. But this was not denied, nor is it incompatible with any of the conclusions which we have previously reached. We found reason, indeed, in the last chapter, to consider finite selves as fundamentally real. But they were not real as isolated, or as externally connected. They were only real as connected. in a unity which was as close and vital as its differentiations. Indeed, it was the very closeness of the unity which made us conclude that its fundamental. differentiations could only be selves.
86. We are thus entitled to adhere to our conclusion that, in every finite person, a simple and indivisible unity exists as an element. This element is, of course, no more essential to the personality than the other element of multiplicity. But, although not more essential, it may perhaps be called a more positive element of personality, for reasons somewhat analogous to those for which the Thesis of a triad is a more positive element in the Synthesis than the Antithesis is. The element of the unity in the person belongs exclusively to him, while the element of the multiplicity, though it belongs to him, belongs also to the outside reality, with which he is in connection. And, while the element of multiplicity is an element in his nature, it is only part of his nature by the fact that he distinguishes himself from it, separates himself from it, and excludes it from himself in one sense, while he includes it in another. The element of the unity, on the other hand, is in no sense distinguishable from the person.
The unity of the Absolute is as real as its differentiations, and as real as the unity of a perfect finite self – while it is much more real than the unity of a finite self as it manifests itself imperfectly in this imperfect world. But the Absolute is a unity of system, and not a unity of centre, and the element of unity in it cannot be a simple and indivisible point, like that of the finite self. For if the unity is of this sort, then, by virtue of its simplicity and indivisibility, it excludes its differentiations from itself in one sense, while including them in another. But the Absolute cannot exclude its differentiations from itself in any sense. A finite person can exclude his differentiations, for they have somewhere to exist in, in so far as they are excluded from his self – namely, the rest of reality, to which in fact they belong as much as they do to him. But there is nothing outside the Absolute. And it would therefore be impossible for it to exclude its differentiations from itself in any sense. For in as far as they are not in it, they are absolutely wrong.
Now it seems to me that it is just the presence of this element of indivisible unity which forms for us that “direct sense of self” in which Lotze rightly places the positive essence of personality. The unity, indeed, cannot exist without the multiplicity. But then it is true of the sense of self, also, that it is never found alone. We are never conscious of self without being conscious of something else as well. If, for us, the sense of self is not in this element of indivisible unity, I cannot tell where it is.
87. The Absolute, as we have seen, cannot have this element of indivisible unity. And, therefore, it cannot have the personality that we have. “But,” it will perhaps be answered, “it can have some other sort of personality. No one ever supposed the Absolute to be exactly the same sort of person as we are, and how can we tell that it cannot be a person in some different way?” This, however, is unjustifiable. The position is no longer the same as when we were discussing Lotze’s arguments for the possibility of a sense of self without a Non-Ego. There we admitted that the consciousness of the Non-Ego was not the direct sense of self, and that we could distinguish in thought the one from the other. We knew of no case in which the sense of self was found without the consciousness of the Non- Ego; there was nothing in experience which suggested that they could exist apart; nor could we even imagine in what way a direct sense of self could exist without the consciousness of the Non-Ego, how it would supply the place of that consciousness, or what difference the change would make to itself. Still, the sense of self is not the consciousness of the Non-Ego. And thus there is an abstract probability, though a valueless one, that the sense of self may exist where there is no Non-Ego, and consequently no consciousness of it.
But here the case is different. The sense of self is the indivisible unity in consciousness. The Absolute has not the indivisible unity, and therefore it has no sense of self. Therefore it is not a person. There is no room left for any further possibilities. If the argument has any validity whatever, all such possibilities are excluded. The argument is no longer that the qualities of the Absolute are inconsistent with an accompaniment without which we cannot imagine personality. It is that the qualities of the Absolute are inconsistent with the essence of personality itself.
88. Our conclusion then is that personality cannot be an attribute of a unity which has no indivisible centre of reference, and which is from all points of view (as the personalities we know are from one point of view) all in every part. The impossibility of this may become more obvious if we consider that the differentiations, of which the Absolute is the unity, are themselves persons. If the Absolute had a consciousness of self, that consciousness could not fall outside the finite persons. For then those persons would not fully manifest the Absolute, and the relation would be one of those expressed by the categories of Essence – which certainly cannot be an adequate expression of the nature of the Hegelian Absolute. And the self-consciousness of the Absolute, again, cannot be in each differentiation separately, for then it would be identical with the self-consciousness of each finite person, and the Absolute, as a unity, would have no self-consciousness at all. But the only remaining alternative is that the self-consciousness of the Absolute is in the unity of its differentiations. Can we attach any meaning to the statement that one self-conscious being should consist of a multiplicity of self-conscious beings, in such a way that it had no reality apart from them? Or that one self-conscious being should be part of another in such a way that it had no reality apart from it? And yet these statements must be accepted if the Absolute is to be self-conscious. If it is more than its differentiations, we fall into the contradictions of Essence. If it is not more than its differentiations it cannot distinguish itself from them without distinguishing them from itself, and so annihilating them.
89. Of course we might, if we thought it worth while, apply the term personality to all spiritual unities (or to all spiritual unities where the unity was as vital as the differentiations) and not merely to those which have a direct sense of self resembling that which we each know in ourselves.
And so we should gain the right – whatever that may be worth – to speak of the Absolute as personal. But this rather empty gain would be balanced by several serious inconveniences. There are two different views about the Supreme Being – one that it is a spiritual unity, and one that it has a sense of self like our own. The first of these is not always accompanied by the second, and it is convenient to have a separate name for each. At present we can call the first Idealism, and the second Theism.
But if we call Idealism by the name of Theism, we shall have no name left to distinguish those Theists who do, and those Theists who do not, take the spiritual unity in question to have a sense of self with some conceivable resemblance to our own. And the distinction, which is thus ignored, is of great importance for metaphysics, and still more for religion.
Moreover, if the Absolute is to be called a person because it is a spiritual unity, then every College, every goose-club, every gang of thieves, must also be called a person. For they are all spiritual unities.
They all consist exclusively of human beings, and they all unite their members in some sort of unity. Their unities are indeed much less perfect than the unity of the Absolute. But if an imperfect unity is not to be called an imperfect person, then the name of person must be denied to ourselves as manifested here and now. For assuredly none of us at present have reached that perfect and harmonious self-determination which is essential to a perfect person. Now we call ourselves persons, but no one, I believe, has ever proposed to call a football team a person. But if we now called the Absolute a person, we should have no defence for refusing the name to the football team. For it shares its imperfection with human beings, and its want of a direct sense of self with the Absolute. It can only, therefore, be confusing to call the Absolute a person because it is a spiritual unity.
It might be suggested that the word person should be applied to the Absolute and to ourselves, to the exclusion of other spiritual unities, on the ground that they alone are completely adequate expressions of reality.
The Absolute, of course, is so, and finite persons are its fundamental differentiations. And thus they deserve – even when manifested imperfectly – a title which is properly refused to unities which, in perfection, are not perfected but transcended. But this change in the meaning of personality would also be confusing. For it would compel us to say of such philosophies as Lotze’s and Mr Bradley’s, which do not accept the finite self as an adequate expression of reality, that they denied human personality, which would be a considerable departure from the ordinary meaning of words.
Thus considerable inconvenience would be caused by extending the meaning of personality to include an Absolute without a direct sense of self. Nor does it appear what advantage would be gained by keeping a name when the old meaning has been surrendered.
90. It has often been suggested that the Absolute, if not a person, may be something higher than a person. And this view has often been gladly adopted by those to whom the only other alternative seemed to be that it should be something lower. But from what has been said about the nature of the Absolute, it will follow that the whole question is unmeaning.
The unity of the Absolute is not more or less perfect than that unity of each of its differentiations which we call personality. Each has an entirely different ideal of perfection – the Absolute to be the unity of its differentiations, the perfect differentiation to be the unity of all the surrounding differentiations. Neither of these ideals is higher than the other. Each is indispensable to the other. The differentiations cannot exist except in the Absolute, nor could the Absolute exist unless each of its differentiations was a person.
To ask which of the two is the higher is as unmeaning as to ask whether the state or the citizen is higher. The state and the citizen have each their own excellencies. And these cannot be compared, since they have different ideals of excellence. The perfection of the citizen is not to be like a state, nor the perfection of a state to be like a citizen. And neither of them has any worth except in its difference from the other, for, except for that difference, neither could exist. A state cannot exist without citizens, nor citizens without a state. The general unwillingness to regard the Absolute as impersonal is, I think, largely due to a failure to recognize this complementary character of the two unities. It is supposed that, if the Absolute is not personal, it must be higher or lower than persons. To suppose it to be lower might perhaps be maintained to be contradictory, and would certainly be cheerless. But if we make the Absolute to be higher than personality, it must surpass and transcend it, and it is thus natural to say that the Absolute is personal and more.
91. I have now explained, as far as I am able, the grounds on which I think that personality ought not to be ascribed to the Absolute, if we accept Hegel’s account of the Absolute as correct. It remains for us to consider what effect, on our conduct and our feelings, would be produced by the general adoption of such a belief – a belief which is, of course, equivalent to a rejection of the notion of a personal God. I have endeavoured to show above that the nature of these effects is irrelevant to the truth of the belief. But it is nevertheless a matter of interest.
Let us begin with the effects of such a belief on conduct. Would it, in the first place, render virtue less binding, less imperative, than before? Surely not. Different philosophers have given very differing accounts of the nature of moral obligation, but I doubt if any of them have so bound it up with the notion of God’s personality that the disproof of that personality would efface the distinction between virtue and vice.
Some moralists, indeed, have asserted that any satisfactory morality rests entirely on the belief that God will ensure that the righteous shall be happier than the wicked. And it has also been asserted that it would be absurd to act virtuously unless we believed that virtue would win in the long run. But these two theories, while they certainly require that the Absolute should work for righteousness, do not require a personal Absolute.
If, on the other hand, we hold it not impossible to pursue the good, irrespective of our personal happiness, and without the certainty of eventual victory, the obligation, whatever it may be, to virtuous action will remain unaffected by whatever theory we may hold as to the nature of the Absolute.
Nor would our views on the personality of the Absolute affect our power of determining particular actions to be virtuous or vicious. Some systems assert that good and evil depend on the arbitrary will of God.
But this is only a theory of the genesis of distinctions which are admitted to exist. Indeed, it is only from the existence of the distinctions that the will of God in the matter is inferred. If a personal God were rejected, these systems would require a fresh theory of the causes which make benevolence right and cowardice wrong. But the rejection could have no tendency to make us suppose that benevolence was wrong and cowardice right.
92. So much is very generally admitted. It is seldom asserted at the present day that, without a belief in a personal God, we should have no obligation to be virtuous, or no means of ascertaining what virtue is.
But it is sometimes maintained that, without a belief in a personal God, our motives for doing right would he so diminished in strength that we should become perceptibly less moral.
The point is important, but I do not see how it is to be settled. For, since we are not now discovering what we ought to do under the circumstances, but what we should do, it cannot be decided by abstract reasoning.
It is a matter for empirical observation and induction. And there seems to be no experience which is relevant.
On the one hand, we can draw no inference from the fact that many people who do believe in a personal God use that belief as an incentive in well-doing. It does not follow that, if it was withdrawn, they would do less well. Many convalescents continue to use sticks which they would find, if they tried, they could dispense with. And the abandonment of a belief is never entirely a negative process. It must produce positive changes in the beliefs which remain, and may itself be caused by a new positive belief. In the present case we only found reason to reject the idea of a personal God because it was incompatible with a very positive notion of the Absolute. And the new positive beliefs whose arrival is the correlative of the disappearance of the old one may have the same effects on action as their predecessors had.
On the other hand it is unfair to infer from the cases of men of illustrious virtue who have rejected the doctrine of a personal God, that the general rejection of that doctrine would not injure morality. For all men are swayed by public opinion and by tradition; and it is impossible to demonstrate the falsity of the suggestion that the virtues of Atheists may depend in part on the Theism of their neighbours and parents.
There are countries, indeed, in which religions have flourished for many years which involve, at any rate for their educated adherents, the denial of a personal supreme God. And the fact that educated Brahmanists and Buddhists are about as virtuous as other men sufficiently disproves all danger of a complete moral collapse as a consequence of the disbelief in God’s personality. But then it is impossible to prove that the standard of virtue in India and China would not be rather higher if more of their inhabitants had adopted Theistic religions, or that the standard of virtue in England would not slightly fall with the abandonment of such religions.
93. The question seems insoluble except by an experiment conducted on a large scale for several centuries, and such an experiment mankind seems in no hurry to make. We may, however, observe that there is an argument commonly used on such subjects, which, whether true or not, is irrelevant here. It endeavours to show that, without the belief that all things work together for good, and, in particular, without the belief in immortality, men, or at any rate most men, would not have sufficient energy and enthusiasm to attain a high standard of virtue, though the obligation to be virtuous would not be diminished. Even if this were so, it would not prove that the adoption of the theory supported in this chapter would have any bad effect on morality. For our theory is compatible with – is even directly connected with – the belief in immortality which is expounded in the last chapter, and the Absolute, although not personal, is nevertheless spiritual, and cannot, therefore, be out of harmony with the most fundamental desires of our own spirits.
Again, if nothing but the influence of tradition and surroundings keeps morality from deteriorating when the belief in a personal God is rejected, it might surely be expected that some trace of moral deterioration might be found at those times and places when this belief is most often questioned. And I doubt if an impartial study of history would discover anything of the sort.
Whether the belief in a personal God is now more or less universal than it has been in the centuries which have passed since the Renaissance cannot, of course, be determined with any exactness. But such slight evidence as we have seems to point to the conclusion that those who deny it were never so numerous as at present. And those who do hold it, hold it, it can scarcely be doubted, with far less confidence.
There was a time when this belief was held capable of demonstration with evidence equal to the evidence of mathematics – a time when the safest basis for our moral duties was held to be a demonstration that they could be deduced from the existence of God. But at the present time we find that the belief in a personal God is, with many men who are counted as believing it, not much more than a hope, entertained with more or less confidence, that a doctrine, the truth of which appears to them so eminently desirable, may in fact be true. Even when arguments from probability are accepted, the old ideas of mathematical certainty are seldom to be found. And when attempts are made, at the present time, to show that the personality of God is logically connected with morality, it is the personality of God, and not morality, which is thought to be supported by the conjunction.
All this might be expected to produce some change for the worse in our morality, if our morality really was dependent on the belief in a personal God. But is such a deterioration to be detected? Our moral ideals change, no doubt, but in their changes they seem to become more, not less, comprehensive. And there is nothing to suggest that we realise those ideals to a smaller extent than our ancestors realised their own.
94. The effect which the abandonment of the belief in the personality of God would have on the satisfaction of our emotions is perhaps even more interesting than its effect on morality. But it is even more difficult to determine. Some people find all love for finite persons inadequate, and are unsatisfied if they cannot also regard the infinite and eternal with that love which can only be felt for a person. Others, again, would say that our love for finite persons was only inadequate in so far as it fell below its own ideal, and that, if perfect, it would afford such an utterly complete realisation of our whole nature, that nothing else would be desirable or possible. It would be superfluous to add the love of God to a love which, not in metaphor, but as a statement of metaphysical truth, must be called God, and the whole of God.
Which of these is the higher? Is it the first class, because they demand more objects of love than the second? Or is it the second, because they find more in one sort of love than the first? I do not see how this is to be answered. Or rather, I do not see how the answer which each of us will give can be of interest except to himself and his friends. For there are no arguments by which one side might convince the other.
95. But even if the belief that there was no personal God were disadvantageous to our morality and our feelings, would the belief that the Absolute was personal be any better? I think it very improbable. For if there is any reason to regard the belief in a personal God as essential in these respects, it can only be the belief in a personal God as it has hitherto prevailed among mankind. And this belief certainly does not refer to a personal Absolute, but to a being who is not the only reality, though he is the supreme reality. It regards us as the creatures of whom God is the creator, as the subjects of whom he is the king, as the children of whom he is the father, but emphatically not as the parts of which he is the whole, or as the differentiations within his unity. Royalty and fatherhood are, indeed, only metaphors, and admittedly not perfectly adequate. But then the fact that neither of the related beings is part of the other does not seem to be a point in which the metaphor is considered as inadequate. On the contrary, it seems rather one of the points in the metaphor on which popular religion insists. However much the dependence of the human being may be emphasised, there never seems any tendency to include him in the deity. (Such tendencies indeed appear from time to time among mystical thinkers, but they are no more evidence of the general needs of mankind than the other systems which do without a personal God at all.) And this is confirmed by the fact that the common metaphors all agree on this point. Such relations as that of a cell to an organism, or of a citizen to the state, have never been found to be appropriate expressions of the ordinary religious emotions. It seems to follow that, if the conception of a personal God had shown itself indispensable to our practical life, we should find no satisfaction in such an Absolute as Hegel’s, even if we had contrived to regard it as personal.
96. One question remains. Is it appropriate to call the Absolute by the name of God, if we deny it personality? There is eminent authority in philosophy – especially that of Spinoza and of Hegel himself – for giving this name to the true reality, whatever that may be. But this seems wasteful. We have three distinct conceptions, (a) the true reality whatever it may be, (b) a spiritual unity, (c) a spiritual unity which is a person. We have only two names to serve for all three – the Absolute and God – and, if we use them as synonymous, we wilfully throw away a chance of combining clearness and brevity.
Then there is no doubt that God is not used in that sense in popular phraseology. In popular phraseology God is only used of a spiritual unity which is a person. In such a matter as this, I submit, philosophy ought to conform its terminology to that of popular usage. It is impossible to keep philosophical terms exclusively for the use of philosophical students. Whenever the subject is one of general interest – and the existence of a God is certainly one of these – the opinions of great philosophers will be reported at second hand to the world at large. And if the world at large hears Spinoza described as a “God-intoxicated man, or as more truly an Acosmist than an Atheist, or if it finds that Hegel’s Logic is one long attempt to determine the nature of God, it will be very apt to conceive that Spinoza and Hegel believed in God as a person.
Now it is universally admitted that Spinoza did nothing of the kind, and I shall try to prove, in Chapter VIII, that Hegel did not do so either. At any rate it is clear that his use of the word God proves, when we consider his definition of it, nothing at all as to his belief in a personal God.
If the philosophical and the popular usage ought to be made identical, it is clear that it is philosophy that ought to give way. The terminology of a special branch of study may be changed by the common action of a moderate number of writers on philosophy. But to change the popular meaning of the word God, and its equivalents in the other European languages, in the mouths of the millions of people who use them, would be impossible, even if it were desirable. Besides, the popular terminology has no word by which it can replace God, while philosophy has already a synonym for God in the wider sense – namely the Absolute. And, finally, philosophers are by no means unanimous in agreeing with the usage of Spinoza and Hegel. Kant himself uses God in the narrower sense.
I think, therefore, that it will be best to depart from Hegel’s own usage, and to express our result by saying that the Absolute is not God, and, in consequence, that there is no God. This corollary implies that the word God signifies not only a personal, but also a supreme being, and that no finite differentiation of the Absolute, whatever his power and wisdom, would be entitled to the name. It may be objected that this would cause the theory of the dialectic to be classed, under the name of Atheism, with very different systems – such as deny the unity of all reality to be spiritual, or deny it to be more vital than a mere aggregate.
But all negative names must be more or less miscellaneous in their denotation.
It is much more important to preserve a definite meaning for Theism than for Atheism, and this can only be done if Theism is uniformly used to include a belief in the personality of God.