The Religious Aspect of Philosophy

IT iS certain that we live in a philosophic age Mrs. Partington’s mop, as she plied it against the Atlantic Ocean, was a potent engine compared with the command to “ halt " with which Positivism tried, and tries, to bring the heaving tides of man’s inquisitiveness to rest. The worst of it is that we are getting deeper and deeper in. Every new book thickens the fray, and is one more thing with which to settle accounts ; and any bit of scientific research becomes an angle and place of vantage from which arguments are brought to bear. When a branch of human activity is fermenting like this, it happens that individual sharers in the movement profit by the common level being raised, and do easily what, perhaps, in an isolated way they never could have done at all. We doubt if, at the dawn of our present philosophic movement, say in Sir William Hamilton’s time, a writer with Dr. Royce’s ideas could possibly have expressed them in so easy and unencumbered and effectual a form.1 A familiar catchword replaces a tedious setting forth; a reference to a popular writer serves instead of the heavy construction of an imaginary opponent; and above all, important objections are not likely to be overlooked or forgot.

But although the age is philosophical, it is not so after the fashion of Hegel’s age in Germany, or Cousin’s age in France. We have no Emperor of Philosophy in any country to-day, but a headless host of princes, with their alliances and feuds. This seems at first anarchic, and is apt to give comfort to the scoffers at metaphysical inquiry, and to all who believe that only the study of “facts” can lead to definitive results. The addition to the combatants of Dr. Royce, with his book, can only increase this first impression of confusion; for, like Descartes and Fichte and many another hero of belief, he begins by laying about him ruthlessly, and establishing a philosophic desert of doubt on which his own impregnable structure is to be reared. And yet a closer survey shows that to a great extent all these quarrels and recriminations of the modern thinkers are over matters of detail, and that, although they obey no common leader, they for the most part obey a common drift, — the drift, namely, towards a phenomelistic or idealistic creed. To this conclusion Dr. Royce also sweeps, with a momentum that carries him beyond Ferriet and Mill and Bain, beyond Hodgson, Renouvier, and Bowne, beyond the disciples of Schopenhauer and the disciples of Fichte and Hegel, wherever found, and beyond a number of contemporary German idealists whose names need not be cited here. Such thinkers all agree that there can be no other kind of Reality than reality-forthought. They differ only in the arguments they use to prove this thesis, and in deciding whose thought and what kind of thought that thought which is the reality of realities may be.

Dr. Royce’s new and original proof of Idealism is, so far as we know, the most positive and radical proof yet proposed. It is short and simple, when once seen, and yet so subtle that it is no wonder it was never seen before.

These short and simple suggestions that philosophers make from time to time — Locke’s question about essence, for example, Berkeley’s about matter, Hume’s about cause, and Kant’s about necessary judgments, — have an intolerable way with them of sticking, in spite of all one can do. To scholastic minds, who have made their bed, and wish for nothing further than to snore dogmatically and comfortably on, these questions must seem like very vermin, not to be conquered by any logical insect powder or philosophic comb.

The particular gadfly which Dr. Royce adds to the list is this : “ How can a thought refer to, intend, or signify any particular reality outside of itself ? " Suppose the reality there, and the thought there; suppose the thought to resemble just that reality, and nought besides in the world: still, asks our author, what is meant by saying that the thought stands for or represents that reality, or indeed any reality at all ? Why is n’t it just like the case of two eggs, or two toothaches, which may, it is true, resemble and duplicate each other exactly, but which are not held to mean or intend each other the least in the world ? If the eggs and the toothaches are, each one of them, a separate substantive fact, shut up in its own skin and knowing nothing of the world outside, why are not one’s thought, for example, of the Moon and the real Moon in exactly the same predicament ? The Moon in our thought is our thought’s Moon. Whatever we may think of her is true of her, for she is but the creature of our thinking. If we say “ her hidden hemisphere is inhabited,” it is inhabited, for us ; and otherwise than for us that moon, the moon in our mind, has no existence. A critic cannot prove us wrong by bringing in a “real” moon with an uninhabited back hemisphere ; he cannot, by comparing that moon with ours and showing the want of resemblance, make our moon “ false.” To do that, he would first have to establish that the thought in our mind was a thought of just that external moon, and intended to be true of it. But neither he nor we could establish that: it would be worse than a gratuitous, it would be a senseless, proposition. Our Moon has nothing to do with the real moon ; she is a totally additional fact, pursuing her subjective destiny all alone, and only accidentally perceived by an outside critic to agree or disagree with another moon, which he knows and chooses to call real, but which is really out of all relation to the one in our mind’s eye. At most, the critic might say he was reminded or not reminded of that other moon by our Moon; but he could not say that ours gave either a true or a false account of the other, simply because ours never pretended to give any account, or to refer to the other moon, at all. Nor can we ourselves make it refer to that other moon, by “ proposing ” or “supposing” that it does so refer; all we can propose or suppose is some altogether new moon in our own mind, and refer the old one there to that one. Over all such moons we have complete control, but over nothing else under heaven. At least, thinks Dr. Royce, such ought to be our inference, if the notion of common sense be true, that our thought and the reality are two wholly disconnected things.

The more one thinks, the more one feels that there is a real puzzle here. Turn and twist as we will, we are caught in a tight trap. Although we cannot help believing that our thoughts do mean realities and are true or false of them, we cannot for the life of us ascertain how they can mean them. If thought be one thing and reality another, by what pincers, from out of all the realities, does the thought pick out the special one it intends to know? And if the thought knows the reality falsely, the difficulty of answering the question becomes indeed extreme.

Our author calls the question insoluble on these terms ; and we are inclined to think him right, and to suspect that his idealistic escape from the quandary may be the best one for us all to take.

We supposed, just now, a critic comparing the real moon and our mental moon. Let him now help us forward. We saw that even he could not make it out that our mental moon should refer to just that individual real moon, and to nothing else. We could not make it out either, and certainly the real moon itself could not make it out. We saw, however, that we could make anything in our own mind refer to anything else there, — provided, of course, the two things were objects of a single act of thought; and the reason why our moon could not refer to the real moon was that the two moons were not facts in a common mind. But now imagine our “critic,” instead of being the mere dissevered third thing he was, to be a common mind. Imagine his thought of our thought to be our thought, and his thought of the real moon to be the real moon. Both it and we have now become consubstantial; we are reduced to a common denominator. Both of us are members of the one total Thought, and any relation which that Thought draws between its members is as real as the members themselves. If that Thought intend one of its members to “represent” the other, and represent it either falsely or truly, “ ’t is but thinking, and it is done.” There is no other way in which one thing can “ represent” another; and no possibility of either truth or falsehood unless the function of representation be genuinely there. An “ Over-Soul,” of whose enveloping thought our thought and the things we think of are alike fractions, — such is the only hypothesis that can form a basis for the reality of truth and of error in the world.

The reality of truth and error are, then, Dr. Royce’s novel reason for believing that all that is has the foundations of its being laid in an infinite all-inclusive Mind. Upon the highest heights of dogmatism and in the deepest depths of skepticism, alike the argument blooms, saying, “ Whatever things be false, and whatever things be true, one thing stands forever true, and that is that the Enveloping Mind must be there to make them either false or true.”

To the lay-reader, this absolute Idealism doubtless seems insubstantial and unreal enough. But it is astonishing to learn how many paths lead up to it. Dr. Royce’s path is only one. The others are of various kinds and degrees, and may he found in all sorts of books, few of them together. But taken altogether, they end by making about as formidable a convergence of testimony as the history of opinion affords. The persons most pleased by Dr. Royce’s book will no doubt be the Hegelians here and in Great Britain ; for it seems to us that he has reached a religious result hardly distinguishable from their own, by a method entirely free from that identification of contradictories which is the great stumbling-block in the Hegelian system of thought. The result is that all truth is known to one Thought, that is infinite, in which the world lives and moves and has its being, which abides and waxes not old, and in which there is neither variableness nor shadow of turning. The ordinary objection to a pantheistic monism like this is the ethical one, that it makes all that happens a portion of the eternal reason, and so must nourish a fatalistic mood, and a willingness to accept and consecrate whatever is, no matter what its moral quality may be. Dr. Royce is not as disdainful of this difficulty as the Hegelians are. We are not sure he has got over it, but he has bravely and beautifully attacked it; and his section on the problem of evil, in his last chapter, is as original and fresh a treatment of the subject as we know.

Unfortunately, we have no space to do more than recommend it to the reader’s attention. And now that we find ourselves at the end of our tether, we wonder whether a notice entirely made up of quotations would not have been a better thing than this attempt of ours to set forth the most fundamental, it is true, but still the driest, portion of the book. Never was a philosophic work less dry ; never one more suggestive of springtime, or, as we may say, more redolent of the smell of the earth. Never was a gentler, easier irony shown in discussion ; and never did a more subtle analytic movement keep constantly at such close quarters with the cubical and concrete facts of human life as shown in individuals. In the entire ethical portion of the work its author shows himself to be a first-rate moralist, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, as one who knows delightfully how to describe the lights and shadows of special moral types and tendencies. In his discussions of the ethics of “ sympathy ” and of the ethics of “ progress ” are passages which are masterpieces in this line. And here again, from the very depths of the desert of skepticism, the flower of moral faith is found to bloom. Everything in Dr.

Royce is radical. There is nothing to remind one of that dreary fighting of each step of a slow retreat to which the theistic philosophers of the ordinary common-sense school have accustomed us. For this reason the work must carry a true sursum corda into the minds of those who feel in their bones that man’s religious interests must be able to swallow and digest and grow fat upon all the facts and theories of modern science, but who yet have not the capacity to see with their own eyes how it may be done. There is plenty of leveling in Dr. Royce’s book, but it all ends by being a leveling-up. The Thought of which our thought is part is lord of all, and, to use the author’s own phrase, he does not see why we should clip our own wings to keep ourselves from flying out of our own coop over our own fence into our own garden. California may feel proud that a son of hers should at a stroke have scored so many points in a game not yet exceedingly familiar on the Pacific slope.

  1. The Religious Aspect of Philosophy. A Critique of the Bases of Conduct and of Faith. By JOSIAH ROYCE, Ph. D., Instructor in Philosophy in Harvard College. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1885.