Read CHAPTER III of The Sources Of Religious Insight, free online book, by Josiah Royce, on ReadCentral.com.

THE OFFICE OF THE REASON

Thus far we have dealt with sources of religious insight which are indispensable, but which confess their own inadequacy so soon as you question them closely. Individual experience can show us, in its moments of wider vision, our ideal, and its times of despair, of aspiration, or of self-examination, our need. But whenever it attempts to acquaint us with the way of salvation, its deliveries are clouded by the mists of private caprice and of personal emotion. Social experience, in its religious aspects, helps the individual to win the wider outlook, helps him also to find his way out of the loneliness of guilt and of failure toward wholeness of life, and promises salvation through love. But, like individual experience, it is beset by what we have called the religious paradox. And it does not solve that paradox. Confessing its own defects, it still undertakes to discern how to overcome them. In so far as it is merely social experience it deals with the world of weak mortals, of futile bickerings, and of love that, in this world, deifies but never quite finds its true beloved. By virtue of this transforming love it indeed gives us the hint that our social world may be an apparition or an incarnation of some diviner life than any mortal now experiences. Yet how can mortals thus ignorant pretend to get insight into anything that is divinely exalted?

Thus, both the sources of insight that we have thus far consulted point beyond themselves. Each says, “If salvation is possible, then human life must be able to come into touch with a life whose meaning is superhuman.” Our question is: “Is there, indeed, such a diviner life?” In order to deal with this question, we have resolved to consult still another source of insight, namely, our Reason. The present lecture must deal with this source of insight.

I

“What does one mean by the Reason?” As I attempt to answer this question, with an especial effort to show the relations of reason and religion, I shall be aided by reminding you at the outset that, at the present time, there is a widespread tendency to discredit the reason as a source of any notable insight into life or into the universe. And this tendency depends upon so defining the business of the reason as sharply to oppose, on the one hand, intuition and reason, and, on the other hand, reason and common-sense experience. That is, some of our recent teachers tell us that the only sort of insight which can be of any use in religion must be won by intuitions and cannot be obtained by what these teachers call the abstract reason. By intuition, at least in the religious field, such men mean some sort of direct feeling of the nature of things, some experience such as the mystics have reported, or such as many religious people, whether technical mystics or not, call illumination through faith. Intuitions of this sort, they say, are our only guides in the religious field. As opposed to such direct apprehension, the use of reason would mean the effort to be guided by formulas, by explicitly stated abstract principles, by processes of inference, by calculations, or by logical demonstrations. James is prominent amongst those who thus oppose the abstract reason to the revelations of intuition; and, especially in his later works, he is never weary of emphasising the inarticulate character of all our deepest sources of religious insight. When we get true religious insight, so he teaches, we simply feel convinced that these things are so. If we try to give reasons for our beliefs, James holds that the reasons are inapt afterthoughts, the outcome of sophistication, or are at best useful only in putting our convictions into convenient order for purposes of record or of teaching. James’s favourite statement of the contrast here in question identifies the partisans of reason with the defenders of what he calls “barren intellectualism.” He maintains that religion is hindered rather than helped by such people. You attain conviction by processes of which the “barren intellect” can give no adequate account. Conviction, in religious matters, emanates, according to James, from those mysterious depths of the subconscious about which I said something in the last lecture. And convictions thus resulting feel overwhelming to the persons who have them. Such convictions are what many denote by the word “intuitions.” The effort to define abstract principles, as grounds for holding your convictions to be true, constitutes the only effort of the reason in religious matters which James recognises. According to James, such reasoning processes are inevitably bad. And as a fact, so he insists, nobody seriously believes in God because some theologian or philosopher pretends to have demonstrated his existence. On the contrary, he says, belief in God is intuitive or is nothing of value. And reason is employed in such matters merely because of a frequent overfondness for abstract conceptions, or at best because formulas are useful for the teachers of religious traditions.

Another form of contrast, and one upon which James also often insists, while many other recent writers, whose interests are not those of James, emphasise the same matter, depends upon opposing reason to experience in general, including under the latter term not only the intuitions of the devout, but whatever goes by the name experience in ordinary speech. We see and hear and touch, and by such means get experience. But we make hypotheses and deduce their consequences; we assume premises and demonstrate conclusions; and, according to such writers, what we then do constitutes the typical work of our reason. The characteristic of the reason is that it attempts either to elucidate the meaning of an assertion, or to prove some proposition to be true, without appealing to experience to verify the proposition in question. And such work of the reason, as these writers tell us, is of very limited use, in comparison to the use of our direct experience as a guide. What is found to be true through empirical tests is rightly tested. What is supposed to be proved true by abstract reasoning is thus at best made dependent for its explicit warrant upon the presupposed truth of the premises used in the reasoning process. Or, as is sometimes said, the reason can discover nothing essentially new. It turns its premises over and over, and gets out of them only what has already been put into them. Experience, on the other hand, is full of countless novelties; for what you can find through observation and experiment depends not upon previous assumptions, but upon the skill and the good fortune of the inquirer, and upon the wealth of life and of the real world.

In brief, for those who look at reason in this way, to use your reason is simply to draw necessary inferences from assumed premises. And no premises, as such writers insist, can warrant any inference except the inference of a conclusion which is already hidden away, so to speak, in the premises themselves. Thus reasoning, as they tell us, is a process which, in the conclusion inferred, merely lets out of the bag the cat which was concealed in that bag, namely, in the premises. Reason, therefore, is indeed (so such writers assert) barren wherever novelty is sought. It is useful only for purposes of formulation, and in certain parts of the abstract sciences, where deduction has a technical place, as a means for preparing the way for experimental tests. In life, experience is the guide to true novelty. And therefore, if religious insight can be attained at all, it must be due not to the reason, but to some sort of religious experience.

Such objections to the use of reason in the religious field depend, as you see, upon identifying the reasoning process with the combination of two well-known mental processes; first, the process of forming and using abstract conceptions; secondly, the process of analysing assertions, or combinations of assertions, to make more explicit what is already contained in their meaning. Our next question may well be this: Is such an account of the work of reason just to the actual usage that common-sense is accustomed to make of this familiar name?

II

To this question I must at once answer that we all of us daily use the word reason as the name for a process, or a set of processes, which certainly cannot be reduced to the mere power to form and to use abstract ideas, and to analyse the already predetermined meaning of statements. When we speak of an ill-tempered or of a prejudiced man as “unreasonable,” we do not merely mean that he is unable to form or to define abstract ideas, or that he cannot analyse the meaning of his own statements. For sometimes such a man is contentiously thoughtful, and fond of using too many one-sided abstractions, and eager to argue altogether too vehemently. No, when we call him unreasonable, we mean that he takes a narrow view of his life, or of his duties, or of the interests of his fellow-men. We mean, in brief, that he lacks vision for the true relations and for the total values of things. When we try to correct this sort of unreasonableness, we do not say to the petulant or to the one-sided man: “Go to the dictionary, and learn how to define your abstract terms.” Sometimes contentiously prejudiced men are altogether too fond of the dictionary. Nor do we merely urge him to form the habit of analysis. No, we may indeed say to him: “Be reasonable”; but we mean: “Take a wider outlook; see things not one at a time, but many at once; be broad; consider more than one side; bring your ideas together; in a word, get insight.” For precisely what I defined in my opening lecture as insight is what we have in mind when, in such cases, we counsel a man to be reasonable. So, in such uses of the word reason, reason is not opposed to intuition, as the power to form abstract ideas is supposed by James to be opposed to the power to see things by direct vision. No, reason, in such cases, means simply broader intuition, the sort of seeing that grasps many views in one, that surveys life as it were from above, that sees, as the wanderer views the larger landscape from a mountain top.

When, not long since, in a famous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States called attention to what it called “The rule of reason,” and declared its intention to judge the workings of well-known modern business methods by that rule, the court certainly did not mean by “the rule of reason” the requirement that acts said to be “in restraint of trade” must be judged merely through a process of forming abstract ideas or of analysing the signification of assertions. No, the court was explicitly opposing certain methods of estimate which it regarded as falsely abstract; and it proposed to substitute for these false abstractions a mode of judging the workings of certain trade combinations which was to involve taking as wide and concrete and practical a view as possible of their total effects. Everybody who read the court’s words understood that, in this case, it was precisely the merely abstract conception of something technically defined as a “restraint of trade” which the court wished, not to make sovereign, but to subordinate to the wider intuition of a fair-minded observer of the whole result, of a given sort of corporate combination. The “rule of reason” was intended to bring the whole question out of the realm of barren abstractions and of mere analysis, and nearer to the realm where the trained observation of the fair minded man would decide the case nearer, in fact, to the realm of intuition. Only, the decisive intuition must be something broad, and far-seeing, and synthetic, and fair.

Now I submit that this meaning of the word reason is perfectly familiar to all of you. Reason, from this point of view, is the power to see widely and steadily and connectedly. Its true opponent is not intuition, but whatever makes us narrow in outlook, and consequently the prey of our own caprices. The unreasonable person is the person who can see but one thing at a time, when he ought to see two or many things together; who can grasp but one idea, when a synthesis of ideas is required. The reasonable man is capable of synopsis, of viewing both or many sides of a question, of comparing various motives, of taking interest in a totality rather than in a scattered multiplicity.

You may, of course, admit that this use of the word reason is familiar; and still you may say that James’s contention is nevertheless sound. For, as you may declare, the real issue is not regarding the meanings that chance to be linked with the word reason, but regarding the relative impotence of that process which James chose to call by this name. As a fact, so you may assert, there exists the familiar process of forming abstract conceptions; and there also exists the process of drawing conclusions through an analysis of what is already contained in the meaning of the assumed premises. Whether or no one calls these two processes, in their usual combination, by the name reasoning, James is right in saying that abstractions, and that such sorts of purely analytic abstract reasoning as he has in mind, are incapable of giving us religious insight. And both James and the others who oppose reason to concrete experience are right in asserting that you get no novel insight whatever through mere abstractions, or through mere analysis, but are dependent for your advances in knowledge upon experience. Therefore, as you may continue, the issue which James and other empiricists raise must not be evaded by any appeal to vaguer uses of the word reason, whether common-sense or the Supreme Court chances to authorise such special forms of expression.

I fully agree to the importance of this comment and of the issue as thus stated. I am ready to consider the issue. But I also insist upon estimating the whole use of reason in its proper context. James, in common with countless other partisans of intuition in religious matters, is fond of insisting that all our nobler intuitions and all our deeper faiths are, in their foundations, inwardly compelling, but inarticulate, and that we degrade them rather than help them when we define their meaning in abstract terms or employ processes of explicit demonstration in their defence. James, in common with many empiricists, also opposes experience in general to all processes of reasoning, and asserts that the latter never teach us anything novel. The issue, fairly viewed, is therefore not a perfectly simple one. It involves the question whether the two modes of getting knowledge between which we are asked to choose are the only modes actually in use. Intuition, and experience in general, are by James and by others sharply contrasted with certain processes of abstraction and of analysis. It is then pointed out that since these latter processes, taken by themselves, never give us any essentially novel insights, you must on the whole cease to use your powers of abstraction and of analysis, except for the mere purpose of record or of teaching, or of some other such technical end computation, analysis of hypotheses, and the like. You must, at least in religious matters, depend upon the uprushes from your subconscious self or upon whatever else is persuasively inarticulate. In the ultimate decisions of life, inarticulate intuition, mere faith, and that alone, can save you. Hereupon the perfectly fair question arises whether the alternatives are thus exhaustively stated. Must one choose between inarticulate faith and barren abstractions? Must one face the alternative: Either intuition without reasoning, or else relatively fruitless analysis without intuition? Perhaps there is a third possibility. Perhaps one may use one’s process of abstraction as a sort of preparation for certain articulate and noble intuitions that cannot be approached, by our human sort of consciousness, through any other way. Perhaps analysis is not the whole process which determines demonstrations. Perhaps synthesis the viewing of many facts or principles or relations in some sort of unity and wholeness perhaps a synoptic survey of various articulate truths, can lead us to novel insights. In that case inarticulate intuitions and barren abstractions are not the only instruments between which we must choose. For in that case there will be another sort of aid, a more explicit sort of intuition, a more considerate view of our life and its meaning, which we may adopt, and which may lead us to novel results. And these results may be not only articulate but saving.

Or, to state the issue more generally: In seeking for any sort of novel truth, have we only the choice between the experience of the data of sense or of feeling on the one hand and the analysis of abstract ideas and assertions upon the other? May there not be another source of knowledge? May not this source consist in the synthetic view of many facts in their unity in the grasping of a complex of relations in their total significance? And may not just this be a source of insight which is employed in many of the processes ordinarily known as reasoning processes? May not the formation of abstract ideas, when wisely used, be merely a means of helping us toward an easier view of larger unities of fact than our present sort of human consciousness could grasp except for this auxiliary device? May not analysis be merely an aspect, a part of our live thinking? May not all genuine demonstration involve synthesis as well as analysis, the making of new constructions as well as the dissection of old assertions? If so, then the issue as presented by James and his allies is not rightly stated, because an essential part of its context is neglected. Abstract conceptions are, in fact, in the live and serious work of thought, a mere preparation for intuitions and experiences that lie on higher levels than those which, apart from abstract conceptions, we men can reach. Reasoning processes are fruitful because they involve sorts of experience, forms of intuition, that you cannot reach without them. In brief, reason and experience are not opposed. There is an opposition between inarticulate intuition and articulate insight. There is also an opposition between relatively blind experience of any sort and relatively rational experience. And, in view of such oppositions, it will be perfectly fair to define reason as the power to get articulate insight insight into wholes rather than fragments. It will also be fair to define the reasoning process as the process of getting connected experience on a large scale.

Whoever views the matter thus will indeed not be forced to be a one-sided partisan of the reasoning process as thus defined. He will, first, fully admit that the formation of abstract ideas is but a means to an end, and that this end is the enlargement of the range of our view of the connections of our experience. He will secondly admit that, as soon as the process of forming abstract ideas is pursued as an end in itself, pedantry and formalism result, whether the topic be one of religion, or of science, or of the world’s daily work. He will further agree with James, and with the empiricists generally, that merely analytic reasoning, if such were, in its isolation, a possible thing, would be indeed “barren intellectualism.” And finally, if he is wise, he will go still further. He will not despise instinct, and feeling, and the movings of faith, and the inarticulate intuitions. For he will know that all these things are human, are indispensable, and are the basis upon which the genuine work of the reason, the wider view of life, must be carried toward its fulfilment. For whoever is to comprehend the unities of life must first live. Whoever is to be best able to survey the landscape from the mountain top must first have wandered in its paths and its byways, and must have grown familiar with its valleys and its recesses. Whoever is to get the mature insight must first have become a little child.

But whoever, remembering the New Testament word about becoming as a little child, one-sidedly defends the inarticulate intuitions, as the only source of religious insight, should remember also the word of St. Paul: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

It is the business of reason not to make naught of the indispensable intuitions of the childlike and of the faithful, but to work toward the insight such that, if we possessed it, we should “know even as we are known.” That which is weak in this world may indeed confound many who are called wise; but there is no objection to its becoming also truly wise itself. For then it would all the better know why it had been able to confound false wisdom.

II

All such considerations will seem to many of you hopelessly general. You will have missed, thus far in my account, concrete instances to illustrate how what I have now called the reason actually works, how it is related to experience, how it helps us toward the broader view of things, how it makes the connections of life more obvious, how it raises our intuitions to higher levels. And unfortunately, since I have no time to discourse to you upon the science called Logic the science part of whose proper duty it is to define the nature and the office of what I have now called the reason I must indeed fail, in this brief summary, to give you any adequate account of what can be accomplished through the appeal to this source of insight. All that I shall try to do, on this occasion, is to mention to you a very few instances, some of them relatively trivial, wherein, through reasoning processes, we actually get these larger intuitions on higher levels, these higher modes of grasping the unity of things. Having thus very imperfectly exemplified what I mean by the synthetic processes of reasoning, I shall be ready barely to suggest to you, as I close, how the reason can be, and is, a source of religious insight.

In some recent logical discussions, and in particular in my colleague Professor Hibben’s text-book of logic, there has been used an example, trivial in itself, but in its own way typical an example which is meant to show how there exists a mental process which is surely worthy of the name reasoning, and which is, nevertheless, no mere process of forming abstract ideas and no mere analysis of the meaning of assumed premises, although, of course, both abstraction and analysis have their subordinate places in this process. The reasoning involved in this example is of the very simplest sort. It is expressed in an old story which many of you will have heard.

According to this story, an aged ecclesiastic, garrulous and reminiscent, was once, in a social company, commenting upon the experiences that had come to him in his long and devoted life. Fully meaning to keep sacred the secrets of the confessional, the old man was nevertheless led to say: “Ah it is strange, and sometimes terrible, what, in my profession, one may have to face and consider. You must know, my friends, my very first penitent was a murderer! I was appalled.” The old priest had hardly spoken when the company was joined by an aged and prominent nobleman of the region, whom all present greeted with great respect. Saluting his priestly friend with no little reverence, the nobleman turned to the company and said, with calm unconsciousness: “You must know, my friends, in my youth I was the very first person whom my honored friend here ever confessed.”

Now observe. The priest had not said who the murderer was. The nobleman in his contribution to the conversation had not confessed to the company the murder. He had not mentioned it in any way. And the priest had scrupulously avoided mentioning him. But all present drew at once the reasonable conclusion that, granting the correctness of the two assertions, the nobleman was a murderer. We, of course, must all agree in this conclusion. Now is this conclusion the result of a mere analysis of either of the two assertions made? And does the conclusion merely result from our power to form abstract ideas? Plainly, the conclusion is due to the power of all present to make a synthesis, or, as one sometimes says, to put two and two together. Plainly, whatever abstract ideas are here used, it is not these which constitute the main work of a reasonable being who views the situation in which the nobleman is placed by the whole sense of the conversation. Reason here discovers a novel fact which neither the priest nor the nobleman had stated. This discovery is as much an experience as if it were the observation of an actual killing of one man by another. Only it is the discovery of the relations involved in a synthesis of meanings. This discovery is at once empirical (yes, in the broader sense of the word intuitive), and it is a discovery of a necessary connection. It is not due to mere analysis. It is not a bit of barren intellectualism. It is not an unpractical comment. It is a discovery that might wreck the nobleman’s reputation, and that might more or less indirectly lead to his ultimate conviction upon a capital charge. Now, that is an example, trivial enough if viewed as a mere anecdote, but a typical example, of the synthetic and constructive use of reason as a source of insight.

Let me turn to another also at first sight seemingly trivial case. An English logician, De Morgan, long ago called attention to a form of reasoning which, up to his time, the logicians had unduly neglected. If you assume that “a horse is an animal,” you can reasonably conclude that “the owner of a horse is the owner of an animal”; that “whoever loves a horse loves an animal,” and so on indefinitely. In brief, as you at once see, from the one assertion, “A horse is an animal,” there rationally follow a limitless number of possible inferences of the form: “Whatever is in any relation R to a horse is in that same relation R to an animal.” Now you may indeed at first, as I just said, imagine such reasonings to be comparatively trivial. Whether they prove to be so, however, depends wholly upon the objects in question, upon our own interests in these objects, and upon circumstances. They might be vastly important. From the assertion, “Mr. Taft is President of the United States,” there follows, by this sort of reasoning, the assertion, “Whoever is a personal friend of Mr. Taft is a personal friend of the President of the United States.” And such a conclusion some people might be very glad to have you draw. So, too, whoever is a member of Mr. Taft’s family, or household, or club, or of the university whose degrees he holds, or whoever is a fellow-townsman, or fellow-countryman, or partisan, or opponent, or enemy of Mr. Taft, whoever agrees with what he says in his speeches, whoever plays golf with him, or whoever hopes or fears for his re-election, stands in just that relation, whatever it may be, to the President of the United States. And how important such rational inferences might appear for the comprehension of somebody’s actual situation and prospects and acts depends upon the persons and the interests that may be in question. To some people just such inferences, at one moment or another, will not seem trivial, will be worth making, and will be anything but feats of barren intellectualism. That they are easy inferences to make is beside the mark. I have no time to ask you here to study with me the harder inferences upon topics that do not concern our main purpose. What I need, however, is to illustrate to you that such reasoning processes go beyond mere analysis, and do involve a rational and articulate intuition of a novel aspect of experience. For I defy you to find by any mere analysis of the assertion, “Mr. Taft is President,” the innumerable assertions about friends, about family, about speeches, and policies, and so on, which as a fact rationally follow, in the indicated way, from that first assertion. You find these new results by taking a broader view of the unity of experience. What, then, I need to have you see is that the reason which, even in its lightest deeds, can accomplish such syntheses, and which can lead to such ordered intuitions, and can be the endless source of such novelties, is not merely the reason of whose powers as a source of insight James gives so discouraging a picture.

Having thus barely illustrated the thesis that reason can be both productive of new insight and constructively synthetic in its grasp of wider ranges of experience than we could observe without it, let me add that, in the exact sciences, and in particular in mathematics, the reasoning process, using just such forms of synthesis as I have now illustrated, is constantly leading investigators to the most varied and novel discoveries. These discoveries are not due to mere analysis. They are reports of facts and the results of synthetic construction. As Mr. Charles Peirce loves to point out, the new discoveries made in mathematics, and by purely rational processes, are so numerous that for each year a volume of many hundreds of closely printed pages is needed to give, with strictly technical brevity, even the barest outline of the contents of the papers containing the novel results of that one year’s researches. In their union with other sciences, the mathematical researches constantly lead to still vaster ranges of novel discovery. Reason, then, is not merely barren, is not mainly concerned with unproductive analysis, but does enrich our survey of experience, of its unity and of its meaning.

Perhaps some of you may still object that, if I define reason in the terms suggested by these instances, there seems to be danger of making the word “reason” mean simply the same as the word “insight.” For insight, as I defined it in my opening lecture, means a coherent view of many facts in some sort of unity. And in this case, as you may now say, why use two words at all? I reply that, in fact, all true insight is, to my mind, rational insight, upon one or another level of the development of our power to become rational beings. But you will remember that insight, as I defined it, also means knowledge which is intimate and manifold, as well as knowledge which views facts and relations in their unity. The words intuition and experience are often used to lay stress upon that aspect of our insight which either makes it intimate or else brings it into touch with many and various facts. And such usage is convenient. The word reason, as I have just exemplified its more synthetic meaning, calls our attention precisely to that aspect of our better insight which is involved in our power to grasp many facts in their unity, to see the coherence, the inter-relationship, the totality of a set of experiences. Now when insight reaches higher levels, these various aspects of our knowledge are never sundered. But as we grow toward higher insight, we know in part and prophesy in part and are child-like in so far as that which is perfect has not yet come.

In these, our imperfect stages of growth, sometimes our knowledge possesses intimacy, but still has to remain content, for the moment, with a more inarticulate grasp of deeper meanings. In such cases James’s sort of intuition, or what is often called blind faith, is mainly in question. And this is indeed a stage on the way to insight. We feel unities but do not see them. Sometimes, however, as in much of our ordinary experience, the state of our minds is different; our knowledge revels in, or else contends with, the endless variety and multiplicity of the facts of life, and lacks a grasp of their unity. In that case our insight is often called “merely empirical.” We have experience; and so far our knowledge prospers. But we neither feel vaguely nor see clearly the total sense of things. And in such cases our sight is too busy to give us time for higher insight. As the Germans say, we do not see the wood because of the trees.

In a third stage of partial insight we may stand where, for instance, the masters of the exact sciences stand. We then grasp, with clearness, larger unities of controllable experience. We create objects, as the mathematicians create, in an ideal world of our own contemplation; and we then come to see that these ideal creations of ours do, indeed, reveal the eternal truth regarding a world of seemingly impersonal or superpersonal reality. We learn of this reality through the coherent synthesis of our ideal constructions. Our intuition is in this case at once empirical, articulate, and such as to survey the broad landscape of the genuine relations of things. But alas! in most such cases our objects, although they are indeed presented to our rational intuition, are often abstract enough in their seeming. They are objects such as numbers, and series, and ordered arrays of highly ideal entities. In such cases the reason does its typical work; but often the objects of our insight fail to meet the more intense needs of life.

Thus, then, inarticulate intuitions, ordinary or sometimes more scientific observations of the details of life, and mathematical reasonings concerning the unity and the connections of highly ideal objects such as numbers, come to stand in our experience as more or less sharply sundered grades of imperfect insight. Thus we naturally come to view the typical achievements of our reason as a thing apart, and the rational or exact sciences as remote both from the intuitive faith of the little ones and from the wealthy experience of the men of common-sense and of the men of natural science. As a fact, all these stages of insight are hints of what the Supreme Court meant when it appealed to the “rule of reason.” True insight, if fulfilled, would be empirical, for it would face facts; intuitive, for it would survey them and grasp them, and be intimate with them; rational, for it would view them in their unity.

IV

Our lengthy effort to define the work and the place of the reason has brought us to the threshold of an appreciation of its relation to the religious insight which we are seeking.

In looking for salvation, we discover that our task is defined for us by those aspects of individual and social experience upon which our two previous lectures have dwelt. We have learned from the study of these two sorts of experience that, whatever else we need for our salvation, one of our needs is to come into touch with a life that in its unity, in its meaning, in its perfection, is vastly superior to our present human type of life. And so the question has presented itself: Have we any evidence that such a superhuman type of life is a real fact in the world? The mystics, and many of the faithful, answer this question by saying: “Yes. We have such evidence. It is the assurance that we get through intuition, through feeling, through the light revealed to us in certain moments when thought ceases, and the proud intellect is dumb, and when the divine speaks quite directly to the passive and humbled soul.” Now when we calmly consider the evidence of such moments of inarticulate conviction, they strongly impress upon us what we have called the religious paradox. Faith, and the passive and mysterious intuitions of the devout, seem to depend on first admitting that we are naturally blind and helpless and ignorant, and worthless to know, of ourselves, any saving truth; and upon nevertheless insisting that we are quite capable of one very lofty type of knowledge that we are capable, namely, of knowing God’s voice when we hear it, of distinguishing a divine revelation from all other reports, of being sure, despite all our worthless ignorance, that the divine higher life which seems to speak to us in our moments of intuition is what it declares itself to be. If, then, there is a pride of intellect, does there not seem to be an equal pride of faith, an equal pretentiousness involved in undertaking to judge that certain of our least articulate intuitions are infallible? Surely here is a genuine problem, and it is a problem for the reason. We know that men differ in faith. We know that one man’s intuition regarding the way of salvation may seem to another man to be a mere delusion, a deceitful dream. We know, from the reports of religious experience, that at times even the saints of greatest renown have doubted whether some of their most persuasive visions of the divine were not, after all, due to the cunning deceit of an enemy of souls whom they more or less superstitiously feared. We know that to common-sense, despite its interest in salvation, the reports of the mystics and of the faithful have often appeared to be but the tale of private and vain imaginings. It is fair to ask what are the criteria whereby the true spiritual gifts, the genuine revelations, are to be distinguished. And this, I insist, is a question for the reason, for that aspect of our nature which has to do with forming estimates of wholes rather than of fragments estimates of life in its entirety rather than of this or that feeling or moment of ecstasy in its isolation.

If, hereupon, without for the moment attempting to discuss how others, as, for instance, James himself, deal with the problem of the reasonable estimate of the value of our religious intuitions, I sketch for you my own opinion as to how reason does throw light upon the religious paradox, I must again emphasise a matter that I mentioned in my opening lecture and that is much neglected. Religious faith does, indeed, involve a seemingly paradoxical attempt to transcend the admitted ignorance of the needy human being, to admit that of himself this being knows almost nothing about the way of salvation, and nevertheless to insist that he is able to recognise his Deliverer’s voice as the voice of a real master of life when he hears that voice, or apart from metaphor that he is able to be sure what revelation of a divine life, not his own, is the true one when he happens to get it. But religion is not alone in this paradoxical pride of humility. Science and common-sense alike involve a similar admission of the depths of our human fallibility and ignorance, on the one hand, and an analogous assurance that, despite this our fragmentariness of experience, despite our liability to be deceived, we nevertheless can recognise truth when experience once has not wholly verified it, but has sufficiently helped us to get it. For, as individuals, we are constantly confident beyond what our present experience, taken by itself, clearly reveals to us. We, for instance, trust our individual memory in the single case, while admitting its pervasive fallibility in general. We persistently view ourselves as in reasonably close touch with the general and common results of human experience, even at the moment when we have to admit how little we know about the mind or the experience of any one fellow-man, even our nearest friend. We say that some of our opinions, for instance, are warranted by the common-sense of mankind. That is, we pretend once for all to know a good deal about what the common experience of mankind is. And yet, if we look closer, we see that we do not directly see or experience the genuine inner life of any one of mankind except the private self which each one of us regards as his own, while, if we still further consider the matter, we can readily observe how little each one of us really knows even about himself. When we appeal then to what we call common-sense, we pretend to know what it is that, as we say, the mind of mankind finds to be true. But if we are asked to estimate the real state of mind of any individual man, how mysterious that state is! In brief, the paradox of feeling confidence in our own judgment, even while regarding all human opinion as profoundly fallible, is not merely a religious paradox, but also pervades our whole social and personal and even our scientific types of opinion. Not to have what is called a reasonable confidence in our own individual opinions is the mark of a weakling. But usually, if our personal opinions relate to important matters, they bring us into more or less serious conflict with at least some of the opinions of other men. Conflict is one mark that your opinions are worth having. When the conflict arises, we are usually led to consider how fallible other men are. They are fallible, we say, because they are human. How little any poor man knows! Yes, but if this principle holds true, how doubtful are my own opinions! Yet if I fill my mind with that reflection, to the exclusion of all other reasonable considerations, I condemn myself not to mere fallibility, but to certain failure.

The paradox is universal. It pervades all forms and activities of human inquiry. That is the first synthetic observation of the reason, when it surveys the field of human opinion. Everywhere we live by undertaking to transcend in opinion what the evidence before us, at any one moment, directly and infallibly warrants. But is it rational to do this? And if so, why is it rational?

The answer is that while there is much irrational presumption and overconfidence in our human world, there is also a perfectly rational principle which warrants certain forms and methods of thus transcending in our opinions the immediately presented evidence of the moment when we judge. This principle is as universal as it is generally neglected. Rightly understood, it simply transforms for you your whole view of the real universe in which you live.

An opinion of yours may be true or false. But when you form an opinion, what are you trying to do? You are trying to anticipate, in some fashion, what a wider view, a larger experience of your present situation, a fuller insight into your present ideas, and into what they mean, would show you, if you now had that wider view and larger experience. Such an effort to anticipate what the wider view would even now show, if you were possessed of that view, involves both what are usually called theoretical interests and what pragmatists, such as James himself, have often characterised as practical interests. One can express the matter by saying, that you are trying, through your opinions, to predict what a larger insight, if it were present to you, would show or would find, that is, would experience. You can also say that you are trying to define what a fuller apprehension and a fairer estimate of your present purposes, and intentions, and interests, and deeds, and of their outcome, and of their place in life, would bring before your vision. In brief (whether you lay more stress upon deeds and their outcome, or upon experiences and their contents), any expression of opinion, made at any time, is an appeal of the self of the moment to the verdict, to the estimate, to the experience of a larger and better informed insight, in the light of which the self of the moment proposes to be judged. The special criteria by which your momentary opinion is tested, at the time when you form that opinion, vary endlessly with your mood and your training and your feelings, and with the topics and tasks in which you happen to be interested. But the universal form in which any opinion comes to your consciousness, and gets its definition for your own mind, is this form of an appeal to an insight that is superior in grasp, in unity, in coherence, in reasonableness to your momentary insight.

Now you can indeed say: “When I form and express an opinion, I appeal from my present experiences to some wider insight that I view as if it were possible. My opinion asserts that if I were permitted to see what I just now do not directly experience, I should find the facts to be so and so.” But no such account of the matter is quite complete. Everything that you regard as possible has to be conceived as somehow based upon what you regard as actual. And so, in fact, your opinions are always appeals to some form of wider or larger or deeper or richer insight that, in the act of appealing to it, you regard as a present or as a past or as a future reality in brief, as a live and perfectly concrete insight to whose verdict you appeal. Philosophers often express this by saying that all opinions are nothing but efforts to formulate the real contents of experience. This view I accept.

So then, as I insist, whatever your opinions, your expression of them is an appeal to some wider insight that you regard as real, and that you view as a live insight which comprehends your ideas, and which sees how they are related to genuine experience. This, I affirm, is the universal form which all opinion takes. A true opinion is true, because in fact it expresses what the wider insight confirms. A false opinion is false, because it is refuted by the light of this same wider view. Apart from such a confirmation or refutation in the light of such a larger view, the very concepts of truth and error, as applied to opinions which are not wholly confirmed or set aside by the instantaneous evidence of the moment when the opinions are formed or uttered, have no meaning. True is the judgment that is confirmed by the larger view to which it appeals. False is the assertion that is not thus confirmed. Upon such a conception the very ideas of truth and error depend. Without such a conception truth and error have no sense. If such a conception is not itself a true view of our situation, that is, if there is no wider insight, our opinions have neither truth nor error, and are all of them alike merely meaningless. When you are ignorant, you are ignorant of what the wider view makes clear to its own insight. If you blunder or are deluded, your blunder is due to a defective apprehension which the wider view confirms. And thus, whether you are ignorant or blundering, wise or foolish, whether the truth or the falsity of your present opinion is supposed to be actual, one actuality is equally and rationally presupposed, as the actuality to which all your opinions refer, and in the light of which they possess sense. This is the actuality of some wider insight with reference to which your own opinion gets its truth or its falsity.

To this wider insight, to this always presupposed vision of experience as it is, of the facts as they are, you are always appealing. Your every act of assertion displays the genuineness of the appeal and exemplifies the absolute rational necessity of asserting that the appeal is made to an insight that is itself real.

Frequently you do, indeed, call this insight merely the common-sense of mankind. But, strange to say, this common-sense of mankind is always and inevitably conceived by you in terms that distinguish it from the fleeting momentary views of any or of all merely individual men. Men if I may judge them by my own case, and by what I hear other men confess men, when taken merely as individuals, always live from moment to moment in a flickering way, normally confident, indeed, but clearly seeing at any one instant very little at a time. They are narrow in the span of the more direct insight. They grasp data bit by bit, and comprehend, in their instantaneous flashes of insight, only little scraps and tiny bundles of ideas. I who now speak to you cannot hold clearly and momentarily before my mind at once even all of the meaning that I try to express in two or three of my successive sentences. I live looking before and after, and pining for what is not, and grasping after unity; and I find each moment crumbling as it flies; and each thought and each sentence of my discourse drops into momentary forgetfulness so soon as I have carefully built up its passing structure. In our life all thus flows. We fly from one flash of insight to another.

But nevertheless our opinions, so we say, reflect sometimes the common-sense of mankind. They conform to the verdict of humanity. But who amongst us ever goes beyond thus confidently holding that he reflects the common-sense of mankind? Who amongst us personally and individually experiences, at any moment, the confirmation said to be given by the verdict of humanity? The verdict of humanity? What man ever finds immediately presented to his own personal insight that totality of data upon which this verdict is said to depend? The common-sense of mankind? What mortal man is there who ever finds incorporated in his flickering, fleeting, crumbling, narrow moments of personal experience the calm and secure insight which this common-sense of mankind, or of enlightened mankind, is said to possess?

No, the common-sense of mankind is, for us all, a sort of super-individual insight, to which we appeal without ourselves fully possessing it. This “common"-sense of mankind is just the sense which no man of us all ever individually possesses. For us all it is, indeed, something superhuman. We spend part of our busy little lives in somewhat pretentiously undertaking to report its dicta. But it is simply one of the countless forms in which we conceive the wider insight to be incorporated. The true rational warrant for this confidence of ours lies in the fact that whatever else is real, some form of such a wider insight, some essentially super-individual and superhuman insight is real. For unless it is real our opinions, including any opinion that we may have that doubts or questions or denies its reality, are all equally meaningless. Thus even when we appeal to common-sense we really appeal to a genuine but super-human insight.

Let us not here spend time, however, upon analysing this or that special form in which we are accustomed, for one special purpose or another, to conceive the wider insight. What is clear is that we constantly, and in every opinion, in every confession of ignorance appeal to such an insight. That such an insight is real, must be presupposed even in order to assert that our present opinions are errors. What interests us most at this point is, however, this, that whatever else the whole real universe is, the real universe exists only in case it is the object, and the very being, of such an insight, of such an inclusive experience, of such a view of what is. For, when you hold any opinions whatever about the real world, or about any of its contents, characters, or values, your opinions are either true or false, and are true or false by virtue of their actual conformity to the live insight which experiences what makes them true or false, and which therefore ipso facto experiences what the real world is. If there is no such world-possessing insight, then, once more, your opinions about the world are neither true nor false. Or, otherwise stated, if there is no such inclusive insight there is no world. To the real world, then, this insight which comprehends the world, and which knows whatever is true to be true, and whatever is false about the world to be false to the real world this insight, I say, belongs. And the whole world belongs to it and is its object and essence. Whatever is real is real for that insight, and is in its experience, and exists as its possession, and as its well-known and well-comprehended content, and as its image and expression and meaning.

All this I say, as you may note, not because I hold in high esteem any of our private human opinions, but only because, except in the light of such an all-seeing comprehension of facts as they are, our individual opinions about the world cannot even be false. For opinion, in all its fleeting blindness and in its human chaos of caprices, is ceaselessly an appeal to the judge, to the seer, to the standard experience, to the knower of facts as they are, to the wider view, to the decisive insight. And opinions about reality in its wholeness, about the world, about the all, are appeals to the all-judging insight, to the all-seeing view, to the knowledge and experience that grasps the totality of facts, to the widest outlook, to the deepest insight, to the absolute rational decision. If this be so, then an opinion to the effect that there exists no such widest and deepest insight, and no such final view, is itself just such an appeal to the final insight, simply because it is an opinion about reality. To assert then that there is no largest view, no final insight, no experience that is absolute, is to assert that the largest view observes that there is no largest view, that the final insight sees that there is no such insight, that the ultimate experience is aware that there is no ultimate experience. And such an assertion is indeed a self-contradiction.

This, I assert, is the only rational way of stating the nature of opinion, of truth or error, and consequently of reality. This is the synthesis which reason inevitably accomplishes whenever it rightly views the nature and the implications of even our most flickering and erroneous and uncertain opinions. We can err about what you will. But if we err, we simply come short of the insight to which we are aiming to conform, and in the light of which our ideas get absolutely all of their meaning. In every error, in every blunder, in all our darkness, in all our ignorance, we are still in touch with the eternal insight. We are always seeking to know even as we are known.

I have sought in this sketch to vindicate the general rights of rational insight as against mere momentary or fragmentary intuition. I have also tried to show you what synthesis of reason gives us a genuinely religious insight.

“My first penitent,” said the priest of our story, “was a murderer.” “And I,” said the nobleman, “was this priest’s first penitent.”

“I am ignorant of the vast and mysterious real world” thus says our sense of human fallibility and weakness when we are first awakened to our need of rational guidance. The saying is true. The mystery is appalling. “I am ignorant of the real world.” Yes; but reason, reflecting upon the nature and the essential meaning of opinion, of truth, of error, and of ignorance, points out to us this thesis: “That of which I am ignorant is that about which I can err. But error is failure to conform my momentary opinion to the very insight which I mean and to which I am all the while appealing. Error is failure to conform to the inclusive insight which overarches my errors with the heaven of its rational clearness. Error is failure to grasp the very light which shines in my darkness, even while my darkness comprehends it not. That of which I am ignorant is then essentially the object of a super-human and divine insight.”

“I am ignorant of the world. To be ignorant is to fail to grasp the object of the all-inclusive and divine insight.” That is the expression of our situation. Reason easily makes the fitting synthesis when it considers the priest and the nobleman. I ask you to make the analogous synthesis regarding the world and the divine insight. This synthesis here takes form in concluding that the world is the object of an all-inclusive and divine insight, which is thus the supreme reality.

I have but sketched for you the contribution of reason to our quest. This contribution will seem to many of you too abstract and too contemplative to meet vital religious needs. In fact, what I have said will mean little to you unless you come to see how it can be translated into an adequate expression in our active life. To this task of such a further interpretation of the mission of the reason as a guide of life my next lecture shall be devoted.