Guessing And Believing
( Originally Published 1915 )
IN the very statement of the question, "What should I believe?" (or phrase it otherwise, as we will) certain relations are implied to the two other questions and their answers, which have been considered in the preceding volumes of this series. For surely, without knowing something I cannot believe anything; and the briefest and most superficial analysis of the activity called knowing shows how every such activity involves elements of belief. In a less patent but even more interesting way there is a suggestion of connection between believing and the conduct we call moral. At least, thoughtful men are always raising the inquiry, which the social environment of every individual enforces: "Is it ever my duty to believe some things and not to believe other things?" Is the exercise of choice among contesting or conflicting beliefs a matter of moral obligation; and if so, on what grounds should the choice be determined?" Especially insistent are these practical inquiries in matters of moral beliefs and religious faith. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
In order to breathe properly, or to acquire and habitually practise the most approved methods of "deep breathing," it is not absolutely indispensable that one should become an expert in the physiology of respiration. Even less is it necessary, in order to enjoy a fair measure of such health as comes from a properly regulated diet, that one should master all the mysteries of digestion and nutrition. For, indeed, these mysteries are still hidden from the wisest and most prudent; and physiological chemistry is as yet a new and rapidly developing branch of biological science. It is fortunate for our mental and spiritual welfare, that, in order to select and cherish a considerable outfit of helpful and reasonable faiths, it is not absolutely essential to make a satisfactory psychological analysis of the nature and divergent values of the different forms and degrees of belief. For the problem offered by the bare question, What is it to believe? is very complicated and in spots excessively obscure.
It does not follow from this, however, that there is no theoretical satisfaction or practical benefit to be expected from essaying some sort of a tentative and partial answer to the question we have just pronounced so difficult and, in fact, to no small extent unanswerable. Even if we accepted without controversy at its fullest alleged value the likeness between physical and mental, or moral and spiritual health, so narrow a conclusion would not hold. For the most extreme pragmatist in matters of sanitation and bodily comfort, some knowledge of the physiology of respiration and of physiological chemistry has a certain rational as well as practical value, — if, indeed, we have any right to separate between the two kinds of value. But in respect of our beliefs, there are limitations to the force of analogies between the health and welfare of the body and the requisites and sanity of the development of the spirit that is in man. To this spirit, even in its more primary satisfactions, as well as concerning the healthfulness of its entire development, there is something disturbing, if not positively hateful, about believing what is not true, even to be comforted thereby. To pin one's faith to a lie is to be condemned already. How to guard our beliefs, as well as the conditions of human frailty and the limitations of human experience permit, is therefore a problem of both theoretical difficulty and practical importance that is transcended by no other. But it should be attempted with modesty and resignation.
On approaching the question, What is it to believe? the relations of both likeness and difference between knowledge and belief are the most immediately impressive. As we have elsewhere said ("What Can I Know?" p. 98 f.) : "The real differences between our beliefs and our knowledge are chiefly these two: Our beliefs are more largely based upon experiences of emotion and sentiment in a predominating way; and the most intense and tenacious of them are attached to matters that have some kind of ideal value." But these differences, even if we admit that they stand in the front rank, show themselves in experience more frequently as matters of degree rather than of kind; and at best, they are only two differences selected out of a much larger number, rather for their obviousness than for their intrinsic importance. It decidedly is not true, as Sir William Hamilton has affirmed with his quite too customary disposition to make his definitions more precise than accords with the delicate and indefinitely varied shadings of the facts of life: "Knowledge and Belief differ not only in degree but in kind." "Knowledge is a certainty founded upon insight; belief is certainty founded upon feeling. The one is perspicuous and objective, the other obscure and subjective." Nor do we need in this connection to go over again our objections to the rigidness of Kant's distinction, which seemed to base the justification for an assurance to so-called "knowledge," such as so-called "faith" could never attain, in some kind of a finished process of transition from "subjective certainty" to "objective certainty."
Professor Maher is quite justified in saying (Psychology," p. 330), from the point of view of every-day experience, "What is knowledge to one man may therefore be belief to another." Surely: and what is at one time belief to one man may come to be knowledge to the same man at another time; and what to some other man was knowledge at the time at which it was belief to the first man may come to be belief — even very faint belief — to this other man at the same time that it is placed on the firmer ground of knowledge by the same first man. The professor's expository lecture may carry the pupil over from vague and doubtful belief to the assurance of scientific (sic) knowledge; but the listening pupil's pungent question may throw the knowing professor back upon the shadowy ground of a by no means assured belief. In such a case, the one teaches the other why he should now assent; the other suggests to the one why he should examine anew the grounds of his former assent.
"Belief," says a recent discussion of this difficult subject, "has been variously assigned to the cognitional, emotional, and volitional faculties; and its sphere has been made to comprehend all kinds of assurance, from trust in human or divine testimony to convictions of the validity of primary truths." (Maher, p. 326.) This sentence states, and its analysis reveals, the distinguishing faults of the hitherto reigning systems of psychology. One fault consists in the assumption that any attitude of the human mind toward any object of sense or any judgment arising in consciousness, whether with a perfect seeming spontaneity or as the result of prolonged research or severe reflective thinking, can properly "be assigned" to any one of these so-called "faculties" to the complete or even very partial seclusion of the other. Scientific judgments are as truly complex attitudes of mind involving all these so-called faculties (if we are to speak of the different factors, phases, or "moments" of these attitudes in this way) as are religious beliefs, or the rights and obligations we acknowledge in matters of conduct from the ethical point of view. The other fault is more characteristic of a psychology that, in trying to vindicate its claim to be modern, has shut its eyes to many of the most profound and persistent and incomparably valuable sides of human experience; or if it consents to see them at all, thinks properly to compass and explain them by purely mechanical theories or the petty methods of the questionnaire or the psychological laboratory.
In approaching the problem of the nature of belief we must admit at once its extreme complexity, and the delicate and shifting aspect of the picture, even when drawn in outline, of this attitude of mind as compared or contrasted with those which most nearly resemble it, or even quite definitely involve it, but which we generally prefer to call by other names. Belief is not knowledge, is not mere sentiment, is not uncertain opinion, is not pure thought. But it is allied with all these mental states.
Let us then admit the variety and shifting character of the various factors which enter into the relation toward its object, of the believing mind. For, in truth, to adopt the distinction of Cardinal Newman in his very subtle and illumining book, "The Grammar of Assent," there is in real life no such thing as "simple assent." There is only indefinitely "complex assent." All mental yielding to the facts of perception, or to the suggestions of so-called instinct, or to the word of the trusted teacher or beloved friend, as well as to all claims of morality and to the credos of religion, if it be a genuine and full-fledged attitude of belief, is a complex affair.
It is possible, however, to discriminate some of the more important, if less obvious, of the factors which enter into every attitude of belief, or, if the term be received for the time as instructive, of "complex consent." And in entering upon this venture we will take our point of departure from the other end of the line, so to say. If the attitude of mind which we are wont to call knowledge seems to have in its favor more of subjective assurance, and to justify this, more of objective evidence, the very opposite is true of that curious and interesting mental activity which we call guessing. It is not especially, and certainly not exclusively, in the form of the "guessing" of the Yankee or the "reckoning" of the Southerner, that this remoteness from the assumption of knowledge is most clearly realized. For the mental attitudes which it is designed to express by these characteristic colloquialisms usually involve all the pretence, if not the reality, of the more completed forms of mental assurance as based on unassailable grounds. In the king's English, however, genuine guessing is in one respect, at least, most unlike the higher kinds of cognition and most like the lower kinds of belief. This respect has to do with ignorance of the grounds and almost, if not complete disregard of the reasons, on which the mental attitude is itself dependent. In this use of the word, guessing is peculiarly the gambler's forte. It is not without a profound and suggestive meaning that we employ the quite appropriate phrase of "hazarding a guess." Why he selects the particular card, or the number at roulette, as sure to win, the guesser is at the time of its selection quite unable to tell. By a system of mysterious calculations, which are apt to carry with them no "objective sufficiency" (to avail ourselves again of the somewhat misleading phrase of Kant), the gambler may have proved to his own satisfaction that his guess is well founded; but in doing this he has quite changed his mental attitude. He has converted an uncertain and inexplicable hazard into a specious form of assured knowledge.
Now it is also characteristic of every form of belief that, so long as it remains mere belief, or "simple assent," it is quite ignorant of its own causes and at least relatively regardless of its reasons or proofs. Perhaps we shall not be far from the truth if we say, though in a way subject to further correction or amendment, that this is the distinguishing thing about all kinds of belief, so long as they remain chiefly belief, and have not made considerable advances toward the conditions demanded by knowledge. For knowledge and belief, or faith, require only a more or less degree of shifting in the complex characteristics which they share in common, in order that the one may quickly transform itself or slowly fade away into the other. Negatively stated, then, we know little or nothing about the origins of many of our beliefs; and this is as true of the most instant and truly rational among them as it is of the most trivial and superstitious or unscientific. Positively stated, the first thing that we do know about them is that they already exist; they are there.
We may illustrate this — although the illustration is confessedly liable to misinterpretation — by the beliefs that fuse with the most ordinary acts of knowledge by perception. I know that the thing over there is a tree, a man, or something quite different from either. I see that it is so; and for the proof that it is really so, I ask you to confirm my sight by voluntary use of your own faculties of vision. I point and say, "Look, and if you doubt my word, solve your doubt by an act of knowledge on your own part." Or I say, "There will be an eclipse of the moon to-night;" and if I am asked for something to give "objective sufficiency" to my "subjective assurance," I respond, "I saw it in the morning paper," or, "My friend, the astronomer, told me so." But why do I believe, in either case, that the succession of my sensations and ideas has its correlate in reality; or that my processes of inference bind the order of the world in some sort to conform to them? In answer to these questions, psychology can make shift (if it is the right sort of psychology) to offer some at-tempt at analysis of the forms of experience in which this belief in the "extra-mental" realities grows up and gets itself distributed among my Self, other selves, and things that are not selves; but the belief itself, with its clinging and irresistible conviction, whip it around the post as we will, depends forever on its own internal and invincible evidence. The negative criticism of Kant, and all the subtilties of old-fashioned "solipsism" or new-fashioned "absolute empiricism," are totally without effect in undermining or weakening this "natural" belief.
Here, then, — to state the same truth in somewhat different form — is the fundamental and most important but by no means sole distinction between that attitude, or aspect of any attitude, toward an object or a proposition, which we call belief, and that other attitude which we call knowledge. The former has reference to the unexplained and largely or wholly inexplicable assent of the mind; the latter to the more or less complete, but always partial, awareness of the grounds of the assent. These grounds may be either causes, as in knowledge of facts by perception, or reasons, as in knowledge gained by the testimony of others or by the use of our powers of observation and inference.
We do not, however, play the gambler's game of hazarding a guess, when we consent to these instinctive beliefs. Although we may fitly distinguish, as does Professor Maher, ("Psychology," p. 349) between "the spontaneous faith embodied in the primitive perceptive act and the rational conviction evoked in the developed consciousness by intellectual perception," the distinction does not necessarily involve any essential change in the intrinsic nature of faith or belief. Instinctive belief is not opposed to rational conviction. Does not, the rather, such belief lie at the base of all rational conviction? Belief is always there, and is not to be called blind or irrational simply because it does not announce to itself in consciousness either the causes or the reasons for its presence. As a causative psychical factor it enters essentially into every intellectual process. It is the work of the discriminating faculty, or intellect, the reflective activity of the mind, which is to discover and expand the justification of belief, and thus convert otherwise blind belief into rational conviction. This work is essential to man, if he is successfully to vindicate his claim to be something more and higher than the animal moved by instincts, the nature of which as causes he does not recognize, and the reasonableness of which as contributing to his own higher intellectual and spiritual development he has never sought to inquire into or even dimly discerned. Indeed, this lifting of beliefs into the heights of rational convictions, this exaltation of faith as simple assent toward, if never quite into, the assurance of knowledge, is both the right and the obligation of the spirit that is in man.
To the distinction between causes and reasons, and to the claims, the obligations, and the usefulness of rational conviction, in science and in society, but above all in morals and in religion, we shall return at another time. We now call attention only to the fact that this spontaneous and unintelligible characteristic of belief does not necessarily render it any less trustworthy, whether for theoretical purposes even to the extent of helping to explain the physical Universe, or for the individual's conduct of his own life. When we say that we believe in the fundamental truths of science, in the testimony of the senses, or in the axiomatic principles of mathematics or logic, we are simply saying that the convictions which attach to these propositions are of the first degree of certitude as knowledge. In morals and religion, too, the same thing may be true. In some sort, all this knowledge walks by faith rather than by sight, as indeed the wisest of men have done in the conduct of their daily life. But this conviction does not deaden, and it should only stimulate, the desire and the effort to know the reason, — Why?
The old-fashioned and now obsolete word "Trowing" is the one which has been used to translate that attitude of mind which Kant placed at the beginning of his celebrated chapter, entitled "Of Trowing, Knowing, and Believing." He supposed this arrangement to represent the three degrees of conviction which maintain themselves with regard to our judgments "holding anything to be true." Trowing is "to hold a judgment true with the consciousness that our judgment rests on grounds which are insufficient to produce a firm conviction." More tersely said, trowing is to hold consciously a probable judgment. The modern phrase is either "I am of the opinion" that it is so or so; or more commonly in the popular language, "I think" that it is so or so. This use of words shows a more or less clear recognition of the reasons, or grounds of inference, on which a tentative "knowledge-judgment" might in this case properly be placed before one's own mind or before the mind of another for further consideration. The evidence is not as yet sufficient to produce firm conviction of either the speaker or the hearer. In such cases, if debate arises, it is both polite and wise to say something like this : "I am inclined to this opinion, for the evidence, so far as it is at present ascertainable by me, seems to point to this conclusion. But what do you think? This is the evidence I have to present. Can you add to it, or confute it?" Thus the way is open for discussion.
Now it is true that men sometimes, and indeed many men habitually, treat their most important and sacred beliefs in largely similar way. But this is, probably, if not universally, because they are trowing or merely guessing, and not really believing. If it is a matter of genuine and unfeigned belief (and almost equally so if it is a matter of genuine and serious doubt) the talk takes on a different tone. Here we may be reminded of Tennyson's saying:
"There lies more faith in honest doubt,
Of its beliefs, and almost equally of its doubts, especially in matters of morals and religion, the native and unreflective mind is apt to appeal to feeling or some kind of unanalyzed and perhaps indescribable sentiment. One will frankly confess: I cannot tell why I hold this belief, or how it came to me. Or perhaps one may plead that so one's parents and teachers believed before one; that this was what every-body believed when one was young, — the belief in which one was brought up, so to say; that it is the belief prescribed by the moral sentiment of one's social environment or by the creed of the religious communion of which one is a member. To believe in this way affords, therefore, a pleasant satisfaction; doubts as to intellectual justification of such a belief are disturbing or positively disagreeable. Doubts, when they become negative beliefs, do not differ in this respect. It is not strange, then, but on the contrary rather appropriate than otherwise, to hear this mental attitude toward some object, or proposition, or principle, declared with an air of triumphing over objections : "These are my sentiments"; or, "This is what I cannot help feeling to be true."
It is this characteristic of many human beliefs, and not least the most defensible from the theoretical point of view and the most practically useful, which justifies Professor Stout in saying: "Belief is the word specially selected for affirmation or denial which is predominantly referable to practical or sentimental motives." ("Analytical Psychology," vol. I, p. 97.) Now, "practical and sentimental motives" are by no means to be disregarded in estimating not only the affectional satisfaction and practical benefit of the person who cherishes them, but also the objective and universal validity and value of the truths to which the beliefs attach themselves. To show how this is true involves a distinction between the science of the factual causes of our mental states and the logic and metaphysics which detect in them the reasons for and against our intellectual construction of the real World from which these causes proceed and so operate upon us as motives for all our various sentiments and practical activities. Without discussing at present this distinction between causes and reasons we may appropriately have our attention called to the general fact that the sentiments and beliefs which are caused by our own experience, or by that of our ancestors, and in certain cases of the entire human race, are bound to have an influence upon our ideas of the truth and our ideals of the right, which goes far beyond any reasons that we may be able to assign in justification of this influence. It is in these sentimental and practical attitudes toward life and reality, in the beliefs that spring from the obscure and hitherto hidden roots of a vast and deep soil of unanalyzed human experience, that many of the choicest fruits of the race's development consist. Many beliefs are justified by causes which the minds who entertain the beliefs are quite unable to convert into reasons for holding them.
We have heard much of late concerning instinct and so-called intuition, to the detriment and despite of intellect and of its rationalizing processes. And a bad much of this has been due both to separating things that are intimately dependent and interrelated, and to failing to discriminate where the differences are somewhat important, if not essential. For, while intellect and intuition cannot be separated, but are dependent each upon the other, and feeling enters into both, intuition, in its blinder forms of instinct and belief, must not be trusted as though it could escape all responsibility for an answer at the court of understanding.
It is most suggestive in this connection to notice what Aristotle says in his treatment of the so-called "Intellectual Virtues." They are the output of the "intuitive reason." For intuition is the beginning and intuition is the end; and the work of intellect in eliciting and proving the truths of science and of the practical life lies in between. At the beginning of all demonstration, that of the most exact of the sciences included, stands "intuitive reason," which "deals with ultimate truths in both senses of the word; for both primary principles and ultimate facts are apprehended by intuitive reason and not by demonstration." But "these powers are believed to accompany certain periods of life, and a certain age is said to bring reason and judgment, implying that they come by nature." Then almost with a surprising naïveté the great thinker goes on to say: "And on this account we ought to pay the same respect to the undemonstrated assertions and opinions of men of age and experience and prudence as to their demonstrations. For experience has given them a faculty of vision which enables them to see correctly." This "faculty of vision" which is born of experience is, in many of its essential aspects, and especially on the side of sentiment, feeling, and practical prudence, very closely allied to some of our choicest beliefs. From this point of view the example cited by Cardinal Newman (and there are innumerable others of similar character and significance) of the value of special cases of "simple assent" to the articles of Christian faith, is by no means void of argumentative force. Of Mother Margaret M. Hallahan, the Cardinal says: "Her firm faith was of so vivid a character, that it was almost like an intuitive vision of the entire prospect of revealed truth."
The part which imagination plays in all belief has been altogether too much neglected by all those who have attempted to make its analysis complete. Image-making and ideation are an essential part of every act of knowledge, as indeed of every form and product of the activity of mental life. But in proper belief, this constructive activity is normally of a peculiar, and in certain instances not a few, of a really startling character. In all knowing by the senses, it is not the senses alone, or in co-operation, which are responsible for the object as it is actually seen, heard, felt or handled. To construct the object there must be recognition as a form of mental activity; but there cannot be recognition without participation of the image-making faculty. Even more obvious is it that there can be no memory of any object of sense without imagination. But the object in the existence of which we believe is seldom or never a mere reproduction of any-thing of which we have had experience in a purely sensuous way. This is as true of the beliefs of science and social intercourse as it is of those of morals and religion. The chemist may say that he knows the chemical composition of a certain substance; for he and others have often analyzed it and found it to be so. The physicist may claim knowledge of the various formulas which express in terms of quantity the relations of the different kinds of things with whose properties and behavior he has become familiar in terms of sense. But the entities with which imagination peoples the unseen world that explains the phenomena exposed to sense are, the rather, subjects for belief. Of all this class of beliefs the Duke of Argyll remarks ("Philosophy of Belief," p. 359) : "This list," — referring to the sons and daughters of faith as celebrated in the Eleventh Chapter to the Epistle to the Hebrews,—"this list begins by including as a conception in the nature of faith, one idea or conviction which belongs essentially to the sphere of science or philosophy — the conviction, namely, that the visible creation has been made out of things that are invisible." And in the same connection he affirms: "It is quite as true in the sphere of the physical sciences as it is true in the sphere of religion and philosophy, that the things which are seen are temporal, and that it is only the things which are not seen that are eternal." But the nature and the very existence of the things unseen and eternal remains forever chiefly a matter for belief rather than for knowledge. And to construct the most simple picture, not to say the most elaborate conception, of such things requires the outstretched wing of the strong and ambitious bird of imagination. I know that I see the sun, and that in its light this thing seems to me red, the other green, and still another blue. I may further know that by certain mechanical devices I can analyze the complex ray of white light and get these and other colors arranged in a certain order along the spectrum. But I can only believe in the adorable and divinely great and judicious light-bearing Ether, the god who is ever creating and reconstructing this earth as my senses make its actual changes known to me. For this belief I must borrow the wings of the bird of imagination; otherwise I cannot get behind the light that tints the flowers, or above the dust which is too apt to soil the beauty of these flowers for me. The object of belief invariably requires creative, and not merely reproductive, imagination.
No wonder, then, that imagination, even in the lighter form of "True Romance," has been called
"The spur of trust, the curb of lust,
It is chiefly in the faiths of morality and religion that the most exalted uses of the imagination are demanded for the construction of the objects believed in, as well as the propositions touching those objects, their relations to each other, and our relations to them. For the eliefs, which are at once most precious and most difficult, concern the ideals of morality and religion. When these are weak and low, the whole of life lacks strength and dignity. And alas! for the man who must sing in the words of Schiller's ode "To the Ideal,"
"Gone the divine and sweet believing
But happy is the man who in thought and life can respond to the exhortation:
"And so, noble soul, forget not the law,
This dependence of the reality of our beliefs on the work of the imagination in constructing some attractive picture of the object or truth to which the belief attaches itself, is, of course, especially obvious in the interests of our more "appealing" experiences. Our profounder feelings, or our more important practical needs, seem to demand the faith in something which is least provided for by the observations of the senses, or by those inferences from these observations which fall strictly within the limits of the sphere we are entitled to call "knowledge" in the stricter meaning of the word. Imaginatin responds to this call; and lo! the demand is satisfied. Thus the assurance of faith, its "ontological consciousness," comes out of the unexplored depths of feeling. It comes, how-ever, to await the criticism of man's reflective powers for its purification and final acceptance or rejection. To the savage, the invisible spirits in which he believes, because he must explain the sensuously visible by the imagined invisible, are as necessary as are the invisible atoms, or radio-active molecules to the modern chemist or physicist. Both classes of beliefs grow out of the spontaneous necessities of human "ontological consciousness." The work of the intellect must decide which is the more reasonable of the two.
At this point, then, we may return again to a brief notice of the dependent relations of knowledge and belief. We have seen that, while belief is like guessing in its customary lack of assurance based on grounds of conscious inference; that it often, if not naturally and habitually, arises in the mind, we know not how and cannot discover whence; it is in other respects quite unlike this "gambler's attitude" toward the issue at stake. In fact, as long as a man merely guesses, he does not really believe at all. Even the mad conviction as to the lucky combination of numbers or cards which is to bring the guess to an issue in fact, is quite lacking in some of the more important characteristics possessed by the assurance of faith. So also is "trowing," or holding an opinion with doubt on account of the as yet inconclusive nature of the grounds on which it is held at all, like belief, or faith, in some particulars; but unlike it in even more important other particulars. It is sentiments or practical needs in which our beliefs, more than our knowledge-judgments, chiefly have their origin. But in the case of the greater beliefs, whether of the scientific and social or of the moral and religious order, these sentiments and needs are profound, persistent and universal. Dubitation about them is, therefore, a much more serious affair and involves much more of superior practical importance. About them, we do not wish simply to "trow"; to them we wish either to pin our faith or to have done with the irritating pricking of everlasting doubt. We wish this; how shall we attain our wish, or even make good and notable advances toward its attainment? We must bring reason to bear upon these faiths for their purification or their support. We must recognize their possible kinship to knowledge. But we must not forget that, since the best of them are not the off-spring of sense, brought to the birth by pure intellect (as though there were any such activity as pure intellect), our primary aim cannot reasonably be to prove them as the demonstrative or strictly inductive sciences need proof, but to "purify and support" them.
We have already quoted the words of Aristotle when he classes a deference which amounts to an inclination to believe in, if it does not amount to a confirmed faith in, the undemonstrated opinions of experienced, wise and prudent souls, as one of the chiefest and most practically useful of the "intellectual virtues." Such belief, he holds, reposes in a kind of intuitive vision of the truth. It is thus brought very close to knowledge with respect to its claim for acceptance on grounds of its reasonableness.
The present tendency to minimize and discredit the authority of reason in respect to the greater faiths, and to the conduct of life in accordance with them, seems to us so dangerous in its practical outcome as to demand a very distinct disavowal by every one interested in conserving the most valuable of our social, moral, and religious convictions and opinions, whether formulated or not. We shall return to the attack upon this tendency again and yet again. Just now, and as connected with a partial analysis of the essential nature of belief, we may content ourselves with saying that the declaration of Mr. Balfour ("Foundations of Belief," 8th ed., p. 237) : "Nor is the comparative pettiness of the rôle thus played by reasoning in human affairs a matter for regret," — is as unwarranted by this analysis as it is untrue to the facts of history. The office of reflective thinking always has been, and must always continue to be, that of revealing the truth or the falsity of man's "cryptic beliefs." That certain beliefs carry with them a certain large measure of proof to the individuals who have them, and who rest satisfied in the evidence of a subjective and internal character that is an essential part of the beliefs themselves, is undoubtedly true. But this fact does not remove or shield these, or other beliefs, from perpetual inquiry as to their causes, their reasonableness, and their available practical usefulness, both for those who so tenaciously hold them and for the race at large. Even if the essence of belief is to furnish a kind of convincing internal evidence, that evidence itself needs constant revision and new interpretation. Especially is it necessary in all cases to discover just where the assurance of belief has located itself; precisely what it is of which the belief makes sure. For many and sad and mischievous are the mistakes of judgment and of conduct which hover around this point of fixation in the pro-tested belief. For example: I see a figure in the dimly lighted air of the room where the spiritualistic seance is being held. I have the assurance of knowledge that this is so; and as well, perhaps, that this figure resembles in a remarkable way that of my deceased friend. But is this sufficient to assure the belief that it really is the materialization of the spirit of my deceased friend? Investigations conducted under the control of intellectual processes must have something important to say in answer to this latter question. I see the ribbons enter into the empty bag and the live rabbits hatched in the emptiness appear at once with the ribbons around their necks. I know I seem to see; I believe the bag is really empty and that the rabbits come out of that empty bag. But of what is it in this complex attitude toward the facts, of which I wish to claim that I am really sure with the assurance of knowledge?
In general, belief enters into the assurance of the knowledge which comes through the most ordinary operations of the senses. But as to the validity and the point of repose which is essential to the belief, discriminating judgment and the critical activity of the intellect must invariably be employed.
The great, the truly pathetic fact in the history of man's spiritual development, is his ceaseless struggle for harmony between his growing knowledge of things and his profoundest, most persistent, and practically valuable beliefs. Nothing but mischief comes from the effort to ignore or degrade either intellect or sentiment and practical considerations in the conduct of this struggle. The beliefs must be made increasingly reasonable. Reason must increasingly be chastened and spiritualized and rendered serviceable to the ideals and experiences which have supreme value. Increasing harmony of the complex attitude of man toward the world of things, toward his own complex nature as a personal life, toward other persons, and toward God, is the chief thing to be sought; and it is the only issue of this ceaseless struggle which can be accepted by the truly rational mind.
As to the bearing of this truth on certain classes of human beliefs, I may be permitted to quote from another treatise ("Philosophy of Religion," vol. I, p. 319) : "Religion stands in special need of this process of separation and purification for the work which it calls upon the creative imagination to perform; and the chief reasons for this need are the following two. Its primary beliefs are essentially of the in-visible, the non-sensible, the somehow super-human, the Self that is other than myself. Moreover, the practical and emotional interests to which the work of religious imagination is committed are so immediate and impressive as the more easily to override the considerations upon which the scientific development of man lays so much emphasis. Superstitious beliefs, born of unworthy and irrational hopes and fears and desires, have never been confined to religion. But, in religion, on account of its very nature, they have been most potent and difficult to modify or remove. Hence, the necessity, but also the embarrassment and the delicacy, of improving the work of imagination in the construction of an Object of religious belief which shall worthily fit in with the system of human experience, rationally regarded and, as far as possible, scientifically explained.
"The religious development of mankind is dependent upon the harmonious activity . of imagination and intellect in providing an Object, which shall accord with scientific development, and shall also keep pace with the ethical and æsthetical feelings, and with the growing practical and social needs of the race. This truth follows, as of necessity, from what we know respecting the genesis and development of religion. But its explanation and proof requires the consideration of the important part which the intellect takes in man's religious life and development."
In his Theologische Ethik that rather abstruse and difficult but astonishingly suggestive writer, Dr. Richard Rothe, makes the claim that in its blending of belief and knowledge the moral and religious view of the world is every whit as securely founded in man's reason as is the scientific view. Just as in all science there is involved both perception (the intuitive element) and reflection (the activity of thought), so in religion there is that immediate grasping of the truth which we call faith, and the reflection which evolves the contents of faith and so makes legitimate the systems of theology. This two-sided activity of the self-conscious will affords by faith a picture of the world which is quite as truly entitled to our acceptance, for corresponding to the reality, as is the picture of the same world when drawn by the positive sciences. We 'are, indeed, not as yet quite ready to justify this claim of Rothe, as arising out of the very nature of all belief ; but we seem by our analysis to be preparing the way for it. True, this world "believed in," like the world "sensed-of," is not to be regarded as freed from all testing by the growth of experience, the accumulations of fact, the criticism of intellect. It may be as absurd, however, to say, "I will not believe in this thing, because I cannot see, hear, handle, smell, or taste it," as to say, "I will not trust my senses in seeing, hearing, handling and smelling or tasting things, because I believe in a really different world from that to which they testify."
In emphasizing the work of imagination in constructing, and of intellect in criticising, the object of belief, we have already introduced the discussion of the propriety and meaning of the phrase in recent times so current, — "The will to believe." For imagination and intellect are forms of activity, and the term "will" is most properly applied to the entire active side of human, because personal, mental life. The will-to-believe, therefore, manifests itself, in its primary and initial stages, and yet extremely important form, in the willingness to attend and inquire respecting the grounds of belief. But there is something far more profound in the phrase than would be indicated by an ad-mission like this. There are human beliefs, and not a few of them, on which the will lays hold with a strength and tenacity of grip which can, by no manner of sophistry, be made to appear as merely the result of a passive sub-mission to the authority of others, or even to the compelling pressure of any consciously recognized and clearly understood argument. For, as has often been pointed out by all writers on the subject, we do not accept our most assured faiths as we do the conclusions of a demonstration in geometry, or the inductions of a long and carefully guarded series of laboratory experiments. We, the rather, seem to make more or less voluntary selections among them; although the reasons for our choice are by no means always self-evident, are, in fact, often obscure, or if recognized at all, are far from affording a complete logical satisfaction. The part that so-called "Will" bears in belief is, therefore, so important as to demand a somewhat more detailed and separate treatment.
The very form in which we have raised our general question connects it, however slightly and indirectly, with the idea of obligation. What should I believe? But why "should," rather than can, or may, or must, or ought? Some reader will be saying: "You may think that I should believe some things which I can-not believe; or that I should not believe some other things which I think it a privilege to believe, or which I even find myself under obligation to my intelligence or to my acquaintance with the positive sciences, to believe. And if by this word `should' you mean to imply moral obligation in the more precise and compelling use, why do you not come out boldly and show the courage of your conviction, that, forsooth ! you can teach me, or any other rational being, what we, who differ from you in your beliefs, really ought to believe?" Softly, Friend! for I do not think myself wise enough to define narrowly, much less to dictate, beliefs to any other, even the weakest intellectually of living men. I am, on the contrary, some-what firmly convinced of the truth of what Goethe said: "Faith is private capital, to be kept in one's own house. There are public savings-banks and loan-offices, which supply individuals in their day of need; but here the creditor quietly takes his interest for himself." But I also believe what the same author said in his "Essay on Shakespeare": "Through the feeling `I should' (Sollen) tragedy becomes great and forceful; through merely `willing' (Wollen) it remains weak and petty."
By this word, then (the word "should"), it is intended to call to mind and continually to emphasize the truth that the forming and constant reforming of our beliefs — where they are shown to need reforming — is a matter of moral concernment and truly involves us in a somewhat complicated net-work of subtle and difficult obligations. But this could not be so, if our wills had nothing to do with this process. However, the very nature of belief is such that the obligation is not generally, is perhaps only rarely, so definite and definitely compulsory as that which we feel with respect to the practical distinctions we demand in matters of the right and wrong of conduct.
On the whole, then, it would seem that there is no hope of defining all kinds and shades of belief in some off-hand way, so as to fit the definition for the immediate acceptance of any unsophisticated mind which consults the dictionary expecting to discover there in a form of words what will save him the trouble of doing a bit — indeed many bits — of hard and sober thinking. Our beliefs are very serious affairs. Out of them, even more than out of our knowledges, come the issues of life and death. But Belief itself is an extremely complicated and shifty affair. Its origin, in the meaning of the actual causes which have brought it to the birth, is almost uniformly hidden down and back in darkest recesses of the individual's personal or ancestral, or even racial, development. Its influential reasons are not clearly discernible by the intellect; otherwise, it is on the borders where belief becomes largely if not wholly identical with knowledge.
In respect of the confidence of belief, the assurance of faith, the steadiness and tenacity with which the mind holds to the truth of its invisible objective, this differs all the way from the borderland of doubt to depths and heights which no available arguments are able to weaken or assault with any confidence of their own.
In constructing the object of belief, the imagination is habitually operative in a some-what peculiar way. In general, the thing believed in is the invisible, the non-sensuous, the universal ideal or some example of it. But this mental construction may be some-what sluggishly and impassively accepted from others, as when children believe that babies are handed down from heaven, or that fairies dance on the leaves of the lilies, or play hide-and-go-seek among their stalks. But for the greater beliefs of science and religion, the most transcendent powers of the most lofty and gifted human imaginations are taxed beyond their utmost capacity in the effort to form objects worthy of their attachment.
Nor can the intellect and reasoning faculties of man be neglected or flouted by any form or degree of human beliefs. Whether it be hob-goblins and ghosts, or Ether and Energy, in which men believe for the explanation of daily happenings, the belief cannot continue to shut the door in the face of observation, experiment, and reasoning. Whether the belief be in the atoms and the ions,
"We, they cry, are now creators,
or in the man-like gods of the most primitive forms of religion, or in the loftiest conceptions of Deity ever framed by philosopher or theologian, the rights of the intellect cannot be denied. No hand may slam the door in its face. In the true meaning of both words, neither Faith nor Reason can assume exclusive control of, and unlimited service from, the mind and life of man. But in the true meaning of the words, and in the true use of the faculties corresponding to these words, Faith and Reason are not antagonistic, but correlative and supplementary. This does not mean, however, that all our beliefs must be scientifically demonstrated, or even that they all admit of such demonstration. But as little does it mean that any of them can ever escape the requisition to inquire into its own reasons, and to strive continually to make itself more and more pure and serviceable by becoming more and more reasonable.
We shall not be far from the truth, then, if we describe the nature and province of belief somewhat as follows. The world of sense and of the forms and laws which the intellect constructs on a basis of sensuous perception, is underlain and interpenetrated and over-topped by another sort of world. In this world those sentiments and practical demands of the mind that concern the invisible and the ideal have their peculiar influence. It is the world of the things believed in rather than known as is the world of the things of sense. Its causes lie, often very obscure and generally deeply-hidden, in the constitution of the individual and of the race. The forms, the beliefs themselves, are more akin to instinct and to intuition than to scientific formulas. But they, too, by the growing intelligence and reflective energy of the individual and of the race, may be made increasingly more reasonable. For what Saint Bernard said of Reason and religious Faith has a certain truthfulness for all kinds of belief: "These two comprehend the sure truth; but faith, in closed and involuted, intelligence, in exposed and manifest, form."
Out of this view of the nature of belief follows the propriety and possible usefulness of attempting, at least partially, the question: What should I believe? in its relation to the two other questions, What can I know? and What ought I to do?