Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Rights And Obligations Of Belief

( Originally Published 1915 )

THE discovery that all the greater beliefs enter as factors into the very "substance of the Self " — that is, help to form the constitution and to set the conditions for the successful development of the personal life, — has given us a valuable clue to the answer of the practical question: What should I believe? But it has by no means furnished a completely available answer to that question. We already know that we must have faith in the reality, efficiency, and value of our own selves, and in the authority and value of our powers of knowledge, when rightly employed in finding out the existence and nature of the objects of knowledge, other selves and things. But we do not yet know the more definite causes and limitations of this faith, — as to what we really are, as well as that we really are; and as to the particular spheres and conditions of our efficiency in action, or how we shall by cultivation attain it in higher degrees. Even less does this bare belief give us the answer to the question, What can I know? or, How definitely shall I apply this general belief in my capacity for some knowledge of what is real and true, to the enlargement of that capacity; and, finally, to the attainment of the utmost possible of the most valuable knowledge. The will to live compels the so-called will to believe that I am an active cognitive Self; but it does not furnish me with the reasons for trusting, or the rules for regulating, this belief.

The insufficiency of the general answer afforded by the discovery that certain beliefs, which constitute, define and consecrate the moral and religious nature of man, are indispensable to personal life, is even more apparent. For, as has already been pointed out, the attitude of the will to believe, toward all such beliefs, is somewhat conspicuously different from that which characterizes our "intellectual beliefs." In order to be moral (the word "moral" is here used in its widest signification, so as to include every species and degree of bad as well as good conduct), — in order to have moral being at all, one must more or less consciously will to believe in moral distinctions and moral values. This is, however, a kind of faith which does not appear to be forced in the same way as the belief that two and two are four; that the three angles of a triangle are equal in sum to two right angles; or that every effect must have a definite and adequate cause, — as the popular statement of a much misapprehended principle of reasoning in matters of physical relations is apt to run. But in order to be truly moral or truly religious, — not to say, truly good and sincerely devout, — it would seem necessary that one should hold certain beliefs in a "will-full" and definite way. The faiths of morals and religion have a character which implies more of a grip on the will by the way of conscious choice. Even this kind of will to believe, with the precious comforts and rewards of the faiths which invite the will, does not of itself sufficiently inform the inquiring mind just what it should believe. The belief that all conduct has moral value, and that this value is great, or even incomparable, and lays an unconditioned mandate upon the will, does not by any means suffice to tell the inquirer just what he ought to do. In similar manner: The belief in the existence of invisible personal agencies, with which man holds relations that have something to do with determining man's weal or woe, if we consider this the minimum to which the so-called religious consciousness can be reduced, is far enough from justifying such a faith in God as shall satisfy a rational inquiring human mind.

We see, then, that not even all the greater beliefs can dispense with other claims upon the will to believe than just this, that they belong to the constitution of a personal life, if they are going to assert their rights, or place us under a moral obligation to accept them. That a man must have some sort of moral and quasi-religious, as well as intellectual beliefs, follows from the fact that he is a man. With-out these beliefs, he would not be a man at all, in the fullest meaning of the conception of a man. But what sort? What quality of such beliefs and faiths is it that enforces their claims to acceptance in something better than a vague and practically inefficient way; and that, therefore, constitutes and enforces the obligations they impose upon us? And what shall be the test, if any satisfactory test there may be assumed to be, of the right sort? Only the right sort of faiths have the right to command, or even to solicit, the will to believe. Only this sort can properly be supposed to put a personal being under obligations.

Now, the answer to such questions as those which have just been raised, springs with a fine and impressive spontaneity to our lips. To have such rights, and to impose such obligations, the beliefs and faiths of a person endowed with reason and moral freedom, must appear as reasonable. Virtually, this demand to be "reasonable" is precious, and must be regarded so, in the estimate of all men alike. The opponents of "Rationalism," technically so-called, whether from the standpoint of theological dogmatism, agnostic scepticism, Bergsonian intuitionism, or Pragmatic emotionalism, are all alike averse to being called "irrational," or suspected of a lack, in any respect, of the most perfect reasonableness. For, indeed, in the last resort, all human opinions, beliefs, and hopes, as well as all scientific conclusions and common-sense maxims, must be tested by their rationality. But "being reasonable" is by no means always the equivalent of being conscious of reasons that, without any admixture of be-lief., make demonstrably clear to the intellect the grounds on which belief itself is founded.

Indeed, in this sense there are no altogether reasonable attitudes of mind, whether classified as beliefs or as "knowledge-judgments."

If complete acquaintance with all the reasons were necessary in order to be "reasonable," there could be neither knowledge nor faith entitled to the compliment of the term. Science and religion would both become "irrational."

On this point I have elsewhere said ("Philosophy of Religion," vol. I, pp. 305 f.) chiefly with regard to the religious nature: "The conception of man's rationality is comprehensive and varied, not to say vague and uncertain, in large measure because its content is so profound, manifold, and in some respects mysterious. Man has never yet succeeded in fully understanding his own rational nature." And again: "If analysis should succeed in disclosing all the secrets of man's rational life, in the stricter meaning of the word `rational,' we should not in this way be put into possession of the entire account of his religious experience. For the non-rational which is by no means the same thing as the contrary to reason has its part to play in shaping this experience. But there is also very much in the higher forms of religious experience" (and, for that matter, of all degrees and kinds of experience): "which defies or baffles the effort to interpret it i this way. This remark applies to the beliefs, the sentiments, and the practices of religion. In all these spheres of religious experience we come at last on certain unanalyzable and inexplicable facts." "Everywhere the principle of the dynamic unity of the soul in its various forms of functioning must be maintained. The action and reaction of the lower impulses and of the rational functions takes place in the unity of experience. Fear, hope, the desire for communion, and the sense of various needs, excite and direct the intellect and the imagination; and these faculties in turn create and modify the object of the various religious impulses and emotions. The higher ethical and æsthetical sentiments respond to those ideals which they have themselves induced the figurate and discursive faculties to create."

What is true of the greater beliefs and faiths of religion is, in substantially the same way, true of all our greater beliefs, scientific, social, moral, and æsthetical. Their reasonableness (if any one object, through historical associations or on account of prejudice, to the word "rationality") is their only conceivable, as it is their nearest approach to an actually final, test. But by this test must not understand their wholly scientific character, or the ease with which they lend themselves to mathematical treatment or to logical demonstration. Even the degree with which they minister to our more strictly intellectual satisfactions is not wholly dependent upon the manner in which we arrive at their proof, — whether by the methods of experimental science or of extended observation.

Any search for the marks of that reasonableness in which the rights and obligations of the different contesting or conflicting forms of belief consist, will greatly be helped by recalling in this connection the very important distinction between the causes and the reasons of man's beliefs and faiths. By "causes" we are now to understand the different influences which in fact give more definite shape to the greater beliefs and faiths of the individual. By "reasons" we mean the explanations which satisfy the intellect, and so influence in particular directions the will to believe, and support and de-fend the personal life in the choices which it has made.

Causes, when they are recognized as steady in operation, universal or widely general in distribution, and of value for strengthening the grasp of will, may often very properly be considered as available reasons for according more of intellectual respect and confidence to any particular belief. We have already admitted that this is true even of that unanalyzed and untested confidence which constitutes for many minds the sole. proof of some cherished belief; and which with all minds is of no little con-trolling influence over all their faiths. All men tend, and reasonably, to find a reason for the faith that is in them, in the very intensity of the conviction with which they cling to that same faith. They will to hold on to it as to a thing of value.

If, then, we can get at the causes which have operated to produce any intense and tenacious conviction, we often, perhaps generally, find that they have in them a measure of rational justification for the belief of which we are convicted. For example, one of the most frequent and powerful causes of the prevalent faiths of morals and religion is the early age at which the faiths were implanted. The popular per-version of the shrewd Jewish maxim — "Train up a child in the trade or handicraft in which he is destined to go on in life, and when he is old he will not depart from it"— gives a sort of reason for abiding on the whole in the path of ancestral, almost we might say, inherited beliefs. It has been wisely as well as wittily said of the vagaries of certain current views of Pragmatism: "New theories are but the maxims of certain individuals; the old maxims represent the sense of centuries." But if venerable ancestry were made the sole, or even the most important test of the reasonableness of human beliefs and faiths, there would never be any progress either in knowledge or in believing.

Another potent cause which our beliefs, for the most part in an unrecognized but extremely seductive way, bring to bear upon the will, is the agreeable or disagreeable quality of the beliefs themselves. Now it is simple psycho-logical fact, that agreeableness to our feelings has a marked influence on determining the seeming truthfulness of any judgment, whether held by the mind as a matter of knowledge or only as a more or less uncertain belief. In a way, it is true of our knowledges, as it is of our beliefs, that the relation they bear to our emotions is inevitably received as an item in their favor or in their disproof. Men whose minds work in an orderly and methodical fashion, and to whom what is not obviously rational is also unlovely, no matter how devoted they may profess themselves to the bare facts, are not at all so apt to believe in a "pluralistic universe," as are minds of a more irregular, imaginative and artistic temperament. To the feelings of the latter type of a mind, too much semblance of unity and rational order has a distinctly disagreeable cast. They have the emotion of Tom Loker in Mrs. Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," when he told the demure Quaker lady who kept tucking him up in bed: "If you bottle a fellow up too tight, I shall split."

Another powerful cause of differing beliefs is their harmony with convention, or wide-spreading acceptance. This cause not infrequently combines with the one just mentioned to influence one's beliefs in a doubly forceful way. Most people do not enjoy the disapproval of others in respect of the doubts and beliefs of the political, business, or social circle amidst which they move, or of the religious communion prevailing in their country or neighborhood. Indeed, that effect of custom which Mr. Balfour has so happily characterized as a "psychological climate," is one of the most prevalent and powerful causes of belief.

All these causes, whether operating "below the threshold of consciousness," or in the clearest light as well-recognized motives, have a certain claim to a certain kind of reasonableness. Speaking in a broad historical and philosophical manner, it is distinctly reasonable that mankind at large should regulate their beliefs and faiths in accordance with all three of these, in fact, most powerful influences. These are all causes which have the rights of reason. They are causes which, when recognized by the individual as reasons, put him under a certain amount of moral obligation in his attempt to answer for him-self the practical question, What should I believe?

That the beliefs of olden time, the beliefs effected and consecrated by the experience of long lines of our ancestry should, in general, be assigned a title to a considerable claim to reasonableness, is, as an ethnological and social fact, a reasonable thing for the mind that reflects upon the conditions necessary for the most real and solid development of the race. So, too, is it reasonable that the beliefs which are most consonant with the feelings of the race, especially those most in harmony with the loftier inspirations and purest sentiments of the race, should have the chance of preference largely in their favor, — at least, in the long run, as the saying is. But above all, it is very reasonable, and indeed the only condition on which any political or social, not to say more definitively moral and religious solidarity could be effected, that men should be inclined to something like substantial unity of belief under the influence of custom and implicit or express conventions. In evidence of our present contention, let any one ask himself this question: If you had the power to place Reason in control of human society and wished to secure its safe and sound development, how would you dispense with any of these causes and yet secure such a development?

These considerations furnish some maxims of a negative, if not of a strictly positive character, that are helpful toward the answer of our main inquiry. Similar maxims are found in the proverbs of all languages, savage as well as most highly cultured. They amount to the exhortation:

"Hear counsel, and receive instruction,
That thou mayest be wise in thy latter end."

And when some Elihu offers,

"I will fetch my knowledge from afar,"

some experienced Job replies with biting sarcasm :

"No doubt but ye are the people
And wisdom shall die with you,
But I have understanding as well as you;
I am not inferior to you."

In a word, we all appeal to the belief that there is something of value in the conclusions of a long experience. For every individual who would form for himself a system of valuable and safe guides, it is by no means a bad practice to keep up the reminder: Do not despise the beliefs and faiths of your ancestors and of the multitude of your contemporaries, — especially those beliefs and faiths that have maintained themselves, substantially unchanged, through untold centuries of the history of the race. Even the persistent mistaken and superstitious beliefs, probably have a "soul of truth "in them. There are, indeed, in every generation current beliefs, and practices founded upon them, which are worthy of rejection as untrue and ethically contemptible; but the individual cannot best evince his own reasonableness by giving to them an unreasoning rejection.

But neither inheritance and early implanting, nor the craving for agreeable and the aversion to disagreeable sensations, nor the unreflecting acceptance of what is current and customary, can render the beliefs of the individual reasonable and morally obligatory. To sup-pose this would render all social progress inexplicable, and all progress of the individual person impossible. Progress for the race has always been quite as dependent upon changes in the character of the beliefs and faiths of the race as upon the advance of the positive sciences. This is, of course, especially true of those beliefs which concern themselves with matters political, social, moral, and religious.

We need, then, further to inquire, What by right should determine our beliefs and faiths? Or, more definitely expressed, and regarded from the somewhat advanced point of view which we have already reached: What are the characteristics of that reasonableness for which we should look in regulating them?

In answering this question we are bound to say, first of all, that the amount of evidence in fact, and in sound inference from fact, which any belief can produce, stands in the first rank of its claims to be our belief. But in saying this two things should be quite clearly kept in mind. One of these is the difference which always maintains itself between a belief and a matter of knowledge. The distinction, as based upon the degrees of evidence, is a vanishing one; but as long as it exists at all from the mind's point of view, it differences the two mental attitudes. From the same distinction it follows that we cannot reasonably expect for our beliefs and faiths the same degree and kind of evidence which we are quite warranted in demanding for our "knowledge-judgments."

But the second of the suggestions which are in place here is quite as important. There are various kinds of facts, to which are applicable the various kinds of evidence. Every belief that arises to consciousness in every individual mind is itself a fact; and beliefs that persistently arise and maintain themselves in a great multitude of minds are very important facts. For example, the belief of A. B. that he at the bewitching hour of twelve last night, saw the ghost of his dead friend, is a fact. It needs to be accounted for, either as a dream, a hallucination, or what we — as though all facts were not that— call "an actual fact." But no mat-ter of how much importance it may be to A. B., it is not necessarily worth much to the psychologist, as evidence to the trustworthiness of the belief in ghosts. The same thing may be said, though with less confidence, of the testimony of C. D. as to the table-tippings which he has witnessed. But when multitudes of men in all times affirm, "for a fact," that they have seen and talked with ghosts; or, better still, so-called "scientists" themselves affirm their observation of the facts of table-tipping and other allied phenomena; we all quite reason-ably begin "to sit up and take notice." We feel an obligation to adjust our own beliefs, if we can, to the evidence offered by such an array of facts of belief.

The relation of belief to inference is one of the most interesting but complicated of the several psychological problems connected with the entire subject. Its treatment in modern philosophical English may be said to have been opened by Locke's discussion "Of Probability" and "Of the Degrees of Assent," which are the Chapters XV and XVI of the Fourth Book of the "Essay Concerning Human Understanding." His conclusion is that our "Assent" — and by this word he intends to indicate the essential mental attitude in all affairs of be-lief and faith — "ought to be regulated by the Grounds of Probability." Of these "grounds " he has previously said : " The grounds of Probability are two; Conformity with our own experience, or the Testimony of others' Experience." But in our own experience the prominent fact is just this that we either do believe or do not believe. The statement of Locke, therefore, resolves itself on this point into the very sane conclusion that one of the best ways to establish the reasonableness of any particular belief is derived from the conclusion of a careful reflection on our part over the question: How does this particular fact of belief harmonize with the rest of the facts, — and most especially with the most important, clearly manifest, and practically valuable facts, of this same experience? And here we come down again upon the bed-rock of all the rights and obligations belonging to the activities and the interests of the personal life. We have the right, and we are under the obligation, to seek the highest and most worthy harmony in the development of this life. How far this is from being selfish we have made quite clear in another connection. (" What Ought I to Do?" p. 270 f.)

Locke displays his customary, sound commonsense when he couples with the experience of the individual, the experience of others as affording legitimate grounds of belief in our-selves. This is so as a matter of course; and it is so in all matters of knowledge as well as in all matters of belief. Most of what we know, or claim to know, is based upon the testimony of others; in notable cases the only evidence which we have, that can be regarded as trust-worthy, is the testimony of our fellows that such has actually been their experience. In all matters of knowledge, too, we trust most to the authority of those whom we believe to know best; to those who profess to have themselves experienced the facts, or who have been best equipped for making trustworthy inferences from the facts. There could be no science and no education, if this form of credence, which indeed often enough degenerates into credulity, did not enter into all the accumulations of the world's stock of knowledge. Such a procedure of our minds in their attitudes of faith is, in some respects, most reasonable when we are dealing with matters about which those who teach us only claim to have probable evidence. If they could, they would not have us take from them their more or less probable beliefs as though these beliefs were already certified knowledge. Indeed, the wisest and most trust-worthy authorities in the positive (sic) sciences are continually warning us that their most cherished conclusions have — not a few of them — as yet only attained a higher or lower degree of probability. They are still, that is, inferences which may reasonably claim belief, but which cannot demand the allegiance of perfect confidence, as indubitable knowledge. There is no valid reason why these grounds of probability, and the reasons for faith which they lay and support, should not also be trusted in the most complicated experiences of the moral and religious life and the development of personality. Indeed, in certain important respects, morals and religion are the peculiarly appropriate sphere of so-called authority.

At this point our reflections are brought face to face with two very important problems. These concern the relation of argument to belief, or — to use the terms employed by Cardinal Newman — of inference to assent; and the place which "authority" may reasonably occupy in recommending or prescribing, not to say dictating, human beliefs. To speak as though faith could really be enforced by authority—" single-handed," so to say — would seem to imply a false conception of the real nature of faith.

In considering the first of these two problems, the psychological puzzle is to determine the legitimate, the rational, and really trustworthy relation of inference and assent; of our faiths and the arguments or so-called "proofs" which we advance in their behalf. May belief reason-ably go beyond the degree of evidence that is available as to the truth of that which is believed? That belief does often, and even habitually, go beyond the evidence, is a patent enough fact of history and of daily experience. But is this reasonable? To the question as put somewhat brusquely in this form, and especially for purposes of the control of conduct through putting the will under obligation to believe, we have no hesitation in giving an affirmative answer. Yes : human beliefs and faiths have other rights than those derived from inference and argument; they do, in fact, place us under obligations for which we can often enough give no answer wholly satisfactory in the logic-compelling court of the intellect. This would be true, if for no other reason, as inescapably due to the fact that, in general, the most powerful causes of human beliefs and faiths can with difficulty, if at all, be put by the intellect in the form of reasons. There is, however, a better way of rendering this fact of the superiority of many of our faiths, especially those of the higher order, to the proofs for them, quite reasonable. Let us briefly follow this better way.

In arguing about beliefs, and presenting evidence in their behalf or against them, it is customary to pay little or no attention to the fact of the beliefs themselves. But they are there, somehow posited in human consciousness, and as facts entitled to speak for themselves as all facts are. Now, argument about the truth-fulness of any belief cannot be convincing, even from the point of view of the unprejudiced intellect, without taking the fact of the belief itself into the account. Indeed, the starting-point of the argument "around and about" the fact is, most reasonably, the fact itself. And the conclusion of the argument must be somehow, even if it return a verdict unfavorable to the truthfulness of the belief, such as to show us how the convincing influence of the belief could come to be so strong as it certainly is.

In the arguments pro and con the most important and persistent of human beliefs and faiths, this rendering of justice to the fact of their existence is far too often not attempted at all; or if attempted, is very imperfectly done. For example: We have now before the public an enterprising group of young psychologists who are arguing "round and about" the trust which it is "natural" to repose in the deliverances of self-consciousness, and even over the existence of any such mental activities. This they are doing, in pretty total obliviousness of the universal fact of human belief in the trust-worthiness of self-consciousness; and of the particular fact that they, as well as the rest of us, are actually trusting it implicitly in their conclusive (sic) argument against its trust-worthiness. Of all the greater moral and religious faiths, as well as of those metaphysical beliefs which underly the systems of science and philosophy, the same thing is essentially true. We are, perhaps, eternally arguing "round and about" the belief in God; but all the while the belief in some form is there; and being there, it is by far the most important point in all the argument, whether for or against the belief. For the fact of the belief must be made reasonable, whether we can make the content of the belief reasonable, by way of arguing about it, or not.

On the other hand, we cannot properly con-found the attitude of mind with which any particular conclusion of a course of inference is received, with the process or activity of inference, by which the conclusion has been reached. I may still doubt about ghosts, or the materialization of departed spirits, while accepting the logical nature of much of the argument about ghosts and spirits, by which others reach the firm faith in their actual existence. They start the argument with faith in the alleged facts, or in those who testify to their having been witnesses to the facts. I admit the cogency of most of the argument, as argument; but I have not yet laid the grasp of faith upon either the alleged facts or the witnesses to these facts. No wonder, then, that we so often hear the bitter complaint, not only in philosophy and theology, but even in science:

"Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same door wherein I went."

In dismissing for the present these considerations, it is pertinent to remember what has already been said more than once, — namely, that in all belief, as a rule, the reasons for the assent, even where the assent is most unhesitating, cordial, fixed, and unswerving, have been only incompletely recognized. They are, in-deed, still causes which lie hidden in the belief itself, rather than reasons which the intellect has discovered and laid bare to itself. No wonder then that our choicest beliefs and faiths so often seem unreasonable, or only scantily clothed in the white raiments of an unimpeachable logical purity; although under this transparent texture we seem to get glimpses of a tightly fitting coat-of-mail, which renders them quite invincible to attacks by way of inference from totally different classes of facts.

It must be frankly confessed as a task impossible at the present time to discuss the reasonableness of having our beliefs and faiths fixed by authority, without giving offence to every advocate of the two extreme and equally untenable positions. It is, however, distinctly obvious that the unreasonable discrediting of authority is the quite too prevalent extreme at the present time. We may be pardoned for saying, then, that the whole world seems to have gone mad in its protestantism. The grounds for this extremity of protest against "pinning" any kind of faith to any kind of authority are much easier to trace than its reasonableness is to defend. They are largely historical; and to try to follow them in this direction would lead us too far afield from our more simple practical aims and hopes of being helpful. They are also largely on "economic" grounds (if we may be pardoned the somewhat facetious use of this imposing term). It is cheaper not to think out the grounds of belief, and so to stick fast in the old beliefs, or else to turn braggartly agnostic, than it is to tax one's intellectual resources in the effort to afford reasons for the will in making its choice among conflicting beliefs. To this we must add the fact, that much of the regnant philosophy, both theoretical and practical, has operated to make the public intellectually lazy in their attitude toward fundamental beliefs. This pseudo-philosophy has made current the opinion that it does not so much matter whether a reality over which our wills have no control is going to verify our beliefs in the final issue, as whether we can skim along on the surface of life fairly successfully, if we just take them as they seem, at the time, best to serve our temporary ends.

We shall, therefore, limit ourselves to a simple warning against either of the two extremes to which reference was just made. No one can regulate his own mental attitudes wisely and safely, who thinks to escape from the large, and even dominating authority of those who have had most experience, and have given most reflection to this experience, in any realm of human beliefs and faiths. It is distinctly reasonable that it should be so. It is distinctly unreasonable for any individual not to will that in his own case, it shall be so. But on the other hand, no "Self," no being with the reason, moral freedom, and intellectual, moral, and religious equipment for developing a personal life, will unconditionally submit his beliefs and faiths to any human authority.

Another test of the reasonableness of beliefs is the satisfaction they afford to those longings, aspirations, sentiments, and other largely emotional attitudes toward the world and toward the conduct of life, to which we have already referred as entering into the very substance of the personal self. But now we notice how all the best and noblest of these "feeling-attitudes" arise and develop in connection with certain "value-judgments." We do tend to believe in the reality, sometime, somewhere, some-how — of that which our higher sentiments and aspirations tell us ought to be real. Here again we must remind ourselves, in a yet more emphatic and conclusive way, that the evidence for the truthfulness of any of the greater beliefs lies forever hidden, or only half-revealed, in the heart of the belief itself.

The ideals which our imaginations and intellects frame so joyously in answer to our sentiments, however often they seem deferred or disappointed by the corresponding realities, are themselves persistent facts. This is especially true of the facts of art, of morality, and of religion. We may say in answer to the question, What should I believe? as we have else-where said in answer to the question, What ought I to do? "Although. it is a question which does not emerge in consciousness, is no question at all, until we recognize the presence of the ideal, it is not a question that deals with thoughts merely or that cuts itself loose from a firm footing in the real and hard facts of human life." Those feelings and judgments which attach themselves to human ideals have a right to exercise a potent influence upon human beliefs and faiths. In fact, they do have a mighty influence; it is reasonable that they should have such an influence. This is true, even of the conceptions of the world which are held as the firm beliefs. of the positive sciences. For as the Abbé de Broglie has truly said: "The visible world does not contain within itself either the origin, or the end, or the law or the ideal, of human life."

Once more, we may say that the reasonableness of any particular belief or faith is also to be tested by the service it actually renders to the needs of life. Here is the central truth of Pragmatism, with its test of truth by its success in doing "work." But in this tenet as applied to our beliefs and faiths, as when applied to our "knowledge-judgments," we must recognize the fundamental fact that one of the most important of all these needs is the satisfaction which the mind can attain only through confidence in its possession of the truth.

Summing up our conclusions as to the Rights and Obligations of Belief in the form of their most obvious claims to the title of "reasonableness," we may say that the chief tests are the following: The correspondence of belief to the knowledge derived from our own experience or the experience of others, — especially of "the men who know"; the satisfaction afforded to the sentiments and value-judgments which attach themselves to the ideals of art, morality and religion; and the assistance rendered to us in the conduct of the practical life. In a word, the relation which any particular belief sustains to the supreme interests and highest values of personal life, must settle, as far as such a problem can be settled, the question, What should I believe?

Be "reasonable" in your beliefs does not mean, then, "Prove them all by argument in the steps of which no possible flaw can be discerned," except, possibly (and very likely) that the argument has neglected the very most important facts from which it starts — the facts of belief themselves; but it means the rather, "Choose your beliefs, according to their harmonies with your total experience and with the experiences of the wise of the race; and according to the reasonable satisfaction they afford to your own best Self and to the needs for the safe-conducting of the practical life."

Each one of these three supreme groups of the tests by which to determine the rights and the obligations of one's beliefs and faiths, seems, however, to require some further amplification and defence.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com