Beliefs, Scientific And Social
( Originally Published 1915 )
THAT belief and knowledge are inextricably mingled and dependently related in all mental development, both that of the individual and that of the race, is a thesis which by this time should need no further evidence advanced in its support. The fact has been made abundantly clear by our attempts to answer, if only in a partial way, the two practically important questions : "What can I Know?" and, "What should I Believe?" Without belief, no knowledge is possible; without growth in knowledge, none of our beliefs, not even the most imperative and practically most important, can stand the test of the experience which requires them to vindicate their claims to acceptance by continual approaches toward a higher standard of reasonableness.
A further argument in the direction of the same conclusion has been conducted in several of the previous chapters of this treatise on the nature, rights and obligations of human beliefs and faiths. Some of these beliefs are essential elements in all the workings of the human mind. They must be held, in order to perceive and think at all; whether the object of perception or of thought be something, or oneself, or some other person; and whether they be held consciously and intelligently, or lay a sort of slavish grip upon an intellect that is blind to their existence. Such beliefs we have referred to, though only briefly and without much attempt at their psychological analysis or even their enumeration, under the head of so-called necessary "intellectual beliefs," "primary intuitions," "first principles of the intellect," or similar terms. Other beliefs — especially those of the social, moral, or religious order, seem to present themselves in the guise of suppliants, rather than dictators before the will to believe. They solicit more or less conscious and definitive choices, with the apparent end in view of being the individual's preferred forms of faith, needed for the right conduct of life. But they, too, in some sort, belong to the very substance of the Self; to the constitution and the indispensable conditions of the development of the personal life. For knowledge, even in its most scientific form, cannot free itself from the influences that have important and intimate connections with the faiths which underlie and control the social, moral and religious life of man. So much a unity, in spite of, or rather because of, the great diversity of its capacities and needs, is the human soul. It is now from this more lofty — perhaps we may not improperly call it "airy" — point of view, that we propose to survey certain scientific beliefs.
In conducting the survey just proposed, we are at once impressed with the truth that all the most precise knowledge of the sciences has developed from a soil rich in superstitions and unproved or disproved beliefs. The explanation of this historical fact is partly due to the psychological fact, that intellectual curiosity, or natural wonder, is the common root of both. It has been said that "Wonder is faith's dearest child" (Das Wunder ist des Glaubens liebstes Kind). The opposite is the rather true. Belief is the child of wonder, or intellectual curiosity. But so is knowledge, as well. For the emotional and practical aspect of the mind toward the operations and uses of things satisfies itself at first by some form of belief. This is the earliest stage of half-blind progress toward the beginnings of science. Man tries at first to allay the fears and strengthen the hopes, which arise from his superstitious attitude toward physical things and natural forces, by the aid of incantations and charms. He has full confidence in the reality of the beings which he employs for such purposes; because the very constitution of his mind compels him to explain the facts made known through the senses by invisible agencies, the existence of which he must always take largely on a species of intellectual belief. He will bewitch nature; for is not nature herself a very shrewd and cunning old witch? In all this, practical interests of great moment are served in important ways by the imagination and the intellect co-operating to construct suitable objects of belief. As says Professor Jastrow, in his "Religion of Babylonia and Assyria" (p. 356) : "The chief motive in the development of astronomy in the Euphrates Valley was the belief that the movements of the heavenly bodies portended some-thing that was important for men to know." Of medicine also the same authority says: "There is indeed no branch of human knowledge which so persistently retains its connection with religious beliefs among all peoples of antiquity as the one which today is regarded as resting upon a materialistic basis."
But the process is not different when man slowly or, in certain instances more promptly, passes from what science is pleased to call superstition to those beliefs which science adopts for its own name's sake. The same mind, not finding either emotional or practical satisfactions in the superstitious interpretation of natural phenomena, as they appear to sense, or in the manipulation of its mysteries by augury and incantation, devises other explanations of the facts of sensuous knowledge. These, too, involve belief in forces and beings of which the senses can, still as before, take no direct account. With a chastened and more rational faith in nature as true to herself in each detail of fact, according to the causal principle and in conformity to law, modern experimental science is made possible; and it sets out on a career of rapid and vigorous growth. But while it feels out its way with the left hand of experiment, it leans as heavily as ever with its right hand on the staff of faith.
We cannot, then, agree with those writers who claim that superstitious beliefs, especially of the religious order, have always and every-where acted as obstacles in the path of scientific advance. It is perhaps rather nearer the truth to say of scientific beliefs, as one author says of religious faiths (Castrén in his Finnische Mythologie) that even the superstitious beliefs of Shamanism have had a marked beneficial effect upon the human mind in freeing it from the "shackles of blind natural forces," and in "recognizing man's dependence for his weal and woe upon a purposive, objective Will." What science needs, then, is not to dispense with belief, because it is so often some remnant of an ancient and mistaken superstition; but to render by a process of continuous testing its own and cognate beliefs, more and more reason-able.
It is not our purpose, indeed, to indulge our-selves much in metaphysical discussions, — so very practical is the nature of our endeavor to throw a ray or two of light on the answer to the question, What should I believe? There is one thought, however, which has high philosophical value and may help to a better under-standing of our present contention, if it is quoted at some length from another work. The quotation will recall and reinforce certain conclusions which have been less technically ex-pressed and illustrated in several of the previous chapters of this smaller book.
"The distinction ordinarily made between so-called knowledge and so-called faith is an unstable and vanishing distinction. Belief that rests upon no grounds of knowledge, if such belief is possible even for beings of the lowest intellectual order, certainly is to be rejected by the philosophy of religion, as without evidential value. On the other hand, knowledge that does not involve large elements of belief — and often elements of belief which are varied in character, subtle in origin, and extremely difficult to estimate with regard to their evidential value - is not to be had by human minds, whether in the form of religion, or science, or philosophy. The reasons why the term faith, rather than the term knowledge, is appropriate with reference to the verities of religion in general, and especially when treating of man's conception of God, have already been made sufficiently clear.
"By combining the preceding conclusions we arrive at the following position: In matters theoretical as well as practical, our attitudes of mind, both those which we are pleased to call knowledge and those which are often depreciated as only faith, can claim only a higher or lower degree of probability with regard to the real existence of their objects. We do not increase the ontological value of any judgment by bringing it under the category of knowledge; we do not necessarily diminish the ontological value of any judgment by being content to let it rest under the rubric faith. Some men's knowledges are by no means so rational as other men's beliefs. And much of the development of the particular sciences, as well as of the evolution of religious faith, consists in finding out that what was once thought to be assuredly known, is no longer worthy even of belief; but that many of the insights of faith have turned out to be anticipations of future assured knowledge, whether of law or of fact ("Philosophy of Religion," vol. II, p. 22f.).
In dealing with the beliefs that make science possible and that condition all its development, because they belong to the very nature of the human mind, we must emphasize anew a certain group which may be claimed to exist always and everywhere, and to act with ever-increasing authority. These constitute the faith of science in reason itself; or rather that confidence of reason in itself which underlies and guarantees all our mental attitudes toward the real world — of things, and Self, and other selves, — whether we classify these attitudes as of faith or as of knowledge. This "Reason" that has undying faith in itself is not simply the fact of sense-perception, with its powers of interpretation so vastly superior to those of any of the animals; nor is it simply the facility and accuracy of the intellectual processes which, from facts of sense, infer conclusions, derive laws, and soar aloft on wings of speculation to the thin air of universally valid scientific hypotheses. The Reason of which we are speaking is possessed of certain powers of insight; it makes quite -imperative demands for the satisfaction of certain sentiments and ideals of æsthetical, moral and religious, as well as of more purely intellectual kind. These demands are essential elements of this Reason itself. And being essential, they guarantee a certain persistency and authority to the faiths which correspond to the demands. The completely and candidly rational mind, therefore, is no more satisfied with a body of science which does not satisfy these faiths than it is with a body of science which does not explain the facts of sensuous experience. Such a mind demands that the World of non-sensuous ideals shall be brought into harmony with the world of sensuous facts. Only when this harmony is attained, does Reason feel satisfied with itself.
That men still cherish, and always have cherished, a vast number of mistaken and even morally injurious as well as practically harmful beliefs and faiths, is undoubtedly true. But perhaps it is no more true of art, morality, and religion, than it is of what we are pleased to call the positive sciences. The proper conclusion from these sad facts is neither the discrediting of human reason altogether, nor of that side of its demands and endeavors which has its grounds in what we call our beliefs. We hear great laudation of facts as the foundation of science, and of the "practical," as the principal, if not the only field, for experiencing its valuable results. But the language of the facts which science — whether physical, psychological, or social — sets out to interpret is, as Conrad somewhere declares, "so often more enigmatic than the craftiest arrangement of words." It is not the pathway along which the beliefs and faiths of humanity have crept, so cautiously, and sometimes so sneakingly, — that is the only course of man's evolution to be thickly strewn with cast-off superstitions and false ideas. The path of the positive sciences is much decorated in the same way. Both resemble the uphill road that leads from Nikko to Chuzenji, with its sacred mountain hard to climb. Scarcely a yard of this road that has not lying on top, or covered by its dust, one or two pairs of sandals dropped from the weary feet of its stream of pilgrims.
And yet the courage and assurance of men grows, both as respects the reach and the verity of their scientific attainments, and also as respects the reasonableness and practical value of their beliefs and faiths. In no previous age of the world, in spite of its seeming prevalence of agnosticism and unbelief, have the convictions of men as to the trustworthiness of human reason — wisely and modestly employed, in the long run, and for the great average — been so firm and unassailable.
Now, that the faith of reason in itself should be quite unlimited and always proved true by its result, in order to afford a rational justification for this faith, is plainly absurd. It amounts to saying that man, in order to be rational at all, must be like God, in the possession of a reason that is incapable of making mistakes. It is enough for man to learn by his mistakes; to have a reason that can grow into an increased similitude with the perfect Reason, whose child he may have the reason-able belief that he is. But the notable thing in this connection is the fact that the mistakes and errors do not dismay or essentially lessen the confidences of mankind in their ability progressively to attain valid knowledge and reasonable belief. In this confidence the positive sciences have a particularly generous share. They are fully entitled to the enjoyment of this share. For without that confidence they could less easily exist than could either art, or morals, or religion. For scientific beliefs are bound to be more "cold-blooded," so to say. They make more show of deference to facts and of indifference to sentiments and to ideals, than do the faiths of art, morals, and religion. We suspect that this is largely "show"; and that the sciences are just as sincerely, if less obviously, subject to control in the shaping of their conclusions, from aesthetical, and even quasi-moral and quasi-religious sentiments. We may say, however, that the scientific belief in human capacity for attaining the correct picture of the World as it really is, lays a more conscious emphasis on the accuracy of "controlled" sense-perception, of mathematical processes, of measurements of quantity, and of strictly guarded intellectual processes of inference.
All the greater beliefs of humanity are only certain aspects of the faith of Reason in itself; and to some good degree, they must all be held by the rankest agnostic and most pronounced unbeliever among the professional "scientists." Metaphysics or no metaphysics, as an affair of academical culture, or as a subject to which it is worth the while of any reader of books or owner of a "silent hour," to give a moment's attention; a certain "metaphysical faith" underlies and guarantees all the confidence of the so-called positive sciences in their progressive approaches to the truths of reality. One would suppose that this belief, like all other beliefs, might properly be called upon to render an intelligent account of its reasonableness by every one who cherishes it. Why, indeed, should not science be compelled to vindicate its metaphysical beliefs, as often and as loudly as are morality and religion?
Now, it is the same human spirit in which reside and develop the greater beliefs of science, and the higher flights of artistic imagination, as well as all the more fundamental and valuable faiths of morality and religion. This spirit, although often distracted and some-times quite distraught, always remains essentially one and indivisible, and so persistently engaged in attempts to secure for itself a higher degree of reasonableness as the sole condition of a completer self-harmony. From this psychological fact it inevitably follows that, both in theory and in practice, no conception of the "Substrate of material things" can be formed in the name of the positive sciences, which does not include numerous important elements from the aesthetical, and even from the moral, side of human nature. Shall we find in "Matter" this needed all-sufficient substrate? Well, then, we must, as we are assured by one of the most ardent advocates of this solution of the mystery of the Universe, endow "It" with "active life" as its "inseparable attribute." We must think of it as "infinitely delicate" and capable of "the highest evolution of thought." To this world-builder we should sing some such perpetual song of praise as this:
"Is not this which ye call `Matter',
Curiously enough we find an ancient mystical writing of Christian Gnosticism asserting of "all angels, all archangels, gods and lords, all rulers, all the great invisibles," that "ye are all, of yourselves and in yourselves in turn, from one mass, and one matter and one sub-stance. Ye are all from the same mixture." Extremes meet; and this is not the only instance where we come upon an explanation of the physical world by the theory of a non-spiritual and impersonal substance, which differs in its essential metaphysics, in no important way, from the most extravagant vagaries of religious Gnosticism.
The same truth is even more apparent when we analyze the attempts of science to construct a self-explanatory but non-spiritual conception of the world of things and men under the term Nature, or some similar term. This Nature must be "uncreate, perfect, and eternal"; it must have that within itself which
"Lives through all life, extends through all extent,
On this attempt, and on the objection to the spiritual conception of the world as a necessary postulate of all science, when it endeavors to make its ultimate beliefs reason-able, I have elsewhere said: "And, indeed, the preceding centuries of talk about a regressus as the way in which the plain man's consciousness, or the observations of science, or the speculation of philosophy, reaches from the natural system of things to the spirit that is in them, is in violation both of fact and of sound reason as well. There is not, and there never has been, any `brute, inanimate' matter; there is not now, and there never has been, any system of natural objects bare or devoid of indwelling spirit. Matter, considered as wholly devoid of the characteristics of selfhood, is, as yet, not matter; it is nothing, and can do nothing; it is nought; it is not. And when we supplant this lower conception by the more vital, effective, and universal term Nature, we only acknowledge in a not less impressive way the same essential truth. This term, indeed, serves the great purpose better than does the term matter; it is a richer and more satisfactory grouping of the necessary conceptions, because it is the more obvious and richly personal and spiritual term. To get from Nature to Spirit, then, we have only to get more deeply into Nature. For whenever mythology, or science, or philosophy, makes due recognition of the extent and potency of this Absolute Whole, as an explaining principle for what is otherwise particular and isolated, it only expresses the universal insight of man's mind into the real character of the world of things and of spirits. Except so far as it is known as having additional characteristics of Spirit, Nature is as `brute and inanimate' as was the old-fashioned but now extinct conception of matter. In a word, Nature, too, is nothing, and can do nothing, without Spirit; and only in so far as it is essentially spiritual, can it be known as the principle which sums-up and embraces all particular realities and all actual events." ("A Theory of Reality," p. 460.)
But our argument in behalf of the influence of æsthetical and even of ethical considerations upon the greater scientific beliefs does not need to depend solely upon the psychological principle that the mind of man is a spiritual unity. The argument may be confirmed by an appeal to the facts of history and to the present tenor, as well as to the past trend, of scientific conceptions and theories. One of the most prominent and practically useful of the prevailing scientific beliefs is the faith in the World as a Cosmos or rational order. This belief is not, indeed, primitive and fundamental to the same extent as the one which has just been passed under examination. But it is by no means wholly absent from the crudest and earliest forms of science. Indeed, when the positive sciences had not reached the experimental stage, — had not, that is to say, as yet become "positive sciences," — the tendency of reflective minds was to construct a priori far too fair and complete, and æsthetically pleasing, a picture of the physical universe. Inasmuch as there was then little or no question raised concerning the part which the gods had in its building, and in the conduct of its daily operations, there was as little doubt that ethical considerations had entered into the original construction of the universe, and were still potent in its daily ongoings. Plato, who is in general so critical and so sane, when discoursing about matters of human political and social morality, goes quite wild when he attempts to tell us how the Divine Being must, have proceeded in his construction of the World.
In spite, however, of these and all similar defects and exaggerations, the belief in the essential orderliness and law-abiding quality of the material universe, has become an established thing in modern science. The conviction that it is so, has been fortified by all the more important advances of scientific investigation. So true is this, that the belief is a sort of "sleeping" or silent hypothesis, lying at the base of all the methods of experimental research. This is not at all the same thing as the vain and illusory attempt to reduce all the sciences to one all-inclusive and all-dominating science. There are many sciences, each with its legitimate, although more or less over-lapping, sphere of phenomena allotted to it. For the various manifestations of the one world are as different and changeable as its unity in variety is comprehensive and unyielding. This, on the other hand, is far from giving any warrant to the theory of a "pluralistic universe," but just the contrary. The many sciences are more and more discovering their own manifold alliances and the community of co-operation necessary to understand better the wonderful variety in unity of this One Universe.
If, then, we ask ourselves, Out of what undying roots does this belief in the motley crowd of things and array of conflicting forces, perpetually snarling at each other, or entering into deadly conflict with one another, and yet all the while evolving a world of higher and nobler forms of life, a world whose elemental forces "strive ever upward toward light and motion"; — if, now, I say, we ask ourselves, How does such a world come to be regarded as a true and grand "Cosmos"? we cannot answer the question, just as a question of fact, and regard-less of any attempt to justify the fact, without taking chiefly into our account the æsthetical nature of the human mind. We must say that the artistic spirit works powerfully in man, in every normal man, whether he be a mathematician, or not; and whether he be a physicist, or a chemist, or neither of the two. Under the influence of this spirit, the uncivilized man shapes his pottery, carves his canoe, and decorates his clothing, in forms approved by the highest art, both ancient Greek and modern Japanese. He does this in the belief that reality is beautiful.
When we say that the World is beautiful, we do not mean that there are no ugly things in it, or that it always, or indeed ever, makes upon us the impression, when taken as a whole, of being a quite thoroughly pretty affair. But we mean that the higher qualities of the Beautiful, the qualities of sublimity, of vastness of space and time and power, of orderliness and a sort of grand harmony emphasized even by the horrid discords which sometimes shock our ears, rule in the constitution of the World and are somehow being more perfectly realized in the World's evolution.
This æsthetical belief of the scientific order is one of several marked instances of the general principle to which attention has already been called. For the time being, and in many of their aspects, the world of sense and the world of belief present not a few contrasts and even apparent contradictions; and yet they are not two real worlds, but only one real world viewed from two different points of view. If we were to enter, for purposes of illustration or proof, into details, we should have to note the dependence of the special form of the beliefs that help to shape the scientific conceptions of the invisible world upon the prevailing stage of scientific knowledge as to the world of sense.
The two are never the same. The invisible world is never the exact replica of the world of sense, — whether it be the invisible world of science, or of art, or of religion. For it is essentially true of science as it is of art or of religion, as has been so finely said: "A beautiful material thing is produced by our participation in reason issuing from the Divine." But the degree and manner of this participation is, in science as in art and religion, dependent on the environment of the world of sense. In this environment, and under its influence, science and art and religion interact and co-operate, to construct an ever more reasonable picture, for faith to grasp and appropriate, of the invisible and yet truly real world. The curve of the evolution of civilization is, as Crozier in his "History of Intellectual Development" has said, "the product and the outcome, not of any one or more or even all of these factors when taken separately, but of the interplay of them all when united and combined as parts of a single great organic movement." And among other instances, he refers to the "way in which new-born Physical Science affected Theology, that in turn Politics, and that again Morality, and so on." (vol. III, p. 9).
Why then shall I not hold that this spiritual view of the world, so persistently contrasted with, and so often opposed to, the sensuous view of the same world, is entitled to some of the respect given to what we call "science?" It is with the assurance of faith in this view that the Duke of Argyll declared ("Philosophy of Belief," p. 186) : "There must be (italics ours) some spiritual and ethical relations corresponding to the ethical and spiritual faculties of which we are conscious in ourselves." As a product of belief, a kind of intuitive experience, this spiritual view belongs to the realm of empirical knowledge; as a product of reflection, it is a form of rational knowledge. The development of the positive sciences themselves is continually adding to the proofs that the vast and, at first, seemingly heterogeneous multitude of things, is in reality a unity, being perpetually constructed and re-constructed ac-cording to ideals which excite the mind to sentiments of beauty for the sublimity, orderliness, and wisdom which they display. Thus the world which satisfies man's aesthetical nature and the world which he discovers by use of his senses, and by inference from such discovery, - the world believed in, although invisible and intangible, and the world actually visible and tangible, are known as One real World.
Closely allied with this form of scientific belief, the origin of which we may assign chiefly to man's æsthetical nature, is the vague, and not as yet well-established but hopeful belief, that the physical universe admits of interpretation in accordance with man's moral and religious as well as intellectual ideals. The older forms of so-called "natural theology" attempted a conclusive proof by way of induction, if not a demonstration, that the world is a "moral system." As a result of the survey of things, then, one was invited to climb by steps of inference to the conclusion that the same world which the positive sciences know is the world of a wise and benevolent God. In this way the intellect, on a basis of sense-perception, was to give genuine scientific value to the faiths of religion. This so-called "argument from design" was attacked by Kant, but with due deference to its respectability, on the terms of his distinction between knowledge and faith, and his principle of confining the claims of the former to the causal connection of phenomena only. The blow at the scientific foundations of a moral universe, struck at first by analytic philosophy, was followed somewhat more than a half-century later by a more destructive blow from science itself. It now seemed to be proved by observation of the senses, and by strictly logical inference from such observation, backed up by a large amount of experimental results, that the world was not created by a wise and good God, but was being brought into existence by a cease-less process of mechanical evolution. Moreover, this process of evolution itself was far enough from being conducted with any great amount of regard for moral considerations, — at least as morality is conceived of in its applications to human society. The world of the evolutionary hypothesis seemed very far from being permeated with the perfection of moral wisdom or unspotted benevolence.
A bitter controversy arose. On the one side was the often quite ridiculous spectacle of theology trying to drag science over the line, to the support of its now fast-fading faiths; on the other side appeared a crowd of doughty youthful "scientists," shouting denial of their own most fundamental convictions, in the fear that some of these beliefs might be captured by theology and turned into proofs of its traditional faiths.
A half-century of contradictions and compromises has brought about a much improved condition of accepted beliefs both of science and of religion with regard to the way and the degree in which the physical universe displays, or evinces, the moral principles, out of which men form their social and religious ideals, and which they consider, to some good extent at least as binding in all matters of their conduct toward one another. The improvement has been effected chiefly by acceptance of the recommendation which Lotze issued in his Academical lectures of 1878; — "that the two hostile parties should return to modesty; — namely, that theological learning on the one side and irreligious natural science on the other, should not assert that they have exact knowledge about so very much which they neither do know nor can know. It would therefore presuppose that, in the recognition of divine mysteries which are left to the interpretation of each believing mind, and of general ethical precepts concerning the meaning of which, moreover, there exists no controversy, the religious life may unfold itself in accordance with the motto: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas."
Just now, however, we are interested in calling attention to the fact that the scientific attitude contains within itself at least the germs of a belief that quasi-moral considerations do lie at the foundations of the world's constitution and evolution. This is in a way true, though less obviously true, even of its purely physical and chemical processes. The æsthetical qualities of the physical universe, the belief in the existence and value of which we have just attributed to the very nature of modern Science, is, of itself, closely allied to, if it is not in essence a part of a moral belief. Only attribute a sort of consciousness to the things that are so sublime in their obedience to law and order, and you endow them with moral quality. This sentiment, with its accompanying activity of the imagination, is so very natural and spontaneous, that the reflective mind can scarcely escape its powerful influence. Climbing in the Alps, or gazing on the Himalayas from Prospect Hill, Darjeeling, the most agnostic devotee of experimental science can scarcely help believing for the moment in nature's immanent Divinity.
"As the dew is dried up by the morning sun,
thus runs a passage in the Râmâyana. In this confession, the modern agnostic joins with the Hindu theosophist. By this confession he makes it evident that he cannot look upon physical nature without influences from his own moral nature permeating its aspect and directing his point of view. Indeed, the violent accusation of immorality, as some men reckon immorality, which is so often and so thoughtlessly brought against the bearing on human interests of natural processes, is itself an indirect, but no less significant testimony to a belief that these processes have some sort of moral character.
It is, however, when we come to consider the nature and methods of the psychological and historical sciences, — of economics, politics, sociology, and the science of religion, that the influences of this form of belief become most apparent. Try as hard as they may, — and they do sometimes try very hard, with no little display of twistings and turnings, — these sciences can not exclude from their very incorporation the moral sentiments and the belief in the realities and values corresponding to human moral ideals. As purely non-moral efforts, the psychological and historical sciences have no existence. Even the discussions into which they enter, and the proofs which they bring forward, in the effort to show that they have little or nothing to do with ethical conceptions and ethical ideals, are quite sufficient evidence of the exact contrary. What a spectacle is afforded by the gigantic efforts of Nietzsche and his followers among the economists, historians, and political philosophers, to maintain that the supremacy of might is the higher morality! The man with a faith in moral ideals, as of necessity entering into all the sciences of this description is quite surely entitled to say to these men who have raised an altar with this inscription, "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD"; "What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you."
From such beliefs as those we have just been considering, it is an easy and swift passage to certain forms of belief which condition and shape all man's Social Development. Indeed, we find ourselves dealing, not so much with two distinct classes of beliefs as with essentially the same beliefs looking out in different directions and upon different but related classes of objects. This reciprocal influence is particularly marked in the case of the religious belief in the so-called supernatural. All economic, social, and political developments, and all the attempts to deal scientifically with these developments, have always been, and still are, powerfully influenced by the belief in the superhuman and supernatural. The effect of this belief has of late come to be considered as in general either negative or positively re-pressing and retarding. Doubtless, it has not infrequently proved so. But between the scientific conception of the natural and the belief in the supernatural, — not, indeed, as contra-nature or as wholly extra-natural, but as infra-natural (the spiritual as the very living soul and essential being of the natural), — there need be no settled opposition, not to say, irreconcilable antagonism. As has already been shown in the discussion of the conceptions of Matter and Nature (p. 155 ff.), science and faith do not eliminate, but rather supplement, the one the other.
Among the greater beliefs which make human society and social development possible, we may notice the following. Society cannot be organized at all without placing a certain amount of faith in the stability and trust-worthiness of man's physical environment. It is the special work of the positive sciences, both physical and psychological, to discover and promulgate the conditions and limitations of this belief. If everybody, at all times, cherished and acted upon the belief of the millenarian or the political Cassandra, human society would soon become chaotic and before long come to an end. The effect on our social and economic beliefs by periods of wide-spreading physical disaster, when for every man his world at least seems to be undergoing destruction by earthquake, plague, or war, is too well known to be enforced by a large number of selected examples. It is no time for marrying and giving in marriage, or for engaging in new business and social schemes, when the walls of Jerusalem are falling.
Like all our beliefs, this one in the stability and general good-will of Nature, is often enough disappointed. But however often disappointed, it rallies again and, with its rallying, the customary social constitutions resume their sway. No number of repetitions to the process of disillusionment so far as the particular forms taken by the belief are concerned, suffices to make men believe that Dame Nature has altogether "gone back" on them. Seed is always cast into the ground or upon the waters in the faith that it will return, several fold, after the appointed days. The belief is temporarily disappointed; but it revives in even a stronger form. For the growth of knowledge as to nature's ways introduces new and improved kinds of seeds, improved and vastly more productive modes of culture, and economics in the preservation and distribution of the fruits of toil. But all the new machinery, all the developments of the products of the field, the work-shop, and the laboratory, are necessarily created and employed in the confidence that the world of things is not fundamentally capricious, that it is, so to say, " disposed to be reasonable; " that it is somehow — at the worst in a some-what vague, figurative way — akin and friendly to the mind of man and responsive to his more unchanging and intimate necessities. The foundation which this belief affords to all the many species of human social developments, in all the history of man's social progress, is superficially shifty and precarious; but there is bed-rock somewhere underneath. And surely, without it, society could not exist.
It is instructive to note in this connection, how certain crude and primitive religious beliefs and superstitions mingle with this confidence in the stability and good-will toward the wise and industrious man, which is expected from Nature. Everywhere among savages and civilized ancients alike, the gods were believed to take an interest in the results of agriculture and handicraft. They need, therefore, to be placated by offerings and prayers, or by grateful acknowledgement and sharing in the fruits of men's labors. In ancient Egypt it was Osiris who showed men how to water and till the fields. The same service was performed for the Hellenes by Demeter. Amidst a quite different physical and social environment, the ancient Peruvians held that the sun-god sent two of his children, Manko Kapak and Mama Oglio, to teach agriculture to man. In China it is the office of the Emperor, as the only one worthy to represent the nation in the worship of Shang TI, who himself conducts the course of the furrow made by the plow at the opening of the season for agriculture. Now all this mixture of beliefs, partly intellectual, as modified unceasingly by experience of one sort, and partly religious, as awakened and cherished by experience of another sort, combines to shape the social institutions and social development of every community of human souls.
But society is even more obviously dependent on certain personal faiths as existing among the members who compose it. In order to come into existence in the first instance, every form of social organization involves the trust of man in his fellow man. Men cannot unite socially, unless they believe in, "take stock in," one another. Universal disbelief, taking the form of absolute distrust of everybody by everybody, would speedily disintegrate society, would indeed make its initial stages quite impossible. In the simplest and least exacting of human relations, men must exercise and practice fairly under this belief in order to insure a small measure of success by their co-operation. The song of the porters loading the boats on "Dear Mother Volga," is a thoroughly vital affair:
"If all don't grasp together,
The personal faith of the liege lord in his samurai retainer, and the responsive faith of the samurai in his liege lord, characterized both for good and for evil the Old Japan; the same faith of personal loyalty made possible the success of the New Japan in the more recent tests of its social and political strength and integrity. As was once said of the late Prince Ito to the author, when surprise was expressed at the implicit nature of his confidences: "It is the invariable habit of the Prince when he trusts anyone, to trust him absolutely." With-out some large and glorious faith of this sort it is especially difficult, it is indeed quite impossible, for anyone to act the part of a great teacher, of the founder of new social institutions, or of the reformer of social abuses and degradation. It is this personal faith which secures and perpetuates such organizations as the Society of Jesus, the Masonic Order, and as well the Mafia, the "gun-squad," and the "gang" of ruffians. And, of course, neither states nor churches could exist without it.
How sadly and frequently this faith of men in one another is disappointed, no matter what particular interest or phase of human social organization it represents; What need is there to tell? The man of middle life or beyond does not exist, who cannot recall many instances of its failure. Jesus trusted his whole cause to twelve men; and one of them was a traitor, and another in a "funk" of cowardice betrayed him. And are not present events teaching us how little confidence can be placed in the most solemn treaty obligations or protestations of moral principle? But men will continue to form domestic relations, and make friendships, and frame contracts and treaties, and associate themselves in manifold ways on terms of mutual confidences, as long as human society exists. And this for the very good reason that, without this faith in persons and confidence in personal relations, society could not exist. There are hypocrites and backsliders in abundance; but churches cannot be established and continued, otherwise than upon the basis of some kind of confession and covenant.
Not only some faith, and some largeness of faith, but a decidedly optimistic faith of men in one another, is necessary to the highest interests and noblest developments of human society. In some meaning of that much abused and quite ordinarily misunderstood word, all great and successful reformers have been "optimists"; all the great social up-lifts have been in response to the pressure and upward pull of the ideals of "optimism." But we are now within the confines of permissible human hopes, rather than within the stricter limits of the most highly probable beliefs of the scientific or the social sort.
It is through morality, however, and the beliefs which are born in and fostered by the moral consciousness, that the welfare and lasting goods of human society are made possible. If society were left solely to the matter-of-fact experience of the consequences of wrong-doing, for survival of the belief in the fruitfulness of righteousness, and for the confirmation of its fears of the results of unrighteousness, it would not stop short in sin of its utter destruction. It is the undying belief of humanity in the values of moral judgment, and in the obligations and worth of moral ideals, which saves the race from becoming one big and hopeless collection of incorrigible and irredeemable evil-doers. It is these moral beliefs which prevent the world from becoming one vast prison for those condemned to life-servitude, or one vast hospital for those afflicted with loathsome and fatal diseases. Under the worst social conditions there has always been a remnant that was, not only itself salvable, but that had salt in it for the salvation of others. If we did but know it, it would probably be shown true that, under the worst conditions, the majority, rather than a small remnant, were still in the way of possible salvation through the power of their moral and religious beliefs. Indeed, it is not impossible that the very essentials of human existence are bound up with the continuance and fate of these moral and religious beliefs. For the individual, to lose them utterly would be to cease to exist as a person. But human society is composed of individual persons, not of individual things or animals. Its very material, its "raw stuff," so to say, cannot be furnished at all, except as it is found dependent upon the continuance and the triumph of moral beliefs.
This belief in the social excellence of morality is no new affair; nor is it by any means con-fined to modern civilized man. In the most "ancient book in the world," the Maxims of Ptah-hotep, we are told: "Justice is great, invariable, assured; it has not been disturbed since the age of Osiris." "God will take away the bread of him who enriches himself by inspiring fear." Of the most embryonic and primitive of social organizations Professor Tito Vignoli says ("Myth and Science," p. 41) : "There is not a society, however rude and primitive, in which all these relations, both to the individual and to society at large, are not apparent; and these are based on superstitions and mythical beliefs." But these beliefs, like all other of the greater human beliefs, are constantly undergoing a process of purification which increases their reasonableness, and so plants them yet more firmly at the very roots of human social development.
In this connection we remark upon the hope-less fallacy involved in certain forms of Social-ism as a theory and as a cult. This arises from its misplaced belief in the unregulated goodness and untrained wisdom of average human nature. But still more viciously does Nihilism, in certain of its forms and practices, trust the passionate and blind impulse against existing wrongs, for the justification of the destruction of all the political and social institutions which have been consecrated by the slowly developing beliefs of the past. Superstitions, economic, political, social, moral and religious, must all — we cannot recall the obligation too often — submit themselves to the test of reasonableness. But the test of reasonableness is not to be found by putting our confidence in "dreams of the pipe" or of the maniac's cell. If we will understand it aright, and in no scornfully undemocratic way, there is sound truth in the call: "We want first of all the few, the blossoming of the race. It is necessary that these be found, or that they find themselves and that they take their true orbits and live their true lives. For the temple of humanity has not only the broad floor, but the cross glittering above the pinnacle." (Stephen Graham, "A Tramp's Sketches," p. 332.)
The solid and lasting foundations for the necessary social beliefs of the most reasonable and reasonably optimistic sort are moral and religious faiths. They depend upon the confidence in the supreme value and final triumph of the morally good, and that "All's well," for "God is at the helm." But these faiths, in their turn, demand and merit a fuller examination in the light of reflective thought.