Part 2 of 4
(iii.) Psychology in Ethics.
In this way, for Fichte, and through Fichte still more decidedly for Hegel, both psychology and ethics breathe an opener and ampler air than they often enjoy. Psychology ceases to be a mere description of psychic events, and becomes the history of the self-organising process of human reason. Ethics loses its cloistered, negative, unnatural aspect, and becomes a name for some further conditions of the same development, essentially postulated to complete or supplement its shortcomings. Psychology—taken in this high philosophical acceptation—thus leads on to Ethics; and Ethics is parted by no impassable line from Psychology. That, at least, is what must happen if they are still to retain a place in philosophy: for, as Kant says55, “under the government of reason our cognitions cannot form a rhapsody, but must constitute a system, in which alone can they support and further its essential aims.” As parts of such a system, they carry out their special work in subordination to, and in the realisation of, a single Idea—and therefore in essential interconnexion. From that interconnecting band we may however in detail-enquiry dispense ourselves; and then we have the empirical or inductive sciences of psychology and ethics. But even with these, the necessity of the situation is such that it is only a question of degree how far we lose sight of the philosophical horizon, and entrench ourselves in special enquiry. Something of the philosophic largeness must always guide us; even when, to further the interests of the whole, it is necessary for the special enquirer to bury himself entirely in his part. So long as each part is sincerely and thoroughly pursued, and no part is neglected, there is an indwelling reason in the parts which will in the long run tend to constitute the total.
A philosophical psychology will show us how the sane intelligence and the rational will are, at least approximately, built up out of elements, and through stages and processes, which modify and complement, as they may also arrest and perplex, each other. The unity, coherence, and completeness of the intelligent self is not, as vulgar irreflectiveness supposes and somewhat angrily maintains, a full-grown thing or agent, of whose actions and modes of behaviour the psychologist has to narrate the history,—a history which is too apt to degenerate into the anecdotal and the merely interesting. This unity of self has to be “deduced,” as Fichte would say: it has to be shown as the necessary result which certain elements in a certain order will lead to56. A normal mind, self-possessed, developed and articulated, yet thoroughly one, a real microcosm, or true and full monad, which under the mode of its individuality still represents the universe: that is, what psychology has to show as the product of factors and processes. And it is clearly something great and good, something valuable, and already possessing, by implication we may say, an ethical character.
In philosophy, at least, it is difficult, or rather impossible to draw a hard and fast line which shall demarcate ethical from non-ethical characters,—to separate them from other intellectual and reasonable motives. Kant, as we know, attempted to do so: but with the result that he was forced to add a doubt whether a purely moral act could ever be said to exist57; or rather to express the certainty that if it did it was for ever inaccessible to observation. All such designations of the several “factors” or “moments” in reality, as has been hinted, are only a potiori. But they are misused when it is supposed that they connote abrupt and total discontinuity. And Kant, after all, only repeated in his own terminology an old and inveterate habit of thought:—the habit which in Stoicism seemed to see sage and foolish utterly separated, and which in the straiter sects of Christendom fenced off saint absolutely from sinner. It is a habit to which Hegel, and even his immediate predecessors, are radically opposed. With Herder, he might say, “Ethics is only a higher physics of the mind58.” This—the truth in Spinozism—no doubt demands some emphasis on the word “higher”: and it requires us to read ethics (or something like it) into physics; but it is a step on the right road,—the step which Utilitarianism and Evolutionism had (however awkwardly) got their foot upon, and which “transcendent” ethics seems unduly afraid of committing itself to. Let us say, if we like, that the mind is more than mere nature, and that it is no proper object of a merely natural science. But let us remember that a merely natural science is only a fragment of science: let us add that the merely natural is an abstraction which in part denaturalises and mutilates the larger nature—a nature which includes the natural mind, and cannot altogether exclude the ethical.
What have been called “formal duties59” seem to fall under this range—the province of a philosophical psychology which unveils the conditions of personality. Under that heading may be put self-control, consistency, resolution, energy, forethought, prudence, and the like. The due proportion of faculty, the correspondence of head and heart, the vivacity and quickness of sympathy, the ease and simplicity of mental tone, the due vigour of memory and the grace of imagination, sweetness of temper, and the like, are parts of the same group60. They are lovely, and of good report: they are praise and virtue. If it be urged that they are only natural gifts and graces, that objection cuts two ways. The objector may of course be reminded that religion tones down the self-complacency of morality. Yet, first, even apart from that, it may be said that of virtues, which stand independent of natural conditions—of external supply of means (as Aristotle would say)—nothing can be known and nothing need be said. And secondly, none of these qualities are mere gifts;—all require exercise, habituation, energising, to get and keep them. How much and how little in each case is nature's and how much ours is a problem which has some personal interest—due perhaps to a rather selfish and envious curiosity. But on the broad field of experience and history we may perhaps accept the—apparently one-sided—proverb that “Each man is the architect of his own fortune.” Be this as it may, it will not do to deny the ethical character of these “formal duties” on the ground e.g. that self-control, prudence, and even sweetness of temper may be used for evil ends,—that one may smile and smile, and yet be a villain. That—let us reply,—on one hand, is a fault (if fault it be) incidental to all virtues in detail (for every single quality has its defect): nay it may be a limitation attaching to the whole ethical sphere: and, secondly, its inevitable limitation does not render the virtue in any case one whit less genuine so far as it goes. And yet of such virtues it may be said, as Hume61 would say (who calls them “natural,” as opposed to the more artificial merits of justice and its kin), that they please in themselves, or in the mere contemplation, and without any regard to their social effects. But they please as entering into our idea of complete human nature, of mind and spirit as will and intellect.
The moralists of last century sometimes divided the field of ethics by assigning to man three grades or kinds of duty: duties to himself, duties to society, and duties to God. For the distinction there is a good deal to be said: there are also faults to be found with it. It may be said, amongst other things, that to speak of duties to self is a metaphorical way of talking, and that God lies out of the range of human duty altogether, except in so far as religious service forms a part of social obligation. It may be urged that man is essentially a social being, and that it is only in his relations to other such beings that his morality can find a sphere. The sphere of morality, according to Dr. Bain, embraces whatever “society has seen fit to enforce with all the rigour of positive inflictions. Positive good deeds and self-sacrifice ... transcend the region of morality proper and occupy a sphere of their own62.” And there is little doubt that this restriction is in accordance with a main current of usage. It may even be said that there are tendencies towards a narrower usage still, which would restrict the term to questions affecting the relations of the sexes. But, without going so far, we may accept the standpoint which finds in the phrase “popular or social” sanction, as equivalent to the moral sanction, a description of the average level of common opinion on the topic. The morality of an age or country thus denotes, first, the average requirement in act and behaviour imposed by general consent on the members of a community, and secondly, the average performance of the members in response to these requirements. Generally speaking the two will be pretty much the same. If the society is in a state of equilibrium, there will be a palpable agreement between what all severally expect and what all severally perform. On the other hand, as no society is ever in complete equilibrium, this harmony will never be perfect and may often be widely departed from. In what is called a single community, if it reach a considerable bulk, there are (in other words) often a number of minor societies, more or less thwarting and modifying each other; and different observers, who belong in the main to one or other of these subordinate groups, may elicit from the facts before them a somewhat different social code, and a different grade of social observance. Still, with whatever diversity of detail, the important feature of such social ethics is that the stress is laid on the performance of certain acts, in accordance with the organisation of society. So long as the required compliance is given, public opinion is satisfied, and morality has got its due.
But in two directions this conception of morality needs to be supplementing. There is, on one hand, what is called duty to God. The phrase is not altogether appropriate: for it follows too closely the analogy of social requirement, and treats Deity as an additional and social authority,—a lord paramount over merely human sovereigns. But though there may be some use in the analogy, to press the conception is seriously to narrow the divine character and the scope of religion. As in similar cases, we cannot change one term without altering its correlative. And therefore to describe our relation to God under the name of duty is to narrow and falsify that relation. The word is no longer applicable in this connexion without a strain, and where it exists it indicates the survival of a conception of theocracy: of God regarded as a glorification of the magistrate, as king of kings and lord of lords. It is the social world—and indeed we may say the outside of the social world—that is the sphere of duties. Duty is still with these reductions a great august name: but in literal strictness it only rules over the medial sphere of life, the sphere which lies between the individual as such and his universal humanity63. Beyond duty, lies the sphere of conscience and of religion. And that is not the mere insistence by the individual to have a voice and a vote in determining the social order. It is the sense that the social order, however omnipotent it may seem, is limited and finite, and that man has in him a kindred with the Eternal.
It is not very satisfactory, either, as Aristotle and others have pointed out, to speak of man's duties to himself. The phrase is analogical, like the other. But it has the merit, like that of duty to God, of reminding us that the ordinary latitude occupied by morality is not all that comes under the larger scope of ethics. The “ethics of individual life” is a subject which Mr. Spencer has touched upon: and by this title, he means that, besides his general relationship to others, a human being has to mind his own health, food, and amusement, and has duties as husband and parent. But, after all, these are not matters of peculiarly individual interest. They rather refer to points which society at certain epochs leaves to the common sense of the agent,—apparently on an assumption that he is the person chiefly interested. And these points—as the Greeks taught long ago—are of fundamental importance: they are the very bases of life. Yet the comparative neglect in which so-called civilised societies64 hold the precepts of wisdom in relation to bodily health and vigour, in regard to marriage and progeny, serve to illustrate the doctrine of the ancient Stoics that πάντα ὑπόληψις, or the modern idealist utterance that the World is my idea. More and more as civilisation succeeds in its disruption of man from nature, it shows him governed not by bare facts and isolated experiences, but by the systematic idea under which all things are subsumed. He loses the naïveté of the natural man, which takes each fact as it came, all alike good: he becomes sentimental, and artificial, sees things under a conventional point of view, and would rather die than not be in the fashion. And this tendency is apparently irresistible. Yet the mistake lies in the one-sidedness of sentiment and convention. Not the domination of the idea is evil; but the domination of a partial and fragmentary idea: and this is what constitutes the evil of artificiality. And the correction must lie not in a return to nature, but in the reconstruction of a wider and more comprehensive idea: an idea which shall be the unity and system of all nature; not a fantastic idealism, but an attempt to do justice to the more realist as well as the idealist sides of life.
There is however another side of individualist ethics which needs even more especial enforcement. It is the formation of
“The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill:”
the healthy mind in a healthy body. Ethics is only too apt to suppose that will and intelligence are assumptions which need no special justification. But the truth is that they vary from individual to individual in degree and structure. It is the business of ethical psychology to give to these vague attributions the definiteness of a normal standard: to show what proportions are required to justify the proper title of reason and will—to show what reason and will really are if they do what they are encouraged or expected to do. It talks of the diseases of will and personality: it must also set forth their educational ideal. The first problem of Ethics, it may be said, is the question of the will and its freedom. But to say this is of course not to say that, unless freedom of will be understood in some special sense, ethics becomes impossible. If the moral law is the ratio cognoscendi of freedom, then must our conception of morality and of freedom hang together. And it will clearly be indispensable to begin by some attempt to discover in what sense man may be in the most general way described as a moral agent—as an intelligent will, or (more briefly, yet synonymously) as a will. “The soil of law and morality,” says Hegel65, “is the intelligent life: and its more precise place and starting-point the will, which is free, in the sense that freedom is its substance and characteristic, and the system of law the realm of freedom realised, the world of intelligence produced out of itself as a second nature.” Such a freedom is a freedom made and acquired, the work of the mind's self-realisation, not to be taken as a given fact of consciousness which must be believed66. To have a will—in other words, to have freedom, is the consummation—and let us add, only the formal or ideal consummation—of a process by which man raises himself out of his absorption in sensation and impulse, establishes within himself a mental realm, an organism of ideas, a self-consciousness, and a self.
The vulgar apprehension of these things seems to assume that we have by nature, or are born with, a general faculty or set of general faculties, which we subsequently fill up and embody by the aid of experience. We possess—they seem to imply—so many “forms” and “categories” latent in our minds ready to hold and contain the raw materials supplied from without. According to this view we have all a will and an intelligence: the difference only is that some put more into them, and some put less. But such a separation of the general form from its contents is a piece of pure mythology. It is perhaps true and safe to say that the human being is of such a character that will and intelligence are in the ordinary course inevitably produced. But the forms which grow up are the more and more definite and systematic organisation of a graded experience, of series of ideas, working themselves up again and again in representative and re-representative degree, till they constitute a mental or inner world of their own. The will is thus the title appropriate to the final stage of a process, by which sensation and impulse have polished and perfected themselves by union and opposition, by differentiation and accompanying reintegration, till they assume characters quite unsurmised in their earliest aspects, and yet only the consolidation or self-realisation of implications. Thus the mental faculties are essentially acquired powers,—acquired not from without, but by action which generates the faculties it seems to imply. The process of mind is a process which creates individual centres, raises them to completer independence;—which produces an inner life more and more self-centered and also more and more equal to the universe which it has embodied. And will and intelligence are an important stage in that process.
Herbart (as was briefly hinted at in the first essay) has analysed ethical appreciation (which may or may not be accompanied by approbation) into five distinct standard ideas. These are the ideas of inward liberty, of perfection, of right, benevolence, and equity. Like Hume, he regards the moral judgment as in its purity a kind of aesthetic pronouncement on the agreement or proportion of certain activities in relations to each other. Two of these standard ideas,—that of inward liberty and of perfection—seem to belong to the sphere at present under review. They emerge as conditions determining the normal development of human nature to an intelligent and matured personality. By inward freedom Herbart means the harmony between the will and the intellect: what Aristotle has named “practical truth or reality,” and what he describes in his conception of wisdom or moral intelligence,—the power of discerning the right path and of pursuing it with will and temper: the unity, clear but indissoluble, of will and discernment. By the idea of perfection Herbart means the sense of proportion and of propriety which is awakened by comparing a progress in development or an increase in strength with its earlier stages of promise and imperfection. The pleasure such perception affords works in two ways: it is a satisfaction in achievement past, and a stimulus to achievement yet to come.
Such ideas of inward liberty and of growth in ability or in performance govern (at least in part) our judgment of the individual, and have an ethical significance. Indeed, if the cardinal feature of the ethical sentiment be the inwardness and independence of its approbation and obligation, these ideas lie at the root of all true morality. Inward harmony and inward progress, lucidity of conscience and the resolution which knows no finality of effort, are the very essence of moral life. Yet, if ethics is to include in the first instance social relationships and external utilities and sanctions, these conditions of true life must rather be described as pre-ethical. The truth seems to be that here we get to a range of ethics which is far wider than what is ordinarily called practice and conduct. At this stage logic, aesthetic, and ethic, are yet one: the true, the good, and the beautiful are still held in their fundamental unity. An ethics of wide principle precedes its narrower social application; and whereas in ordinary usage the social provinciality is allowed to prevail, here the higher ethics emerge clear and imperial above the limitations of local and temporal duty.
And though it is easy to step into exaggeration, it is still well to emphasise this larger conception of ethics. The moral principle of the “maximising of life,” as it has been called67, may be open to misconception (—so, unfortunately are all moral principles when stated in the effrontery of isolation): but it has its truth in the conviction that all moral evil is marked by a tendency to lower or lessen the total vitality. So too Friedrich Nietzsche's maxim, Sei vornehm68, ensue distinction, and above all things be not common or vulgar (gemein), will easily lend itself to distortion. But it is good advice for all that, even though it may be difficult to define in a general formula wherein distinction consists, to mark the boundary between self-respect and vanity or obstinacy, or to say wherein lies the beauty and dignity of human nature. Kant has laid it down as the principle of duty to ask ourselves if in our act we are prepared to universalise the maxim implied by our conduct. And that this—which essentially bids us look at an act in the whole of its relations and context—is a safeguard against some forms of moral evil, is certain. But there is an opposite—or rather an apparently opposite—principle which bids us be individual, be true to our own selves, and never allow ourselves to be dismayed from our own unique responsibility. Perhaps the two principles are not so far apart as they seem. In any case true individuality is the last word and the first word in ethics; though, it may be added, there is a good deal to be said between the two termini.
(iv.) An Excursus on Greek Ethics.
It is in these regions that Greek ethics loves to linger; on the duty of the individual to himself, to be perfectly lucid and true, and to rise to ever higher heights of achievement. Ceteris paribus, there is felt to be something meritorious in superiority, something good:—even were it that you are master, and another is slave. Thus naïvely speaks Aristotle69. To a modern, set amid so many conflicting ideals, perhaps, the immense possibilities of yet further growth might suggest themselves with overpowering force. To him the idea of perfection takes the form of an idea of perfectibility: and sometimes it smites down his conceit in what he has actually done, and impresses a sense of humility in comparison with what yet remains unaccomplished. An ancient Greek apparently was little haunted by these vistas of possibilities of progress through worlds beyond worlds. A comparatively simple environment, a fixed and definite mental horizon, had its plain and definite standards, or at least seemed to have such. There were fewer cases of the man, unattached or faintly attached to any definite profession—moving about in worlds half realised—who has grown so common in a more developed civilisation. The ideals of the Greek were clearly descried: each man had his definite function or work to perform: and to do it better than the average, or than he himself habitually had done, that was perfection, excellence, virtue. For virtue to the Greek is essentially ability and respectability: promise of excellent performance: capacity to do better than others. Virtue is praiseworthy or meritorious character and quality: it is achievement at a higher rate, as set against one's past and against others' average.
The Greek moralists sometimes distinguish and sometimes combine moral virtue and wisdom, ἀρετή and φρόνησις: capacity to perform, and wisdom to guide that capacity. To the ordinary Greek perhaps the emphasis fell on the former, on the attainment of all recognised good quality which became a man, all that was beautiful and honourable, all that was appropriate, glorious, and fame-giving; and that not for any special reference to its utilitarian qualities. Useful, of course, such qualities were: but that was not in question at the time. In the more liberal commonwealths of ancient Greece there was little or no anxious care to control the education of its citizens, so as to get direct service, overt contribution to the public good. A suspicious Spartan legislation might claim to do that. But in the free air of Athens all that was required was loyalty, good-will—εὔνοια—to the common weal; it might be even a sentiment of human kindliness, of fraternity of spirit and purpose. Everything beyond and upon that basis was left to free development. Let each carry out to the full the development of his powers in the line which national estimation points out. He is—nature and history alike emphasise that fact beyond the reach of doubt, for all except the outlaw and the casual stranger—a member of a community, and as such has a governing instinct and ideal which animates him. But he is also a self-centered individual, with special endowments of nature, in his own person and in the material objects which are his. A purely individualist or selfish use of them is not—to the normal Greek—even dreamed of. He is too deeply rooted in the substance of his community for that: or it is on the ground and in the atmosphere of an assured community that his individuality is to be made to flourish. Nature has secured that his individuality shall rest securely in the presupposition of his citizenship. It seems, therefore, as if he were left free and independent in his personal search for perfection, for distinction. His place is fixed for him: Spartam nactus es; hanc orna: his duty is his virtue. That duty, as Plato expresses it, is to do his own deeds—and not meddle with others. Nature and history have arranged that others, in other posts, shall do theirs: that all severally shall energise their function. The very word “duty” seems out of place; if, at least, duty suggests external obligation, an order imposed and a debt to be discharged. If there be a task-master and a creditor, it is the inflexible order of nature and history:—or, to be more accurate, of nature, the indwelling and permanent reality of things. But the obligation to follow nature is scarcely felt as a yoke of constraint. A man's virtue is to perform his work and to perform it well: to do what he is specially capable of doing, and therefore specially charged to do.
Nowhere has this character of Greek ethics received more classical expression than in the Republic of Plato. In the prelude to his subject—which is the nature of Right and Morality—Plato has touched briefly on certain popular and inadequate views. There is the view that Right has its province in performance of certain single and external acts—in business honesty and commercial straightforwardness. There is the view that it is rendering to each what is due to him; that it consists in the proper reciprocity of services, in the balance of social give and take. There is the critical or hyper-critical view which, from seeing so much that is called justice to be in harmony with the interest of the predominant social order, bluntly identifies mere force or strength as the ground of right. And there are views which regard it as due to social conventions and artifices, to the influence of education, to political arrangements and the operation of irrational prejudices. To all these views Plato objects: not because they are false—for they are all in part, often in large part, true—but because they are inadequate and do not go to the root of the matter. The foundations of right lie, he says, not in external act, but in the inner man: not in convention, but in nature: not in relation to others, but in the constitution of the soul itself. That ethical idea—the idea of right—which seems most obviously to have its centre outside the individual, to live and grow only in the relations between individuals, Plato selects in order to show the independent royalty of the single human soul. The world, as Hume afterwards, called justice artificial: Plato will prove it natural. In a way he joins company with those who bid us drive out the spectre of duty, of obligation coming upon the soul from social authority, from traditional idea, from religious sanctions. He preaches—or he is about to preach—the autonomy of the will.
The four cardinal virtues of Plato's list are the qualities which go to make a healthy, normal, natural human soul, fit for all activity, equipped with all arms for the battle of life. They tell us what such a soul is, not what it does. They are the qualities which unless a soul has, and has them each perfect, yet all co-operant, its mere outward and single acts have no virtue or merit, but are only lucky accidents at the best. On the other hand, if a man has these constitutive qualities, he will act in the social world, and act well. Plato has said scornful things of mere outward and verbal truthfulness, and has set at the very lowest pitch of degradation the “lie in the soul.” His “temperance” or “self-restraint,” if it be far from breathing any suggestion of self-suppression or self-assertion, is still farther from any suspicion of asceticism, or war against the flesh. It is the noble harmony of the ruling and the ruled, which makes the latter a partner of the sovereign, and takes from the dictates of the ruler any touch of coercion. It is literally sanity of soul, integrity and purity of spirit; it is what has been sometimes called the beautiful soul—the indiscernible unity of reason and impulse. Plato's bravery, again, is fortitude and consistency of soul, the full-blooded heart which is fixed in reason, the zeal which is according to knowledge, unflinching loyalty to the idea, the spirit which burns in the martyrs to truth and humanity: yet withal with gentleness and courtesy and noble urbanity in its immediate train. And his truthfulness is that inner lucidity which cannot be self-deceived, the spirit which is a safeguard against fanaticism and hypocrisy, the sunlike warmth of intelligence without which the heart is a darkness full of unclean things.
The full development and crowning grace of such a manly nature Aristotle has tried to present in the character of the Great-souled man—him whom Plato has called the true king by divine right, or the autocrat by the patent of nature. Like all such attempts to delineate a type in the terms necessarily single and successive of abstract analysis, it tends occasionally to run into caricature, and to give partial aspects an absurd prominency. Only the greatest of artists could cope with such a task, though that artist may be found perhaps classed among the historians. Yet it is possible to form some conception of the ideal which Aristotle would set before us. The Great-souled man is great, and he dare not deny the witness of his spirit. He is one who does not quail before the anger and seek the applause of popular opinion: he holds his head as his own, and as high as his undimmed self-consciousness shows it is worth. There has been said to him by the reason within him the word that Virgil erewhile addressed to Dante:
“Libero, dritto, e sano è il tuo arbitrio
E fallo fora non fare a suo cenno;
Per ch' io te sopra te corono e mitrio.”
He is his own Emperor and his own Pope. He is the perfected man, in whom is no darkness, whose soul is utter clearness, and complete harmony. Calm in self-possessed majesty, he stands, if need be, contra mundum: but rather, with the world beneath his feet. The chatter of personality has no interest for him. Bent upon the best, lesser competitions for distinction have no attraction for him. To the vulgar he will seem cold, self-confined: in his apartness and distinction they will see the signs of a “prig.” His look will be that of one who pities men—rather than loves them: and should he speak ill of a foe, it is rather out of pride of heart and unbroken spirit than because these things touch him. Such an one, in many ways, was the Florentine poet himself.
If the Greek world in general thus conceived ἀρετή as the full bloom of manly excellence (we all know how slightly—witness the remarks in the Periclean oration—Greeks, in their public and official utterances, rated womanliness), the philosophers had a further point to emphasise. That was what they variously called knowledge, prudence, reason, insight, intelligence, wisdom, truth. From Socrates to Aristotle, from Aristotle to the Stoics and Epicureans, and from the Stoics to the Neo-Platonists, this is the common theme: the supremacy of knowledge, its central and essential relation to virtue. They may differ—perhaps not so widely as current prejudice would suppose—as to how this knowledge is to be defined, what kind of knowledge it is, how acquired and maintained, and so on. But in essentials they are at one. None of them, of course, mean that in order to right conduct nothing more is needed than to learn and remember what is right, the precepts and commandments of ordinary morality. Memory is not knowledge, especially when it is out of mind. Even an ancient philosopher was not wholly devoid of common sense. They held—what they supposed was a fact of observation and reflection—that all action was prompted by feelings of the values of things, by a desire of something good or pleasing to self, and aimed at self-satisfaction and self-realisation, but that there was great mistake in what thus afforded satisfaction. People chose to act wrongly or erroneously, because they were, first, mistaken about themselves and what they wanted, and, secondly, mistaken in the means which would give them satisfaction. But this second point was secondary. The main thing was to know yourself, what you really were; in Plato's words, to “see the soul as it is, and know whether it have one form only or many, or what its nature is; to look upon it with the eye of reason in its original purity.” Self-deception, confusion, that worst ignorance which is unaware of itself, false estimation—these are the radical evils of the natural man. To these critics the testimony of consciousness was worthless, unless corroborated. To cure this mental confusion, this blindness of will and judgment, is the task set for philosophy: to give inward light, to teach true self-measurement. In one passage, much misunderstood, Plato has called this philosophic art the due measurement of pleasures and pains. It should scarcely have been possible to mistake the meaning. But, with the catchwords of Utilitarianism ringing in their ears, the commentators ran straight contrary to the true teaching of the Protagoras, consentient as it is with that of the Phaedo and the Philebus. To measure, one must have a standard: and if Plato has one lesson always for us, it is that a sure standard the multitude have not, but only confusion. The so-called pleasures and pains of the world's experiences are so entitled for different reasons, for contrary aims, and with no unity or harmony of judgment. They are—not a fact to be accepted, but—a problem for investigation: their reality is in question, their genuineness, solidity and purity: and till you have settled that, you cannot measure, for you may be measuring vacuity under the idea that there is substance. You have still to get at the unit—i.e. the reality of pleasure. It was not Plato's view that pleasure was a separate and independent entity: that it was exactly as it was felt. Each pleasure is dependent for its pleasurable quality on the consciousness it belongs to, and has only a relative truth and reality. Bentham has written about computing the value of a “lot” of pleasures and pains. But Plato had his mind on an earlier and more fundamental problem, what is the truth and reality of pleasure; and his fullest but not his only essay towards determining the value or estimating the meaning of pleasure in the scale of being is that given in the Philebus.
This then is the knowledge which Greek philosophy meant: not mere intellect—though, of course, there is always a danger of theoretical inquiry degenerating into abstract and formal dogma. But of the meaning there can be no serious doubt. It is a knowledge, says Plato, to which the method of mathematical science—the most perfect he can find acknowledged—is only an ouverture, or perhaps, only the preliminary tuning of the strings. It is a knowledge not eternally hypothetical—a system of sequences which have no sure foundation. It is a knowledge which rests upon the conviction and belief of the “idea of good”: a kind of knowledge which does not come by direct teaching, which is not mere theory, but implies a lively conviction, a personal apprehension, a crisis which is a kind of “conversion,” or “inspiration.” It is as it were the prize of a great contest, in which the sword that conquers is the sword of dialectic: a sword whereof the property is, like that of Ithuriel's spear, to lay bare all deceptions and illusions of life. Or, to vary the metaphor: the son of man is like the prince in the fairy tale who goes forth to win the true queen; but there are many false pretenders decked out to deceive his unwary eyes and foolish heart. Yet in himself there is a power of discernment: there is something kindred with the truth:—the witness of the Spirit—and all that education and discipline can do is to remove obstacles, especially the obstacles within the self which perturb the sight and mislead the judgment. Were not the soul originally possessed of and dominated by the idea of good, it could never discern it elsewhere. On this original kindred depends all the process of education; the influence of which therefore is primarily negative or auxiliary. Thus the process of history and experience,—which the work of education only reproduces in an accelerated tempo—serves but to bring out the implicit reason within into explicit conformity with the rationality of the world.
Knowledge, then, in this ethical sphere means the harmony of will, emotion, intellect: it means the clear light which has no illusions and no deceptions. And to those who feel that much of their life and of the common life is founded on prejudice and illusion, such white light will occasionally seem hard and steely. At its approach they fear the loss of the charm of that twilight hour ere the day has yet begun, or before the darkness has fully settled down. Thus the heart and feelings look upon the intellect as an enemy of sentiment. And Plato himself is not without anticipations of such an issue. Yet perhaps we may add that the danger is in part an imaginary one, and only arises because intelligence takes its task too lightly, and encroaches beyond its proper ground. Philosophy, in other words, mistakes its place when it sets itself up as a dogmatic system of life. Its function is to comprehend, and from comprehension to criticise, and through criticising to unify. It has no positive and additional teaching of its own: no addition to the burden of life and experience. And experience it must respect. Its work is to maintain the organic or super-organic interconnexion between all the spheres of life and all the forms of reality. It has to prevent stagnation and absorption of departments—to keep each in its proper place, but not more than its place, and yet to show how each is not independent of the others. And this is what the philosopher or ancient sage would be. If he is passionless, it is not that he has no passions, but that they no longer perturb and mislead. If his controlling spirit be reason, it is not the reason of the so-called “rationalist,” but the reason which seeks in patience to comprehend, and to be at home in, a world it at first finds strange. And if he is critical of others, he is still more critical of himself: critical however not for criticism's sake (which is but a poor thing), but because through criticism the faith of reason may be more fully justified. To the last, if he is true to his mission and faithful to his loyalty to reality, he will have the simplicity of the child.
Whether therefore we agree or not with Plato's reduction of Right and Duty to self-actualisation, we may at least admit that in the idea of perfection or excellence, combined with the idea of knowledge or inward lucidity, he has got the fundamental ideas on which further ethical development must build. Self-control, self-knowledge, internal harmony, are good: and so are the development of our several faculties and of the totality of them to the fullest pitch of excellence. But their value does not lie entirely in themselves, or rather there is implicit in them a reference to something beyond themselves. They take for granted something which, because it is so taken, may also be ignored and neglected, just because it seems so obvious. And that implication is the social humanity in which they are the spirits of light and leading.
To lay the stress on ἀρετή or excellence tends to leave out of sight the force of duty; and to emphasise knowledge is allowed to disparage the heart and feelings. The mind—even of a philosopher—finds a difficulty in holding very different points of view in one, and where it is forced from one to another, tends to forget the earlier altogether. Thus when the ethical philosopher, presupposing as an absolute or unquestionable fact that man the individual was rooted in the community, proceeded to discuss the problem of the best and completest individual estate, he was easily led to lose sight of the fundamental and governing condition altogether. From the moment that Aristotle lays down the thesis that man is naturally social, to the moment when he asks how the bare ideal of excellence in character and life can become an actuality, the community in which man lives has retired out of sight away into the background. And it only comes in, as it first appears, as the paedagogue to bring us to morality. And Plato, though professedly he is speaking of the community, and is well aware that the individual can only be saved by the salvation of the community, is constantly falling back into another problem—the development of an individual soul. He feels the strength of the egoistic effort after perfection, and his essay in the end tends to lose sight altogether of its second theme. Instead of a man he gives us a mere philosopher, a man, that is, not living with his country's life, instinct with the heart and feeling of humanity, inspired by art and religion, but a being set apart and exalted above his fellows,—charged no doubt in theory with the duty of saving them, of acting vicariously as the mediator between them and the absolute truth—but really tending more and more to seclude himself on the edita templa of the world, on the high-towers of speculation.
And what Plato and Aristotle did, so to speak, against their express purpose and effort, yet did, because the force of contemporary tendency was irresistible—that the Stoa and Epicurus did more openly and professedly. With a difference in theory, it is true, owing to the difference in the surroundings. Virtue in the older day of the free and glorious commonwealth had meant physical and intellectual achievement, acts done in the public eye, and of course for the public good—a good with which the agent was identified at least in heart and soul, if not in his explicit consciousness. In later and worse days, when the political world, with the world divine, had withdrawn from actual identity with the central heart of the individual, and stood over-against him as a strange power and little better than a nuisance, virtue came to be counted as endurance, indifference, negative independence against a cold and a perplexing world. But even still, virtue is excellence: it is to rise above the ignoble level: to assert self-liberty against accident and circumstance—to attain self-controlled, self-satisfying independence—and to become God-like in its seclusion. Yet in two directions even it had to acknowledge something beyond the individual. The Epicurean—following out a suggestion of Aristotle—recognised the help which the free society of friends gave to the full development of the single seeker after a self-satisfying and complete life. The Stoic, not altogether refusing such help, tended rather to rest his single self on a fellowship of ideal sort, on the great city of gods and men, the civitas Dei. Thus, in separate halves, the two schools, into which Greek ethics was divided, gave expression to the sense that a new and higher community was needed—to the sense that the visible actual community no longer realised its latent idea. The Stoic emphasised the all-embracing necessity, the absolute comprehensiveness of the moral kingdom. The Epicurean saw more clearly that, if the everlasting city came from heaven, it could only visibly arise by initiation upon the earth. Christianity—in its best work—was a conjunction of the liberty with the necessity, of the human with the divine.
More interesting, perhaps, it is to note the misconception of reason and knowledge which grew up. Knowledge came more and more to be identified with the reflective and critical consciousness, which is outside reality and life, and judges it from a standpoint of its own. It came to be esteemed only in its formal and abstract shape, and at the expense of the heart and feelings. The antithesis of philosophy (or knowledge strictly so called) according to Plato was mere opinion, accidental and imperfect knowledge. The knowledge which is truly valuable is a knowledge which presupposes the full reality of life, and is the more and more completely articulated theory of it as a whole. It is—abstractly taken—a mere form of unity which has no value except in uniting: it is—taken concretely—the matter, we may say, in complete unity. It is ideal and perfect harmony of thought, appetite, and emotion: or putting it otherwise, the philosopher is one who is not merely a creature of appetite and production, not merely a creature of feeling and practical energy, but a creature, who to both of these superadds an intelligence which sets eyes in the blind forehead of these other powers, and thus, far from superseding them altogether, only raises them into completeness, and realises all that is worthy in their implicit natures. Always these two impulsive tendencies of our nature are guided by some sort of ideas and intelligence, by beliefs and opinions. But they, like their guides, are sporadically emergent, unconnected, and therefore apt to be contradictory. It is to such erratic and occasional ideas, half-truths and deceptions, that philosophy is opposed. Unfortunately for all parties, the antithesis is carried farther. Philosophy and the philosopher are further set in opposition to the faith of the heart, the intimacy and intensity of feeling, the depth of love and trust, which in practice often go along with imperfect ideas. The philosopher is made one who has emancipated himself from the heart and feelings,—a pure intelligence, who is set above all creeds, contemplating all, and holding none. Consistency and clearness become his idol, to be worshipped at any cost, save one sacrifice: and that one sacrifice is the sacrifice of his own self-conceit. For consistency generally means that all is made to harmonise with one assumed standpoint, and that whatever presents discrepancies with this alleged standard is ruthlessly thrown away. Such a philosophy mistakes its function, which is not, as Heine scoffs, to make an intelligible system by rejecting the discordant fragments of life, but to follow reverently, if slowly, in the wake of experience. Such a “perfect sage,” with his parade of reasonableness, may often assume the post of a dictator.
And, above all, intelligence is only half itself when it is not also will. And both are more than mere consciousness. Plato—whom we refer to, because he is the coryphaeus of all the diverse host of Greek philosophy—seems to overestimate or rather to misconceive the place of knowledge. That it is the supreme and crowning grace of the soul, he sees. But he tends to identify it with the supreme or higher soul:—as Aristotle did after him, to be followed by the Stoics and Neo-Platonists. For them the supreme, or almost supreme reality is the intelligence or reason: the soul is only on a second grade of reality, on the borders of the natural or physical world. When Plato takes that line, he turns towards the path of asceticism, and treats the philosophic life as a preparation for that truer life when intelligence shall be all in all, for that better land where “divine dialogues” shall form the staple and substance of spiritual existence. Aristotle,—who less often treads these solitudes,—still extols the theoretic life, when the body and its needs trouble no more, when the activity of reason—the theory of theory—is attained at least as entirely as mortal conditions allow man to be deified. Of the “apathy” and the reasonable conformity of the Stoics, or of the purely negative character of Epicurean happiness (the excision of all that pained) we need not here speak. And in Plotinus and Proclus the deification of mere reason is at any rate the dominant note; whatever protests the larger Greek nature in the former may from time to time offer. The truth which philosophy should have taught was that Mind or intelligence was the element where the inner life culminated and expanded and flourished: the error which it often tended to spread was that intelligence was the higher life of which all other was a degenerate shortcoming, and something valuable on its own account.
It may be that thus to interpret Plato is to do him an injustice. It has been sometimes said that his division of parts or kinds of soul—or his distinction between its fighting horses—tends to destroy the unity of mental life. But perhaps this was exactly what he wanted to convey. There are—we may paraphrase his meaning—three kinds of human being, three types of human life. There is the man or the life of appetite and the flesh: there is the man of noble emotion and energetic depth of soul: there is the life of reasonable pursuits and organised principle. Or, we may take his meaning to be that there are three elements or provinces of mental life, which in all except a few are but imperfectly coherent and do not reach a true or complete unity. Some unity there always is: but in the life of mere appetite and impulse, even when these impulses are our nobler sentiments of love and hatred, the unity falls very far short. Or, as he puts the theme elsewhere, the soul has a passion for self-completion, a love of beauty, which in most is but a misleading lust. It is the business of the philosophic life to re-create or to foster this unity: or philosophy is the persistent search of the soul for its lost unity, the search to see that unity which is always its animating principle, its inner faith. When the soul has reached this ideal—if it can be supposed to attain it (and of this the strong-souled ancient philosophers feel no doubt),—then a change must take place. The love of beauty is not suppressed; it is only made self-assured and its object freed from all imperfection. It is not that passion has ceased; but its nature is so transfigured, that it seems worthy of a nobler name, which yet we cannot give. To such a life, where battle and conflict are as such unknown, we cannot longer give the title of life: and we say that philosophy is in life a rehearsal of death70. And yet if there be no battle, there is not for that reason mere inaction. Hence, as the Republic concludes, the true philosopher is the complete man. He is the truth and reality which the appetitive and emotional man were seeking after and failed to realise. It is true they at first will not see this. But the whole long process of philosophy is the means to induce this conviction. And for Plato it remains clear that through experience, through wisdom, and through abstract deduction, the philosopher will justify his claim to him who hath ears to hear and heart to understand. If that be so, the asceticism of Plato is not a mere war upon flesh and sense as such, but upon flesh and sense as imperfect truth, fragmentary reality, which suppose themselves complete, though they are again and again confuted by experience, by wisdom, and by mere calculation,—a war against their blindness and shortsightedness.