Philosophical Faith

Fraser, A. Campbell. “Philosophical Faith.” The Philosophical Review 5, no. 6 (1896): 569.

The rational reality in which all finite spirits may in a sense be said to participate, cannot be fully reached even in the most philosophic thought of a human spirit, if the time-consciousness of finite intelligence and the eternally complete divine though must remain unharmonized. And we must meet the mystery of man’s personal power to create acts that ought not to be acted, which are inconsistent with the perfect reason, and for which the human person, not the Power at the heart of the universe, is irresponsible. These two, with other mysteries, are bars to perfect intellectual vision. The burden of the first is not removed by explaining away history, and resolving the whole at last into the Universal Consciousness, in which the illusion of time is supposed to disappear; nor is the mystery of the other relieved by disclaiming moral responsibility for man and other finite spirits, and thinking of them all as only temporary, non-moral occasions for the manifestation of an eternal Substance. The reality of time and change disappears in the one explanation, so that the words ‘before' and 'after' are philosophically irrelevant, and this means skepticism even as to all the temporal evolutions of external nature, and in the history of man. Then, if God is self-revealed as the real agent even in the immoral acts of man, how can this be reconciled with the inevitable self-accusation of which the immoral man himself is conscious, which supposes that he himself must be the culprit and therefore the sole origin of the acts? And how does it consist with moral reason in reprobation of the man by mankind, or with the continued constitution of society?

It is difficult to see that modern thought of the Hegelian sort has done much towards translating these two mysteries: the universe in time and morally responsible personality out of the darkness in which preceding philosophies have had to leave them, and in which it seems that they must remain unless man can become God. Philosophy may show, notwithstanding, that those dualisms of continuous change and absolute endlessness, physical causality, and moral freedom from this sort of causality are not necessarily inconsistent with scientific reason. It may also show that moral reason obliges us to live under their pressure, although we cannot fully think the whole out into an inarticulately consistent image but must be content with an incomputable fragment at the end. Moreover, an eternal consciousness that is supposed to reduce to illusion the temporal procession of events in Nature, and to explain away the moral economy of finite spirits independent enough to originate acts that ought not to be acted this abstract universal consciousness, or abstract system of rational relations, while called ‘spirit,' now begins to resemble the Universal Substance of Spinoza, of which nothing could be predicated, which takes a semblance of meaning only from the illusory things and persons in which it is manifested in time. The intellectual vision which was to give relief seems to present a God that is in a gradual process of revelation or self-development, yet in what is After all an unreal or illusory revelation, at least if we are bound to think that God is dependent on the successive conscious acts of finite persons who are not persons for entering into consciousness at all.

On the other hand, is it more than the semblance of a perfectly explained 'organic unity' that the Hegelian thought presents, if it is able to preserve the reality of outward events and of persons with their successive changes, and if it is able to deliver the divine perfection from all responsibility for the immoral actions of men ? It is true that men are not conceived by the Hegelian to be mechanically parts of God, although they find their true reality in Him ; but, in that case,' organic unity' is only a term which covers over a relation that is still left in the mystery of a necessarily incomplete human thought or philosophy. It is still an organic unity that passes human knowledge, although it is doubtless innocent of the gross idea which makes all things and all persons only physical parts of One Boundless Substance, the physical effects of One Unknowable Power called 'Nature.’

That Hegel meant his final thought to be interpreted consistently with the actuality of the world, and also with the moral personality of man, I do not deny; nor can one fairly interpret his philosophy or theology 'pantheistic ally,' in the obnoxious sense that involves final moral, and therefore final scientific, skepticism. Its fundamental unity is perhaps elastic enough to admit of being interpreted so as to comprehend, in some mysterious way, the world of successive nature and the world of human spirits without spoiling our experience of the actuality of the world, or the morally necessary conviction of the freedom of each man to create actions referable exclusively to himself for their responsible causation. But then this is no more than an assertion of faith at last. Yet we were led to expect that, through Hegelian dialectic, this and every other legitimate faith could be translated into a philosophic thought, with the burden of its mystery all removed, not merely with the mysteries articulated in a fresh form of verbal expression. If there is more in it than amended rational articulation of the old difficulties, one fails to find it, as long as, notwithstanding Hegel, the burden still oppresses that resisted all former attempts so to think out the universe of reality as to eliminate, for example, the two mysteries which I have taken as illustrations of man's intellectual inadequacy. Even the philosophic human knowledge of what we are living and having our being in, and of how we are so living, to us seems still to remain knowledge of something that in the end passes knowledge, that is known while it is still unknown known, in moral and spiritual life which can be lived if we will; unknown, because it cannot be fully thought out in the infiniteness of its reality. So intellectual analysis of human experience generally, and of religion in Christianity, seems always to leave at the last a residuum of trust, inevitable in what one might call authoritative reason, instead of perfectly understood reason the authoritative reason in which reverential obedience to what is trusted in as reasonable, is more prominent than intellectually victorious insight. Surely the authority of final faith can be dispensed with only in the Omniscience which leaves no room for mystery or incomplete knowledge.

But after all it may be only the question of how the final attitude of man to what is of human interest in the universe of reality should be named, rather than a difference with regard to what the actual attitude must at last be, that separates those who suppose that they are adopting, from those who suppose that they are rejecting, the Hegelian interpretation of the relation of man and the universe to God. Should the final attitude be called knowledge', thought, reason; or should it be called faith, trust in authority? To call it knowledge ‘seems to claim too much, as long as there is an inevitable remainder of mystery, which leaves the so-called knowledge incomplete in quantity, and an unimaginable unity incomprehensible by the sensuous intelligence. To call it 'faith' may seem to mean that it is empty of objective rationality; for a thesis not secured by even the most confidently felt conviction, personal certitude being no sufficient ultimate test of absolute truth. As for 'authority,' this is a word that suggests deference to a person, instead of the impersonal intellectual necessity that belongs to purely rational proof. Yet if those who prefer to express, under the names 'reason' and 'knowledge’ their final relation to the highest reality, at the same time disclaim for man the omniscience which otherwise seems to be assumed in their words then this philosophic thought, at last obliged to submit to arrest, is really the philosophic faith that at last trusts in what is not fully open to man’s understanding. The difficulties in which the inevitable remainder of final ignorance involve every human mind are not necessarily suicidal, if they do not necessarily forbid man, on pain of contradicting reason, from satisfying his moral and spiritual needs. The suicidal or essentially skeptical philosophy is then the one that claims to have thought out in its infinity what man can think out only incompletely.

An intellectual analysis of religion that adopts this final attitude, would probably be regarded by some as not inconsistent with Hegelian theism and its exhaustive interpretation of the universe in terms of the Divine Reason. The 'organic unity.' of Nature and Man in God is then interpreted in a meaning that admits the moral freedom of agents who are responsible for themselves when they act immorally, and also the reality of change or temporal succession.

What is called participation ‘in, or 'identity ‘with, Universal Reason, and ' organic unity' of the universe, are taken only as emphatic expressions of the conviction that men are not isolated psychological atoms, but members of a moral totality, in which the moral faith that is in us is sure to find sympathetic response in the incompletely comprehensible Divine Reason that is perpetually active at the center of the Whole. So the further man penetrates intellectually, the more fully this divine order discovers itself; more and more of what corresponds to the final faith is recognized in the principles that are determining the history of the world ; and it is seen that, while men are 'free' to resist God by doing evil, it is in their harmony with the Divine Reason that the highest freedom is tube found. So understood, the Hegelian speculation becomes an elaborate dialectical recognition of man's final dissatisfaction with the limited phenomena of sense in time, in perception of which human life begins ; also of the obligation which the reason that we call ours finds to unite the universe of change in dependence on the Perfect Reason that, in broken form, is involved in our experience, but under which we can never fully comprehend the Whole. It becomes a vindication of the universe, as incapable of being conceived as mindless, purposeless evolution of phenomena, as really the expression of a morally related Spirit thus relieving the chill of abstract physical science with the warmth of pervading Divine life and love. In the thorough-going intellectual analysis of Christian Religion, man may in this way be helped to recognize his own moral or personal reality, by its mysterious affinity with the transcendent intellectual system on which all depends. Still this philosophy would be at last only an expression of faith, founded upon needs inherent in the entire human constitution, not upon perfect intellectual comprehension on the part of the human thinker. It would at most represent man's best way of carrying an intellectual burden that is too heavy for the sensuous understanding. It would be his philosophical acknowledgment of absolute dependence upon the constantly active Reason that he is nevertheless mysteriously able to violate and resist, in his volitions and voluntary habits. This final faith or theistic reasons weakened when it is made the object of logical proof. Its justification is that the universe of reality dissolves in sceptic land pessimist doubt when the moral faith is withdrawn. The ultimate foundations of proof must be incapable of proof, and intellectual reserve is the correlative of a philosophic faith.

Philosophical Faith is the truly rational trust that nothing can happen in the temporal evolution which can finally put to confusion the principles of moral reason that are latent in Man, scientifically incomprehensible as the world's history of mingled good and evil must be when measured by finite experience and scientific intelligence. Philosophical Faith is thus the reflex of theistic faith.

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