« EelmineJätka »
each according to his own taste and power-help to elevate, to brighten, and to dignify the corporate life of the community which has made them rich. Here, then, is a vast field for men of the wealthier class, who can raise themselves to the height of a great duty; who can comprehend the true nature of a community, and the function of each unit of it; who, in all its fulness, can realise the truth expressed by St. Paul-a truth at once sublime and familiar, soaring to the highest range, and descending to the humblest levelthe truth that are members one of another.” In such cases, and especially in the corporate and public recognition of Art as a common means of refining and elevating the community, those who receive such blessings repay them a thousandfold. They feel and acknowledge in their conduct the influence of a great picture ; they stand before it in reverent admiration ; however dimly understood, they carry with them to their homes and into their lives the lessons it has to teach. The beauty, the imagination, the power of Art exercise a direct and increasing influence upon the mass of the population wherever they are daily presented to inspection. You see this influence in their treatment of such things when they become the common possession. Give the people richly stocked gardens, and they leave the flowers untouched. Give them galleries and museums of Art-palaces in which they may wander at will—and hundreds of thousands pass through them in the year, and yet amongst the vast crowds there is no rudeness of
, manner, and no touch of harm to the works laid open to their study. Trust them and teach them ; that is what we have to do with the people of our great towns in regard to Art. Give them buildings decorated with incidents from their own history; improve the design of houses and the architecture of streets; provide gardens and parks, and libraries, and galleries, and museums ; let there be open spaces in the towns arranged with regard to beauty as well as to health ; let the community, by its corporate authorities, and by its wealthier members, recognise and promote public Art in every
let us, one and all, learn that we are knit together in common tastes, and faculty of enjoyment, and power of appreciation, and capacity of rising into a region higher than that of the petty cares of daily life—and we shall see the reward in a growing intelligence amongst all classes; a keener perception of beauty in itself and in its application to habit and conduct; a nobler, better-ordered, brighter, more elevated communal life; less selfishness in all classes, the enjoyment of pleasures higher than those of sense, less drinking, less brutality, less coarseness of manner; a purer moral and social tone; a loftier mental standard; a true and real community of interest and sympathy; a municipal life nobler, fuller, richer than any the world has ever seen-a life that would, indeed, be worth living.
J. THACKRAY BUNCE.
THE SCEPTICISM OF BELIEVERS."
Nor long ago an interesting question was discussed by a respectable and presumably competent meeting. Why, it was asked, does not the spiritual warfare against the unbeliever meet with greater success? A "materialistic Atheism," as a high authority assured us, is “in the air;" and the malign contagion spreads in spite of Bampton lecturers, Christian Evidence Societies, and other apologetic machinery. At all which it is hard not to exclaim, Sancta simplicitas ! Can you really not guess this very open secret ? Men die of
* many diseases; creeds of one—the disease of being found out. Do you ever remember that David Hume died a century ago, and that the matter which absorbs the intellects of the most zealous part of the clergy at the present day is the “eastward position”? When such a spectacle as the Folkestone case is presented to gods and men, what wonder that unbelief spreads? If a more articulate reply were requested, one might perhaps say that the old belief is perishing chiefly for two reasons : first, because it has become a sham belief ; secondly, because it is a negative belief. No man can make converts who does not believe what he says; nor will he, as a general rule, make them rapidly when his creed consists chiefly in denying the strongest and most fruitful convictions of his neighbours. I shall not here inquire into the first of these explanations; but it may be worth while briefly to defend the other, which, indeed, is at first sight in greater need of defence.
It sounds paradoxical to declare that the orthodox belief is essentially sceptical. The infidel is popularly identified with the Mephistophiles, whose essence it is to deny. He denies, it is said, a hereafter and a divine element in the present. That denial implies the abandonment of the most cheering hopes and highest aspirations of mankind. To bring the charge of scepticism against those who are fighting against materalism and atheism is at best to indulge in a frivolous tu quoque. A parallel phrase, however, is common on the lips of the orthodox. It is a commonplace to taunt sceptics with credulity, nor is the taunt without foundation. So long as men of science continue to dabble in the filth of “spiritualism" it will have a meaning. A confessor is, after all, better than a medium ; and I would rather revere the miracles of Lourdes than grovel before the trickery of a Yankee conjuror. Moreover, to leave a disgusting subject, the remark is really significant. To speak brutally (as is sometimes pleasant and healthy), one might say that faith is often used to signify belief in my nonsense; credulity, belief in somebody
else's nonsense. Now it is unfortunately true that the rejection of one kind of nonsense is not a sufficient security for the rejection of all nonsense ; it follows that scepticism and credulity may mean the very same thing: the acceptance, that is, of a doctrine which is sceptical so far as it contradicts my opinion, and credulous so far as it falls in with yours. It is worth while, however, to look at the matter a little more closely.
Scepticism, in the most absolute sense of the word—a rejection of belief as belief—is, if not a rigidly unthinkable, at least a practically impossible state of mind. Metaphysicians may play with such a doctrine; as they may urge that it is a legitimate consequence of their opponents' theories. Nobody doubts, however, that if they succeed in fastening that imputation upon any system, they have established a legitimate reductio ad absurdum. As a matter of fact, absolute scepticism does not exist. It is rather impossible than
There is a vast body of truth in regard to which the thinkers generally known as sceptical are fully as confident as their opponents. Mr. Mill, for example, was just as certain as Descartes
any given case that two and two made four, whatever doubts he may have suggested as to the ultimate ground of belief. Indeed, the same thinkers who are charged with scepticism, are equally charged with an excessive belief in the invariability and certainty of the so-called “laws of nature.” They are reviled equally for being
sceptical and for being dogmatic, for having too few convictions and for having too many. No man, of any school, really denies the possibility of attaining certainty in regard to all such propositions as admit of verification by experience. The real problem discussed is not—ought we to believe, but why ought we to believe that two and two make four, or that Rome exists, or that the planets obey the laws of gravitation? The believer in necessary truths asserts by the very form of his argument that his adversaries do in fact believe, and cannot help believing, the truths which he alleges to be necessary, though they may deny the propriety of that epithet. The thorough-going empiricist may suggest that in some sense the most evident truths would cease to be valid under some other conditions ; but he does not deny them to be valid within the whole sphere of possible experience. By attacking the supposed distinction between different classes of belief, he really elevates the claims of empirical knowledge as much as he depresses that of a priori knowledge. We can no more alter the absolute intensity of belief in general, than we can change our centre of gravity without some external point of support. One set of thinkers holds that we must pierce to the absolute in order to provide foundation for the whole edifice of belief. Their antagonists declare that such a foundation can never be discovered, but they add that it is not needed. As the universe no
In the very
longer requires the proverbial world-sustaining tortoise, so the world of belief requires no reference to anything outside of experience.
The point is obscured by the habit of speaking of “ belief” absolutely, without describing its particular contents, and of proceeding to describe it as in some sense a creditable, whereas unbelief is taken to be a discreditable, state of mind. The inaccuracy of the assumption follows from the obvious simple consideration that belief is unbelief. It is the very same thing seen from the other side. It is a mere question of accidental convenience whether a belief shall be expressed positively or negatively; whether I shall say, man is mortal, or man is not immortal. The believer at Rome is, by virtue of his belief, the sceptic at Mecca, and inversely. The believer in the Ptolemaic system has neither more nor fewer beliefs than the believer in the Copernican system; he has simply a different set of beliefs. To say, therefore, that belief qud belief is better or worse than unbelief involves a contradiction in terms. act of asserting we deny; and it is a transparent fallacy, though an example of a very common class of fallacy, to give an absolute and universal character to a proposition which by its very nature can be only true in a particular relation. Belief and unbelief being identical in nature, either is good just so far as it is reasonable or logical ; that is to say, so far as it conforms to the rules which secure a conformity between the world of thought and the world of fact. In spite of all the slipshod rhetoric about faith and reason, no other test is admissible or can even be put into coherent and articulate shape. If we still speak of scepticism as a mental vice, we must mean a reluctance, not to believe in general, but to believe what is reasonable; and in this sense the most sceptical man is he who prefers the least weight of evidence to the greatest.
The popular line of distinction corresponds, indeed, to a very important divergence of thought, though not, in any strict use of language, to a distinction between belief and unbelief. That man is generally called a believer (and I shall use the word in that sense) who asserts, whilst the unbeliever denies, the possibility of rising to a transcendental world. The sphere of the believer's creed is therefore wider, it may be said, than that of the unbeliever. His world transcends or envelopes that of his opponent, and he accepts a whole category of propositions, in regard to which the unbeliever maintains the neutral attitude of absolute doubt. But this statement is at least inadequate. As a so-called disbelief is simply a belief differently stated, so a belief about the other world, so far as it can be called a belief at all, and certainly so far as it can have any influence, is of necessity a belief about this. Beliefs belonging to the transcendental sphere may be of the highest importance so far as they modify or so far as they give strength and coherence to beliefs about the ordinary world of experience. They give the adjective which modifies the meaning of the substantive. But, except as influencing our conduct, belief about heaven and hell would be of no more importance than a belief about the inhabitants of Sirius, and so far as it influences our conduct, it is capable of translation into terms of ordinary experience. That other world upon which the believer gazes is either a superfluity or is essentially a new light cast upon this world. You may, for various reasons, talk about the light abstractedly from the thing lighted, but it might as well be darkness except as revealing some new aspect of concrete objects. The dogmas of the believer may extend farther or pierce deeper than those of the unbeliever, but their vitality is entirely within the region to which both have access. The creed about the beyond, when not a set of words, is but another mode of stating a belief about the present. The vulgar epicurean infers from the shortness of life that eating and drinking are the only pleasures worth enjoyment. The ascetic infers from the same fact that sensual pleasures are worthless. Each has as definite a creed as his rival, and as capable of expression in peremptory terms.
Whether we express doubts as to the reality of future or of present pleasures, or beliefs as to the reality of their evils, we may equally have a dogmatic creed capable of serving for a rule of conduct. Every genuine belief, in short, which refers to the transcendental world, carries with it a reference to this, which may be accepted or denied by those who would in terms most narrow the sphere of belief.
This illustration, however, suggests the really important distinction. Some creeds do in fact supply motives for consistent and vigorous action, whilst others produce a paralysis of the will. This is not because one creed expresses an absolutely greater quantity of belief—if one may say so—than its rivals. Creeds which once prompted to the most energetic action have become simply obstructive, like Mahomedanism; and some of the most intense beliefs in the world, as some forms of fatalism, are more depressing than any doubts. But, as a general rule, creeds must lose their stimulating power when they tend to produce doubt in presence of the great emergencies of life. If one creed gives a definite precept when its opposite leaves the mind undecided between conflicting precepts, the first will be best adapted for energetic persons. Such a creed, moreover, can be most simply expressed in terms of affirmation when its opposite most easily takes the negative form. It is more natural, that is, to give the positive form to the rule which prescribes one out of a dozen courses of action, than to the rule which asserts them to be all equally promising. And, in this sense, the positive is more likely to be stimulating than the negative form, or, if we choose so to speak, belief than scepticism. We might infer that as a creed