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It is here that the Oxford Movement vindicates for itself all that has been claimed for it by its most ardent friends and supporters. It is a part of that process, initiated with the Reformation, by which the people who were destined to take the lead in modern thought and activity have endeavored to make organized Christianity a part of the national consciousness, and a reality in its ethical and spiritual meaning to each individual. It is easy for the Roman Catholic to say that the Church of England lacks this or that; and it is easy for the free Protestant to say that the Anglican affirmations of Christianity are too slow for the modern spirit to profit by them; but it is this power on the part of a Church organization to hold dissimilar views or separate schools of thought in vigorous activity within its limits, and yet utilize their life and strength for a common end, which is just the charm and glory and power and majesty of Christianity in modern life; and the lesson, above all others, which is taught by the way in which the Oxford Movement, with all its limitations and disappointments, has found itself a true, real, and organic part of the Church of England, is, that a living Christian body must hold in solution and without precipitation, and with the ability to use them for higher ends, elements which are dissimilar in character, and yet which have their place in the higher unity that presents God and Christ in relation to the whole of humanity. The English Church has very grave and serious defects, and people are not slow in pointing them out; at a period when statesmanship should have guided the Anglican bishops, and large principles should have ruled their conduct, they behaved like a set of schoolboys who are chiefly anxious to get the better of their antagonists: but whatever may be the defects of their treatment of Newman and his companions, or of the inconsistencies in which the rulings of a state court have involved Christian discipline and authority, the comprehensive movement of the Church of England, little as it may resemble the primitive Church in a less highly organized civilization, vindicates the principles by which Christianity is maintained in its full influence and strength in modern life; and the history of the Oxford Movement, viewed in its length and breadth, points out how a school of thought can be used, through a term of years, for larger ends and even greater interests than its original promoters ever dreamed of.
Julius H. Ward.
WHAT IS REALITY?
PART III. THE ANSWER OF LIFE.
AT the close of the last article, the reader was promised a direct answer to our main question. Risking abruptness, therefore, I will proceed at once to submit a test of reality. It is as follows: The necessity of LIVING the affirmation of a proposition shows that this proposition expresses a reality. For the sake of antithesis, I have ventured to frame my statement somewhat after the fashion of Mr. Spencer's universal postulate. That postulate, said to be the ultimate criterion of truth, is: "An abortive attempt to conceive the negation of a proposition shows that the cognition expressed is one we are compelled to accept." We have already seen the impracticability of this test as applied to the world of concrete experiences. But it is necessary, at this point in the discussion, to clearly understand why it is impracticable.
Mr. Spencer's mistake is in attempting to apply a criterion that is valid within a limited sphere to the whole realm of truth. There is no universal test of truth, for the simple reason that all truth is not of the same kind. On the one hand, there is the truth that expresses the relations between pure abstractions; and, on the other hand, there is the truth that expresses the relations between the concrete realities of life. When we are dealing with the former, the test of the non-conceivability of the opposite may be legitimately applied, because we are here concerned solely with concepts. We have marked off for ourselves a particular sphere of thought by means of definitions and postulates, and within this sphere our knowledge is absolute and complete. It is, so to speak, inclosed within walls, so that there is a perfect rebound for every proposition. We have absolute agreements and disagreements, because we ourselves have made the absolute definitions to which every statement is referred. And the inability to conceive the negation of a proposition demonstrates its truth, simply because such a negation contradicts the definitions of the terms in which the proposition is stated. ·
But when, on the other hand, we are dealing with the concrete realities of life, we are quite outside the realm of absolute agreements and contradictions. Our knowledge of the elements with which we have to do is, in no sense, complete. They have relations altogether unknown to us, and the progress of knowledge is
continually bringing within the range of conceivability combinations that were once unthinkable. Moreover, the relations that are known are so differently apprehended as to make any consensus, on the ground of conceivability, impossible. The specialization of knowledge does not tend to draw men of cultivation into such a consensus. On the contrary, it separates individuals and groups, and makes the theoretical inconceivabilities of one group the theoretical conceivabilities of another. To find a ground of agreement, therefore, we must retrace our steps from the widely extended frontiers of theoretical knowledge to that common experience that binds all classes of minds together.
This course commends itself to us, not simply as the sole practicable one, but also as the only rational one. For in referring the question of the truth of concrete existences and agencies back to life, we refer them to the sources from whence our belief in them has sprung. And just as we found it legitimate to test the statements of an abstract science by an appeal to conceivability, because the whole structure of thought in such a science rests upon concepts, so we affirm the legitimate and necessary test of statements about the realities of life to be an appeal to life in which they have originated.
But this account of the origin of our fundamental beliefs may be challenged. On what ground do we say that they have originated in life or experience, rather than in the nature of the mind itself? I would reply, that the former statement is not the denial of the latter; it is only a more complete expression of the facts. The nature of the mind is not something that has been created outside of experience. It has been developed and made what it is in connection with experience, not simply the experience of the individual, but also that of the race, handed on from one generation to another.
The process by which our convictions with regard to the reality of things have come to be what they are may be studied to advantage in the developing mind of a child. Every infant has to find out for himself that there are solid things that he cannot walk through, forceful things that he must avoid to escape injury. In short, by an unending series of encounters with the external world he learns to respect it, and to govern himself with reference to agencies that rigidly hold their own. At the same time, he learns his own powers. In his conflicts with things, the growing boy discovers that, within certain limits, he can become their master. If a solid thing is not too heavy he can remove it.
Though he cannot crack a nut with his hands or with his teeth, he learns that he can attain his object by compelling a stone to assist him. The most real things of the world to him are the things that can do something. To his thinking the atmosphere is nothing because he discovers no resistance from it. But the wind is decidedly something because it can blow his hat off; and he also is something because he can run after it and put it on again. It is the same with the mature man. He continually increases the range of his knowledge of real things, and of their relations, by experimenting; and though he can greatly assist himself in this by the use of analogies, it is to experience that he must always come back for the verification of his analogically conceived hypotheses.
A little reflection will convince us that the tenacity with which we hold to the belief in the reality of things, as against the skeptical argument of the idealist, and to the reality of mind as against the skepticism of the physical realist, is a tenacity not born of argument. For if it were born of reasoning it would also succumb to reasoning; and we have already seen that the destructive argument is just as good as the constructive. Kant states only the truth when he says: "If any one could free himself entirely from all considerations of interest, and weigh without partiality the assertions of reason, attending only to their content irrespective of the consequences which follow them, he would live in a state of continual hesitation. To-day he would feel convinced that the human will is free; to-morrow, considering the indissoluble chain of nature, he would look on freedom as a mere illusion, and declare nature to be all-in-all. But if he were called to action, the play of the merely speculative reason would disappear like the shapes of a dream, and practical interest would dictate his choice of principles." 1
As matter of fact, we do continually obey the dictation of the practical interests of life; and in so doing, we recognize an authority more forceful, more arbitrary than that of reason. This same authority, and no other, it is that, in the face of all skeptical objections, holds us faithful to the postulates of common realism. For however closely beset with reasons for denying one of these postulates, we know, even in the very moment of our faltering, that if, for the sake of argument, we pronounce it to be unreal, we shall presently be compelled to dishonor our words by our acts. Let us observe further, that the degree of our conviction with regard 1 Critique of Pure Reason, p. 982. Bohn's ed.
to the reality of anything is measured by the extent to which it enters into life.
It has probably already occurred to the reader that our test of reality is one that admits only of a restricted application. As to the reality of some things it will give only an uncertain answer, and as to the reality of others it will give no answer at all. But we are not looking for a universally applicable test, but only for one that is true in so far as it is applicable. If we can get a foundation for reality, a few ultimate data, it is all we ask.
We have compressed our statement of reality into four propositions, which we assumed to be universally held by unsophisticated men. And if now we inquire why there is universal assent to these particular propositions, I think we must acknowledge that it is because all men are obliged daily to live the affirmation of them. The truth of this may not be equally apparent with regard to all four of our postulates; and for the sake of making sure that it is as true of one as of another, it may be worth while to examine the grounds on which the assumption is based. To simplify the matter we may reduce our four propositions to two, as follows:
First, The external world, known to us through our senses, is a world of real agencies that act and react upon us. Second, The human mind is a real originating cause, which to some extent modifies and directs itself and external agencies.
It might, at first sight, seem sufficiently clear that daily life involves the necessity of living the affirmation of both these propositions. But there is this difference between them: when the necessity of living the latter is called in question, the reaffirmation of it is less decisive and absolute than it is in the case of the former. It is more clearly seen that the former abuts, so to speak, on substantial, permanent things. The latter seeks first its verification in a complex process which presents a more yielding front to skepticism. When, for instance, a philosopher, in denial of the reality of the external world, proves satisfactorily to himself that a precipice has no existence except as a subjective phenomenon, the possibility or impossibility of living, his denial may be quickly demonstrated by ascending to the roof of his house and walking off into space. But when the physical realist denies the distinctive reality of mental causation, we do not so quickly bring matters to a reductio ad absurdum.
1 These propositions are as follows: First, I exist. Second, There exists, in time and space, a world external to myself. Third, I can produce changes in myself and in the external world. Fourth, Changes take place in me, and in that world, of which I am not the author.