Images de page
PDF
ePub

moral. And as the animal or the organic life may be present, and yet be paralyzed, so may the intellectual or the moral life be present and yet be paralyzed. The paralysis of intellect is idiocy, the paralysis of morals is vice.

As the animal life has its law of progress, so has the spiritual life; as the former has its wants, so has the latter; as the accomplishment of the animal wants is attended by complete satisfaction, so is the realization of the spiritual wants signalized by contentment. As those things affording animal pleasure are necessary to the well-being of the body, so are those things yielding intellectual or moral delight necessary for the perfecting of the spirit.

If then we know what things gratify our higher nature, we know that they are things for which our spiritual instincts are designed, and we know also that they are things essential to the preservation, development and propagation of the spiritual life.

We have therefore to inquire what are those things which do satisfy the spiritual instincts.

On examination, we find that they may all be reduced to three classes, the true, the beautiful, and the good. We find also that the true satisfy the reason of man; the beautiful satisfy his sentiment; and the good are of a mixed order, satisfying both. Man's spiritual being is double, reason and sentiment, therefore the spiritual instincts are double; they may be summed up under two heads, the desire to know and the desire to love, the former rational, the latter sentimental

The desire to know,-in other words,-Curiosity, is a movement of the soul towards Truth, which it seeks to assimilate by Knowledge. It is the first step in the direction of Certainty, furnishing the mind at every instant with materials for judgment and motives for action. It is restless, for Trutli is complex; it is insatiable, for Truth is infinite.

The desire to love is the impulsion of the soul towards the Ideal, it is the sense of the indefinite, the perfect. It is also insatiable, for the perfect is always on the horizon, never attainable.

That pleasure does attend the acquisition of knowledge does not admit of doubt. Take mathematical truths as an instance, the clearest of all to man's perception. Is it not a fact that as soon as the mind has resolved a problem it reposes in the solution with entire complacency? Are not those truths alone completely satisfactory which are absolutely unassailable? Does not a rational verity cease to give pleasure the moment it is breathed upon by doubt, and does not the suspicion of uncertainty goad the mind into inquiry which it cannot relinquish till it has again arrived at an unassailable truth, in which its energy may expire ?

In analytical science again, it is truth lying at the bottom of the analysis which attracts the student; and the discovery of a scientific law satisfies the intellectual appetite precisely as food satisfies a hungry dog.

Supreme happiness to reason, that is the Ideal of the intellect, is the attainment of certainty upon every subject and about all things.

The assimilation of truth, or knowledge, is therefore that for which the reason is constituted.

That pleasure does attend the pursuit of the Ideal of beauty who can doubt? It is greater in degree than that afforded by the attainment of truth by the intellect. Music, poetry, painting, sculpture and architecture, the prismatic gleams of the perfect, vibrate through the soul. Beauty warms, and Truth illumines. There is this peculiarity about the pleasure derived from the beautiful, that when raised to the highest pitch it sharpens into pain, acute and exquisite-pain which is itself a delight, produced by the

strain of the soul to grasp and assimilate the perfect, and by the sense of failure, because the perfect is unattainable. The cravings of the soul of man before music and painting were discovered must have resembled the stutterings for impossible utterance in the dumb. And when these cravings found expression, man felt that the expression he gave them was inadequate to sate his sense of perfection. Music, painting, architecture, were and are so many moulds into which he pours the boiling stream of spiritual passion, but to the man of genius the moulds are too strait, and the flood overflows.

The Ideal is to the heart what certainty is to the reason. Truth is the assembly of laws. Reason seeks law after law in succession. The ideal is the assembly of perfections, æsthetic and moral; the sentiment proceeds in quest of it, in a manner resembling the process of reason, it compares analogous and opposed ideas, eliminates some, identifies others, and arrives after an analysis, more or less subtle, at a generalization; that is, through variety it seeks unity.

In the pursuit of the Ideal, happiness is the notice to the sentiment that it is following the right track, that it is accomplishing its destiny. All the forces in the human soul, all the investigations of the mind, the artistic creations of the fancy, all refinements in the pursuit of pleasure even, are the gravitation of man's higher being towards the Ideal. In art and literature, the ideal is a subtilized reality truer than reality itself. The history of the human race is a perpetual legend of creations of the imagination to satisfy this want. It is a singular fact that men generally, and every man in particular, constantly endeavour to desert real life for one which is altogether artificial, artistic, and, in a word, ideal. The ideal is an image of perfection created by the soul itself, which it places before it as a type

to be realized; looking at times back indeed, as though that Ideal were something lost, but, generally forward, as though it were something to be won, so that the ideal is to man's spirit as an Eden, at once an aspiration and a regret.

Reason is a faculty for extracting truth out of materials provided by the sentiment. There are certain fundamental axioms, indemonstrable, which it is obliged to accept or to fall into paralysis. In mathematics it works uncomplainingly from axioms, which serve as the base of all certainty. We know that the whole is greater than its part, that a right line is the shortest way between two points, but we cannot prove these truths. We accept them. Philosophy, in attempting to surpass the rigour of the mathematical sciences, has sought to resolve the problem of certainty; and has, instead, only succeeded in obscuring it. There are axioms self-evident, which are the cyphers with which reason must work; if it refuse the cyphers, it is reduced to practical inaction. We believe in the real existence of that thinking and perceiving unit, the Ego. We believe in the real, substantial existence of the objects presented to us by our senses. But these beliefs are irrational, that is, we cannot say of any one of them, How or why it is. They remain insoluble to logic, dogmas imposed by the sentiment, and accepted at once.

Descartes laid down his axiom Cogito, ergo sum; Hume was right in saying that it was a pure hypothesis ; Quod sentio, est, the basis of sensational philosophy, is also an assumption, but it is a truth of which we are assured by the sentiment.

When philosophy refuses to accept these fundamental axioms, in themselves indemonstrable, but which serve as the base of all demonstration, and whose evidence convinces man in spite of himself, it results in proving nothing at all. Man exists: that cannot be proved, it is evident in itself. The question of certainty implies this first axiom. The exterior world, of which we have conscience, exists; that escapes demonstration, it carries conviction with it. The fact by means of which we know our own existence assures us of the existence of the world outside: it is the double face of one invincible fundamental evidence. The existence of objects other than ourselves is a second axiom. In us exists thought, with its laws, or the assembly of relations which unite the ideas of our reason: that also cannot be discussed, it can only be felt as certain. The question of certainty implies this third axiom, for every question supposes thought, which is its conception, and reason to which it is submitted. Such are the three axioms from which all intellectual activity starts: they are axioms whose evidence surpasses that of the mathematical axioms which no one disputes.

Thus reason must act upon faith as its foundation; but as reason is by its nature sceptical, it is tempted to question first one, and then another of these axioms, and thus have arisen the philosophic schools which have wrangled for ages over what no one, not even a sceptic, can practically deny.

Every one acts upon the assumption that certainty is derived from faith and reason. Every one believes invincibly in the testimony of sentiment and reason, and cannot reject this testimony without annihilating his being. When they attest to us physical or metaphysical facts, we hold them to be constant. We conclude from the appearance to the reality by an inductive process of which we are not ourselves masters.

By this means we affirm the primitive facts of our existtence, of the world, of our faculties, the legitimacy of the principle of our knowledge, the reality of the first notions

« PrécédentContinuer »