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The Philosophy of the Spirit

A study of the spiritual nature of man and the presence of God, with a supplementary essay on the logic of Hegel

Originally Published: 1908

by G.P. Putnam's Sons. New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press

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>> More by Horatio W. Dresser


Chapter I. The Scope Of The Inquiry

Chapter II. The Definition of The Spirit

Chapter III. The Starting-Point

Chapter IV. The Eternal Type of Life

Chapter V. The Natural and the Spiritual

Chapter VI. The Channels of the Spirit

Chapter VII. The Immediacy of the Spirit

Chapter VIII. The Value of Intuition

Chapter IX. A Study of the Emotions

Chapter X. The Value of Feeling

Chapter XI. The Import of Immediacy

Chapter XII. As Estimate of Mysticism

Chapter XIII. Guidance

Chapter XIV. The Place of Faith

Chapter XV. The Witness of the Spirit


THERE is a tradition that certain subjects are sacred and can never become matters of scientific inquiry. One of these ineffable subjects is the relationship of God to man in the highest ranges of human experience, particularly in those beatific moments when, in expectant solitude or social worship, the soul communes with the Father. But in these self-conscious days psychology has been triumphantly carried into all fields, and if psychological descriptions have sometimes been irreverent it is a question, not of retreat, but of the analysis which affords the most appreciative description. The success which has attended the psychology of religion shows that very much is to be gained by undertaking an account of the higher experiences of men. What must be said in behalf of the sacred or ineffable may be added when science has achieved its utmost. In the following pages I have ventured to mediate between science and religion by endeavouring to be appreciatively true to the everlasting realities of the religious life while taking account of and passing beyond the results attained by modern psychology. If no subject should more deeply inspire our reverence than that of the presence of God, none is more worthy of our thought. Accordingly I offer what I believe to be a contribution to the study of problems which pertain to a field midway between the philosophy of religion and constructive idealism. Advocates of various points of view may meet in this common field to study questions that are rightfully prior to the development of their special views. Each may make such qualification as he will, but all must be concerned with the issues here shown to be fundamental.

The point from which all men must start is experience. The point on which they may all eventually agree is in the description of experience on its subjective side. What lies beyond will long be matter of dispute, for some will maintain that experience brings us into direct relation with a higher order of being, while others will insist that it is merely a question of human analysis and of the values which analytic thought assigns. The experience which is said to give direct evidence of the presence of God is only one of a number in this regard. Hence in the following discussions I have begun farther back, with the facts of universally verifiable experience, before considering the special case. I have pointed out that to understand the living flux of experience we must study the immediate side of our nature in general. Having directed attention to the immediate elements of all experience, I undertake a fresh analysis of the factors that may rightfully be supposed to enter into the experience of the divine presence, always reserving room for that which may lie beyond psychological description. The various factors well in hand, and certain misapprehensions removed, it becomes possible to assess theories, such as mysticism, which have been brought forward in explanation of the divine presence. Mysticism, although rejected, is treated more appreciatively than by most critics. It becomes clear that whether or not an experience be said to reveal the divine presence it is first a question of the theory of human nature implied, and the interpretation put upon immediate experience in general.

The volume begins with an illustration drawn from universal experience which gives the clue to the entire discussion of the idea and presence of God, and outlines the problems, allied interests, and methods. The second chapter formulates a conception of Spirit, defined in essentially philosophical terms as implying the unity of the divine selfhood and the orderly proceeding forth of the divine creative activity. The third chapter is a justification of the critical or human point of view, in contrast with the dogmas which condemn inquiries such as the present investigation. The interest of the fourth chapter is wholly practical and relates to the ideal attitude to be maintained by those who are seeking the realities of the eternal life. The subsequent chapters undertake to establish the relationship of God to the natural world and to the commonplace by considering various hypotheses in regard to peculiar faculties, special gifts, authoritative intuitions, decisive feelings, and religious emotions. The result is not that the presence of God is reduced to the commonplace but that many considerations are brought into view which devotees of special sides of our nature neglect. No faculty or experience is found that is solely authoritative, yet all considerations in question point forward to the discussion of the last chapter in which they are treated as phases of the witness of the Spirit.

The discussion of immediate experience centres about the life of feeling, and the theories analysed and rejected are mainly those in which one-sided emphasis is placed upon human sentiency. Hence other phases of human nature, together with the implied theories, are passed by with briefer reference. That is to say, there are doctrines founded on the supposition that the life of feeling, intuition, or a mysterious "God-sense," is mystically continuous with the life of man. These doctrines are briefly classifiable as immediatisms, and they are characterised by disparagement of the human intellect and of rationalism in all its forms. In contrast with this general procedure, there is another conception of human experience which starts with the presupposition that man is a many-sided being. From this point of view there is contiguous relationship between God and man without mystical union, conjunction without identity of selfhood. That is, God is present to man's nature not merely on the side of feeling but man is able to apprehend the divinely real and true through reason. Furthermore, the volitional reaction, the effect on man's conduct, should be taken into account. But to establish this richer conception of human nature and human experience is to vindicate the rights of the intellect, hence to show that there must be rational interpretation of the presence of God. It is this conception of the manifold character of human responsiveness which points the way to the present dis- cussion. The book is polemical only so far as mystical or merely empirical immediatisms are concerned: it is constructive in terms of an idealistic study of the entire problem of immediacy.

The central problem is further suggested by the questions often raised, namely, Is man's first duty to obey that which is first in experience his instincts, emotions, impulses, leadings or should he endeavour to improve on experience of all types? Is there any spontaneous prompting that is directly authoritative? Granted that man has departed from nature and devised ways of his own, is there a way of escape from the conflicts which ensue between original promptings and conventional systems? Granted modern criticism, with its self -consciousness and the truths it has brought to light, how shall we escape from the paralysis of agnosticism into the life of productive belief? Plainly, these issues must be wrestled with afresh in our day, for it is a day when men are sent back to experience with new conviction. The method of solution would appear to be to test each conception to the full for what it may be practically worth, then compare the results in terms of ultimate standards and the pro- foundest philosophic systems. For merely practical considerations are not all-sufficient. The great systems are by no means dead. The life has not departed from the church and the other great institutions. The central clue will be found through a new adjustment between the systems of authority and the revelations of the modern spirit. In accordance with the practical methods of the day, the conception of God 'defined as immanent Spirit is here tested in the light of its direct bearings on human experience. But experience is shown to be unmeaning unless it have real relation to a higher order of existence corresponding to the values assigned by enlightened self-consciousness. In contrast, then, with those who regard religion as "the conservation of values" to borrow Hoff ding's phrase the spiritual life is here regarded as actually revealing superior existences. In contrast with naturalism, the attempt is made to relate the natural with the spiritual. The start is made with the results of the critical philosophy steadily in mind, and the argument keeps close to those results. Nevertheless, the main purpose is to direct attention rather to the Spirit than to the human limitations which might sceptically be taken to exclude the Spirit. Hence the constructive doctrine assimilates an element from empiricism without agreeing with the mystic, or other devotees of the life of feeling. In the last analysis, the problem of immediacy is the same wher- ever found, and if the main argument be conclusive it will be plain that one must assimilate the realities of immediate experience while passing beyond all empiri- cism by undertaking a thorough idealistic reconstruc- tion of experience. Hence the volume closes with suggestions of a system which is here treated merely as an implication.

The book as a whole involves some changes in method as compared with earlier volumes. Having published several volumes of essays, written at various times and not in the order published, in the present book I have undertaken a systematic development of the main interest throughout; namely, the relationship of the immanent Spirit to man. That interest was involved in too many issues in the preceding volumes. Here it is disengaged from special topics and considered without reference to the practical mysticism with which the writer's teaching has been erroneously identified by the public. Were there space to make the distinctions clear, it would be plain that the philosophy of this book is radically different from therapeutic mysticism in all its forms. Such mysticism "involves acceptance of the ideas of God, human nature, and immediate experience here rejected in favour of the idealistic view above mentioned. The earlier volumes, because they dealt with practical interests were supposed to be merely practical, hence they have been hastily classified under the head of various new doctrines. The present discussion shows that the main interest is decidedly idealistic. As matter of fact, the present doctrine has been developed without reference to, or even criticism of, current popular beliefs, but as a result of technical studies begun long before the earlier books were written. The cul- minating study was a comparison between modern empiricism, as expressed in such works as Professor James's The Varieties of Religious Experience, and the logic of Hegel. The decisive issues are embodied in Chapter XI, which is a summary of studies in the concept of immediacy carried on a number of years ago in the logical seminary at Harvard. Out of these re- searches, in which I had the benefit of the constructive criticism of Professor Royce, grew the problem of the relationship of immediate experience to the religious and idealistic interests of the earlier volumes. Hence the study of the presence of God is regarded as typical of a general logical problem. The study has been made as untechnical as possible so as to be verifiable in terms of common human experience. Nevertheless, the conception of immediate experience is the writer's point of departure from the merely practical to the technically philosophical. Hence the chapter on immediacy is supplemented by an essay on the logic of Hegel in which the decisive analysis is found. Readers whose interests are pre- vailingly practical may omit Chapter XI and the Supplementary Essay, and yet find all that is required for practical purposes. But it is just this assumption that truth is true enough if it serves us "for practical purposes" to which this book takes most emphatic exception. It was precisely because one believed in the value of fundamental principles that this long investigation seemed worth while. That investigation was twofold for many years, and the essentially practical branch of it has been developed in the pre- ceding volumes: the present work marks a departure inasmuch as the technical, constructive clue is pub- lished in the same volume with the practical analysis.

The Supplementary Essay belongs with Chapter XI, and should not be regarded as the conclusion of the book. The problem is stated less technically in the first seventeen sections, and the main problem in regard to irrationality is discussed, with certain references to pragmatism, in Sec. 126 and the sections following. Sections 37-63, 68-77, 89-108, may be omitted by those who do not care for dialectic detail. The conclusions of the Essay point forward to constructive idealism. That is, one believes, with Hegel, that it is the third or reconstructive moment of thought which makes clear the truly real. Neither sentiency nor reason is proved all-sufficient. Reason is dependent on the immediacies of experience, hence cannot create its items out of its own pure selfhood; while mere experience never takes us beyond the realm of appear- ances. One believes more firmly than ever in spon- taneity, receptivity, guidance, intuition, and the rich values of the religious life; but one turns to Hegel, who teaches a man how to interpret immediate experi- ence fundamentally, rather than to those who disparage one side of our nature (the rational) while imperfectly mediating the other (the element of sentiency) . Hegel is not the prejudiced rationalist he is supposed to be, but the most faithful to the concrete of the great philosophers. Well might devotees of the modern pragmatic movement take their clues from him, in- stead of giving up the ideals of metaphysics before they have even reckoned with the great systems. CAMBRIDGE, MASS. January, 1908.

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