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when towards the close of the eighteenth century the decline of theological passions enabled men to discuss these matters in a calmer spirit, and when increased knowledge produced more comprehensive views, the historical standingpoint was materially altered. It was observed that every great change of belief had been preceded by a great change in the intellectual condition of Europe, that the success of any opinion depended much less upon the force of its arguments, or upon the ability of its advocates, than upon the predisposition of society to receive it, and that that predisposition resulted from the intellectual type of the age. As men advance from an imperfect to a higher civilisation, they gradually sublimate and refine their creed. Their imaginations insensibly detach themselves from those grosser conceptions and doctrines that were formerly most powerful, and they sooner or later reduce all their opinions into conformity with the moral and intellectual standards which the new civilisation produces. Thus, long before the Reformation, the tendencies of the Reformation were manifest. The revival of Grecian learning, the development of art, the reaction against the schoolmen, had raised society to an elevation in which a more refined and less oppressive creed was absolutely essential to its well-being. Luther and Calvin only represented the prevailing wants, and embodied them in a definite form. The pressure of the general intellectual influences of the time determines the predispositions which ultimately regulate the details of belief; and though all men do not yield to that pressure with the same facility, all large bodies are at last controlled. A change of speculative opinions does not imply an increase of the data upon which those opinions rest, but a change of the habits of thought and mind which they reflect. Definite arguments are the symptoms and pretexts, but seldom the causes of the change. Their chief merit is to accelerate the inevitable crisis. They derive their force and efficacy from their conformity with the mental habits of those to whom they are addressed. Reasoning which in one age would make no impression whatever, in the next age is received with enthusiastic applause. It is one thing to understand its nature, but quite another to appreciate its force.
And this standard of belief, this tone and habit of thought, which is the supreme arbiter of the opinions of successive periods, is created, not by the influences arising out of any one department of intellect, but by the combination of all the intellectual and even social tendencies of the age. Those who contribute most largely to its formation are, I believe, the philosophers. Men like Bacon, Descartes, and Locke have probably done more than any others to set the current of their age. They have formed a certain cast and tone of mind. They have introduced peculiar habits of thought, new modes of reasoning, new tendencies of enquiry. The impulse they have given to the higher literature, has been by that literature communicated to the more popular writers; and the impress of these master-minds is clearly visible in the writings of multitudes who are totally unacquainted with their works. But philosophical methods, great and unquestionable as is their power, form but one of the many influences that contribute to the mental habits of society. Thus the discoveries of physical science, entrenching upon the domain of the anomalous and the incomprehensible, enlarging our conceptions of the range of law, and revealing the connection of phenomena that had formerly appeared altogether isolated, form a habit of mind which is carried far beyond the limits of physics. Thus the astronomical discovery, that our world is not the centre and axis of the material universe, but is an inconsiderable planet occupying to all appearance an altogether insignificant and subordinate position, and revolving with many others around a sun which is itself but an infinitesimal point in creation, in as far as it is realised by the imagination, has a vast and palpable influence upon our theological conceptions. Thus the commercial or municipal spirit exhibits certain habits of thought, certain modes of reasoning, certain repugnances and attractions, which inake it invariably tend to one class of opinions. To encourage the occupations that produce this spirit, is to encourage the opinions that are most congenial to it. It is impossible to lay down a railway without creating an intellectual influence. It is probable that Watt and Stephenson will eventually modify the opinions of mankind almost as profoundly as Luther or Voltaire.
If these views be correct, they establish at once a broad distinction between the province of the theologian and that of the historian of opinions. The first confines his attention to the question of the truth or falsehood of particular doctrines, which he ascertains by examining the arguments upon which they rest; the second should endeavour to trace the causes of the rise and fall of those doctrines which are to be found in the general intellectual condition of the age. The first is restricted to a single department of mental phenomena, and to those logical connections which determine the opinions of the severe reasoner; the second is obliged to take a wide survey of the intellectual influences of the period he is describing, and to trace that connection of congruity which has a much greater influence upon the sequence of opinions than logical arguments.
Although in the present work we are concerned only with the last of these two points of view, it will be necessary to consider briefly the possibility of their coexistence; for this question involves one of the most important problems in history—the position reserved for the individual will and the individual judgment in the great current of general causes.
It was a saying of Locke, that we should not ask whether our will is free, but whether we are free; for our conception of freedom is the power of acting according to our will, or, in other words, the consciousness, when pursuing a certain course of action, that we might, if we had chosen, have pursued a different one. If, however, pushing our analysis still further, we ask what it is that determines our volition, I conceive that the highest principles of liberty we are capable of attaining are to be found in the two facts, that our will is a faculty distinct from our desires, and that it is not a mere passive thing, the direction and intensity of which are necessarily determined by the attraction and repulsion of pleasure and pain. We are conscious that we are capable of pursuing a course which is extremely distasteful, rather than another course which would be extremely agreeable; that in doing so we are making a continual and painful effort; that every relaxation of that effort produces the most lively pleasure; and that it is at least possible that the motive which induces us to pursue the path of self-abnegation, may be a sense of right altogether uninfluenced by prospects of future reward. We are also conscious that if our desires act powerfully upon our will, our will can in its turn act upon our desires. We can strengthen the natural powers of our will by steadily exerting it. We can diminish the intensity of our desires by habitually repressing them; we can alter, by a process of mental discipline, the whole symmetry of our passions, deliberately selecting one class for gratification and for development, and crushing and subduing the others. These considerations do not, of course, dispel the mystery which perhaps necessarily rests upon the subject of free-will. They do not solve the questions, whether the will can ever act without a motive, or what are its relations to its motives, or whether the desires may not sometimes be too strong for its most developed powers; but they form a theory of human liberty which I believe to be the highest we can attain. He who has realised, on the one hand, his power of acting according to his will, and, on the other hand, the power of his will to emancipate itself from the empire of pain and pleasure, and to modify and control the current of the emotions, has probably touched the limits of his freedom.