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THE CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF IDEALISM1
§ 1. "THE constant presupposition is, that a spiritual life which is a unified whole is at work in the depths of our soul." These words, written by Rudolph Eucken,2 admirably express the message of idealism to modern times. Idealism is a form of spiritualism in which man, the finite individual, is regarded as a microcosmic representation of God, the Absolute Individual. Man's spiritual nature is a revelation of the principle of reality, and his ideals an intimation of the perfect and eternal reality. So that, but for his limitations, man would be God; and taken together with the balance of spiritual life, which compensates for these limitations, he is God.
But a characterization of idealism in terms so general as these, while it helps to define its place among religious and ethical motives, throws little light upon its technical philosophical meaning. To understand this it is necessary to examine its method and proofs. And we then discover that idealism rests fundamentally upon a theory of knowledge. The supremacy of spirit is argued from the theory of the priority of the knowing consciousness itself, over all with which it has to do. All things, it is contended, are primarily 'objects'; and to be object means necessarily to be 'for' something, to be in some sense the expression or creation of a 'subject.' The so-called 'external world' being in this manner reduced to knowledge, and knowledge being construed as spiritual, the supremacy of spirit is
1 Reprinted, with additions and alterations, from an article published in Mind, N. S., Vol. XIX, 1910.
The Life of the Spirit, trans. by F. L. Pogson, p. 100.
established. This is the reply of idealism to naturalism; and the justification which idealism affords to the religious belief that the world at large is governed in the interest of goodness.
The assertion of the priority of the cognitive consciousness, the assertion that being is dependent on the knowing of it, may, then, fairly be regarded as the cardinal principle of idealism. Only in the light of this principle can either the applications of idealism, or its own inner dialectical movement, be comprehended. I shall attempt in the present chapter to throw this principle into bold relief, by examining its origin, and formulating its fundamental proofs.
§ 2. Modern idealism, defined in the light of this principle, may be clearly distinguished from ancient idealism,
or Platonism. Platonism is primarily the culPlatonic Idealism, or Teleo- mination of a tendency which manifested itself logical Ra
among all the pre-Socratics: a tendency of tionalism
which the central motive was the assertion of the superiority of systematic or well-grounded knowledge to mere opinion. Thus Parmenides distinguished between "the unshaken heart of persuasive truth," and "the opinions of mortals in which is no true belief at all.” Heraclitus remarked that the truth differed from opinion in being one and universal. "Though wisdom is common, yet the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own"; just as “the waking have one and the same world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.”ı
Similarly with Plato, philosophy is primarily a means of escape from the relativity and conflict of opinion. The philosopher is “he who has magnificence of mind and is the spectator of all time and all existence"; who will not rest in the multiplicity of individuals which is an appearance only, but will go on — the keen edge will not be blunted, neither the force of his desire abate until he have attained the knowledge of the true nature of every essence by a kindred power in the soul.” True knowledge is marked by the kind of object which it discovers or seeks, "the absolute, eternal, and immutable," or "the things themselves,” which, like the absolute square and the absolute diameter of mathematics, “can only be seen with the eye of the mind.” And this insistence on the objectivity and permanence of truth is united with the speculative interest in completeness of truth. The knowledge of the philosopher will be not only unerring in point of certainty, but also unlimited in point of sufficiency and generality. Thus Plato represents also that philosophical tendency which has come latterly to be termed 'absolutism.'1
1 Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy, pp. 184, 140.
So far, in this summary of Plato, no provision has been made for the moral element. Plato's 'absolute' is defined as the good, and in the order of the sciences, ethics is elevated even above mathematics. “The excellence or beauty or truth of every structure, animate or inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative to the use for which nature or the artist has intended them."? In other words, for Plato the teleological categories are fundamental. And this motive doubtless tended to contradict his rationalism, and to create a certain affinity between him and those very sophists who were his dearest foes. The fact remains, however, that so far as method was concerned, ancient idealism was opposed, not to physical or mathematical science, but to the laxity of common sense. This is proved by Plato's high esteem for mathematics as a means of intellectual discipline, through which the philosopher might be emancipated from personal bias and the evanescent chaos of immediate experience, and brought to apprehend definite conceptions and fixed principles.
$ 3. This rationalistic motive --- critical, scientific, and speculative, which dominated constructive philosophy among the ancients, found a more complete expression many centuries later in Spinoza. But in Spinoza it is so far freed from all connexion with teleology as to provoke Rationalism a wholly different alignment of forces. In Purged of Tele- the famous Appendix to Part I of the Ethics, ology by Spinoza it is argued that an explanation of nature in terms of final causes is necessarily anthropomorphic. Man is virtually attempting to account for the absolute origin of things in terms of that value which they have for him. He assigns as reasons for the being of things those reasons which would have moved him to create them. And where he can find no such reason he simply imputes one to God's inscrutable wisdom. "Such a doctrine," says Spinoza, "might well have sufficed to conceal the truth from the human race for all eternity, if mathematics had not furnished another standard of verity in considering solely the essence and properties of figures without regard to their final causes."! It will be observed that Spinoza prizes mathematics, not only for its exactness, but also for its dispassionateness, for that very character that led Plato to subordinate it to ethics. The philosopher of Spinoza is not the guardian of the State, representing the good of the whole rather than the good of any part, or even the lover of the absolute good, but the witness of those inexorable necessities which make no allowance for human ideals.
· Cf. below, Chapter VIII, especially pp. 167, 169-172.
* This was largely due to the fact that the physical and mathematical sciences themselves were not wholly free from teleology. The mechanical ideal of science was not yet developed. Cf. above, p. 31.
Thus in the rationalism of Spinoza the teleological principle, derived through Plato and Aristotle from the humanism of the Socratic age, and reinforced by the Scriptural account of the creation and of God's dealings with man, is replaced by the principle of mechanism. Science has now become identified in men's minds with the quantitative laws of motion. The Copernican revolution had further emphasized the meaning of the mechanical theory, and brought out its essentially de-anthropomorphic character, by removing the Earth from the centre of the stellar system, and reducing man's historical career to a peripheral
· Elwes's translation, Vol. II, p. 77. The Elhics was first published in