INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY
DALLAS M. ROARK
A philosophical idealist is one who insists that only ideas,1 spirit, or mind are real. The first and foremost explanation of the universe is that it is spirit, mind, or idea. This is in contrast to naturalism which begins with nature, matter, or atoms as the basic entity of reality.
Idealism means that there is more to life and the universe than surface appearances. Idealism as a philosophic term must be distinguished from the popular definition. People who claim to be idealists in the popular sense are often convinced that the world is beautiful, everybody is good, and you can adopt high ideals and adhere to them. The popular sense of the word is not unrelated to philosophic idealism, but there is much more involved in the philosophic sense. In fact, many popular idealists would probably not call themselves philosophic idealists.
The idealist tradition is rather broad and includes such diverse people as Plato, Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Royce, Bradley, and A.C. Ewing. Many more names could be included.
Idealism is a term used in different ways as seen in Plato who spoke of the real world being that of Ideas or Forms; or in Berkeley who relates ideas to perception and the matter of knowing things. Consequently, it becomes obvious that each philosopher must be read for the way in which he defines his philosophy. We will see some of the range of use of terms as we look at the three examples of idealism. We will sketch the views of Berkeley, Hegel, and the personalist movement. Berkeley gives us the extreme view of immaterialism, or subjective idealism. Hegel serves as an example of objective idealism, and Brightman and Flewelling serve as sources for personal idealism. To these we now turn.
I. Subjective Idealism (Immaterialism)
The least accepted form of idealism, and one of the most misunderstood, is that of George Berkeley (1685-1752). His last name rhymes with "darkly." Berkeley is often listed as the second great member of the empiricist tradition which includes Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. While sharing some ideas on the theory of knowledge, Berkeley is not a skeptic in the sense that Hume and the empirical tradition were. Berkeley is famous for his views on vision which became the "accepted" view of his day, but his philosophical position was not so acclaimed. His principle works for philosophical consideration are Principles of Human Knowledge and Dialogues Between Hyles and Philonous. Berkeley never achieved acceptance to create a tradition or a following but his philosophy raised questions that required answers from a variety of traditions yet to come. We will now turn to his views.
Berkeley's view of reality may be briefly summed in his statement: "From what has been said it follows there is not any other substance than spirit or that which perceives."2 How does Berkeley come to this position? Several steps may be seen in his thinking. First, Berkeley reviews the different attitudes held in the past concerning the analysis of an object, for example, a cherry, and how it was known to a person. At first it was thought that "color, figure, motion and the rest of the sensible qualities or accidents did really exist without the mind" in something called matter.3 Thus the roundness (or primary quality as Locke called it) is in the cherry as well as the redness (or secondary quality as Locke called it). Both of these qualities were believed to be supported by something known as a third quality called the Substratum. This may be called "matter." This view or analysis above was modified by Locke when he believed that the primary qualities exist truly in the substratum and outside the mind. They were not subject to variations of size or shape from person to person. They were objective. But in Locke the secondary qualities became subjective and existed only in the mind. They are related to the object but not in it. The redness of a cherry cannot be compared because of color subjectivity.
Against all of this, Berkeley concludes that if secondary qualities are only in the mind, then primary qualities are also only in the mind. Moreover, a big thrust of Berkeley is directed against the tertiary quality, the substratum.4 It does not exist at all. Matter is never seen as Berkeley speaks of it. Consistence must be maintained about how we know secondary and primary qualities. Both of them must ride in the same boat. Either all of them are "out there" in the objects, or all "in here" in the mind.
Now as a matter of fact, according to Berkeley, matter does not exist--that is, the substratum or tertiary qualities. What exists then? Only ideas exist. Berkeley's use of the word "idea" as a substitute for "matter" is a little unusual. An idea sounds vacuous and non-existing. But he prefers the word because it does not have the idea of something that exists which is not seen--namely the substratum. An idea is something that is perceived and exists in the mind. An idea is real; it is seen, felt, tasted, touched, and smelled as in the experience of perceiving a cherry. All other real "things" or ideas are perceived in the same way. Berkeley allows that ideas may exist unperceived by himself and he may live and die without ever perceiving them, but for them to exist, they must be perceived by someone.
It may seem that Berkeley is playing down perceiving in the human experience, but actually the big thrust in his view of reality is to trust one's senses. One never perceives the substratum, or matter, and hence it is absurd to believe in it.5 What one does perceive is an idea of the cherry's roundness, color, moistness, and tartness.
This raises the question of how we know. Berkeley maintained that we do know and do perceive.6 No philosopher in Berkeley's day knew how to explain how a material object--if it existed--could affect a mind. If material objects did exist they would be powerless, inert, and have no ability to cause anything to happen. Moreover, objects do not know other objects--that is, a cherry does not know another cherry. Thus an object cannot cause itself to be placed in the mind. Thus our knowing is related to ideas which are impressed upon us from outside mostly. We can imagine, naturally, but the bulk of our perceiving comes from outside of the mind. Since matter does not exist, then the ideas must be caused by something spiritual and active.
At this point, the reader may become confused. Berkeley declares that ideas do not have existence outside of a mind that perceives them. This tends to be quickly read to a conclusion that nothing exists unless I perceive it. We have seen above that Berkeley admitted the existence of things that he did not personally perceive. Berkeley's full explanation must be carefully observed. The real cause of ideas "is an incorporeal active substance or Spirit."7 The main source of our ideas is the Author of nature, or God.8 We can have ideas in our mind as we will them in dreams and the like, but most ideas come from God who sustains the creation from alternately being there and then disappearing when I sleep and awake. Nothing in creation is changed from the laws of nature because of Berkeley's views. He noted, "Ideas imprinted on the sense are real things, or do really exist; this we do not deny, but we deny that they can subsist without the minds which perceive them."9 This quotation may give some context for understanding Berkeley's most famous quote: "To be is to be perceived." In other words, if someone (ultimately God) does not perceive it, it doesn't exist.
In summary, Berkeley uses the analysis of knowing to show that matter in the philosophic sense of his day did not exist. What is experienced is ideas which are spiritual in nature, produced by either my mind, your mind, or God's. Berkeley does not deny that we perceive bodies, trees, seas, or bees. But what we perceive is an idea, and an idea reflects the realm of the spirit, not matter. Berkeley used this argument based on a theory of knowledge to argue against materialism and atheism in his day. Although it was very difficult, if not impossible to refute, very few philosophers have followed Berkeley in these views.
There is no reason to suppose any extraordinary view about man in Berkeley's thought. In his stress on common sense he "thinks with the learned, but speaks with the vulgar." The common man expresses common sense in his observation of life. As a Bishop, Berkeley held to the view of God's creation of man. But he follows the views of his day incorporating some aspects of Greek philosophy. He spoke of man's soul as being "indivisible, incorporeal, unextended, and it is consequently incorruptible."10 Although death comes to the body and changes take place as aging comes, "the soul of man is naturally immortal."11
There is a further Greek flavor when he contrasts God and man in their knowing. God is not affected by anything. God knows and things are; man knows because God has made them. Man is limited by a body or as Berkeley puts it, "We are chained to a body, that is to say, our perceptions are connected with corporeal motions."12
There is an important point of view concluded from Berkeley's view of perception. "The universe undoubtedly appears to be anthropocentric."13 Berkeley lived in a time when important scientific revolutions were taking place in the new astronomy of Copernicus and the works of Newton. The revolution meant that man was no longer the center of the universe, but now a mere spectator in a world whose center had shifted far away from him. The new views have continued to the modern era in which man is a child of nature and is intermeshed within nature. Man's arrival is just a fortuitous event in the history of the planet.
But Berkeley did not accept a fortuitous explanation for man's existence. Common sense and common observation still keep man oriented in the direction of anthropocentricity, or the idea that man is the center of the universe.14
In his work, Alciphron, Berkeley stresses the importance of man's freedom. Like many other philosophers before him, he declares that freedom is the foundation of morality and religion. Without freedom man is not accountable for his actions. With freedom responsibility becomes a meaningful term. Guilt in any sense of the word is only useful with the term of freedom of man.
God is very important to the system of Berkeley. The nature of God is not so much expounded on as the relation of God to his system of immaterialism. Berkeley speaks of God as "A being whose spirituality, omnipresence, providence, omniscience, infinite power, and goodness, are as conspicuous as the existence of sensible things . . . ."15
God is important for He is the explanation of how we know. Since matter does not exist to cause perceiving, the perceiving must come from a spiritual being who is active and powerful. As the source of ideas that we perceive, "God is known as certainly and immediately as any other mind or spirit whatsoever distinct from ourselves."16 Berkeley proceeds to argue that God's existence is much more readily seen than man's existence. The reason is that man is limited and small in comparison to the great number of ideas that man perceives other than man. Each idea that he perceives is another bit of evidence that God exists. Remember ideas come from God.
Berkeley used an analogy to speak about seeing God. When we say we see a man we do not see a being who perceives and thinks. What we see is a creature who has a body like us and we conclude that it thinks and perceives. In a similar manner we analogize for God because "we do at all times and in all places perceive manifest tokens of Divinity; everything we see, hear, feel, or anywise perceive by sense being a sign or effect of the power of God; as in our perception of those very motions which are produced by man."17
Ideas are creations of God. Ideas existed before I was born or even the whole human race. It necessarily follows that "there is an omnipresent, eternal mind, which knows and comprehends all things, and exhibits them to our view in such a manner, and according to such rules as he himself hath ordained, and are by us termed the laws of nature."18
Berkeley did admit that we have no absolute knowledge of God. He wrote:
For all the notion I have of God is obtained by reflecting on my own soul, heightening its powers, and removing its imperfections . . . . My own mind and my own ideas I have an immediate knowledge of; and by the help of these, do mediately apprehend the possibility of the existence of other spirits and ideas. Further, from my own being, and from the dependency I find in myself and my ideas, I do by an act of reason necessarily infer the existence of a God, and of all created things in the mind of God.19
Berkeley did not develop a work on ethics but there are indications of his interest in the area from his extant works. Berkeley divided truth into three categories: natural, mathematical, and moral, and this is reflected in three areas of knowledge: natural philosophy, mathematics, and ethics.20
Empiricist that he was, he believed that ethics involved abstract ideas which, like justice, gratitude, or mercy, are not perceived with the eyes, but are abstractions from particular acts that involve justice, gratitude, or mercifulness.
Berkeley was impressed by mathematics in his day as were other philosophers and he hoped to produce an "algebra of ethics." Most other philosophers of the 17th century felt that mathematical treatment of ethics was possible. If this proved to be successful it would vindicate the separation of ethics from a religious connection with the church. But unfortunately, no one could produce a mathematical version of ethics. Such an attempt would have its problems. In mathematics most everyone agrees that 2 plus 2 equals 4. There is universal agreement on the use of math signs. It was Berkeley's hope that a universal dictionary of ethical terms might be produced. "If, then, the meaning of words were settled, propositions in ethics could be demonstrated as readily as propositions in mathematics."21 Such a dictionary has never been written and could not be. Berkeley seems to have given up the hope of it as he grew older.
What then serves as the basis of ethics for Berkeley? He started with the basic postulates--God, freedom, and immortality. They are grounded in the natural which is not only rational, but the rational is related to the divine, or an expression of divine rationality in nature. Thus values are related to the laws of nature which are expressions of God's rationality and reason discovers the laws which are valid in all times, places, and among all men.22 Berkeley's argument for rational moral rules makes him an opponent of impulse, or situation-oriented ethical systems. The latter was opposed for it is too time-consuming and impractical to try to compute the consequences of an action. Moreover, if a situation ethic be accepted, there is no possibility of a system of ethics. If the situation determines whether an act is good or bad, then there is no distinction between good and evil at all.
Berkeley believed that good and evil are related to the overall goal of happiness; that is, good tends to promote happiness; and evil tends to subvert it. Happiness is a legitimate goal of man's existence.
But the summum bonum, or highest good, is not strictly a sense of pleasure. The greatest good cannot be merely a temporal happiness. It can be the greatest good only with reference to God. Only God can guarantee eternal happiness. Consequently, morality requires the existence of God just as Berkeley's theory of knowledge requires God. If happiness is to be achieved, it will be related to doing the will of God.
Berkeley's essay on Passive Obedience makes mention of the mathematical model for ethics, but the work itself may be described as a Christian form of utilitarianism, or the view that God wills the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. He affirms that certain principles are evident to reason and may be described as laws of nature. These principles, for example, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," are to be "taken in a most absolute, necessary and immutable sense."23
Since God is a "being of infinite goodness, it is plain the end He proposes is good."24 The universal scope of Berkeley's view is seen in his comment that the good is not something private, or national, but the "general well-being of all men, of all nations, of all ages of the world, which God designs should be procured by the concurring actions of each individual."25 Hence, like mathematics, ethics should deal with universal principles. They are called laws of nature since they are regarded as universals.26
Berkeley may be regarded as holding an extreme view of idealism, particularly regarding his theory of knowledge. We now turn to a more widely known form of idealism, which is called objective idealism.
II. Objective Idealism
Two questions confront us immediately in seeking to understand objective idealism. First, what is it and second, how did such a position arise?
The first may be answered somewhat in contrast to Berkeley. Berkeley believed that all we know is spirit or idea. The conclusion of Berkeley is that matter does not exist and all so-called "things" are products of God's knowing. From Berkeley's view, it is evident that all reality is mind dependent, and it is known in our mind only.
In contrast, the objective idealist begins with the problem of knowing a priori truths or concepts which are known in the mind only. He reaches the ultimate conclusion that there is one single explanation of the world--Spirit, or the Absolute. The Absolute or Whole is manifested in the parts or sub-units and in that way become concrete. Spirit is all there is, and it becomes concrete in nature, or in man. The term "objective" means "necessary being." Spirit is necessary being while what is called matter is in a state of becoming and process.
How did such a position arise? Objective idealists trace their origin to Immanuel Kant who was not an objective idealist. Kant sought to bring a Copernican revolution to philosophy in explaining the way we claim to know the world. Traditional philosophy before Kant was based on a certain way of perceiving objects in the world. It was assumed that one's knowledge conformed to or reflected the object that is "out there" or outside of the mind. In this sense man is a receptor of stimuli. Kant reversed the traditional view. He assumed that the objects must conform to our mind. In a simple sense this means that I (my mind) order the world, or the objects I experience.
There are more complicating factors in Kant's view, but one may say he distinguished between subject (ego) and "thing-out-there." For Kant, the thing-out-there being termed "thing-in-itself" is unknowable.
This led to skepticism about the world, or the thing-in-itself, and did not satisfy some philosophers after Kant, particularly Fichte, who rejected this distinction and made all dependent on the mind itself. What happened in the process was the breakdown of the distinction between subject and object, and only absolute subject remained.
Hegel pushed all of this to its greatest extreme and glory. My rationality or mind is now a manifestation of the Absolute, or the Absolute made concrete. The Absolute becomes intelligent in man, and intelligent man is part of the Absolute. For Hegel, the real is rational, and the rational is real.
Hegel serves as our model of Objective Idealism. Georg W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) wrote a brilliant but long 800 pages of difficult, wandering prose.27 He is one of the most comprehensive of modern philosophers in that he attempted to work out a full philosophy of the world--a WeltanschaŁung. His work achieved considerable fame and influence in the 19th century. With this brief introduction to Hegel we turn now to look at basic ideas.
We can begin with a few statements from Hegel. He wrote:
Spirit is alone Reality. It is the inner being of the world, that which essentially is, and is per se; it assumes objective, determinate form, and enters into relations with itself--it is externality (otherness), and exists for self; yet, in this determination, and in its
otherness, it is still one with itself--it is self-contained and self-complete, in itself and for itself at once. This self-containedness, however, is first something known by us, it is implicit in its nature (an sich); it is Substance spiritual.28
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was one of the outstanding philosophers of western thought. Copleston says that his influence was due to "his evident and uncompromising devotion to pure thought, coupled with his remarkable ability for comprising a vast field within the scope and sweep of his dialectic. And his disciples felt that under his tuition the inner nature and process of reality, including the history of man, his political life and spiritual achievements, were being revealed." (A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7, Part I, p. 197.)
The world, however, is not merely Spirit thus thrown out and dispersed into the plentitude of existence and the external order imposed on it; for since Spirit is essentially the simple Self, this self is likewise present therein. The world is objectively existent spirit, which is individual self, that has consciousness and distinguishes itself as other, as world, from itself.29
How does Hegel arrive at the conclusion that Spirit alone is real? Our explanation will be overly simplified but it begins with an analysis of perceived objects. The senses seem to give direct, certain knowledge, but upon examination there is less certainty than at first appears. Looking at an unfamiliar object tells you little about it. What is required is understanding and this is not to be found in the object alone, but with the aid of reason. Moreover, when you analyze the whole situation, there is, in addition to the object, a subject or knower. When the knower reflects, he knows that he is seeing the object, and he knows that he knows. Consequently one arrives at a self-conscious being rather than a merely conscious being.
Hegel moves from self-conscious being to postulate other self-conscious beings. With the recognition of other self-conscious beings he declares that "we already have before us the notion of Mind or Spirit."30 Near the end of his work Hegel wrote:
Spirit is known as self-consciousness and to this self-consciousness it is directly revealed, for it is this self-consciousness itself. The divine nature is the same as the human and it is this unity which is intuitively apprehended.
Here, then, we find as a fact of consciousness, of the general form in which Being is aware of Being--the shape which Being adopts--to be identical with its self-
consciousness. This shape is itself a self-consciousness; it is thus at the same time an existent object; and this existence possesses equally directly the significance of pure thought, or Absolute Being.31
In these quotes it is important to note that Reason is the highest type of human experience possible. Moreover, reason is common to ourselves and other humans. There is nothing higher than reason and reason operates the same in finite minds and reason qua reason must operate the same in Infinite Mind.
So far little indication has been given about the place of the material world or the "thing-world" as Hegel speaks of it. Spirit is the producer of Nature. Spirit is the explanation of both man and the world. Spirit "empties itself of itself and becomes self-consciousness," hence man comes into being. Again, Spirit "empties itself of itself and makes itself into the form of 'thing' . . . ."32 One may also say that Spirit objectifies itself in nature. As a matter of chronology, Spirit causes Nature to be and then man is Spirit made self-conscious.
The implication of all this is that Spirit is the creator of all. Moreover, Spirit is all. Absolute Spirit in general makes itself concrete or particular and the world becomes what it is.
Hegel wrote, "The simple substance of spirit, being conscious, divides itself into parts."33 Hence, we can begin with man as a sub-unit of the Absolute. But since this is true for all humans, then all humans have a "spark" of divinity in them. This spark of divinity is housed in a physical surrounding, the body, which is analyzed by Hegel as he works his way to the real subject of the body, self-consciousness. Different manifestations of the Spirit in nature produce differences in races, characters, and other distinctions. Man is analyzed in terms of his change of physical characteristics from childhood, through youth and manhood, to old age. His body gives rise to an analysis of sensibility which is often ambiguous and contradictory. Yet the body is not as profound as the Spirit in man. Hegel's great work, Phenomenology of Mind, is an attempt to give description to the consciousness of man. Man's senses relate to things, but this is ambiguous. Hegel concludes that the real truth in knowing is not the object itself, but our selves mirrored or reflected in the object. In knowing objects we find our own selves, and this is self-consciousness.
In his commentary on Hegel's work, Stace notes that man is estranged from God as seen in the following:
My particularity and finitude are precisely the factors which constitute my lack of identity with God. This is the meaning of the doctrine that man is by nature evil, a far profounder truth than the shallow view that man is by nature good. For evil is simply particularity. I do evil when I persist in my particularity when I follow my particular ends instead of identifying myself with universal and rational ends. Man is evil, is estranged from God, just because he is particular and finite spirit.34
But estrangement is not the last word about man's condition. This reconciliation takes place by means of man's returning from his individualism to the universal. When man negates his negation of the universal, he rediscovers his oneness with the universal.
Such a view gives one a very optimistic picture of man. Man has a vital relation to the infinite and little is required beyond rationality to make him aware of that relationship.
Hegel developed his thinking on religion from a historical and logical viewpoint. In the primitive religious ideas one must begin with magic which involves the control of nature. Higher up in the scale are the religions of substance involving Chinese, Hindu, and Buddhist religions. Using Hinduism as an example, it is a religion of substance which means that substance is illusory, for it returns to the One.
A third step involves fragmentary elements in which some religions grope for certain truths of the higher religions. In Zoroastrianism, God is good, has absolute power, but is one-sided since Ahura Mazda is opposed by Angra Mainyu, or the evil one.
The highest religion, for Hegel, is Christianity, which is described as a revealed religion. He noted:
This incarnation of the Divine Being, its having essentially and directly the shape of self-consciousness is the simple content of Absolute Religion. Here the Divine Being
is known as Spirit; this religion is the Divine Being's consciousness concerning itself that it is Spirit . . . .
In this form of religion, the Divine Being is, on that account, revealed. Its being revealed obviously consists in this, that which it is, is known.35
Hegel does not stop with the incarnation and death of Christ, as a unique thing for one person in history. He generalizes the ideas for all people. He wrote:
Death then ceases to signify that it means directly--the non-existence of this individual--and becomes transfigured into the universality of the Spirit, which lives in its own communion, dies there daily, and daily rises again.36
a general way, the incarnation reflects that fact that all men are incarnations of Spirit and the death reflects the fact that reconciliation has been made for all men. In concluding his chapter on Revealed Religion, Hegel wrote:
The world is no doubt implicitly reconciled with the essential Being; and that Being no doubt knows that it no longer regards the object as alienated from itself, but as one with itself in its love. But for self-consciousness this immediate presence has not yet the form and shape of spiritual reality.37
God appears to be all there is--in the form of Spirit. This sounds like pantheism, but Hegel is defended from the charge of pantheism, by Stace, in maintaining that pantheism involves saying that all things, rocks, trees, and whatever makes up nature, are items that make up the geography of God. In Hegel all items of creation are manifestations of God, the highest form is in consciousness and self-consciousness, but this does not exhaust the totality of Spirit.
Man's relation to Spirit is paradoxically expressed. On the one hand, man has been "created" good, but on the other, the nature of man is that he is a particular being--over against Being--and this is evil. "I do evil when I persist in my particularity, when I follow my particular ends instead of identifying myself with universal and rational ends."38 While I can live in mental adjustment to the rationality of the Universe, the ultimate reconciliation comes at death in which the particular (man) returns to the general (God).
Hegel's attempt to amalgamate his philosophy and Christianity has had wide influence in the l9th and 20th centuries. Although his influence permeated the church, yet many critics are inclined to agree that Hegelianism--as an ally of Christianity--was "an enemy in disguise--the least evident, but the most dangerous."39
Values begin with persons in Hegel. The general principle is: "Be a
person and respect others as persons."40 What distinguishes
persons from animals is self-consciousness. Hegel speaks of rights to
property which an individual has by possession and property relates to
non-personal items, such as things, tools, houses, and goods. Man can use or
relinquish them. One's own life may be regarded as property, but this does
not mean one can relinquish life--by suicide.
What does the universal will will? Acting rationally does not give content to the sense of duty. Hegel turns to social ethics to fill out the meaning. Social ethics arises when subjective conscience and objective will meet. Social institutions arise out of the reason and will. Social institutions are conceived as reasons objectified.41 Thus Hegel argues that the state, the family, and other ancillary institutions like the police and corporation are borne from the universal.
As an example, marriage is first a duty. One may receive pleasure in marriage, but it must not be entered into with pleasure as a first requirement. One does not marry for "love" but for duty arising out of reason. Love may arise in marriage, but it is not the basis of it. Because marriage is serious, divorce should be difficult to achieve and should be regulated carefully by the state.
When children grow up, the family is disrupted and society becomes a group of individual people breaking away from the corporate life of their families to start new families. Their turning to independence apart from their parent family introduces the idea of particularity which is contrary to the universal and until the universal is accepted there is a rejection of the ethical.42
The independent person views his life in a very personal way and is concerned for his own needs and wants--food, clothing, housing, etc. Wants relate to dependence upon others, labor to gain wants, and the possible accumulation of wealth. The various kinds of wants require certain class vocations such as agriculture, industry, commerce, and governing.
Having begun with the idea of persons being related to values, we can turn to that idea concerning persons and rights. Because persons have rights it requires the existence of laws and justice for the guarantee of the rights of individuals. These laws govern the external relations rather than internal relations of people. External relations relate to crime, marriage, property, while internal relations relate to intimate relations of husband, wife, and children.
Hegel's ethic, like other aspects of his philosophy, have a certain vagueness that makes comprehension difficult. Various criticisms have been raised against his views ranging from the lack of empiricism to the criticism that everything is swallowed up in the absolute. This is particularly true as it relates to the individual human. Because of these and other criticisms, other idealists have turned to yet another variety of idealism which they feel is more important for individualism. To that we now turn.
In antiquity Heraclitus was the first Greek to argue that the person has a focal place in the world of things. Socrates certainly stressed the high role of the individual. Among the Hebrews the prophets stressed the importance of personhood as did the later Aristotle. Personalism has always struggled against absolutisms whether it be the state, church, technology, or philosophy. Modern personalism wages a war with two enemies that take varying disguises: material and spiritual monisms. Material monism--matter is all there is--denies the realm of the spirit and is characteristic of the scientific endeavor. Spiritual monism--Absolute Spirit is all important--denies real individualism which is often characteristic of the forms of pantheism. Personalism affirms both the realm of the spirit and individualism. With this brief introduction we turn to the main headings of personalism.
The atomic age has revolutionized our thinking about matter, and has made it more difficult to be a materialist than it used to be. Matter is not conceived as "lumpishness, weight, or objectivity, but rather as force, as activity, even more, as self-activity."43 The atom may be described as a "figment of the mind, a symbol to assist the imagination" in the same fashion that we use symbols in math to express an unknown.44 Consequently, "reality is to be seen then as primarily, activity, activity infilled with purpose and intelligence, and for that reason bearing meaning to all intelligence."45 The older materialism of inert, static, and dead matter is untenable in light of the new physics of the twentieth century.
Moreover, the world in which matter or energy exists is a world filled with design and purpose. In short, it is a world of intelligence that is understood by intelligence. If there is no Cosmic Intelligence "we have thrust upon us the unbearable burden of explaining how disorder can produce order, or how unintelligence can produce intelligence."46
Personalists are inclined to raise questions even about the evolutionary theory of biology. Issue is raised about how chance or accident can bring order into being. Both the questions of origins and the direction of evolution are questioned. Concerning the origin of life, it is argued that non-life plus other non-life doesn't equal anything living. It makes more sense to speak of an Eternal Creator than it does to talk about non-living things plus vast amounts of time equalling life.
The other issue of the direction of evolution is related to the seemingly non-personal, non-intelligent ways evolution is described. Terms like "the survival of the fittest," "natural selection," "adaptation" and others appear to camouflage the fact that development is from the simple to the complex and reflect an essential goal or purpose. Simple mechanistic laws of evolution do not explain the plethora of life in existence. What passes under the heading "nature does this or that" would make more sense if "Creative Mind" or God were substituted for "Nature."
Reality is too complicated to explain in mechanistic terms alone. Matter can be studied, but needs the "existence of a Supreme Being in order to ground the universal system of change and reality."47
Persons are the most important beings in the world. Science has had a major impact in depersonalizing man. The emphasis on facts, scientific methods, verification, and objectivity has overlooked the fact that man is the being, the person who does all of this. "Persons and values cannot be swept aside without at the same time sweeping out the sweeper."48 Thus to say that persons are the most important beings in the world is not unimportant. What meaning does anything have apart from persons to value them?49 Moreover, things do not satisfy persons; only persons do that. A person is:
a field of energy in which certain activities are known to take place. Activities of human genius, insights, discoveries, conquests of animal instincts, mastery of will, spiritual values, these cannot be denied without the denial also of that which distinguishes human from animal existence.50
There are certain elements of personhood that personalists feel are important. First, man is free, not absolutely, but within certain bounds. Man is free "to do right, to fulfill the normal functions of the organism, and in man this means that freedom can be fully realized only as he fulfills the higher demands of the human spirit and consciousness."51 Man is not free to do wrong although in a sense he is. As wrong is chosen one's freedom becomes less. Wrong corrupts man and the more he permits himself to be dominated by evil he betrays and imprisons himself. Choosing the right is expansive. Right builds upon right choices. Right is the only real choice open because a double life--combining good and evil--is a self-deceiving life.
Disloyalty in his social life, in his heart life, in his emotional life, disloyalty to those over him, introduces inner conflict which bring inevitable deterioration and keep him back from the fullest success. In the long run, the external and the internal life must be in harmony or the secret one will become the master of the other.54
The choices that we make are related to self-respect. "Unless I can keep or regain when lost, my self-respect,, I am done for as a person, for I must live with myself forever."53 The secret life can ruin self-respect.
Second, freedom is related to God. God is described as an audacious person who has linked his goals for the cosmos with that of free persons. This audacity is more apparent when God is seeking to achieve his goal working with the freedom of man, granting freedom to man, and being threatened with man's exercise of his freedom to be uncooperative in achieving moral goals.54 In the highest sense man is a co-worker with God in creating and building a better world.
Persons are necessary for other persons. There is no personality apart from persons.55 A baby raised in isolation from persons cannot grow up to be a true human being. In a similar way man is related to God who is the Father of spirits. Flewelling notes:
Without God, man is a truncated pyramid, and a very lowly one at that. He must reach out beyond himself and the day's thoughts and achievements into an infinitude of possibilities. This he cannot do without the God concept and faith. Man's highest nature is also his truest nature, and this truest nature is one with Divinity itself, a manifestation in time of the Eternal God, the measure of all things.56
Since we have come to the relation between persons and God, we will now look at the personalist's view of God.
God receives several different treatments in personalism ranging from the view of McTaggart in which persons, not God, are eternal, to the finite view of God as seen in Brightman. Here we will look briefly at the more traditional personalist's view with an additional look at Brightman's concept of a finite God.
First, the traditional view. Related more to the Christian view of things, this view rejects atheism as well as the Absolute of Objective Idealism. The Absolute, expressed in pantheistic religions and philosophies, tends to negate personality and individualism. If the person--and this is the goal in pantheism--is absorbed into the World Soul, it would mean that his whole moral life is brought to an end, and his role as an individual is illusory. Moreover, it is argued, if a person ceases to be a person, the destruction of energy takes place which would be contrary to the scientific principle of the conservation of energy.
In another way believing in an Absolute would be compromised if one believed in creation of time and space and the world. Creation is the expression of one's self and the making of the world would be an act of voluntary self-limitation. This may be related to another objective of the personalists about the Absolute. The Absolute or World Soul is usually regarded as lacking in personality, and to become like the Absolute is to become "completely depersonalized, unhuman, unrelated to the world of sorrow and experience."57 If this be the case, then a judgement about personality is made: The Absolute has caused it to be--which the Absolute has not--and if the Absolute has made a mistake, it is evil. If it has not made a mistake and personality is good, why do Absolute-ists denounce personality as an obstacle to union with the Absolute?
Rejecting an impersonal absolute, personalists affirm that God is a living God. He is not identified with the world; it is created, He is the Creator. He is a moral being concerned with the moral sensitivity of man. Flewelling noted:
He lives and his life is manifested in ceaseless creative activity, and this immanent and transcendent God survives the welter of time and change through the possession of an enduring self-consciousness and self-direction. Either God is a Person, a Supreme continuum, or that lonely and solitary pilgrim of the spirit, man, alone of all created things possessing the consciousness of freedom and moral responsibility, but with his sense of failure mingled with undying hope, is the greatest God there is.58
Man is certainly ruled out as being God or the originator of God by personalists. God must not be regarded as a fiction of the mind anymore than the atom is a fiction of the mind. The "consciousness of God is vindicated in terms of the works that follow" just as the atom is vindicated by its results.59
The personalist may be inclined to relate his view of God in the direction of Christianity since the Incarnation of God in Christ is an expression of God's self-limitation. If moral freedom is real--and personalists affirm it--then it means a self-limitation that God imposes on himself.
Second, Brightman's view of a finite God. Edgar Brightman, along with others in philosophic thought, i.e., James, Schiller, Plato, has argued that God is not infinite, but finite. The reasons center around the problem of evil. Brightman does not want to argue that the universe is morally neutral, or that evil is an illusion or wrong thinking as in Christian Science or some oriental religions. The latter argument--evil is an illusion--would also make good an illusion. Instead of these options, Brightman seeks to understand evil as really evil and good as really good.
In so doing he deals with the issue of God's nature: is God infinite or finite? If God is infinite, then evil is more difficult to deal with. If God is infinite, then evil is related to God in some way since He is all there is or was at any time. If God is finite, then evil can have some kind of existence or beginning apart from God who would not be blamed for its existence. In antiquity Epicurus poses the issue in the following way:
God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or he is able, and is unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able. If he is willing and is unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God . . .60
Although Epicurus concluded that God is indifferent or evil, Brightman doesn't agree. But a reasonable explanation must be given about the relation of God and evil.
While opting for a finite God Brightman points up that there is much in common between a finite and an infinite view of God. In both God is a person, worthy of worship, responsive to man, is in control of the universe, and both agree that there is some limitation of God either in terms of no self-contradiction in God's rationality or in self-limitations concerning man's freedom and ability to sin.61 This self-limitation means that God does not keep man from sinning and alienating himself from God.
Brightman argues that God is not infinite and does this basically on the problem of evil. We cannot confess ignorance about the problem of evil and at the same time argue that God is infinite. If we know that God is infinite, we ought to have an answer for evil consistent with that knowledge. Moreover, if God is absolute or infinite, he becomes the cause of evil. And he further argues that since everything is related to the Absolute, evil must be regarded as only apparent, which then raises suspicions about the reality of the Good or reduces values to skepticism.
In addition to the element above, Brightman speaks about God as having a certain "Givenness" about Himself. He is eternal but there are conditions which he did not create. The evils in the cosmos are not due to God's self-limitations, nor are they a part of his nature. This gives a form of dualism called "dualistic personalism." Brightman describes it as follows:
God is personal consciousness of eternal duration; his consciousness is an eternally active will, which eternally finds and controls the Given within every moment of his eternal experience. The Given consists of the eternal, uncreated laws of reason and also of equally external and uncreated processes of non-rational consciousness which exhibit all the ultimate qualities of sense objects (qualia), disorderly impulses and desires, such experiences as pain and suffering, the forms of space and time, and whatever in God is the source of surd evil.62
Brightman does acknowledge that he is advocating a God whose will is finite rather than a finite God. The limitation of power makes it possible to speak of God struggling with evil and being frustrated temporarily, but not totally or ultimately defeated.
The problem of evil is real and Brightman was struggling with the issue of whether one can believe in a God who allows evil to exist. One might well ask the question whether one can believe in a God who doesn't allow evil to exist. The issue is what is God like: a divine policeman who zaps people when evil is done; or a merciful being who seeks in patience for man to return to himself.
In spite of whatever criticisms that may be raised against his view, Brightman poses a question about the philosophical term and use of "absoluteness" or "infiniteness." The problem is compounded when it is developed logically and leads naturally to the issues raised by Epicurus. But if you answer the question as a religious question--which it certainly is--then one will have to say that the Bible does not teach the absoluteness of God. That comes from Aristotle. The Bible teaches that God is able to achieve his purpose and that purpose is not expressed in syllogistic form. There is a self-limitation in the Bible as expressed in creation, man's freedom and finally in the Incarnation of God which is the greatest expression of self-limitation for the sake of achieving a purpose of love and redemption.
The personalists are very much value oriented. This is one of the unique features about the emphasis on persons rather than on things, or the impersonalism of the Absolute. Great length is taken to indicate the poverty of science in demonstrating the validity of values. The methods of science have nothing to do with values either pro or con.
Man is the only creature who makes moral choices. This is true because man is a living soul. Values are related to man's using and choosing. If values are not exercised, then they are meaningless.
Man has a relation to a value-world. "Whoever finds the complete harmony of inner integrity discovers the whole universe fighting on his side. The forces with which he learns to cooperate, cooperate with him."63
Values require a sense of self-discipline. A double-minded person has already been condemned in the section on man. Life demands discipline. The first act of a person who is to be a moral creature is to control his imagination. Evil begins with--out of the heart proceed murder, lust, adultery, hate, etc. Unless control of the imagination is gained, all is lost. Thinking on that which is good, pure, holy, and just is the alternative to imagination run riot with destructive tendencies for personhood. "The man who dallies with evil thoughts or imaginings is never safe. Indeed he may so corrupt the subconscious bases of action that the power to resist wrongdoing is all but lost."64
Choosing values involves weighing their goodness. Like moralists of all ages, personalists believe that doing a lessor good than a greater good is wrong and destructive of self-control.65 Being untrue to the mandates of the Spirit, makes one a slave to something less than good.
Personalism's values on persons means that one reveres both himself as well as the personhood of others. Surrendering an ideal for a friend debases both oneself and the respect of the friend. The same regard for persons means that one cannot be indifferent to the needs and problems of others. If there is a human being suffering, then I too am suffering. If my children are hungry and impoverished in ignorance, then my child and those after us are imperiled.
Values, finally, are related to God. Man has a relation to God, the Supreme Continuum, as long as he seeks to realize the values in his life that are consistent with the Supreme Continuum.
The consciousness of continuity with the Supreme Continuum within and behind the universe is the great need of our day. Society suffers from individualism, an isolationism which cuts itself off from the general progress in the search for personal advantage at the expense of others . . . . In the Supreme Continuum alone can we realize our brotherhood of all mankind, the communion of the saints. A realization of the place that each man is privileged to take in the range of cosmic life, raises man to a position of new grandeur and importance.66
It is difficult to conclude a survey of such different perspectives as we have seen in Idealism. The student may feel that personalism has many advantages over the other types of idealism. This is related to the personalist's emphasis on the individual as contrasted to the Absolute of Hegel, or the subjective mental orientation of Berkeley. Personalism's stress on the individual keeps man from being swallowed up in the absolute or lost in subjectivism. It is on the philosophy of man that the key emphasis comes. In other areas God is the Supreme Person in a community of persons. But man has freedom to oppose God without the threat of being swallowed up in God. Man is significant but not at the expense of God. God comes out a bit more rational and knowable in personalism in contrast to Hegelianism.
The following chart may help pull together some of the ideas for comparison sake.
A. Reality Only ideas exist Spirit is alone
Persons are most
Previously we commented that idealism and naturalism are the two great contrasts in philosophy. We now turn to our third philosophy which appears as a hybrid philosophy. In realism, our third philosophy, we see the importance of both mind and matter.
For Further Study
Ardley, Gavin. Berkeley's Renovation of Philosophy. The Hague:
Martinus Nihjoff, 1968.
1Idealism is really "idea-ism"; the latter "l" being added for easier pronunciation.
2The Empiricist, Garden City, New York: Dolphin Books, n.d., p. 153.
3Ibid., p. 180.
4Ibid., p. 155.
5Ibid., pp. 273-74.
6Cf. Chapter III.
7Ibid., p. 161.
8Ibid., p. 163.
9Ibid., p. 187.
10Ibid., p. 209.
12Ibid., p. 284.
13Ibid., p. 124.
14Gavin Ardley, Berkeley's Renovation of Philosophy, The Hague: Martinus Nihjoff, 1968), pp. 124-132.
15The Empiricists, op. cit., p. 300.
16Ibid., p. 211.
18Ibid., p. 274.
19Ibid., p. 275.
20G.A. Johnston, The Development of Berkeley's Philosophy, New York: Russell and Russell, 1965, pp. 282-83.
21Ibid., p. 293.
22Ibid., p. 302.
23George Berkeley, Selections, edited by Mary W. Calkins, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929, p. 431.
24Ibid., p. 433.
25Ibid., p. 434.
26Ibid., p. 436.
27G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. by J.B. Baillie, New York: Harper Torchbook, 1967.
28Ibid., p. 86.
29Ibid., p. 770.
30Ibid., p. 227.
31Ibid., p. 760.
32Ibid., p. 755.
33Ibid., p. 466.
34Stace, The Philosophy of Hegel, p. 513.
35Hegel, op. cit., p. 758.
36Ibid., p. 780.
37Ibid., pp. 784-85.
38Stace, op. cit., p. 513.
39McTaggart, quote in Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. VII, Part l, Garden City: Image books, 1965, p. 286.
40Philosophy of Right, sec. 36.
41Stace, op. cit., p. 406.
42Ibid., p. 413.
43Ralph F. Flewelling, The Person, Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie
Press, 1952, p. 107.
45Ibid., p. 107.
46Ibid., p. 144.
47Ibid., p. 199.
48Edgar Brightman, Persons and Values, Boston: Boston University Press, 1952, p. 10.
49Flewelling, op. cit., p. 232.
50Ibid., p. 324.
51Ibid., p. 88.
52Ibid., p. 94.
53Ibid., p. 242.
54Ibid., p. 251.
55Ibid., p. 233.
56Ibid., p. 254.
57Ibid., p. 277.
59Ibid., p. 201.
60Edgar Brightman, A Philosophy of Religion, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1940, p. 289. A quote from Lanctantius, A Treatise on the Anger of God, Ch. XIII.
61Brightman, op. cit., pp. 301-03.
62Ibid., p. 337. Surd evil is evil that cannot be rationally explained.
63Flewelling, op. cit., p. 109.
64Ibid., p. 230.
65Ibid., p. 110.
66Ibid., p. 286.
|return to table of contents|
|All rights reserved. Permission in writing
must be obtained from the publisher before any part of this work may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information
storage or retrieval system. Additional Copies May Be Ordered
Publishing 1813 Calle de Loma Emporia, KS 66801 (316)
Copyright: Copyright © 1982 by Dallas M. Roark