Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

First and Last Things by H. G. Wells

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Prepared by: Rebecca Trump












































































Recently I set myself to put down what I believe. I did this with no
idea of making a book, but at the suggestion of a friend and to interest
a number of friends with whom I was associated. We were all, we found,
extremely uncertain in our outlook upon life, about our religious
feelings and in our ideas of right and wrong. And yet we reckoned
ourselves people of the educated class and some of us talk and lecture
and write with considerable confidence. We thought it would be of very
great interest to ourselves and each other if we made some sort of frank
mutual confession. We arranged to hold a series of meetings in which
first one and then another explained the faith, so far as he understood
it, that was in him. We astonished ourselves and our hearers by the
irregular and fragmentary nature of the creeds we produced, clotted at
one point, inconsecutive at another, inconsistent and unconvincing to a
quite unexpected degree. It would not be difficult to caricature one of
those meetings; the lecturer floundering about with an air of exquisite
illumination, the audience attentive with an expression of thwarted
edification upon its various brows. For my own part I grew so interested
in planning my lecture and in joining up point and point, that my notes
soon outran the possibilities of the hour or so of meeting for which I
was preparing them. The meeting got only a few fragments of what I had
to say, and made what it could of them. And after that was over I let
myself loose from limits of time and length altogether and have expanded
these memoranda into a book.

It is as it stands now the frank confession of what one man of the early
Twentieth Century has found in life and himself, a confession just as
frank as the limitations of his character permit; it is his metaphysics,
his religion, his moral standards, his uncertainties and the expedients
with which he has met them. On every one of these departments and
aspects I write--how shall I put it?--as an amateur. In every section of
my subject there are men not only of far greater intellectual power and
energy than I, but who have devoted their whole lives to the sustained
analysis of this or that among the questions I discuss, and there is a
literature so enormous in the aggregate that only a specialist scholar
could hope to know it. I have not been unmindful of these professors and
this literature; I have taken such opportunities as I have found, to
test my propositions by them. But I feel that such apology as one makes
for amateurishness in this field has a lesser quality of
self-condemnation than if one were dealing with narrower, more defined
and fact-laden matters. There is more excuse for one here than for the
amateur maker of chemical theories, or the man who evolves a system of
surgery in his leisure. These things, chemistry, surgery and so forth,
we may take on the reputation of an expert, but our own fundamental
beliefs, our rules of conduct, we must all make for ourselves. We may
listen and read, but the views of others we cannot take on credit; we
must rethink them and "make them our own." And we cannot do without
fundamental beliefs, explicit or implicit. The bulk of men are obliged
to be amateur philosophers,--all men indeed who are not specialized
students of philosophical subjects,--even if their philosophical
enterprise goes no further than prompt recognition of and submission to

And it is not only the claim of the specialist that I would repudiate.
People are too apt to suppose that in order to discuss morals a man must
have exceptional moral gifts. I would dispute that naive supposition. I
am an ingenuous enquirer with, I think, some capacity for religious
feeling, but neither a prophet nor a saint. On the whole I should be
inclined to classify myself as a bad man rather than a good; not indeed
as any sort of picturesque scoundrel or non-moral expert, but as a
person frequently irritable, ungenerous and forgetful, and
intermittently and in small but definite ways bad. One thing I claim, I
have got my beliefs and theories out of my life and not fitted them to
its circumstances. As often as not I have learnt good by the method of
difference; by the taste of the alternative. I tell this faith I hold as
I hold it and I sketch out the principles by which I am generally trying
to direct my life at the present time, because it interests me to do so
and I think it may interest a certain number of similarly constituted
people. I am not teaching. How far I succeed or fail in that private and
personal attempt to behave well, has nothing to do with the matter of
this book. That is another story, a reserved and private affair. I offer
simply intellectual experiences and ideas.

It will be necessary to take up the most abstract of these questions of
belief first, the metaphysical questions. It may be that to many readers
the opening sections may seem the driest and least attractive. But I
would ask them to begin at the beginning and read straight on, because
much that follows this metaphysical book cannot be appreciated at its
proper value without a grasp of these preliminaries.




As a preliminary to that experiment in mutual confession from which this
book arose, I found it necessary to consider and state certain truths
about the nature of knowledge, about the meaning of truth and the value
of words, that is to say I found I had to begin by being metaphysical.
In writing out these notes now I think it is well that I should state
just how important I think this metaphysical prelude is.

There is a popular prejudice against metaphysics as something at once
difficult and fruitless, as an idle system of enquiries remote from any
human interest. I suppose this odd misconception arose from the vulgar
pretensions of the learned, from their appeal to ancient names and their
quotations in unfamiliar tongues, and from the easy fall into
technicality of men struggling to be explicit where a high degree of
explicitness is impossible. But it needs erudition and accumulated and
alien literature to make metaphysics obscure, and some of the most
fruitful and able metaphysical discussion in the world was conducted by
a number of unhampered men in small Greek cities, who knew no language
but their own and had scarcely a technical term. The true metaphysician
is after all only a person who says, "Now let us take a thought for a
moment before we fall into a discussion of the broad questions of life,
lest we rush hastily into impossible and needless conflict. What is the
exact value of these thoughts we are thinking and these words we are
using?" He wants to take thought about thought. Those other ardent
spirits on the contrary, want to plunge into action or controversy or
belief without taking thought; they feel that there is not time to
examine thought. "While you think," they say, "the house is burning."
They are the kin of those who rush and struggle and make panics in
theatre fires.

Now it seems to me that most of the troubles of humanity are really
misunderstandings. Men's compositions and characters are, I think, more
similar than their views, and if they had not needlessly different modes
of expression upon many broad issues, they would be practically at one
upon a hundred matters where now they widely differ.

Most of the great controversies of the world, most of the wide religious
differences that keep men apart, arise from this: from differences in
their way of thinking. Men imagine they stand on the same ground and
mean the same thing by the same words, whereas they stand on slightly
different grounds, use different terms for the same thing and express
the same thing in different words. Logomachies, conflicts about
words,--into such death-traps of effort those ardent spirits run and

This is now almost a commonplace; it has been said before by numberless
people. It has been said before by numberless people, but it seems to me
it has been realised by very few--and until it is realised to the
fullest extent, we shall continue to live at intellectual cross purposes
and waste the forces of our species needlessly and abundantly.

This persuasion is a very important thing in my mind.

I think that the time has come when the human mind must take up
metaphysical discussion again--when it must resume those subtle but
necessary and unavoidable problems that it dropped unsolved at the close
of the period of Greek freedom, when it must get to a common and general
understanding upon what its ideas of truth, good, and beauty amount to,
and upon the relation of the name to the thing, and of the relation of
one mind to another mind in the matter of resemblance and the matter of
difference--upon all those issues the young science student is as apt to
dismiss as Rot, and the young classical student as Gas, and the austere
student of the science of Economics as Theorising, unsuitable for his
methods of research.

In our achievement of understandings in the place of these evasions
about fundamental things lies the road, I believe, along which the human
mind can escape, if ever it is to escape, from the confusion of purposes
that distracts it at the present time.


It seems to me that the Greek mind up to the disaster of the Macedonian
Conquest was elaborately and discursively discussing these questions of
the forms and methods of thought and that the discussion was abruptly
closed and not naturally concluded, summed up hastily as it were, in the
career and lecturings of Aristotle.

Since then the world never effectually reopened these questions until
the modern period. It went on from Plato and Aristotle just as the art
of the seventeenth and eighteenth century went on from Raphael and
Michael Angelo. Effectual criticism was absolutely silent until the
Renaissance, and then for a time was but a matter of scattered
utterances having only the slightest collective effect. In the past half
century there has begun a more systematic critical movement in the
general mind, a movement analogous to the Pre-Raphaelite movement in
art--a Pre-Aristotelian movement, a scepticism about things supposed to
be settled for all time, a resumed inquiry into the fundamental laws of
thought, a harking back to positions of the older philosophers and
particularly to Heraclitus, so far as the surviving fragments of his
teaching enable one to understand him, and a new forward movement from
that recovered ground.


Necessarily when one begins an inquiry into the fundamental nature of
oneself and one's mind and its processes, one is forced into
autobiography. I begin by asking how the conscious mind with which I am
prone to identify myself, began.

It presents itself to me as a history of a perception of the world of
facts opening out from an accidental centre at which I happened to

I do not attempt to define this word fact. Fact expresses for me
something in its nature primary and unanalyzable. I start from that. I
take as a typical statement of fact that I sit here at my desk writing
with a fountain pen on a pad of ruled scribbling paper, that the
sunlight falls upon me and throws the shadow of my window mullion across
the page, that Peter, my cat, sleeps on the window-seat close at hand
and that this agate paper-weight with the silver top that once was
Henley's holds my loose memoranda together. Outside is a patch of lawn
and then a fringe of winter-bitten iris leaves and then the sea, greatly
wrinkled and astir under the south-west wind. There is a boat going out
which I think may be Jim Pain's, but of that I cannot be sure...

These are statements of a certain quality, a quality that extends
through a huge universe in which I find myself placed.

I try to recall how this world of fact arose in my mind. It began with a
succession of limited immediate scenes and of certain minutely perceived
persons; I recall an underground kitchen with a drawered table, a window
looking up at a grating, a back yard in which, growing out by a dustbin,
was a grape-vine; a red-papered room with a bookcase over my father's
shop, the dusty aisles and fixtures, the regiments of wine-glasses and
tumblers, the rows of hanging mugs and jugs, the towering edifices of
jam-pots, the tea and dinner and toilet sets in that emporium, its
brighter side of cricket goods, of pads and balls and stumps. Out of the
window one peeped at the more exterior world, the High Street in front,
the tailor's garden, the butcher's yard, the churchyard and Bromley
church tower behind; and one was taken upon expeditions to fields and
open places. This limited world was peopled with certain familiar
presences, mother and father, two brothers, the evasive but interesting
cat, and by intermittent people of a livelier but more transient
interest, customers and callers.

Such was my opening world of fact, and each day it enlarged and widened
and had more things added to it. I had soon won my way to speech and was
hearing of facts beyond my visible world of fact. Presently I was at a
Dame's school and learning to read.

From the centre of that little world as primary, as the initiatory
material, my perception of the world of fact widened and widened, by new
sights and sounds, by reading and hearing descriptions and histories, by
guesses and inferences; my curiosity and interest, my appetite for fact,
grew by what it fed upon, I carried on my expansion of the world of fact
until it took me through the mineral and fossil galleries of the Natural
History Museum, through the geological drawers of the College of
Science, through a year of dissection and some weeks at the astronomical
telescope. So I built up my conceptions of a real world out of facts
observed and out of inferences of a nature akin to fact, of a world
immense and enduring, receding interminably into space and time. In that
I found myself placed, a creature relatively infinitesimal, needing and
struggling. It was clear to me, by a hundred considerations, that I in
my body upon this planet Earth, was the outcome of countless generations
of conflict and begetting, the creature of natural selection, the heir
of good and bad engendered in that struggle.

So my world of fact shaped itself. I find it altogether impossible to
question or doubt that world of fact. Particular facts one may question
as facts. For instance, I think I see an unseasonable yellow wallflower
from my windows, but you may dispute that and show that it is only a
broken end of iris leaf accidentally lit to yellow. That is merely a
substitution of fact for fact. One may doubt whether one is perceiving
or remembering or telling facts clearly, but the persuasion that there
are facts, independent of one's interpretations and obdurate to one's
will, remains invincible.


At first I took the world of fact as being exactly as I perceived it. I
believed my eyes. Seeing was believing, I thought. Still more did I
believe my reasoning. It was only slowly that I began to suspect that
the world of fact could be anything different from the clear picture it
made upon my mind.

I realised the inadequacy of the senses first. Into that I will not
enter here. Any proper text book of physiology or psychology will supply
a number of instances of the habitual deceptions of sight and touch and
hearing. I came upon these things in my reading, in the laboratory, with
microscope or telescope, lived with them as constant difficulties. I
will only instance one trifling case of visual deception in order to
lead to my next question. One draws two lines strictly parallel; so

(two horizontal and parallel lines.)

Oblique to them one draws a series of lines; so

(a series of parallel and closely-spaced lines drawn through each
horizontal line, one series (top) sloping to the right, the other
(bottom) to the left)

and instantly the parallelism seems to be disturbed. If the second
figure is presented to any one without sufficient science to understand
this delusion, the impression is created that these lines converge to
the right and diverge to the left. The vision is deceived in its mental
factor and judges wrongly of the thing seen.

In this case we are able to measure the distance of the lines, to find
how the main lines looked before the cross ones were drawn, to bring the
deception up against fact of a different sort and so correct the
mistake. If the ignorant observer were unable to do that, he might
remain permanently under the impression that the main lines were out of
parallelism. And all the infirmities of eye and ear, touch and taste,
are discovered and checked by the fact that the erroneous impressions
presently strike against fact and discover an incompatibility with it.
If they did not we should never have discovered them. If on the other
hand they are so incompatible with fact as to endanger the lives of the
beings labouring under such infirmities, they would tend to be
eliminated from among our defects.

The presumption to which biological science brings one is that the
senses and mind will work as well as the survival of the species may
require, but that they will not work so very much better. There is no
ground in matter-of-fact experience for assuming that there is any more
inevitable certitude about purely intellectual operations than there is
about sensory perceptions. The mind of a man may be primarily only a
food-seeking, danger-avoiding, mate-finding instrument, just as the mind
of a dog is, just as the nose of a dog is, or the snout of a pig.

You see the strong preparatory reason there is in this view of life for
entertaining the suppositions that:--

The senses seem surer than they are.

The thinking mind seems clearer than it is and is more positive than it
ought to be.

The world of fact is not what it appears to be.


After I had studied science and particularly biological science for some
years, I became a teacher in a school for boys. I found it necessary to
supplement my untutored conception of teaching method by a more
systematic knowledge of its principles and methods, and I took the
courses for the diplomas of Licentiate and Fellow of the London College
of Preceptors which happened to be convenient for me. These courses
included some of the more elementary aspects of psychology and logic and
set me thinking and reading further. From the first, Logic as it was
presented to me impressed me as a system of ideas and methods remote and
secluded from the world of fact in which I lived and with which I had to
deal. As it came to me in the ordinary textbooks, it presented itself as
the science of inference using the syllogism as its principal
instrument. Now I was first struck by the fact that while my teachers in
Logic seemed to be assuring me I always thought in this form;-

"M is P,
S is M,
S is P,"

the method of my reasoning was almost always in this form:--

"S1 is more or less P,
S2 is very similar to S1,
S2 is very probably but not certainly more or less P.
Let us go on that assumption and see how it works."

That is to say, I was constantly reasoning by analogy and applying
verification. So far from using the syllogistic form confidently, I
habitually distrusted it as anything more than a test of consistency in
statement. But I found the textbooks of logic disposed to ignore my
customary method of reasoning altogether or to recognise it only where
S1 and S2 could be lumped together under a common name. Then they put it
something after this form as Induction:-

"S1, S2, S3, and S4 are P
S1 + S2 + S3 + S4 + ... are all S
All S is P."

I looked into the laws of thought and into the postulates upon which the
syllogistic logic is based, and it slowly became clear to me that from
my point of view, the point of view of one who seeks truth and reality,
logic assumed a belief in the objective reality of classification of
which my studies in biology and mineralogy had largely disabused me.
Logic, it seemed to me, had taken a common innate error of the mind and
had emphasised it in order to develop a system of reasoning that should
be exact in its processes. I turned my attention to the examination of
that. For in common with the general run of men I had supposed that
logic professed to supply a trustworthy science and method for the
investigation and expression of reality.

A mind nourished on anatomical study is of course permeated with the
suggestion of the vagueness and instability of biological species. A
biological species is quite obviously a great number of unique
individuals which is separable from other biological species only by the
fact that an enormous number of other linking individuals are
inaccessible in time--are in other words dead and gone--and each new
individual in that species does, in the distinction of its own
individuality, break away in however infinitesimal degree from the
previous average properties of the species. There is no property of any
species, even the properties that constitute the specific definition,
that is not a matter of more or less.

If, for example, as species be distinguished by a single large red spot
on the back, you will find if you go over a great number of specimens
that red spot shrinking here to nothing, expanding there to a more
general redness, weakening to pink, deepening to russet and brown,
shading into crimson, and so on and so on. And this is true not only of
biological species. It is true of the mineral specimens constituting a
mineral species, and I remember as a constant refrain in the lectures of
Professor Judd upon rock classification, the words, "they pass into one
another by insensible gradations." It is true, I hold, of all things.

You will think perhaps of atoms of the elements as instances of
identically similar things, but these are things not of experience but
of theory, and there is not a phenomenon in chemistry that is not
equally well explained on the supposition that it is merely the immense
quantities of atoms necessarily taken in any experiment that masks by
the operation of the law of averages the fact that each atom also has
its unique quality, its special individual difference.

This ideal of uniqueness in all individuals is not only true of the
classifications of material science; it is true and still more evidently
true of the species of common thought; it is true of common terms. Take
the word "Chair." When one says chair, one thinks vaguely of an average
chair. But collect individual instances; think of armchairs and
reading-chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that
pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees,
dentist's chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts, those
miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and Crafts
exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is this
simple straightforward term. In co-operation with an intelligent joiner
I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or chairishness that
you gave me. Chairs just as much as individual organisms, just as much
as mineral and rock specimens, are unique things--if you know them well
enough you will find an individual difference even in a set of
machine-made chairs--and it is only because we do not possess minds of
unlimited capacity, because our brain has only a limited number of
pigeon-holes for our correspondence with an unlimited universe of
objective uniques, that we have to delude ourselves into the belief that
there is a chairishness in this species common to and distinctive of all

Classification and number, which in truth ignore the fine differences of
objective realities, have in the past of human thought been imposed upon

Greek thought impresses me as being over much obsessed by an objective
treatment of certain necessary preliminary conditions of human
thought--number and definition and class and abstract form! But these
things,--number, definition, class and abstract form,--I hold, are
merely unavoidable conditions of mental activity--regrettable conditions
rather than essential facts. THE FORCEPS OF OUR MINDS ARE CLUMSY FORCEPS

Let me give you a rough figure of what I am trying to convey in this
first attack upon the philosophical validity of general terms. You have
seen the result of those various methods of black and white reproduction
that involve the use of a rectangular net. You know the sort of process
picture I mean--it used to be employed very frequently in reproducing
photographs. At a little distance you really seem to have a faithful
reproduction of the original picture, but when you peer closely you find
not the unique form and masses of the original, but a multitude of
little rectangles, uniform in shape and size. The more earnestly you go
into the thing, the closelier you look, the more the picture is lost in
reticulations. I submit, the world of reasoned inquiry has a very
similar relation to the world of fact. For the rough purposes of every
day the network picture will do, but the finer your purpose the less it
will serve, and for an ideally fine purpose, for absolute and general
knowledge that will be as true for a man at a distance with a telescope
as for a man with a microscope, it will not serve at all.

It is true you can make your net of logical interpretation finer and
finer, you can fine your classification more and more--up to a certain
limit. But essentially you are working in limits, and as you come
closer, as you look at finer and subtler things, as you leave the
practical purpose for which the method exists, the element of error
increases. Every species is vague, every term goes cloudy at its edges;
and so in my way of thinking, relentless logic is only another name for
a stupidity--for a sort of intellectual pigheadedness. If you push a
philosophical or metaphysical inquiry through a series of valid
syllogisms--never committing any generally recognised fallacy--you
nevertheless leave behind you at each step a certain rubbing and
marginal loss of objective truth, and you get deflections that are
difficult to trace at each phase in the process. Every species waggles
about in its definition, every tool is a little loose in its handle,
every scale has its individual error. So long as you are reasoning for
practical purposes about finite things of experience you can every now
and then check your process and correct your adjustments. But not when
you make what are called philosophical and theological inquiries, when
you turn your implement towards the final absolute truth of things.

This real vagueness of class terms is equally true whether we consider
those terms used extensively or intensively, that is to say whether in
relation to all the members of the species or in relation to an
imaginary typical specimen. The logician begins by declaring that S is
either P or not P. In the world of fact it is the rarest thing to
encounter this absolute alternative; S1 is pink, but S2 is pinker, S3 is
scarcely pink at all, and one is in doubt whether S4 is not properly to
be called scarlet. The finest type specimen you can find simply has the
characteristic quality a little more rather than a little less. The neat
little circles the logician uses to convey his idea of P or not P to the
student are just pictures of boundaries in his mind, exaggerations of a
natural mental tendency. They are required for the purposes of his
science, but they are departures from the nature of fact.


Classes in logic are not only represented by circles with a hard firm
outline, whereas in fact they have no such definite limits, but also
there is a constant disposition to think of all names as if they
represented positive classes. With words just as with numbers and
abstract forms there have been definite phases of human development.
There was with regard to number, the phase when man could barely count
at all, or counted in perfect good faith and sanity upon his fingers.
Then there was the phase when he struggled with the development of
number, when he began to elaborate all sorts of ideas about numbers,
until at last he developed complex superstitions about perfect numbers
and imperfect numbers, about threes and sevens and the like. The same
was the case with abstract forms; and even to-day we are scarcely more
than heads out of the vast subtle muddle of thinking about spheres and
ideally perfect forms and so on, that was the price of this little
necessary step to clear thinking. How large a part numerical and
geometrical magic, numerical and geometrical philosophy have played in
the history of the mind! And the whole apparatus of language and mental
communication is beset with like dangers. The language of the savage is
I suppose purely positive; the thing has a name, the name has a thing.
This indeed is the tradition of language, and even to-day, we, when we
hear a name are predisposed--and sometimes it is a very vicious
disposition--to imagine forthwith something answering to the name. WE
TERMS. If I say to you Wodget or Crump, you find yourself passing over
the fact that these are nothings, these are, so to speak mere blankety
blanks, and trying to think what sort of thing a Wodget or a Crump may
be. You find yourself led insensibly by subtle associations of sound and
ideas to giving these blank terms attributes.

Now this is true not only of quite empty terms but of terms that carry a
meaning. It is a mental necessity that we should make classes and use
general terms, and as soon as we do that we fall into immediate danger
of unjustifiably increasing the intension of these terms. You will find
a large proportion of human prejudice and misunderstanding arises from
this universal proclivity.


There is a particular sort of empty terms that has been and is
conspicuously dangerous to the thinker, the class of negative terms. The
negative term is in plain fact just nothing; "Not-A" is the absence of
any trace of the quality that constitutes A, it is the rest of
everything for ever. But there seems to be a real bias in the mind
towards regarding "Not-A" as a thing mysteriously in the nature of A, as
though "Not-A" and A were species of the same genus. When one speaks of
Not-pink one is apt to think of green things and yellow things and to
ignore anger or abstract nouns or the sound of thunder. And logicians,
following the normal bias of the mind, do actually present A and not-A
in this sort of diagram:--

(the letter A inside a circular boundary, together with the words Not A,
all inside a bigger circular boundary.)

ignoring altogether the difficult case of the space in which these words
are printed. Obviously the diagram that comes nearer experienced fact

(the word Not, followed by the letter A inside a circular boundary,
followed by the letter A)

with no outer boundary. But the logician finds it necessary for his
processes to present that outer Not-A as bounded (Vide e.g. Kayne's
"Formal Logic" re Euler's diagrams and Immediate Inferences.), and to
speak of the total area of A and Not-A as the Universe of Discourse; and
the metaphysician and the commonsense thinker alike fall far too readily
into the belief that this convention of method is an adequate
representation of fact.

Let me try and express how in my mind this matter of negative terms has
shaped itself. I think of something which I may perhaps best describe as
being off the stage or out of court, or as the Void without
Implications, or as Nothingness, or as Outer Darkness. This is a sort of
hypothetical Beyond to the visible world of human thought, and thither I
think all negative terms reach at last, and merge and become nothing.
Whatever positive class you make, whatever boundary you draw, straight
away from that boundary begins the corresponding negative class and
passes into the illimitable horizon of nothingness. You talk of pink
things, you ignore, as the arbitrary postulates of Logic direct, the
more elusive shades of pink, and draw your line. Beyond is the not-pink,
known and knowable, and still in the not-pink region one comes to the
Outer Darkness. Not blue, not happy, not iron, all the NOT classes meet
in that Outer Darkness. That same Outer Darkness and nothingness is
infinite space and infinite time and any being of infinite qualities;
and all that region I rule out of court in my philosophy altogether. I
will neither affirm nor deny if I can help it about any NOT things. I
will not deal with not things at all, except by accident and
inadvertence. If I use the word "infinite" I use it as one often uses
"countless," "the countless hosts of the enemy"--or
"immeasurable"--"immeasurable cliffs"--that is to say as the limit of
measurement, as a convenient equivalent to as many times this cloth yard
as you can, and as many again, and so on and so on until you and your
numerical system are beaten to a standstill.

Now a great number of apparently positive terms are, or have become,
practically negative terms and are under the same ban with me. A
considerable number of terms that have played a great part in the world
of thought, seem to me to be invalidated by this same defect, to have no
content or an undefined content or an unjustifiable content. For
example, that word Omniscient, as implying infinite knowledge, impresses
me as being a word with a delusive air of being solid and full, when it
is really hollow with no content whatever. I am persuaded that knowing
is the relation of a conscious being to something not itself, that the
thing known is defined as a system of parts and aspects and
relationships, that knowledge is comprehension, and so that only finite
things can know or be known. When you talk of a being of infinite
extension and infinite duration, omniscient and omnipotent and perfect,
you seem to me to be talking in negatives of nothing whatever.


There is another infirmity of the mind to which my attention has been
called by an able paper read this spring to the Cambridge Moral Science
Club by my friend Miss Amber Reeves. In this she has developed a
suggestion of Mr. F.C.S. Schiller's. The current syllogistic logic rests
on the assumption that either A is B or it is not B. The practical
reality, she contends, is that nothing is permanent; A is always
becoming more or less B or ceasing to be more or less B. But it would
seem the human mind cannot manage with that. It has to hold a thing
still for a moment before it can think it. It arrests the present moment
for its struggle as Joshua stopped the sun. It cannot contemplate things
continuously, and so it has to resort to a series of static snapshots.
It has to kill motion in order to study it, as a naturalist kills and
pins out a butterfly in order to study life.

You see the mind is really pigeon-holed and discontinuous in two
respects, in respect to time and in respect to classification; whereas
one has a strong persuasion that the world of fact is unbounded or


Finally; the Logician, intent upon perfecting the certitudes of his
methods rather than upon expressing the confusing subtleties of truth,
has done little to help thinking men in the perpetual difficulty that
arises from the fact that the universe can be seen in many different
fashions and expressed by many different systems of terms, each
expression within its limits true and yet incommensurable with
expression upon a differing system. There is a sort of stratification in
human ideas. I have it very much in mind that various terms in our
reasoning lie, as it were, at different levels and in different planes,
and that we accomplish a large amount of error and confusion by
reasoning terms together that do not lie or nearly lie in the same

Let me endeavour to make myself a little less obscure by a flagrant
instance from physical things. Suppose some one began to talk seriously
of a man seeing an atom through a microscope, or better perhaps of
cutting one in half with a knife. There are a number of non-analytical
people who would be quite prepared to believe that an atom could be
visible to the eye or cut in this manner. But any one at all conversant
with physical conceptions would almost as soon think of killing the
square root of 2 with a rook rifle as of cutting an atom in half with a
knife. One's conception of an atom is reached through a process of
hypothesis and analysis, and in the world of atoms there are no knives
and no men to cut. If you have thought with a strong consistent mental
movement, then when you have thought of your atom under the knife blade,
your knife blade has itself become a cloud of swinging grouped atoms,
and your microscope lens a little universe of oscillatory and vibratory
molecules. If you think of the universe, thinking at the level of atoms,
there is neither knife to cut, scale to weigh, nor eye to see. The
universe at that plane to which the mind of the molecular physicist
descends has none of the shapes or forms of our common life whatever.
This hand with which I write is, in the universe of molecular physics, a
cloud of warring atoms and molecules, combining and recombining,
colliding, rotating, flying hither and thither in the universal
atmosphere of ether.

You see, I hope, what I mean when I say that the universe of molecular
physics is at a different level from the universe of common
experience;--what we call stable and solid is in that world a freely
moving system of interlacing centres of force, what we call colour and
sound is there no more than this length of vibration of that. We have
reached to a conception of that universe of molecular physics by a great
enterprise of organised analysis, and our universe of daily experiences
stands in relation to that elemental world as if it were a synthesis of
those elemental things.

I would suggest to you that this is only a very extreme instance of the
general state of affairs, that there may be finer and subtler
differences of level between one term and another, and that terms may
very well be thought of as lying obliquely and as being twisted through
different levels.

It will perhaps give a clearer idea of what I am seeking to convey if I
suggest a concrete image for the whole world of a man's thought and
knowledge. Imagine a large clear jelly, in which at all angles and in
all states of simplicity or contortion his ideas are imbedded. They are
all valid and possible ideas as they lie, none incompatible with any. If
you imagine the direction of up or down in this clear jelly being as it
were the direction in which one moves by analysis or synthesis, if you
go down for example from matter to atoms and centres of force and up to
men and states and countries--if you will imagine the ideas lying in
that manner--you will get the beginnings of my intention. But our
instrument, our process of thinking, like a drawing before the discovery
of perspective, appears to have difficulties with the third dimension,
appears capable only of dealing with or reasoning about ideas by
projecting them upon the same plane. It will be obvious that a great
multitude of things may very well exist together in a solid jelly, which
would be overlapping and incompatible and mutually destructive when
projected together upon one plane. Through the bias in our instrument to
do this, through reasoning between terms not in the same plane, an
enormous amount of confusion, perplexity, and mental deadlocking occurs.

The old theological deadlock between predestination and free will serves
admirably as an example of the sort of deadlock I mean. Take life at the
level of common sensation and common experience and there is no more
indisputable fact than man's freedom of will, unless it is his complete
moral responsibility. But make only the least penetrating of scientific
analyses and you perceive a world of inevitable consequences, a rigid
succession of cause and effect. Insist upon a flat agreement between the
two, and there you are! The instrument fails.

So far as this particular opposition is concerned, I shall point out
later the reasonableness and convenience of regarding the common-sense
belief in free will as truer for one's personal life than determinism.


Now what is the practical outcome of all these criticisms of the human
mind? Does it follow that thought is futile and discussion vain? By no
means. Rather these considerations lead us toward mutual understanding.
They clear up the deadlocks that come from the hard and fast use of
terms, they establish mutual charity as an intellectual necessity. The
common way of speech and thought which the old system of logic has
simply systematized, is too glib and too presumptuous of certainty. We
must needs use language, but we must use it always with the thought in
our minds of its unreal exactness, its actual habitual deflection from
fact. All propositions are approximations to an elusive truth, and we
employ them as the mathematician studies the circle by supposing it to
be a polygon of a very great number of sides.

We must make use of terms and sometimes of provisional terms. But we
must guard against such terms and the mental danger of excessive
intension they carry with them. The child takes a stick and says it is a
sword and does not forget, he takes a shadow under the bed and says it
is a bear and he half forgets. The man takes a set of emotions and says
it is a God, and he gets excited and propagandist and does forget; he is
involved in disputes and confusions with the old gods of wood and stone,
and presently he is making his God a Great White Throne and fitting him
up with a mystical family.

Essentially we have to train our minds to think anew, if we are to think
beyond the purposes for which the mind seems to have been evolved. We
have to disabuse ourselves from the superstition of the binding nature
of definitions and the exactness of logic. We have to cure ourselves of
the natural tricks of common thought and argument. You know the way of
it, how effective and foolish it is; the quotation of the exact
statement of which every jot and tittle must be maintained, the
challenge to be consistent, the deadlock between your terms and mine.

More and more as I grow older and more settled in my views am I bored by
common argument, bored not because I am ceasing to be interested in the
things argued about, but because I see more and more clearly the
futility of the methods pursued.

How then are we to think and argue and what truth may we attain? Is not
the method of the scientific investigator a valid one, and is there not
truth to the world of fact in scientific laws? Decidedly there is. And
the continual revision and testing against fact that these laws get is
constantly approximating them more and more nearly to a trustworthy
statement of fact. Nevertheless they are never true in that dogmatic
degree in which they seem true to the unphilosophical student of
science. Accepting as I do the validity of nearly all the general
propositions of modern science, I have constantly to bear in mind that
about them too clings the error of excessive claims to precision.

The man trained solely in science falls easily into a superstitious
attitude; he is overdone with classification. He believes in the
possibility of exact knowledge everywhere. What is not exact he declares
is not knowledge. He believes in specialists and experts in all fields.

I dispute this universal range of possible scientific precision. There
is, I allege, a not too clearly recognised order in the sciences which
forms the gist of my case against this scientific pretension. There is a
gradation in the importance of the individual instance as one passes
from mechanics and physics and chemistry through the biological sciences
to economics and sociology, a gradation whose correlations and
implications have not yet received adequate recognition, and which does
profoundly affect the method of study and research in each science.

Let me repeat in slightly altered terms some of the points raised in the
preceding sections. I have doubted and denied that there are identically
similar objective experiences; I consider all objective beings as
individual and unique. It is now understood that conceivably only in the
subjective world, and in theory and the imagination, do we deal with
identically similar units, and with absolutely commensurable quantities.
In the real world it is reasonable to suppose we deal at most with
PRACTICALLY similar units and PRACTICALLY commensurable quantities. But
there is a strong bias, a sort of labour-saving bias, in the normal
human mind, to ignore this, and not only to speak but to think of a
thousand bricks or a thousand sheep or a thousand Chinamen as though
they were all absolutely true to sample. If it is brought before a
thinker for a moment that in any special case this is not so, he slips
back to the old attitude as soon as his attention is withdrawn. This
type of error has, for instance, caught many of the race of chemists,
and ATOMS and IONS and so forth of the same species are tacitly assumed
to be similar to one another.

Be it noted that, so far as the practical results of chemistry and
physics go, it scarcely matters which assumption we adopt, the number of
units is so great, the individual difference so drowned and lost. For
purposes of enquiry and discussion the incorrect one is infinitely more

But this ceases to be true directly we emerge from the region of
chemistry and physics. In the biological sciences of the eighteenth
century, common-sense struggled hard to ignore individuality in shells
and plants and animals. There was an attempt to eliminate the more
conspicuous departures as abnormalities, as sports, nature's weak
moments; and it was only with the establishment of Darwin's great
generalizations that the hard and fast classificatory system broke down
and individuality came to its own. Yet there had always been a clearly
felt difference between the conclusions of the biological sciences and
those dealing with lifeless substance, in the relative vagueness, the
insubordinate looseness and inaccuracy of the former. The naturalist
accumulated facts and multiplied names, but he did not go triumphantly
from generalization to generalization after the fashion of the chemist
or physicist. It is easy to see, therefore, how it came about that the
inorganic sciences were regarded as the true scientific bed-rock. It was
scarcely suspected that the biological sciences might perhaps after all
be TRUER than the experimental, in spite of the difference in practical
value in favour of the latter. It was, and is by the great majority of
people to this day, supposed to be the latter that are invincibly true;
and the former are regarded as a more complex set of problems merely,
with obliquities and refractions that presently will be explained away.
Comte and Herbert Spencer certainly seem to me to have taken that much
for granted. Herbert Spencer no doubt talked of the unknown and
unknowable, but not in this sense as an element of inexactness running
through all things. He thought, it seems to me, of the unknown as the
indefinable Beyond of an immediate world that might be quite clearly and
definitely known.

There is a growing body of people which is beginning to hold the
converse view--that counting, classification, measurement, the whole
fabric of mathematics, is subjective and untrue to the world of fact,
and that the uniqueness of individuals is the objective truth. As the
number of units taken diminishes, the amount of variety and inexactness
of generalization increases, because individuality tells for more and
more. Could you take men by the thousand billion, you could generalize
about them as you do about atoms; could you take atoms singly, it may be
that you would find them as individual as your aunts and cousins. That
concisely is the minority belief, and my belief.

Now what is called the scientific method in the physical sciences rests
upon the ignoring of individualities; and like many mathematical
conventions, its great practical convenience is no proof whatever of its
final truth. Let me admit the enormous value, the wonder of its results
in mechanics, in all the physical sciences, in chemistry, even in
physiology,--but what is its value beyond that? Is the scientific method
of value in biology? The great advances made by Darwin and his school in
biology were not made, it must be remembered, by the scientific method,
as it is generally conceived, at all. His was historical research. He
conducted research into pre-documentary history. He collected
information along the lines indicated by certain interrogations; and the
bulk of his work was the digesting and critical analysis of that. For
documents and monuments he had fossils and anatomical structures and
germinating eggs too innocent to lie. But, on the other hand, he had to
correspond with breeders and travellers of various sorts; classes
entirely analogous, from the point of view of evidence, to the writers
of history and memoirs. I question profoundly whether the word
"science," in current usage anyhow, ever means such patient
disentanglement as Darwin pursued. It means the attainment of something
positive and emphatic in the way of a conclusion, based on amply
repeated experiments capable of infinite repetition, "proved," as they
say, "up to the hilt."

It would be of course possible to dispute whether the word "science"
should convey this quality of certitude, but to most people it certainly
does at the present time. So far as the movements of comets and electric
trams go, there is no doubt practically cock-sure science; and Comte and
Herbert Spencer seem to me to have believed that cock-sure could be
extended to every conceivable finite thing. The fact that Herbert
Spencer called a certain doctrine Individualism reflects nothing on the
non-individualizing quality of his primary assumptions and of his mental
texture. He believed that individuality (heterogeneity) was and is an
evolutionary product from an original homogeneity, begotten by folding
and multiplying and dividing and twisting it, and still fundamentally
IT. It seems to me that the general usage is entirely for the limitation
of the word "science" to knowledge and the search after knowledge of a
high degree of precision. And not simply the general usage; "Science is
measurement," Science is "organized commonsense," proud in fact of its
essential error, scornful of any metaphysical analysis of its terms.

Now my contention is that we can arrange the fields of human thought and
interest about the world of fact in a sort of scale. At one end the
number of units is infinite and the methods exact, at the other we have
the human subjects in which there is no exactitude. The science of
society stands at the extreme end of the scale from the molecular
sciences. In these latter there is an infinitude of units; in sociology,
as Comte perceived, there is only one unit. It is true that Herbert
Spencer, in order to get classification somehow, did, as Professor
Durkheim has pointed out, separate human society into societies, and
made believe they competed one with another and died and reproduced just
like animals, and that economists following List have for the purposes
of fiscal controversy discovered economic types; but this is a
transparent device, and one is surprised to find thoughtful and
reputable writers off their guard against such bad analogy. But indeed
it is impossible to isolate complete communities of men, or to trace any
but rude general resemblances between group and group. These alleged
units have as much individuality as pieces of cloud; they come, they go,
they fuse and separate. And we are forced to conclude that not only is
the method of observation, experiment, and verification left far away
down the scale, but that the method of classification under types, which
has served so useful a purpose in the middle group of subjects, the
subjects involving numerous but a finite number of units, has also to be
abandoned in social science. We cannot put Humanity into a museum or dry
it for examination; our one single still living specimen is all history,
all anthropology, and the fluctuating world of men. There is no
satisfactory means of dividing it, and nothing else in the real world
with which to compare it. We have only the remotest ideas of its
"life-cycle" and a few relics of its origin and dreams of its destiny.

This denial of scientific precision is true of all questions of general
human relations and attitude. And in regard to all these matters
affecting our personal motives, our self-control and our devotions, it
is much truer.

From this it is an easy step to the statement that so far as the
clear-cut confident sort of knowledge goes, the sort of knowledge one
gets from a time-table or a text-book of chemistry, or seeks from a
witness in a police court, I am, in relation to religious and moral
questions an agnostic. I do not think any general propositions partaking
largely of the nature of fact can be known about these things. There is
nothing possessing the general validity of fact to be stated or known.

1.11. BELIEFS.

Yet it is of urgent practical necessity that we should have such
propositions and beliefs. All those we conjure out of our mental
apparatus and the world of fact dissolve and disappear again under
scrutiny. It is clear we must resort to some other method for these

Now I make my beliefs as I want them. I do not attempt to distil them
out of fact as physicists distil their laws. I make them thus and not
thus exactly as an artist makes a picture so and not so. I believe that
is how we all make our beliefs, but that many people do not see this
clearly and confuse their beliefs with perceived and proven fact.

I draw my beliefs exactly as an artist draws lines to make a picture, to
express my impression of the world and my purpose.

The artist cannot defend his expression as a scientific man defends his,
and demonstrate that they are true upon any assumptions whatsoever. Any
loud fool may stand in front of a picture and call it inaccurate,
untrustworthy, unbeautiful. That last, the most vital issue of all, is
the one least assured. Loud fools always do do that sort of thing. Take
quite ignorant people before almost any beautiful work of art and they
will laugh at it as absurd. If one sits on a popular evening in that
long room at South Kensington which contains Raphael's cartoons, one
remarks that perhaps a third of those who stray through and look at all
those fine efforts, titter. If one searches in the magazines of a little
while ago, one finds in the angry and resentful reception of the
Pre-Raphaelites another instance of the absolutely indefensible nature
of many of the most beautiful propositions. And as a still more striking
and remarkable case, take the onslaught made by Ruskin upon the works of
Whistler. You will remember that a libel action ensued and that these
pictures were gravely reasoned about by barristers and surveyed by
jurymen to assess their merits...

In the end it is the indefensible truth that lasts; it lasts because it
works and serves. People come to it and remain and attract other
understanding and enquiring people.

Now when I say I make my beliefs and that I cannot prove them to you and
convince you of them, that does not mean that I make them wantonly and
regardless of fact, that I throw them off as a child scribbles on a
slate. Mr. Ruskin, if I remember rightly, accused Whistler of throwing a
pot of paint in the face of the public,--that was the essence of his
libel. The artistic method in this field of beliefs, as in the field of
visual renderings, is one of great freedom and initiative and great
poverty of test, but of no wantonness; the conditions of rightness are
none the less imperative because they are mysterious and indefinable. I
adopt certain beliefs because I feel the need for them, because I feel
an often quite unanalyzable rightness in them; because the alternative
of a chaotic life distresses me. My belief in them rests upon the fact
that they WORK for me and satisfy my desire for harmony and beauty. They
are arbitrary assumptions, if you will, that I see fit to impose upon my

But though they are arbitrary, they are not necessarily individual. Just
so far as we all have a common likeness, just so far can we be brought
under the same imperatives to think and believe.

And though they are arbitrary, each day they stand wear and tear, and
each new person they satisfy, is another day and another voice towards
showing they do correspond to something that is so far fact and real.

This is Pragmatism as I conceive it; the abandonment of infinite
assumptions, the extension of the experimental spirit to all human

1.12. SUMMARY.

In concluding this first Book let me give a summary of the principal
points of what has gone before.

I figure the mind of man as an imperfect being obtaining knowledge by
imperfect eyesight, imperfect hearing and so forth; who must needs walk
manfully and patiently, exercising will and making choices and
determining things between the mysteries of external and internal fact.

Essentially man's mind moves within limits depending upon his individual
character and experience. These limits constitute what Herbart called
his "circle of thought," and they differ for everyone.

That briefly is what I consider to be the case with my own mind, and I
believe it is the case with everyone's.

Most minds, it seems to me, are similar, but none are absolutely alike
in character or in contents.

We are all biassed to ignore our mental imperfections and to talk and
act as though our minds were exact instruments,--something wherewith to
scale the heavens with assurance,--and also we are biassed to believe
that, except for perversity, all our minds work exactly alike.

Man, thinking man, suffers from intellectual over-confidence and a vain
belief in the universal validity of reasoning.

We all need training, training in the balanced attitude.

Of everything we need to say: this is true but it is not quite true.

Of everything we need to say: this is true in relation to things in or
near its plane, but not true of other things.

Of everything we have to remember: this may be truer for us than for
other people.

In disputation particularly we have to remember this (and most with our
antagonist): that the spirit of an utterance may be better than the

We have to discourage the cheap tricks of controversy, the retort, the
search for inconsistency. We have to realize that these things are as
foolish and ill-bred and anti-social as shouting in conversation or
making puns; and we have to work out habits of thought purged from the
sin of assurance. We have to do this for our own good quite as much as
for the sake of intercourse.

All the great and important beliefs by which life is guided and
determined are less of the nature of fact than of artistic expression.




And now having stated my conception of the true relationship between our
thoughts and words to facts, having distinguished between the more
accurate and frequently verified propositions of science and the more
arbitrary and infrequently verified propositions of belief, and made
clear the spontaneous and artistic quality that inheres in all our moral
and religious generalizations, I may hope to go on to my confession of
faith with less misunderstanding.

Now my most comprehensive belief about the external and the internal and
myself is that they make one universe in which I and every part are
ultimately important. That is quite an arbitrary act of my mind. It is
quite possible to maintain that everything is a chaotic assembly, that
any part might be destroyed without affecting any other part. I do not
choose to argue against that. If you choose to say that, I am no more
disposed to argue with you than if you choose to wear a mitre in Fleet
Street or drink a bottle of ink, or declare the figure of Ally Sloper
more dignified and beautiful than the head of Jove. There is no Q.E.D.
that you cannot do so. You can. You will not like to go on with it, I
think, and it will not answer, but that is a different matter.

I dismiss the idea that life is chaotic because it leaves my life
ineffectual, and I cannot contemplate an ineffectual life patiently. I
am by my nature impelled to refuse that. I assert that it is not so. I
assert therefore that I am important in a scheme, that we are all
important in that scheme, that the wheel-smashed frog in the road and
the fly drowning in the milk are important and correlated with me. What
the scheme as a whole is I do not know; with my limited mind I cannot
know. There I become a Mystic. I use the word scheme because it is the
best word available, but I strain it in using it. I do not wish to imply
a schemer, but only order and co-ordination as distinguished from
haphazard. "All this is important, all this is profoundly significant."
I say it of the universe as a child that has not learnt to read might
say it of a parchment agreement. I cannot read the universe, but I can
believe that this is so.

And this unfounded and arbitrary declaration of the ultimate rightness
and significance of things I call the Act of Faith. It is my fundamental
religious confession. It is a voluntary and deliberate determination to
believe, a choice made.


You may say if you will that this scheme I talk about, this something
that gives importance and correlation and significance, is what is meant
by God. You may embark upon a logical wrangle here with me if you have
failed to master what I have hitherto said about the meaning of words.
If a Scheme, you will say, then there must be a Schemer.

But, I repeat, I am using scheme and importance and significance here
only in a spirit of analogy because I can find no better words, and I
will not allow myself to be entangled by an insistence upon their

Yet let me confess that I am greatly attracted by such fine phrases as
the Will of God, the Hand of God, the Great Commander. These do most
wonderfully express aspects of this belief I choose to hold. I think if
there had been no gods before, I would call this God. But I feel that
there is a great danger in doing this sort of thing unguardedly. Many
people would be glad for rather trivial and unworthy reasons that I
should confess a faith in God, and few would take offence. But the run
of people even nowadays mean something more and something different when
they say "God." They intend a personality exterior to them and limited,
and they will instantly conclude I mean the same thing. To permit that
misconception is, I feel, the first step on the slippery slope of
meretricious complaisance, is to become in some small measure a
successor of those who cried, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
Occasionally we may best serve the God of Truth by denying him.

Yet at times I admit the sense of personality in the universe is very
strong. If I am confessing, I do not see why I should not confess up to
the hilt. At times in the silence of the night and in rare lonely
moments, I come upon a sort of communion of myself and something great
that is not myself. It is perhaps poverty of mind and language obliges
me to say that then this universal scheme takes on the effect of a
sympathetic person--and my communion a quality of fearless worship.
These moments happen, and they are the supreme fact in my religious life
to me, they are the crown of my religious experiences.

None the less, I do not usually speak of God even in regard to these
moments, and where I do use that word it must be understood that I use
it as a personification of something entirely different in nature from
the personality of a human being.


And now let me return to a point raised in the first Book in Chapter
1.9. Is the whole of this scheme of things settled and done? The whole
trend of Science is to that belief. On the scientific plane one is a
fatalist, the universe a system of inevitable consequences. But as I
show in that section referred to, it is quite possible to accept as true
in their several planes both predestination and free will. (I use free
will in the sense of self-determinisn and not as it is defined by
Professor William James, and predestination as equivalent to the
conception of a universe rigid in time and space.) If you ask me, I
think I should say I incline to believe in predestination and do quite
completely believe in free will. The important belief is free will.

But does the whole universe of fact, the external world about me, the
mysterious internal world from which my motives rise, form one rigid and
fated system as determinists teach? Do I believe that, had one a mind
ideally clear and powerful, the whole universe would seem orderly and
absolutely predestined? I incline to that belief. I do not harshly
believe it, but I admit its large plausibility--that is all. I see no
value whatever in jumping to a decision. One or two Pragmatists, so far
as I can understand them, do not hold this view of predestination at
all; but as a provisional assumption it underlies most scientific work.

I glance at this question rather to express a detachment than a view.

For me as a person this theory of predestination has no practical value.
At the utmost it is an interesting theory like the theory that there is
a fourth dimension. There may be a fourth dimension of space, but one
gets along quite well by assuming there are just three. It may be
knowable the next time I come to cross roads which I shall take.
Possibly that knowledge actually exists somewhere. There are those who
will tell you that they can get intimations in the matter from packs of
cards or the palms of my hands, or see by peering into crystals. Of such
beliefs I am entirely free. The fact is I believe that neither I know
nor anybody else who is practically concerned knows which I shall take.
I hesitate, I choose just as though the thing was unknowable. For me and
my conduct there is that much wide practical margin of freedom.

I am free and freely and responsibly making the future--so far as I am
concerned. You others are equally free. On that theory I find my life
will work, and on a theory of mechanical predestination nothing works.

I take the former theory therefore for my everyday purposes, and as a
matter of fact so does everybody else. I regard myself as a free
responsible person among free responsible persons.


Now I have already given a first picture of the world of fact as it
shaped itself upon my mind. Let me now give a second picture of this
world in which I find myself, a picture in a rather different key and at
a different level, in which I turn to a new set of aspects and bring
into the foreground the other minds which are with me in the midst of
this great spectacle.

What am I?

Here is a question to which in all ages men have sought to give a clear
unambiguous answer, and to which a clear unambiguous answer is
manifestly unfitted. Am I my body? Yes or no? It seems to me that I can
externalize and think of as "not myself" nearly everything that pertains
to my body, hands and feet, and even the most secret and central of
those living and hidden parts, the pulsing arteries, the throbbing
nerves, the ganglionic centres, that no eye, save for the surgeon's
knife has ever seen or ever will see until they coagulate in decay. So
far I am not my body; and then as clearly, since I suffer through it,
see the whole world through it and am always to be called upon where it
is, I am it. Am I a mind mysteriously linked to this thing of matter and

So I can present myself. I seem to be a consciousness, vague and
insecure, placed between two worlds. One of these worlds seems clearly
"not me," the other is more closely identified with me and yet is still
imperfectly me. The first I call the exterior world, and it presents
itself to me as existing in Time and Space. In a certain way I seem able
to interfere with it and control it. The second is the interior world,
having no forms in space and only a vague evasive reference to time,
from which motives arise and storms of emotion, which acts and reacts
constantly and in untraceable way with my conscious mind. And that
consciousness itself hangs and drifts about the region where the inner
world and the outer world meet, much as a patch of limelight drifts
about the stage, illuminating, affecting, following no manifest law
except that usually it centres upon the hero, my Ego.

It seems to me that to put the thing much more precisely than this is to
depart from the reality of the matter.

But so departing a little, let me borrow a phrase from Herbart and
identify myself more particularly with my mental self. It seems to me
that I may speak of myself as a circle of thought and experience hung
between these two imperfectly understood worlds of the internal and the
external and passing imperceptibly into the former. The external world
impresses me as being, as a practical fact, common to me and many other
creatures similar to myself; the internal, I find similar but not
identical with theirs. It is MINE. It seems to me at times no more than
something cut off from that external world and put into a sort of pit or
cave, much as all the inner mystery of my body, those living, writhing,
warm and thrilling organs are isolated, hidden from all eyes and
interference so long as I remain alive. And I myself, the essential me,
am the light and watcher in the mouth of the cave.

So I think of myself, and so I think of all other human beings, as
circles of thought and experience, each a little different from the
others. Each human being I see as essentially a circle of thought
between an internal and an external world.

I figure these circles of thought as more or less imperfectly focussed
pictures, all a little askew and vague as to margins and distances. In
the internal world arise motives, and they pass outward through the
circle of thought and are modified and directed by it into external
acts. And through speech, example, and a hundred various acts, one such
circle, one human mind, lights and enlarges and plays upon another. That
is the image under which the interrelation of minds presents itself to


Now each self among us, for all its fluctuations and vagueness of
boundary, is, as I have already pointed out, invincibly persuaded of
Free Will. That is to say, it has a persuasion of responsible control
over the impulses that teem from the internal world and tend to express
themselves in act. The problem of that control and its solution is the
reality of life. "What am I to do?" is the perpetual question of our
existence. Our metaphysics, our beliefs are all sought as subsidiary to
that and have no significance without it.

I confess I find myself a confusion of motives beside which my confusion
of perceptions pales into insignificance.

There are many various motives and motives very variously
estimated--some are called gross, some sublime, some--such as
pride--wicked. I do not readily accept these classifications.

Many people seem to make a selection among their motives without much
enquiry, taking those classifications as just; they seek to lead what
they call pure lives or useful lives and to set aside whole sets of
motives which do not accord with this determination. Some exclude the
seeking of pleasure as a permissible motive, some the love of beauty;
some insist upon one's "being oneself" and prohibit or limit responses
to exterior opinions. Most of such selections strike me as wanton and
hasty. I decline to dismiss any of my motives at all in that wholesale
way. Just as I believe I am important in the scheme of things, so I
believe are all my motives. Turning one's back on any set of them seems
to me to savour of the headlong actions of stupidity. To suppress a
passion or a curiosity for the sake of suppressing a passion is to my
mind just the burial of a talent that has been entrusted to one's care.
One has, I feel, to take all these things as weapons and instruments,
material in the service of the scheme; one has to take them in the end
gravely and do right among them unbiassed in favour of any set. To take
some poor appetite and fling it out is to my mind a cheap and
unsatisfactory way of simplifying one's moral problems. One has to
accept these things in oneself, I feel--even if one knows them to be
dangerous things, even if one is sure they have an evil side.

Let me, however, in order to express my attitude better, make a rough
grouping of the motives I find in myself and the people about me.


I cannot divide them into clearly defined classes, but I may perhaps
begin with those that bring one into the widest sympathy with living
things and go on to those one shares only with highly intelligent and
complex human beings.

There come first the desires one shares with those more limited souls
the beasts, just as much as one does with one's fellow man. These are
the bodily appetites and the crude emotions of fear and resentment.
These first clamour for attention and must be assuaged or controlled
before the other sets come into play.

Now in this matter of physical appetites I do not know whether to
describe myself as a sensualist or an ascetic. If an ascetic is one who
suppresses to a minimum all deference to these impulses, then certainly
I am not an ascetic; if a sensualist is one who gives himself to
heedless gratification, then certainly I am not a sensualist. But I find
myself balanced in an intermediate position by something that I will
speak of as the sense of Beauty. This sense of Beauty is something in me
which demands not simply gratification but the best and keenest of a
sense or continuance of sense impressions, and which refuses coarse
quantitative assuagements. It ranges all over the senses, and just as I
refuse to wholly cut off any of my motives, so do I refuse to limit its
use to the plane of the eye or the ear.

It seems to me entirely just to speak of beauty in matters of scent and
taste, to talk not only of beautiful skies and beautiful sounds but of
beautiful beer and beautiful cheese! The balance as between asceticism
and sensuality comes in, it seems to me, if we remember that to drink
well one must not have drunken for some time, that to see well one's eye
must be clear, that to make love well one must be fit and gracious and
sweet and disciplined from top to toe, that the finest sense of all--the
joyous sense of bodily well-being--comes only with exercises and
restraints and fine living. There I think lies the way of my
disposition. I do not want to live in the sensual sty, but I also do not
want to scratch in the tub of Diogenes.

But I diverge a little in these comments from my present business of
classifying motives.

Next I perceive hypertrophied in myself and many sympathetic human
beings a passion that many animals certainly possess, the beautiful and
fearless cousin of fear, Curiosity, that seeks keenly for knowing and
feeling. Apart from appetites and bodily desires and blind impulses, I
want most urgently to know and feel, for the sake of knowing and
feeling. I want to go round corners and see what is there, to cross
mountain ranges, to open boxes and parcels. Young animals at least have
that disposition too. For me it is something that mingles with all my
desires. Much more to me than the desire to live is the desire to taste
life. I am not happy until I have done and felt things. I want to get as
near as I can to the thrill of a dog going into a fight or the delight
of a bird in the air. And not simply in the heroic field of war and the
air do I want to understand. I want to know something of the jolly
wholesome satisfaction that a hungry pig must find in its wash. I want
to get the quintessence of that.

I do not think that in this I confess to any unusual temperament. I
think that the more closely mentally animated people scrutinize their
motives the less is the importance they will attach to mere physical and
brute urgencies and the more to curiosity.

Next after curiosity come those desires and motives that one shares
perhaps with some social beasts, but far more so as a conscious thing
with men alone. These desires and motives all centre on a clearly
apprehended "self" in relation to "others"; they are the essentially
egotistical group. They are self-assertion in all its forms. I have
dealt with motives toward gratification and motives towards experience;
this set of motives is for the sake of oneself. Since they are the most
acutely conscious motives in unthinking men, there is a tendency on the
part of unthinking philosophers to speak of them as though vanity,
self-seeking, self-interest were the only motives. But one has but to
reflect on what has gone before to realize that this is not so. One
finds these "self" motives vary with the mental power and training of
the individual; here they are fragmentary and discursive, there drawn
tight together into a coherent scheme. Where they are weak they mingle
with the animal motives and curiosity like travellers in a busy
market-place, but where the sense of self is strong they become rulers
and regulators, self-seeking becomes deliberate and sustained in the
case of the human being, vanity passes into pride.

Here again that something in the mind so difficult to define, so easy
for all who understand to understand, that something which insists upon
a best and keenest, the desire for beauty, comes into the play of
motives. Pride demands a beautiful self and would discipline all other
passions to its service. It also demands recognition for that beautiful
self. Now pride, I know, is denounced by many as the essential quality
of sin. We are taught that "self-abnegation" is the substance of virtue
and self-forgetfulness the inseparable quality of right conduct. But
indeed I cannot so dismiss egotism and that pride which was the first
form in which the desire to rule oneself as a whole came to me. Through
pride one shapes oneself towards a best, though at first it may be an
ill-conceived best. Pride is not always arrogance and aggression. There
is that pride that does not ape but learn humility.

And with the human imagination all these elementary instincts, of the
flesh, of curiosity, of self-assertion, become only the basal substance
of a huge elaborate edifice of secondary motive and intention. We live
in a great flood of example and suggestion, our curiosity and our social
quality impel us to a thousand imitations, to dramatic attitudes and
subtly obscure ends. Our pride turns this way and that as we respond to
new notes in the world about us. We are arenas for a conflict between
suggestions flung in from all sources, from the most diverse and
essentially incompatible sources. We live long hours and days in a kind
of dream, negligent of self-interest, our elementary passions in
abeyance, among these derivative things.


Such it seems to me are the chief masses of the complex of motives in
us, the group of sense, the group of pride, curiosity and the imitative
and suggested motives, making up the system of impulses which is our
will. Such has been the common outfit of motives in every age, and in
every age its melee has been found insufficient in itself. It is a
heterogeneous system, it does not form in any sense a completed or
balanced system, its constituents are variable and compete amongst
themselves. They are not so much arranged about one another as
superposed and higgledy-piggledy. The senses and curiosity war with
pride and one another, the motives suggested to us fall into conflict
with this element or that of our intimate and habitual selves. We find
all our instincts are snares to excess. Excesses of indulgence lead to
excesses of abstinence, and even the sense of beauty may be clouded and
betray. So to us all, even for the most balanced of us, come
disappointments, regrets, gaps; and for most of us who are ill-balanced,
miseries and despairs. Nearly all of us want something to hold us
together--something to dominate this swarming confusion and save us from
the black misery of wounded and exploded pride, of thwarted desire, of
futile conclusions. We want more oneness, some steadying thing that will
afford an escape from fluctuations.

Different people, of differing temperament and tradition, have sought
oneness, this steadying and universalizing thing, in various manners.
Some have attained it in this manner, and some in that. Scarcely a
religious system has existed that has not worked effectively and proved
true for someone. To me it seems that the need is synthetic, that some
synthetic idea and belief is needed to harmonize one's life, to give a
law by which motive may be tried against motive and an effectual peace
of mind achieved. I want an active peace and not a quiescence, and I do
not want to suppress and expel any motive at all. But to many people the
effort takes the form of attempts to cut off some part of oneself as it
were, to repudiate altogether some straining or distressing or
disappointing factor in the scheme of motives, and find a tranquillizing
refuge in the residuum. So we have men and women abandoning their share
in economic development, crushing the impulses and evading the
complications that arise out of sex and flying to devotions and simple
duties in nunneries and monasteries; we have people cutting their lives
down to a vegetarian dietary and scientific research, resorting to
excesses of self-discipline, giving themselves up wholly to some "art"
and making everything else subordinate to that, or, going in another
direction, abandoning pride and love in favour of an acquired appetite
for drugs or drink.

Now it seems to me that this desire to get the confused complex of life
simplified is essentially what has been called the religious motive, and
that the manner in which a man achieves that simplification, if he does
achieve it, and imposes an order upon his life, is his religion. I find
in the scheme of conversion and salvation as it is presented by many
Christian sects, a very exact statement of the mental processes I am
trying to express. In these systems this discontent with the complexity
of life upon which religion is based, is called the conviction of sin,
and it is the first phase in the process of conversion--of finding
salvation. It leads through distress and confusion to illumination, to
the act of faith and peace.

And after peace comes the beginning of right conduct. If you believe and
you are saved, you will want to behave well, you will do your utmost to
behave well and to understand what is behaving well, and you will feel
neither shame nor disappointment when after all you fail. You will say
then: "so it is failure I had to achieve." And you will not feel
bitterly because you seem unsuccessful beside others or because you are
misunderstood or unjustly treated, you will not bear malice nor cherish
anger nor seek revenge, you will never turn towards suicide as a relief
from intolerable things; indeed there will be no intolerable things. You
will have peace within you.

But if you do not truly believe and are not saved, you will know it
because you will still suffer the conflict of motives; and in regrets,
confusions, remorses and discontents, you will suffer the penalties of
the unbeliever and the lost. You will know certainly your own salvation.


I will boldly adopt the technicalities of the sects. I will speak as a
person with experience and declare that I have been through the
distresses of despair and the conviction of sin and that I have found


I believe in the scheme, in the Project of all things, in the
significance of myself and all life, and that my defects and uglinesses
and failures, just as much as my powers and successes, are things that
are necessary and important and contributory in that scheme, that scheme
which passes my understanding--and that no thwarting of my conception,
not even the cruelty of nature, now defeats or can defeat my faith,
however much it perplexes my mind.

And though I say that scheme passes my understanding, nevertheless I
hope you will see no inconsistency when I say that necessarily it has an
aspect towards me that I find imperative.

It has an aspect that I can perceive, however dimly and fluctuatingly.

I take it that to perceive this aspect to the utmost of my mental power
and to shape my acts according to that perception is my function in the
scheme; that if I hold steadfastly to that conception, I am SAVED. I
find in that idea of perceiving the scheme as a whole towards me and in
this attempt to perceive, that something to which all my other emotions
and passions may contribute by gathering and contributing experience,
and through which the synthesis of my life becomes possible.

Let me try to convey to you what it is I perceive, what aspect this
scheme seems to bear on the whole towards me.

The essential fact in man's history to my sense is the slow unfolding of
a sense of community with his kind, of the possibilities of
co-operations leading to scarce dreamt-of collective powers, of a
synthesis of the species, of the development of a common general idea, a
common general purpose out of a present confusion. In that awakening of
MIND. Between you and me as we set our minds together, and between us
and the rest of mankind, there is SOMETHING, something real, something
that rises through us and is neither you nor me, that comprehends us,
that is thinking here and using me and you to play against each other in
that thinking just as my finger and thumb play against each other as I
hold this pen with which I write.

Let me point out that this is no sentimental or mystical statement. It
is hard fact as any hard fact we know. We, you and I, are not only parts
in a thought process, but parts of one flow of blood and life. Let me
put that in a way that may be new to some readers. Let me remind you of
what is sometimes told as a jest, the fact that the number of one's
ancestors increases as we look back in time. Disregarding the chances of
intermarriage, each one of us had two parents, four grandparents, eight
great-grandparents, and so on backward, until very soon, in less than
fifty generations, we should find that, but for the qualification
introduced, we should have all the earth's inhabitants of that time as
our progenitors. For a hundred generations it must hold absolutely true,
that everyone of that time who has issue living now is ancestral to all
of us. That brings the thing quite within the historical period. There
is not a western European palaeolithic or neolithic relic that is not a
family relic for every soul alive. The blood in our veins has handled

And there is something more. We are all going to mingle our blood again.
We cannot keep ourselves apart; the worst enemies will some day come to
the Peace of Verona. All the Montagues and Capulets are doomed to
intermarry. A time will come in less than fifty generations when all the
population of the world will have my blood, and I and my worst enemy
will not be able to say which child is his or mine.

But you may retort--perhaps you may die childless. Then all the sooner
the whole species will get the little legacy of my personal achievement,
whatever it may be.

You see that from this point of view--which is for me the vividly true
and dominating point of view--our individualities, our nations and
states and races are but bubbles and clusters of foam upon the great
stream of the blood of the species, incidental experiments in the
growing knowledge and consciousness of the race.

I think this real solidarity of humanity is a fact that is only slowly
being apprehended, that it is an idea that we who have come to realize
it have to assist in thinking into the collective mind. I believe the
species is still as a whole unawakened, still sunken in the delusion of
the permanent separateness of the individual and of races and nations,
that so it turns upon itself and frets against itself and fails to see
the stupendous possibilities of deliberate self-development that lie
open to it now.

I see myself in life as part of a great physical being that strains and
I believe grows towards beauty, and of a great mental being that strains
and I believe grows towards knowledge and power. In this persuasion that
I am a gatherer of experience, a mere tentacle that arranges thought
beside thought for this being of the species, this being that grows
beautiful and powerful, in this persuasion I find the ruling idea of
which I stand in need, the ruling idea that reconciles and adjudicates
among my warring motives. In it I find both concentration of myself and
escape from myself; in a word, I find Salvation.


I would like in a parenthetical section to expand and render rather more
concrete this idea of the species as one divaricating flow of blood, by
an appeal to its arithmetical aspect. I do not know if it has ever
occurred to the reader to compute the number of his living ancestors at
some definite date, at, let us say, the year one of the Christian era.
Everyone has two parents and four grandparents, most people have eight
great-grandparents, and if we ignore the possibility of intermarriage we
shall go on to a fresh power of two with every generation, thus:--

Column 1: Number of generations.

Column 2: Number of ancestors.

3 : 8
4 : 16
5 : 32
7 : 128
10 : 1,024
20 : 126,976
30 : 15,745,024
40 : 1,956,282,976

I do not know whether the average age of the parent at the birth of a
child under modern conditions can be determined from existing figures.
There is, I should think, a strong presumption that it has been a rising
age. There may have been a time in the past when most women were mothers
in their early teens and bore most or all of their children before
thirty, and when men had done the greater part of their procreation
before thirty-five; this is still the case in many tropical climates,
and I do not think I favour my case unduly by assuming that the average
parent must be about, or even less than, five and twenty. This gives
four generations to a century. At that rate and DISREGARDING
INTERMARRIAGE OF RELATIONS the ancestors living a thousand years ago
needed to account for a living person would be double the estimated
population of the world. But it is obvious that if a person sprang from
a marriage of first cousins, the eight ancestors of the third generation
are cut down to six; if of cousins at the next stage, to fourteen in the
fourth. And every time that a common pair of ancestors appears in any
generation, the number of ancestors in that generation must be reduced
by two from our original figures, or if it is only one common ancestor,
by one, and as we go back that reduction will have to be doubled,
quadrupled and so on. I daresay that by the time anyone gets to the 8916
names of his Elizabethan ancestors he will find quite a large number
repeated over and over again in the list and that he is cut down to
perhaps two or three thousand separate persons. But this does not
effectually invalidate my assumption that if we go back only to the
closing years of the Roman Republic, we go back to an age in which
nearly every person living within the confines of what was then the
Roman Empire who left living offspring must have been ancestral to every
person living within that area to-day. No doubt they were so in very
variable measure. There must be for everyone some few individuals in
that period who have so to speak intermarried with themselves again and
again and again down the genealogical series, and others who are
represented by just one touch of their blood. The blood of the Jews, for
example, has turned in upon itself again and again; but for all we know
one Italian proselyte in the first year of the Christian era may have
made by this time every Jew alive a descendant of some unrecorded
bastard of Julius Caesar. The exclusive breeding of the Jews is in fact
the most effectual guarantee that whatever does get into the charmed
circle through either proselytism, the violence of enemies, or feminine
unchastity, must ultimately pervade it universally.

It may be argued that as a matter of fact humanity has until recently
been segregated in pools; that in the great civilization of China, for
example, humanity has pursued its own interlacing system of inheritances
without admixture from other streams of blood. But such considerations
only defer the conclusion; they do not stave it off indefinitely. It
needs only that one philoprogenitive Chinaman should have wandered into
those regions that are now Russia, about the time of Pericles, to link
east and west in that matter; one Tartar chieftain in the Steppes may
have given a daughter to a Roman soldier and sent his grandsons east and
west to interlace the branches of every family tree in the world. If any
race stands apart it is such an isolated group as that of the now
extinct Tasmanian primitives or the Australian black. But even here, in
the remote dawn of navigation, may have come some shipwrecked Malays, or
some half-breed woman kidnapped by wandering Phoenicians have carried
this link of blood back to the western world. The more one lets one's
imagination play upon the incalculable drift and soak of population, the
more one realizes the true value of that spreading relation with the

But now let us turn in the other direction, the direction of the future,
because there it is that this series of considerations becomes most
edifying. It is the commonest trick to think of a man's descendants as
though they were his own. We are told that one of the dearest human
motives is the desire to found a family, but think how much of a family
one founds at the best. One's son is after all only half one's blood,
one grandson only a quarter, and so one goes on until it may be that in
ten brief generations one's heir and namesake has but 1/1024th of one's
inherited self. Those other thousand odd unpredictable people thrust in
and mingle with one's pride. The trend of all things nowadays--the
ever-increasing ease of communication, the great and increasing drift of
population, the establishment of a common standard of civilization--is
to render such admixture far more probable and facile in the future than
in the past.

It is a pleasant fancy to imagine some ambitious hoarder of wealth, some
egotistical founder of name and family, returning to find his
descendants--HIS descendants--after the lapse of a few brief
generations. His heir and namesake may have not a thousandth part of his
heredity, while under some other name, lost to all the tradition and
glory of him, enfeebled and degenerate through much intermarriage, may
be a multitude of people who have as much as a fiftieth or even more of
his quality. They may even be in servitude and dependence to the really
alien person who is head of the family. Our founder will go through the
spreading record of offspring and find it mixed with that of people he
most hated and despised. The antagonists he wronged and overcame will
have crept into his line and recaptured all they lost; have played the
cuckoo in his blood and acquisitions, and turned out his diluted strain
to perish.

And while I am being thus biological let me point out another queer
aspect in which our egotism is overridden by physical facts. Men and
women are apt to think of their children as being their very own, blood
of their blood and bone of their bone. But indeed one of the most
striking facts in this matter is the frequent want of resemblance
between parents and children. It is one of the commonest things in the
world for a child to resemble an aunt or an uncle, or to revive a trait
of some grandparent that has seemed entirely lost in the intervening
generation. The Mendelians have given much attention to facts of this
nature; and though their general method of exposition seems to me quite
unjustifiably exact and precise, it cannot be denied that it is often
vividly illuminating. It is so in this connexion. They distinguish
between "dominant" and "recessive" qualities, and they establish cases
in which parents with all the dominant characteristics produce offspring
of recessive type. Recessive qualities are constantly being masked by
dominant ones and emerging again in the next generation. It is not the
individual that reproduces himself, it is the species that reproduces
through the individual and often in spite of his characteristics.

The race flows through us, the race is the drama and we are the
incidents. This is not any sort of poetical statement; it is a statement
of fact. In so far as we are individuals, in so far as we seek to follow
merely individual ends, we are accidental, disconnected, without
significance, the sport of chance. In so far as we realize ourselves as
experiments of the species for the species, just in so far do we escape
from the accidental and the chaotic. We are episodes in an experience
greater than ourselves.

Now none of this, if you read me aright, makes for the suppression of
one's individual difference, but it does make for its correlation. We
have to get everything we can out of ourselves for this very reason that
we do not stand alone; we signify as parts of a universal and immortal
development. Our separate selves are our charges, the talents of which
much has to be made. It is because we are episodical in the great
synthesis of life that we have to make the utmost of our individual
lives and traits and possibilities.


What stupendous constructive mental and physical possibilities are there
to which I feel I am contributing, you may ask, when I feel that I
contribute to this greater Being; and at once I confess I become vague
and mystical. I do not wish to pass glibly over this point. I call your
attention to the fact that here I am mystical and arbitrary. I am what I
am, an individual in this present phase. I can see nothing of these
possibilities except that they will be in the nature of those
indefinable and overpowering gleams of promise in our world that we call
Beauty. Elsewhere (in my "Food of the Gods") I have tried to render my
sense of our human possibility by monstrous images; I have written of
those who will "stand on this earth as on a footstool and reach out
their hands among the stars." But that is mere rhetoric at best, a
straining image of unimaginable things. Things move to Power and Beauty;
I say that much and I have said all that I can say.

But what is Beauty, you ask, and what will Power do? And here I reach my
utmost point in the direction of what you are free to call the
rhapsodical and the incomprehensible. I will not even attempt to define
Beauty. I will not because I cannot. To me it is a final, quite
indefinable thing. Either you understand it or you do not. Every true
artist and many who are not artists know--they know there is something
that shows suddenly--it may be in music, it may be in painting, it may
be in the sunlight on a glacier or a shadow cast by a furnace or the
scent of a flower, it may be in the person or act of some fellow
creature, but it is right, it is commanding, it is, to use theological
language, the revelation of God.

To the mystery of Power and Beauty, out of the earth that mothered us,
we move.

I do not attempt to define Beauty nor even to distinguish it from Power.
I do not think indeed that one can effectually distinguish these aspects
of life. I do not know how far Beauty may not be simply fulness and
clearness of sensation, a momentary unveiling of things hitherto seen
but dully and darkly. As I have already said, there may be beauty in the
feeling of beer in the throat, in the taste of cheese in the mouth;
there may be beauty in the scent of the earth, in the warmth of a body,
in the sensation of waking from sleep. I use the word Beauty therefore
in its widest possible sense, ranging far beyond the special beauties
that art discovers and develops. Perhaps as we pass from death to life
all things become beautiful. The utmost I can do in conveying what I
mean by Beauty is to tell of things that I have perceived to be
beautiful as beautifully as I can tell of them. It may be, as I suggest
elsewhere, that Beauty is a thing synthetic and not simple; it is a
common effect produced by a great medley of causes, a larger aspect of

But the question of what Beauty is does not very greatly concern me
since I have known it when I met it and since almost every day in life I
seem to apprehend it more and to find it more sufficient and satisfying.
Objectively it may be altogether complex and various and synthetic,
subjectively it is altogether simple. All analysis, all definition, must
in the end rest upon and arrive at unanalyzable and indefinable things.
Beauty is light--I fall back upon that image--it is all things that
light can be, beacon, elucidation, pleasure, comfort and consolation,
promise, warning, the vision of reality.


It seems to me that the whole living creation may be regarded as walking
in its sleep, as walking in the sleep of instinct and individualized
illusion, and that now out of it all rises man, beginning to perceive
his larger self, his universal brotherhood and a collective synthetic
purpose to increase Power and realize Beauty...

I write this down. It is the form of my belief, and that unanalyzable
something called Beauty is the light that falls upon that form.

It is only by such images, it is only by the use of what are practically
parables, that I can in any way express these things in my mind. These
two things, I say, are the two aspects of my belief; one is the form and
the other the light. The former places me as it were in a scheme, the
latter illuminates and inspires me. I am a member in that great being,
and my function is, I take it, to develop my capacity for beauty and
convey the perception of it to my fellows, to gather and store
experience and increase the racial consciousness. I hazard no whys nor
wherefores. That is how I see things; that is how the universe, in
response to my demand for a synthesizing aspect, presents itself to me.


These are my beliefs. They begin with arbitrary assumptions; they end in
a mystery.

So do all beliefs that are not grossly utilitarian and material,
promising houris and deathless appetite or endless hunting or a cosmic
mortgage. The Peace of God passeth understanding, the Kingdom of Heaven
within us and without can be presented only by parables. But the
unapproachable distance and vagueness of these things makes them none

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest