The Great Certainty

By Olaf Stapledon


Taken from In Search of Faith: A Symposium, edited by Ernest W Martin (London: Lindsay Drummond, 1944)


FAITH? In the strict sense of the word I have no faith, and need none. I have something better, namely certainty, a certainty about the intrinsic virtue of personality, or perhaps I had better say, of personality-in-community. This makes life worth living, and is my constant star for guidance in action. Something else I have also, a deep, exhilarating but perplexing sense of 'at-oneness' with something beyond me. Although this feeling means much to me, it falls short of faith, still. less is it certainty. I shall not discuss it till almost the end of this essay, when I shall hazard only a few tentative remarks about it.

The word 'faith,' I take it, means a conviction which reaches beyond the range of ordinary experience, yet which rests not on intellectual proof but on a mysterious, far-reaching and more or less explicit intuition. So far does faith claim to reach, that it makes definite assertions about the universe as a whole and about its fundamental nature, of which ordinary experience knows nothing.

If this is faith, I at least have it not. No intuition tells me any profound truth about the universe or about any hidden, deeper reality beneath our ordinary every-day experience. I find no guarantee that 'God is Love,' even in the most metaphorical sense, no assurance that the universe is lovingly or justly ordered, no inner evidence that, in any sense whatever, individual spirits are immortal. They may be, for all I know to the contrary, but equally they may not.

This huge lack of any far-reaching faith, if lack it is, does not distress me. In some moods I may hanker after the comfort of a faith, just as in other moods I may crave other comforts; but at these times I recognize that I am not at my best, not fully awake. I feel myself reverting to the nursery, to the womb.

Before trying to express my great certainty more clearly I must say something about faith which to the faithful may be offensive. I say it without assurance or arrogance. This is a matter about which I have no certainty but only strong conviction, and I may well be mistaken. Indeed the fact that so many people whom I know and respect cling to their faith makes it seem all too likely that I am mistaken. But I do, not myself see that I am mistaken. Rather I 'see' that the mistake is theirs. Moreover many equally respected persons agree with me in rejecting faith, and they reject it far more uncompromisingly than I do. I have tried to learn from both parties.

Whatever faith itself is, the assertions of 'the faithful are essentially metaphysical assertions, statements made in intellectual terms about the universe as a whole or its fundamental nature. As such, they must stand up to criticism or be rejected. I cannot persuade myself that any of these assertions does stand up to criticism. I do not mean that they can be disproved by contrary evidence. They cannot. The real trouble with them is that the temper of our time is no longer in tune with them. Taken literally, they have come to seen improbable; interpreted metaphorically, they evaporate in a mist of subtleties. For instance, the statement that God is Love is sometimes said to mean that on the whole and in the very long run the structure of the universe favours the development of personality and of true community. This is certainly not what is meant by the faithful who claim communion with a loving, personal God.

I find it impossible to believe that human intellect is developed enough to construct any true and significant statements about the universe as a whole or the fundamental nature of reality. It seems to me overwhelmingly improbable that even the greatest human minds, even the most brilliant individuals of our species, can have any ideas adequate to the formulation of such metaphysical propositions. And if they had such ideas, no human language would convey them. All our metaphysical statements, whether based on special intuitions or on inference from ordinary experience, are bound to fall almost as far short of the mark as the doctrine that the world is supported on the back of an elephant which stands on a tortoise.

To expect man to reach significant metaphysical truth is only a very little less fantastic than to expect an ape to do so. The most brilliant chimpanzee lacks not only the innate intelligence but the necessary tradition of thought and language. So does man. We can, of course, say truly of the universe as a whole or of its fundamental nature that, for instance, it includes the potentiality of time and space, of matter and mind, of love and wisdom, of Shakespeare, Marx, Hitler, and so on. But such statements are barren. And to affirm more than these, to assert as a matter of convinced faith that, for instance, God is Love, in any significant sense, or that individual spirits are immortal, suggests to me an almost ludicrous over-confidence in man's mental powers. Nothing but the naivety of such convictions, I should have said, could exculpate those who preached them from the more serious charge of impious complacency. For to suppose that any profound factor in the hidden nature of existence can be caught upon the crooked pin of human conceptional thought is to exalt man fantastically.

Ah, but, say the faithful, faith is not founded in human intellect. It is a gift from God, coming to us by way of intuitive vision. The intellectual expression of it is our own and halting; but those who have the authentic intuition know that it delivers a fundamental truth about the universe. To this of course I have no answer, since the gift is withheld from me. But the faithful are not, as a rule, content to leave the matter so. They go on to assert that I too have at least the possibility of access to that gift, since all men have it; and that I need only open my eyes and my heart to possess it. To this I can answer with some confidence that I have tried to do so, but that, search as I may, I find no such far-reaching intuitive vision.

The faithful, I note, say that they need a faith to fortify them. They must have an inner assurance that God is on their side, otherwise there would be no meaning in life, and they would break down in despair. The fact that they feel this need of a faith is in their view evidence that such a God exists. They insist that God made us such that we cannot but yearn for him. Without him our nature is incomplete and unviable.

It may be so. But on the other hand their craving for a faith should also be taken as a warning against too easily believing. What if the source of their faith is not, after all, a mysterious, far-reaching and veridical intuition but sheer illusion bred of wishful feeling and thinking?

Do we really need a faith about the fundamental nature of the universe? At one stage of my life undoubtedly I believed that I did. And so I persuaded myself that I had a faith. It must have been a very feeble one, for it has by now completely evaporated. And by now I am quite convinced that that I really needed was no such universal faith but simply the restricted and life-giving certainty which I have since come to envisage more clearly. This it was that, in conjunction with my childish cravings, and the precept of my elders, generated my precarious 'faith,' and now remains indestructible after the 'faith' has vanished.

My certainty is a conviction which others might call faith but wrongly. For it does not tell me anything about a reality lying behind my ordinary experience. And though I cannot doubt it, it is indubitable only in the sense in which joy and pain, love and hate, are indubitable. It is not an indubitable proposition about ulterior reality. It is very familiar. It is to be encountered in every man's daily living. But also it has roots far out of sight in human prehistory. The wisdom of the ages has gone to the making of it. It is the full flower of human tradition. The difficulty of describing it is partly due." to ,the fact that any words which one can use about it inevitably rouse echoes from the past, echoes not only from earlier expressions of the central truth itself but also from the errors with which it ha& been entangled. On the other hand, if one avoids all traditional language, and uses only the most up-to-date scientific terminology, the essence of the experience is not conveyed at all. Thus if I make the brief summary statement that, whatever the ultimate nature of the universe, the activity and development of conscious beings in respect of personality and community is the great intrinsic good, I say something at once far too ambiguous to convince the critical intellect and far too abstract to awaken the heart. Yet the statement perhaps lies as near the truth as any single sentence can reach.

There are three kinds of activity, distinctive of personality, which in the actual experience of them I perceive to be supremely 'good' or 'right.' Having said this I have not only to describe; the three activities and the nature of personality but also to show that the little words 'good' and 'right' have intelligible meaning. For the moment I will leave over this abstract ethical problem, and let 'good' and 'right' be interpreted as the reader chooses. The three kinds of activity may be roughly named intelligence, love and creative action. It is tempting to call them the distinctively human or personal forms of cognition, affection and conation, which are the three aspects of all consciousness; but intelligence, love and creative action involve all three of these abstract aspects of consciousness. For each of them includes in some degree both the others. They are, indeed, merely factors in the unitary conscious life of creatures that have attained to some measure of personality. Sometimes one and sometimes another factor is more obvious, We may speak of 'an act' of intelligence, or of love, or of creativeness; but in truth intelligence is never utterly loveless, and it is always to a greater or lesser extent creative; love is never wholly blind, undiscriminating unintelligent and is always mentally creative; and creation, in whatever sphere, involves some degree of intelligence and. fame kind of loving.

The three names that I have chosen must be interpreted very broadly. Intelligence must be taken to include all discriminate sensitivity. To discriminate between two shades of red, or between the odours of petrol and paraffin, is to exercise rudimentary intelligence. A higher range of intelligence is involved in distinguishing between doing a job of work for the love of it and doing it as an occasion for self-display The essence of intelligence, whether in the hungry ape, who discovers how to build a tower of packing-cases so as to reach fruit hanging from the roof of the cage, or in the great scientist, hungry for truth, is the satisfaction of some need by means of a novel and appropriate pattern of behaviour. The new behaviour is conceived through the detection of relevant likenesses and differences between a new and puzzling situation and familiar situations. It springs from the grasp of the new situation as a new pattern of fact, relevant to need.

I might have chosen some more exalted name for this activity, for instance 'reason' or 'wisdom'; but these words, though sometimes more appropriate, have prejudicial associations. It is enough to say that one of the three great intrinsic goods is the free critical intelligence. But I must emphasize that 'intelligence' must be interpreted broadly. A logic-chopping intellectualism, though highly intelligent within its restricted universe of discourse, may be in the larger view seriously unintelligent, since it may be blind to relevant and crucial factors outside the sphere of abstract logic.

Of course intelligence always works for some motive or other, such as the craving for food or safety or self-display or power or fellowship or artistic creation. But its use can generate a motive of its own, namely the love of truth for its own sake, a piety toward the objective world's actual character, and a scorn of wishful thinking. Human thinking is invariably prejudiced in one way or another, but the will not to be prejudiced, the love of truth, is an important motive of the developed mind. Unfortunately even this loyalty may breed prejudice. Men may become so frightened of slipping into unwittingly wishful thinking that they develop a prejudice against accepting any opinions consonant with human desires. The more doctrinaire sceptics and the blinder sort of materialists probably deceive themselves in this way.

The second intrinsically good activity is love. The word 'love' must be understood to include every kind of valuing of anything, not as a means but disinterestedly for its own sake. Thug in all intellectual enquiry and all artistic creation there is a factor of love, namely the love of a particular sought-for truth and a particular sought-for beauty. But in its most distinctive form love is an attitude to living things, in respect of their rudimentary personality; and more especially, of course, to human persons. In genuine love of a person, as opposed to mere possessiveness or clinging submissiveness, a man values the other not merely as a means to self-fulfilment but also as something intrinsically good. He 'espouses' the needs of the other as he 'espouses' his own needs. He respects the other's personality, not wishing to bend it to his private requirements, but rather to foster its own rich natural growth. He respects the differences between himself and the other, not striving to suppress them but to turn them to a source of mutual enrichment. He does not, in healthy love, simply abase himself before the other, any more than he seeks simply to possess and dominate the other. Rather he enters into, a relation of community in which each accepts responsibility for both, each is needed by the other for fullness of personal living, and each values not only the other as himself but the community-relation between them. More accurately he, values the little concrete community made up of the two or more of them, united in a relation of mutual increase through mutual awareness, in a comradeship of mutual delight, respect and independence, combined with mutual responsibility and co-operation. Such I take to be the essence of genuine love between persons. Personal love is necessarily a case of true community. In love directed to sub-human animals there can be only a very imperfect sort of community. In love directed to lifeless objects, such as a country-side, or to abstractions, such as a national tradition or love itself, there can be no more than a fantasy of true community whether with the object or with some mythical spirit behind the object. This fantasy-community is, of course, dangerous, because it involves wishful pretence. Love of lifeless objects and of abstractions cannot, and should not attempt to, attain community. On the other hand the essential nature of the love of conscious beings is that it should strive toward intercourse and genuine community

Of course even in the case of love of human person any actual instance of love must fall short of this ideal. Its community will be more or less fragile, and moreover complicated by some degree of disruptive mutual antagonism or possessiveness. But in the relation of personal love, whether between 'lovers' or man and wife or friends or members of a family or between comrades in work or play, I see the epitome of all true community.

The third intrinsically good activity is creative action. By this phrase I mean every kind of consciously directed activity which is, and results in, something significantly novel. All acts, of course, are in a sense new, and they produce some new state of affairs: but creative action is significantly new, and produces a result which is significantly new, in the following sense. The action itself shows a new degree of integration or of efficiency, or rises to a new level of mental lucidity; and its product. either itself is or is an instrument for, more developed and awakened living, in one form or another. Thus in a humble way the ape's use of packing cases was a creative act: but its result, namely feeding, was not novel, and so not creative. On the other hand a child's first drawing is in a sense a creative product of a creative act. Both intelligence and love are always in their distinctive ways creative, since the one creates understanding and facilitates successful action, and the other creates a new wealth and lucidity of experience in the minds of the lovers. In respect of understanding, obviously scientific research and invention, as also philosophical analysis and synthesis, may be truly creative. In respect of love and all the kinds of community, creation maybe said to consist in mutual mental awakening and enrichment, in increase of mental or spiritual being. In all personal intercourse there is immense possibility of creative personal increase. Obviously there are many special fields and levels of creation. Many professional and other occupations may be creative, both subjectively and objectively. The work of the educator should be outstandingly so. Clearly it should also be intelligent and loving. The statesman and the social organizer have great scope for creativity. The same is true of all types of original art. Handicraft, too, when it is not merely repetitive, when it involves new applications of skill and new designs, is creative.

These three activities, then, intelligence, love and creative action, which are so closely involved in one another, I cannot but feel to be intrinsically good. In their outstanding expressions they are good in an outstanding degree. Together they form the distinctively human kind of behaviour. No doubt, some sub-human animals may be capable of them in some very slight degree, but only in human beings do they ever form a considerable factor in behaviour. Even human beings, however, practise them but intermittently and precariously. Though all our acts are to some extent distinctively human, never purely animal, yet in many of them the sub-human pattern of behaviour dominates. In performing acts of the truly human kind we express our distinctively human nature most fully. They demand our most developed powers. In them we waken to a range of consciousness which to the sub-human animals is impossible.


I said that intelligence, love and creative action were distinctive of personality. Together they form the kind of behaviour which constitutes the essence of personality. By a 'person' I do not mean an immortal spirit, or even a substance or thing at all. I do not know whether there are immortal spirits or even substances. By a person I mean a life lived in the way characteristic of personality. By personality I mean a land of life which contains at least some degree of the activities distinctive of personality, though of course it inevitably contains also much that is sub-personal. Personality, so far as I know, can only occur as a form of behaviour of physical organisms of a high degree of development, organisms which have a very complex central nervous system. Physically these organisms are gifted for great discrimination in perception both of the physical environment and of their own reactions. They are physically gifted also for far-reaching integration of behaviour. More thoroughly than sub-human creatures they can act as wholes, not merely as collections of conflicting part. Thus compared with an ape a man is more capable of recalling experiences appropriate to the matter in hand, and also more able to subordinate passing impulses to enduring purpose. This physical endowment seems to be the means for man's achievement in the sphere of personality. Compared with sub-personal animals, men are very discriminatively and very comprehensively aware of their world. They are also far more clearly aware of themselves as persons, and of one another as persons having very different characters and needs. Probably even the lowliest kind of conscious activity involves some dim awareness of the activity as awareness. But in personality, there is awareness of an enduring and complex system of 'aware activity.' Through this true self-awareness and complementary other-awareness persons are capable of truly personal behaviour, including love and other forms of true community. These clearly involve their high power of integrated behaviour, without which they would invariably give way to the impulse of the moment, and never restrain themselves for the sake of the more permanent and developed aims of personality and community. Through their powers of discrimination and recall and integrative behaviour they are capable of creative action in every sphere of their experience.

While the immense difference of mental achievement between the human and the highest sub-human is, of course, related to differences of innate organic structure, it is also dependent on the effects of social life of the human type, and on social tradition, The jungle child, however brilliant his native capacity, grows up (we are told) an imbecile. Personality is impossible without community, and of course community without personality. In the abstract sense, genuine 'community' is essentially the distinctively human relationship of persons. In the concrete sense a concrete genuine 'community' is a group of persons in that relation. Though in a community, there is nothing more than the persons that compose it, though there is no added superior reality which is the group spirit or mind, yet the character of the minds who together make up the community is very largely the product of social environment. Without it they would have been imbecile.

Though men are far more highly developed than the beasts in respect of personality and community, human individuals, even at their best, are but rudimentary persons, and human community, even in its finest form, is but rudimentary community. Mankind has merely set its foot on the first rung of a ladder that leads upwards and beyond the range of our present vision. Men themselves differ greatly in capacity for personality and community. Some are far more developed than others. Compare Shakespeare and any poet-aster. And some, on the same plane of development, excel in different directions. Compare Shakespeare and Aristotle.

In what does development of personality (and therefore of community) consist? Personal development consists in progress in respect of true, far-reaching and integrated awareness of the world and of oneself and other persons; of appropriate and integrated feeling and of appropriate, integrated and creative action in relation to the world and oneself and other persons. In fact personal development involves growth in sensibility and discrimination of every kind, in all the spheres of self-knowledge, other-knowledge, world knowledge. It also involves precision of feeling and integrity of action.

Personality and community go always hand in hand. A society in which there is a low average of personal development must necessarily be poorly developed in respect of community, both in the sphere of personal relations and in the wider social sphere. (It may of course be intensely social in a herd-minded manner, but herd-mindedness is not community.) On the other hand in a society in which circumstances poison the sense of community, personality also is inevitably poisoned. For no person can be mentally and morally healthy while living in a society which violates community.

Different social structures have different effects on the kind and degree of community and personality attained in societies. For instance, in a society such as our own, in which the economic structure is at bottom a system of individual buying and selling, the self-regarding motives are fomented at the expense of the social motives. Moreover, since in such a society there inevitably emerges a financially powerful minority and a frustrated majority, there can be but little genuine mutual responsibility, and therefore little community. But even a perfect social structure cannot itself guarantee a flowering of true community. There must also be a high average degree of the capacity for personality, and a form of education rigorously directed toward the evoking of personality and community, or rather of personality-in-community.


Self-awareness, which is inter-dependent with other-awareness, is the key to personality and to community. Though we recognise to-day that the springs of our action are at bottom unconscious, we have still little clear knowledge as to what, in particular individuals and more especially in oneself, those unconscious sources really are. Development in personality consists largely in becoming more clearly aware of those sources, and at the same time more clearly aware of the ideal of development in personality and community which is implicit in man's nature.

It has lately been the fashion to exalt the unconscious sources of behaviour at the expense of the conscious. This is as extravagant as to disparage the unconscious. For the present purpose it does not matter whether the unconscious is thought of as physical or mental, whether it is the unconscious thrust of the machinery of the organism's physical structure toward certain kinds of action or the unconscious thrust of a mysterious mental structure which is not itself conscious. In either case it is the thrust of our nature towards specific acts. All motives derive their energy from the unconscious. They may, however, be greatly modified, even transformed, by conscious criticism.

Broadly there are two very different spheres of our unconscious nature. The one is primitive and largely sub-human. It consists of all our bodily needs and our so-called instinctive cravings. It is all that we have in common with the beasts together with all that we share with the lowliest of our own human kind. But in addition to this there are seemingly unconscious factors in our nature which, far from being sub--human, constitute the drive of our nature toward experiences and activities of a kind more developed and more lucid than our extant ordinary conscious nature. This upper unconscious is the obscure source of all our creative action. It is not necessary to think of it as something mystical, though for all I know to the contrary it may be in some sense the issue of God's influence on us, or of the universal spirit's working in us. However this may be, it is certainly the upper reach, so to speak, of our own nature. At every evolutionary stage and indeed at every stage of individual growth toward maturity, the increasing complexity of a creature's intercourse with the environment must generate new capacities. Thus the upper unconscious of an ape must be almost human, and of a boy almost adult. Similarly the upper unconscious of an artist includes all in his nature which is thrusting toward a new act of aesthetic perception and creation, and in the case of the intellectual worker, toward new intellectual apprehension and creation, and so on.

I cannot see that the primitive unconscious deserves any particular admiration, though as a reaction against extravagant intellectualism or sophistication a reversion to the primitive may well be desirable. The upper unconscious, however, is that in us which is tending toward greater lucidity, integrity and creativity; and this may well be prized. But even so, we must not forget that, until the unconscious factors do break through into consciousness with a flash of insight, they do not fulfil their destiny. The goal is awareness, lucid consciousness, not unconsciousness. Further, it is through this flash of insight, this 'seeing of things together' in a new pattern, that subsequent creative action can take place. Within the personality itself one result of such action will be the forming of new habits, skills and aims. Thus consciousness in turn reacts upon the unconscious nature, actually changing its structure and tendencies. The primitive unconscious nature, of course, remains unaltered. Its innate drives and many of its habits (those that are deeply rooted) are not eradicable. But even these may come to be redirected under the influence of consciousness, may find their expression in new kinds of activity. Motives, in fact, though drawing their crude energy always from the structure and tendencies of the primitive unconscious, are gradually or suddenly given new directions through the influence of conscious experience. Thus, as the young mind advances to maturity or the adult mind is enriched by further contacts with the world, there may develop new insights into aspects of experience that were formerly unrecognised. And under this influence motives in the upper unconscious may be radically transformed, becoming ore developed, more lucid, more distinctively human.

But there is perversion. and in some degree it is universal. It occurs in personalities of every order of development. Sanity consists in taking into account for action everything relevant in the situation, both objective and subjective, and nothing irrelevant. Not only must the facts of the external world be duly observed but also one's own impulses and purposes must be noted and assessed. For sanity; minor purposes and less-developed purposes must not be allowed to outweigh those which, though less insistent at the moment, are in 'fact more important for the personality as a whole.

What is the essential character of perversion? Factors in the unconscious nature, primitive needs which conflict with the established conscious personality and cannot be brought into consciousness, may exercise a perverting influence on conscious behaviour. A man's judgment may be warped by forgotten childhood emotions. Particular kinds of experience and action become compulsively desirable or hateful, in virtue of a significance which cannot be brought into the focus of attention. Thus not only in flagrant neurosis but to greater or lesser extent in normal behaviour, since we are all to some extent perverted, a man's unconscious nature is so strongly and secretly set for certain acts that he needs must consciously do them. Then, even though they are irrelevant or harmful to his conscious purposes, he has to 'rationalize' them, find excuses for them, make them appear to be reasonable. Thus are judgments warped, feelings perverted and conduct distracted from sane ends.

But is there any objective standard by which we can judge between sanity and insanity? From the madman's point of view it is the self-styled sane who are mad; and the matter is not to be decided by majority vote. The ultimate objective test of sanity is survival. Madness leads sooner or later to ruin. Some few perverts, through exceptional luck and ability, may survive; and very rarely one of these may for a while bend whole peoples to his will, as Hitler has done. Whole peoples themselves may for a while turn socially neurotic as the Germans now are; and then, through the energy bred of neurosis, they may attain brief dominance over less perverted peoples. For mental conflict does breed energy and the capacity for heroic action. A world of perfectly sane people might stagnate. Some leavening of madness may be needed.

But in the long run, the very long run, sanity pays. So does mental development. The better integrated mind, the mind without grave repressions, internal conflicts, and burning hungers walled off from introspection, has the better chance of survival. And on the whole, in the geological time scale, sensitivity, intelligence, versatility, integrity are the way of life. No doubt, for a minority of individuals who are mentally ahead of their time these capacities may lead to martyrdom; but for the race as a whole they pay, since they make possible a happier and more human society than any that could exist without them, Like perversion, dullness leads ultimately to death, or if not to actual death to stagnation and a living death; as in the case of the many lowly species that have survived without evolving, and the degenerate parasites which have secured too snug a niche.


The fact that development and sanity, that intelligence, love and creative action, have in the very long run survival value does not necessarily mean that they are good. If the world were to change so that not development but atrophe had survival value, would atrophe become good? If not, then in what sense is it that the more developed mentality really is better than the less developed?

For me, to say that a thing is good means at least this much: Any mind that is sufficiently experienced and developed to apprehend that thing truly, and is not perverted by some irrelevant craving, cannot but will that thing to be. When I say that intelligence, love and creative action are good, this is the essential minimum that I mean to say of them, When I say that personality-in-community is good, and the development of personality-in-community good, this is what I mean. Minds that are sufficiently developed and unperverted, anywhere in the universe and in any age, cannot but will personality to be, and to be developed. They 'cannot but' do so because it follows from the nature of mind, when it has reached the level of self-conscious and other-conscious development and is not grossly perverted, that it must, or rather will, do so. My reason for saying that this is so is that, being such a mind, I see that it is so.

One cannot be a mind, at all clearly conscious of itself, and unperverted, without recognizing that intelligence, love and creative action afford the only possible fulfilment of mind's essential nature. Even if one does not effectively will them, being too dull or too enslaved by contrary impulse, one at least wills to will them. Only if perversion has gone very far does one fail to do this much. The rightness of personality-in-community as a way of life is not open to doubt by anyone who has attentively experienced the activities of intelligence, love and creative action, and is not grossly perverted. This is the precious certainty, the guiding star by which we may confidently regulate our lives.

It may seem that I have been arguing in a circle, but I have not. I have not said simply, personality-in-community cannot but be willed by developed minds; and the criterion of development is simply whether a mind wills personality-in-community. I have said, personality-in-community cannot but be willed by those minds that can apprehend it best, and are therefore most capable of making a true judgment ; and only well-developed (and unperverted) minds are in that position. The sceptic may protest against this whole argument. He may say: "You feel that personality is good in this sense because you have been specially conditioned to do so. Had you been brought up differently you might have felt with equal confidence that any mind sufficiently developed and not grossly perverted could not but will superstition, hate and mechanical repetition." True, but in that case I should not have been sufficiently developed and unperverted. On the contrary I should have been warped from childhood onwards. Frustrations, conflicts, repressions of a very perverting kind would have to have been generated in me.

The critic protests again: "How do you know that it is not you, as you actually are now, that is suffering from perversion?" No doubt to some unknown extent I am. And because of this fact all my judgments of value are in principle open to doubt. But there are some immediate experiences of value, of goodness, which I myself cannot possibly doubt, anymore than in full sunshine I can doubt my sense of warmth. Amongst these are the goodness of intelligence, love and creative action, in fact the exercise of my capacity for personality. And in true community with another person I perceive the other, whatever his or her faults, as a living person, and therefore good, in the sense defined above. If anyone denies this I can but suppose either that he has never really experienced these things, or that he uses words in a sense unintelligible to me, or that he is lying; or that some insistent but irrelevant craving for some minor good or other is forcing him to deceive himself and pretend that he does not experience these things as good, and does experience (say) superstition, hate and mechanical repetition as good; or finally that owing to some profoundly damaging experience he has been so perverted as to will evil simply because it is evil. What I cannot possibly believe is that he is sufficiently developed and unperverted to apprehend these things truly, and yet that he actually does not experience them as the great goods. As well might I believe that a man in full sunshine who claimed to find the radiation chilly, or, for that matter green or loud, was physiologically normal and telling the truth. Indeed his case would be more credible than the case of a developed and sane mind that did not will personality and recognize its goodness. Physiological oddities might well produce oddities of sensation, but to deny the rightness of intelligence, love and creative action is to deny what is implied in the very nature of mind. For it is the very nature of mind to be aware, to value, to strive; and intelligence, love and creative action are but the full expression of these capacities.

This indubitable experience of the goodness of intelligence, love and creative action. in fact of personality, is also confirmed implicitly or explicitly by the wisdom of all the ages. But even if, per impossible, the wisdom of the ages denied it, I myself could not deny it; for to do so would be to deny the experiences in which I recognize myself to be most myself, most clearly awakened in mentality, most lucid.


This difference between one's less and one's more lucid states is fundamental. We may, of course, sometimes believe ourselves to be more awake than we are. But in general we do recognize the difference between our own less lucid and more lucid conditions. When we are sluggish or somnolent we admit the superior authority of the more awakened state which we can no longer attain. And in our most awakened states we see clearly that in drowsiness we were not at our best. Of course mistakes may be made. What we supposed to be our best state may have been only our second best. We may have been insensitive, after all, to aspects which should have been taken into account. But, whatever our mistakes, we do recognize the difference between our much more and our much less lucid states; and we do prize and trust lucidity.

Moreover in estimating others the standard which we use, when we are judging seriously and without perversion, is always the standard of personal development, of lucidity and integrity. Our judgments may be very unreliable. We may be too ignorant or simple to do justice to the person we are judging. Or we may be led astray by our own perversions. But always, when we are judging seriously, we try to judge in terms of skill, intelligence, sensibility, responsibility, self- and other-awareness, friendliness, integrity, versatility, and creative power.

The time has come when the distinctively human in us must either recover the courage of its convictions or surrender all authority over the sub-human in us. The developed, awakened mind knows that it is such; knows that, whatever its errors and betrayals, its fundamental values are absolute. It may more or less gravely misconceive them and misdescribe them, but the immediate experience of them is not open to doubt. In the age when a rigid conventional morality was firmly established it was healthy to be an ethical sceptic. But to-day we are rediscovering, in blood and fire, that there are fundamental moral principles which must not be betrayed. In relation to these, scepticism is an extravagance, an intellectual affectation, an insincere pose of detachment where genuine detachment is impossible. Sometimes, indeed, scepticism is a mere cloak for self-seeking and irresponsibility.

Whoever is sufficiently developed and unperverted to recognize the rightness of intelligence, love and creative action incurs a great responsibility. Blindness, unless it is wilful blindness and self-deception, is not blameworthy; but to see the light and shun it, to pretend that all is dark, is treason to the light. The act of committing this sin against the spirit is the very act of perversion.

There are many, of course, who affirm quite honestly that intellectual integrity forbids them to suppose morality to be more than a matter of taste or opinion, or of purely subjective feeling. To them it is necessary to say two things. First, intellectual integrity need not boggle at the limited kind of objectivity which I have suggested; and this is enough. Second, even if this theory is false, even if nothing short of complete ethical scepticism can satisfy their intellect, yet their sceptism is not in the fullest sense reasonable. They should, suspect a catch somewhere, even if they cannot see where it is. For the choice is between a theory and the clearest and most insistent and well-attested intuition of the developed mentality. Indeed, for me at least, as I have said, this intuition is indubitable. It cannot be denied. As well might one attempt to disbelieve the warmth of sunshine. The office of reason, after all, is to take everything into account in due proportion. In this matter the reasonable attitude is this: if intellect does attempt to deny this intuition, there must be something wrong with its premises. I argued above that in respect of metaphysical propositions we should in humility remain sceptical about the power of human intellect to reach so far from the sphere of ordinary experience; and now in this other matter I affirm that we should equally deny the power of intellect in its present state to undermine this supreme ethical intuition, namely of the worth-whileness of personality-in-community, the rightness of intelligence, love and creative action.

Does this amount to an assertion of faith, once more? No, it is an assertion of certainty. The claim is not that we have faith that in some remote realm there must be some kind of sanction for the felt rightness of personality, but simply that we perceive this rightness (as defined) in our ordinary living, and cannot reasonably deny it, even though intellect should be incapable of assimilating it. But, as I have already argued, intellect can, as a matter of fact, assimilate it.

The great certainty about the rightness of personality-in-community is in itself enough; but more is given. One important proposition, not about the universe as a whole, but probably of wide scope within the universe, may be confidently believed. Whatever the metaphysical status of personality, it is almost certainly no' unique accident peculiar to this planet. Here on earth it appears as the inevitable climax of biological evolution. Given a planet of this kind and circumstance, personality is bound to emerge in the natural course of evolution, since in the long run it has survival value. One: is tempted to say also that it is bound to develop indefinitely. But there are possibilities of physical disaster, of the extinction of the human species. Moreover personality itself may blunderingly destroy itself: Nazism is perhaps its most dangerous aberration so far in this direction. However, we may reasonably hold that on a planet such as ours personality has at least a good chance of far-reaching development.

Beyond the solar system, what chances has it? All evidence goes to show that the stuff of the cosmos is essentially the same sort of stuff in every region. The fundamental physical units which occur on earth occur even in the remotest galaxies. The same physical laws hold everywhere. It does not necessarily follow that planets capable of evolving personality are plentiful. Till recently, it seemed possible that planets like the earth, if any at all existed, might be extremely rare. And only through an amazing series of fortunate accidents could the earth itself have produced intelligent beings. It is not impossible that personality-in-community occurs nowhere in the whole universe save on our planet, and that humanity is something very like a minute vital germ in a gigantic and relatively lifeless cosmic egg. The formation of solar systems is believed to depend on encounters between stars, and the frequency of such encounters in an almost empty cosmos must be extremely low. But if the theory of the expanding universe is correct, there was a time when the stars were packed almost closely together. Encounters must then have been quite frequent, and planetary systems may consequently have been produced in vast numbers. If so, then personality-in-community may, after all, be far from rare.

Apart from this possibility, we should remember that physical structures and processes very different from those which support life and mind on the earth may conceivably form the ground-work of personality elsewhere. Even stars may conceivable be minded organisms. It may even be that in this physical universe minds are supported by physical processes which are too subtle for our crude senses and instruments to detect. But indeed it would be rash to affirm with any confidence that minds must necessarily have any physical aspect whatever. Our ignorance is immense. One thing, at any rate, we are entitled to affirm, not as a matter of faith, but as a dispassionate judgment of probability. Personality, whatever its physical relations and metaphysical status (about which we are ignorant), is at least no negligible factor in the cosmos.

This conclusion, though fairly well supported by evidence, is not, as I have said, strong enough to warrant any confident faith about the destiny of personality-in-community ; but at least it does greatly weaken the strength of the early contention that personality might be a purely terrestrial accident. It makes it seem once more possible that personality is after all one of the main factors in the cosmos, and that in the nature of the cosmos there is a bias favourable to the development-of personality. This possibility is cheering; but the worth of personality is independent of any such cosmical bias in its favour.

Another kind of evidence deserves to be considered in estimating the prospects of personality, namely that which goes by the name 'super-normal phenomena.' Mediums claim to make contact with individual personalities formerly alive in a physical body and now disembodied. The Society for Psychical Research has made a long and conscientious examination of all the evidence. No definite conclusions have yet been reached. But probably it is reasonable to say that, while there is fairly strong evidence of some kind of super- normal phenomena, which are at present far from intelligible, there is still very little serious .evidence for the post-mortal survival of individual minds as thinking and striving personalities. In this sphere, as in the sphere of metaphysics, probably the hidden facts are so alien to ordinary life that all our present modes of thought are quite .inadequate for seizing upon them.


To many sincerely religious people the certainty of the worth of personality-in-community, unsupported by any assurance about its prospects in 'eternity' must, I recognize, seem wholly inadequate. They demand something more far-reaching which they can accept in faith. 'Mere humanism,' however refined, they say, is not enough, because it ignores the essential 'religious experience.' This experience, they claim, is unique. It is deeper than morality, and is morality's only valid sanction. It may be roughly described as a sense of 'at-oneness' with the fundamental reality behind all appearances, or as communion or communication or rapport with the eternal spirit, which is revealed as divine wisdom, love and power. No one, they insist, who has not himself clearly grasped this truth can help humanity to find its bearings to-day.

Putting the matter very simply, my difficulty with these religious people is this. They derive the goodness of personality from their strong faith about the divine spirit, whereas for me the goodness of personality is a certainty which needs no sanction beyond my ordinary experience of it.

But I should like to persuade religious people that some of us who reject their faith, nevertheless do have an experience which is at least very much like their essential religious experience; and that to us at least it seems that the difference between them and us is not really a difference of intuition but a difference of intellectual interpretation of identical experiences.

We too, or some of us, feel as they do. We feel sometimes with remarkable intensity and clarity, our 'at-oneness' with something which might be the fundamental reality behind appearances. We too feel, or seem to feel, communion, communication, rapport. But, as I have said, we do not trust human intellect to give any true interpretation of that feeling. It plays for some of us a very important part in life, but not as the sanction of morality, not as the 'reason why' intelligence, love and creative action are right and ought to be practised. This feeling of 'at-oneness' is not the root but the flower of right living. It is how we feel, some of us and sometimes, when we are living in our most generous and most awakened manner. On the other hand, when we betray our ideals, we often feel a shameful and devastating severance, in fact, a sense of sin, even of damnation. At-oneness comes, so to speak, as a wholly gratuitous divine gift. To interpret it as meaning that the universe conforms to our moral standards is too simple, is 'humanism' with a vengeance.

But now I must dissociate myself from certain views of some of the scientifically-minded 'non-religious' people. They are convinced that this feeling of at-oneness is purely subjective, that it is only a feeling, and an illusion. Sometimes they interpret it in terms of psycho-analysis, explaining it perhaps as a delusion rooted in our infantile craving for union with the father or mother, or in some similar manner. The undoubted psychological efficacy of prayer, for some people, they explain in the same way. Prayer is efficacious psychologically, they say, in that it may with some people be the right method for attaining that illusion of 'at-oneness' with the imaginary universal parent, which their unconscious nature needs.

I can well believe that many of us, perhaps all, have unconscious needs for union with an almighty and loving parent, and that this craving plays a large part in religious experience. But I cannot share the confidence of those who explain religion wholly in terms of such causes. My doubts are due partly to a doubt of the reliability of all detailed psychological explanations of behaviour while psychology is in its present rudimentary state. Modern psychology has achieved much in a general way, but the fact that there are conflicting schools which work with incompatible theories suggests that for the present all theories should be tentative.

My doubt has also another source. I do not feel at all sure that when psychologists explain religious experience, they really know at first hand the kind of thing that has to be explained. Their theories give very plausible explanations of experiences which, though often dubbed 'religious,' have really little genuine religion in them. The psychologists try to explain, I suspect, something which they have never really experienced; or perhaps I should rather say, something which, though they may have experienced it, they have never been able to bring within the clear focus of attention. They have almost inevitably attended rather to psychology than to religion. Possibly the strong emotional prejudices of materialistic science prevent them from focusing upon religion, Anyhow they attempt to explain in terms of the primitive and the perverted something which emphatically seems to be the most comprehensive, most penetrating, most sane and lucid of all experiences. This comprehensiveness and lucidity they have to regard as illusory. They may be right. But their easy confidence that they are right suggests that they have not realized this unplausibility in their explanation; and this suggests that after all they may have entirely missed the point of religion.

For me the upshot thus far is that, though I cannot accept the religious man's derivation of morality from the feeling of at-oneness with God, and though I cannot agree that this feeling is valid evidence of the existence of God, neither can I on the other hand, with some psychologists, dismiss the religious experience as simply a product of repressed primitive needs, and therefore illusory. I accept the experience with agnostic piety. By this I mean that while I accept it as the supreme consolation and joy, I value it for what it is, namely a sense of at-oneness with the universe; its worth for me is not dependent on any metaphysical implications which might be derived from it. Nor is its value destroyed by any psychological explanation of its primitive sources.

Even prayer I cannot regard as being certainly nothing more than a technique for attaining an illusory union with an unreal divine parent. Of course, if prayer simply means asking and receiving divine favour, it may be dismissed as sheer fantasy; but if it can mean the successful activity of striving for that feeling of at-oneness with the whole of things, it may very well be effective. Nay, further, I cannot rule out the possibility that it may produce not merely an illusory feeling but an actual state of mental or spiritual harmony with the universal spirit, or God.

I said that the feeling of at-oneness should be accepted with 'agnostic piety.' We must not read into it some special significance in accord with our heart's desire. The universe obviously contains both joy and sorrow, both ecstasy and agony, both love and hate, both righteousness and sin, both beatitude and damnation. In this feeling of at-oneness I emotionally accept both its bright and its dark. I do not say, "Because I feel at one with it, therefore it must be such that the ruling principles of it are love and joy, and in it personality must find complete fulfilment." It may be so. It may not. How should I know? But in that experience of at-oneness I feel that to make any demands whatever on the universe is impious. It is what it Is, and I am a minute factor in it. And even if in its ultimate nature it is such as to blast all my longings and ideals, and the most developed and refined hopes of the human species, yet I cannot but accept it with joy, though dreadful joy. I accept it not in faith that, if only I could see it more truly, it would turn out to be far pleasanter than it seems; I accept it unconditionally, with dread of what it is and of what it may in its hidden regions be, but also with joy.

In this mood my emotional attitude toward the universe; toward the whole of things, or some all-important aspect of things, or toward the essential spirit of existence (I don't pretend to know which,) is perhaps best expressed by the words "Thy will be done," if I may use this well-known form of prayer without any implication that 'thy' necessarily refers to a divinity that is in any sense personal. In this mood I simply accept, with trembling, and yet with joy. I find myself detached from all personal desires and even from the thing that I recognize as supremely good, the ideal of the development of personality in community throughout the universe. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in this mood, though I am almost as badly enslaved to desire as at other times, something in me, or some part of me, is calmly and yet exultingly detached. Thus in pain or in terror, when my body or my animal impulses are in tumultuous riot, I may be at once on the verge of breakdown and yet in a strange manner at peace, at once crushed and exalted. Similarly in a time of enthralling pleasure or triumph I may be inwardly aloof from the little delight, and possessed by that more dreadful joy. In both these kinds of situation, in the hostile and the friendly, there is probably for every one of us a breaking point beyond which we become simply animals enslaved to terror, or to sweetness; but so long as we can hold the vision, we are strengthened.

There is nothing mysterious about this mood of joyful acceptance. It affords no mystical insight into a formerly hidden reality. It is simply a waking up to a previously unfelt accord with one's whole experienced world. Or that is what it seems to be. I realize, intellectually but not emotionally, that it may be wholly deceptive. All sorts of fairly plausible explanations of it can be given by reference to glandular secretions or repressed infantile cravings and so on. Perhaps it is merely the illusory effect of some irrelevant physiologically-caused or psychologically-caused ecstasy 'projected' somehow upon the objective universe. But this seems unplausible because in the experience itself one seems so definitely to be not less but more comprehensively aware than at other times. It is a reaction of the whole personality to the whole of one's experienced universe in all its diversity and all its gamut of joy and sorrow. I myself cannot seriously doubt that in this kind of experience I do rise to the upper limit of my capacity for comprehensive and lucid awareness. In it I feel that I, or something in me which is the best of me, do falteringly achieve a supremely satisfying emotional relation with the great 'Not I,' or with some supreme thing within the great 'Not I.' But though I feel so sure of this much, I recognize intellectually that the experience affords me no certainty whatever of anything beyond itself. It does not give me any information about the universe. It is for instance no ground for faith in a personal God or the divinity of Christ, nor yet for personal immortality.

Moreover, I must face the fact that it is in open conflict with the moral experience of the goodness of personality and personal development. For the moral experience demands that personality shall somehow ultimately triumph, while the other experience watches the drama of personality with detachment; with insight and sympathy, but with over-riding ecstasy for the whole of things.

I shall not here attempt to solve this flagrant logical conflict between these two experiences. I merely remark that, in spite of it, they are found in actual life to support one another. In practice the moral act often reinforces ecstasy, and ecstasy strengthens morality.

My last point is this. In the present terrible time this experience of ultimate peace is for some people the great source of consolation and strength; but some have it not, and regard it in others with grave suspicion. It may be so easily simulated; and even if it is genuine, it may be perverted into an excuse for insensitivity and inaction in the great struggle of our age. The vital experience of our time is not this experience but the moral experience in which personality-in-community appears as the great intrinsic good, and right conduct is that which favours free intelligence, love and creative action. In the present desperate conflict between peoples and between ideals, in which, though there is good on both sides, a wholesome future entails the victory of one side rather than the other, the guiding star must be this indubitable conviction, nay perception, that personality-in- community is the right moral and social goal. This war is emphatically not worth fighting unless it can somehow be made to give birth to a new world-order in which there shall be not less but far more of personal fulfilment for every human being, and far more of genuine community everywhere. Intelligence, love, creative action, these are at once the means and the goal. 'At-oneness' is for some a gratuitous and most prized gift from heaven.

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