Issues of Life
HENRY NELSON WIEMAN
Chaper I: Growing Up
THE Mendenhall lectures at De Pauw University and the Taylor lectures at Yale were both given during the spring of 1930. The present volume is officially the publication of the Mendenhall lectures, but a considerable portion of the material of the Yale lectures has been included. The fundamental problem of the Yale lectures, however, the problem of the general theory of value, is not included. It will be published at a later date. It will require more technical treatment than the present work would permit. But anyone who may have heard the Taylor lectures at Yale will find much in the following pages which has a familiar sound.
Of all the issues of life there is one that is most important. It is: What is that order of existence and possibility upon which we must depend and to which we must conform, to bring human life to its highest fulfillment and to promote the greatest possible values? This is the supreme issue. While the everyday problems of life are discussed throughout the book, this most important problem is never far away and is squarely faced in the last five chapters.
Academic dignity requires that all use of anecdote and the personal pronoun be rigidly excluded. In Chapter III I have sinned against this high principle.
I am deeply indebted to a number of men with whom I have had profitable discussion during the last two years. I shall not list their names, for it would be a rather long list, but I wish to thank them for their fellowship and valuable helpfulness.
The Christian Century has permitted me to include a few paragraphs from an article published in that journal. I thank the editors of The North American Review for permission to reprint the poem “Domremy,” by Mary Lindsley.
By growing up we mean to attain maturity in the conduct of life. That is plainly much more than physiological development. Also it is apparent that many people never grow up in this sense. Perhaps all humanity is still very immature. To attain maturity in the conduct of life means, first, to pass from the urge of life to the art of life; second, to seek not the fulfillment of present desire, but that transformation of desire which will yield most abundant fulfillment; and, third, to live not for the lure of established ideals, but for the lure of unexplored possibilities. To pass from immaturity to maturity is to undergo this threefold transformation. To undergo this change is to grow up in spirit as well as in body.
GROWING UP IN OUR MODERN WORLD
There are periods in the history of the world when it is much easier to learn how to live than at other times. The two things which make it difficult are complexity and rapid innovation. When the institutions and customs are few and simple and the social heritage relatively meager and the number of different kinds of individuals,
groups, and institutions that interact on one another is not great, it is relatively easy to learn how to live. But when all this is reversed, as it is to-day, when the social heritage is much vaster than it ever was before and the diverse currents of interaction are enormously complicated, the art of life is a difficult art. But even complexity does not make it so hard to learn how to live if the complexity remains relatively unchanged. But if there are radical and swift innovations constantly being introduced, as there are to-day, the attainment to full maturity is further obstructed.
But to say that our time is one in which the art of living is a difficult art is not to say that life is any the less worth the living. On the contrary, difficult art is high art and offers the greatest values to him who can master it. Easy art yields the lesser values. Perhaps full maturity in the world of to-day has more precious values to bestow upon him who can attain it than ever before in the history of the world. That, however, can scarcely be demonstrated. But in any case, the difficulty in growing up in our modern world does not mean that living has any less value.
The present is a time when the art of living must be learned anew by all humanity. There have been times when humanity, generally speaking, knew how to live. That is to say, the established institutions and ideals were adapted to
the conditions which then prevailed, so that the developing individual had only to master the way of life which was charted for him by these institutions and ideals. In order to express his own individuality, he had only to assimilate the arts, the knowledge, the vision of his time and in these find the materials, the medium, and the inspiration for his own highest development. Such a time, for example, was the twelfth century in Europe, or the Golden Age in Greece. The individual had only to ascend the mountain of culture which his age had reared and there upon the summit find above him the open sky and all the world at his feet.
But our age is not such a time. There is no mount of vision which the individual can ascend by assimilating his traditional culture. We do not have an integrated and systematized culture. We do not have institutions and ideals which clearly mark out the way of life best fitted to deal with the issues that every man must face in passing from the cradle to the grave in the twentieth century. On the contrary, our world has been transformed so swiftly and radically by machinery and science that the established institutions and ideals are no longer fitted to guide us. We must reconstruct and reinterpret and shape them anew. That is what we mean when we say that the present is a time when mankind must learn anew the lesson of how to live. It is not only that the individual
must grow up. Humanity in our twentieth century shows no maturity in the conduct of life. European man has lost his mastery and his sure insight into the way of life and is struggling in a welter of disorganized habits, in a chaos of new and old institutions not adjusted to one another, in a swirl of new methods of achievement and old ideals which do not fit one another. Instead of a mount of vision to climb, the growing individual of to-day finds great heaps of debris left over from other ages and great mounds of raw new earth and stone freshly gathered but not yet put together into a mountain that can be climbed. So the individual clambers over these mounds and hollows and can reach no vantage point from which the earth and sky can be swept in a comprehensive view to guide and inspire him in the conduct of his life. Thus the problem of growing up is not merely a problem for the individual. It is the acute problem of our age.
Of the three parts of growing up, namely, to pass from the blind urge of life to the intelligent art of life, to pass from the striving to fulfill present desire to the striving to transform desire so that it can be fulfilled more abundantly, and, third, to pass from the lure of established ideals to the lure of unexplored possibilities, it is the first of these three which is the one universal requirement of all growing up. Growing up in any age means to pass from the
urge to the art of living. The second and the third requirements are not so invariably demanded of all maturity, and the third less than the second.
The second, which is striving to transform desire so that it can be most abundantly fulfilled, rather than seeking to satisfy whatever desires one may happen to have, is demanded of everyone until he achieves the right sort of desires. In some ages, however, the prevalent culture of the time may mold the individual in such a way that he can strive to satisfy his present desires because they are of the sort that yield greatest value when satisfied. But we of our time do not have such a culture, hence our desires are not rightly shaped by the mold in which we grow. Furthermore, if conditions continue to change as rapidly as they have been doing in ‘the recent past, we may never have a culture which will so shape the individual that he does not need constantly to transform his desires in adaptation to changing conditions. So this second requirement, of transforming our desires, is one inescapable function of maturity for to-day, whatever may have been true in other times.
The third requirement is the most difficult of all. Furthermore, it has been least frequently required of maturity. It is that characteristic of maturity which has been most recently thrust to the front. Indeed, it is scarcely recognized to-day to be a requirement of mature living be-12
cause in the past it has not been so. Many today think it is nothing but foolishness to say that a man must live not under the lure of established beliefs and ideals, but under the lure of unexplored possibilities. “How can that be?” they ask. It is a hard saying.
When it is said that we must learn to live under the lure of unexplored possibilities of value, it is common for the deriding Philistine to speak thus: “Why worry about these unknown possibilities? That’s moonshine. To do that is to be an impractical visionary.” The answer is clear and simple and ought to be conclusive. To live intelligently in a world as complex and rapidly changing as ours, requires that we constantly solve the problem of how to act in a new situation in such a way as to achieve the best possibilities of value which it may have to offer. These possibilities, prior ‘to their discovery, are necessarily unknown. It is precisely because our world is changing so rapidly, giving rise to new and unprecedented situations, that we must constantly exercise the power of intelligence in solving problems. But to do that means to search and find possibilities which would otherwise not be discovered and which were unknown until discovered. But we cannot search with maximum zeal for such possibilities unless we not only believe they are to be discovered, but feel the lure of these undiscovered possibilities, and so are impelled to throw ourselves into the
search for them. Thus the lure of undiscovered possibilities is not impracticable and visionary. It is one indispensable requirement for the exercise of intelligence in the solving of practical problems.
Mr. Babbitt, who does not want to be roused out of his complacent and routine way of living by any thought about undiscovered possibilities, asks: “Why worry about them?” But the exercise of intelligence in modern life is impossible unless we “worry” about that which is not yet known or, if you prefer, unless we respond to the lure of the unknown. It must be a search for possibilities at present unknown because machinery and science, as we have them today, are new and have produced a state of affairs very different from anything known in the history of the world. But every new state of affairs gives rise to new possibilities of good and evil. And new possibilities are always unknown possibilities until they are discovered by intelligent search. The only alternative to this is to assume that new possibilities can be brought to light by some other method than that of intelligent investigation.
The first two phases of growing up we shall consider in order. The last, which is passing from the lure of accepted ideals to the lure of unknown possibilities, we shall postpone to the last chapter. This last and highest stage of maturity we call the Last Devotion.
FROM THE URGE TO THE ART OF LIFE
The difference between the urge and the art of life can best be made plain by taking an extreme example of blind urge. The heart can be removed from the body and will still continue to beat if kept in proper fluids. Its beating no longer fulfills a function. It is meaningless and worthless. Nevertheless, the heart keeps on because it is made that way. Or, still again, living tissue has been taken from a chicken and kept alive and growing for seventeen years.
All the lower animals seem to live more or less under the dominance of this blind urge. So also do men in great part. They live because they are wound up to live and have not had time to run down. Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die. They keep on living regardless of any function fulfilled, regardless of any values experienced or anticipated, regardless of any end sought or good achieved. Their living is automatic.
But in this respect there are two most remarkable characteristics about the human being. Perhaps nothing more revolutionary has ever occurred in the history of life upon this planet than the emergence of these two characteristics in human life. These two are, first, that man does sometimes ask the reason why, and, second, does sometimes commit suicide. These two facts about human life mark the great turning
point from life as blind urge to life as intelligent art.
No animal will ever commit suicide as long as it never asks the question whether life is worth living. It might still go on living automatically even after having reached the conclusion that life was not worth while; but if it did so, it would be because of the urge of life and not because of the art. If it lives under the control of intelligence, and if intelligence reaches the conclusion that life had better end, then end it will, and that ending will be a part of the art of life.
So we say the appearance upon this planet of a species which commits suicide is one of the most significant and revolutionary events which has ever happened because it indicates that this species is no longer dominated by the senseless urge. It shows that this species demands some rational justification for the continuance of life. It shows that reason at last has climbed to the saddle and is in control. It may be a very faulty reason, subject to disastrous error. But at any rate it marks the end of that senseless, bloody battering of life by which it beats itself to pulp against any stone wall that may present itself. It marks the beginning of intelligent inquiry concerning the meaning and the worth of life. Suicide is not the consummation of the high art of living, but it would be so if life had no meaning and value that could justify the labor
and the pain. Suicide shows adolescence rather than maturity. It falls short of what we shall later call the last devotion. But it marks the beginning of the subordination of urge to art and of biological mechanism to intelligent control. It Is the ghastly gray that runs before the dawn.
But this new way of life wherein the automatic biological functions are subordinated to reason has scarcely yet emerged. It is more a promise and a hope than it is an accomplished achievement. If we identify humanity with this way of life, then we must say that humanity has not yet arrived. It is still on the way. Humanity is not yet grown up. The animals we call human are just beginning to try to live in this new way. They have not yet learned how to do so. Hence they stagger and blunder and stumble. But surely no one can be surprised at this. For the animal that would be human has lived so briefly on this planet. As compared to the paramecium or the amoeba or the plant spores, or even the reptiles, or, indeed, as compared to most of the other forms of life, man is a merest infant. He has scarcely begun.
This immaturity of the human species is shown by its instability, its chaos and blundering. It is shown by its rebelliousness. It has often been noted that man is the rebel in the universe. He is first defiant and then despairing. But defiance and despair are both marks
of immaturity. Even suicide would not indicate despair in a life that was mature. It would simply be a part of the high art. But the animal that would be human is not yet human, except sporadically, emergently, blunderingly, tumbling into the human way of living and then out again. Man’s present attempts to be human are analogous to the first attempts of water animals to live on dry land. Any such new venture is frightfully hazardous and takes an enormous toll of life. This new human venture is not so costly in merely biological existence because it is not primarily a biological venture at all. It is a venture into the life of reason. Hence the toll is not so much in biological existence as it is in happiness, peace and zest. The cost appears in the form of boredom, suicide, misery, bitterness, insanity, defiance, despair and all the spiritual maladies. But he who would be discouraged shows in that very discouragement his immaturity. For this human venture, we repeat, is scarcely begun. He who is discouraged is impatient with a childish impatience. He fails to see the far sweep of the centuries through which alone any new way of life is brought into existence.
Thus we find that the problem of growing up is twofold. It is first the problem of bringing the individual to maturity, and second the problem of bringing humanity to maturity. The individual becomes mature by reaching the level
of maturity which the present development of the race permits, and by devoting himself to the labor of helping the race achieve its fuller development. The individual that is mature, in so far as the individual can be, will look upon all his fellow men with great tenderness, knowing that they all, himself included, are like children crying in the darkness, having lost their way, or rather, never having found it. For they have ventured out beyond the well-trodden trails of the ancient urge and have not yet established the new trail of reason and of art.
Achieving maturity is largely a matter of learning how to apply intelligence to the practical conduct of life, and that, in turn, is largely a matter of mastering the method by which problems are solved. The method of solving problems, so far as concerns the bare intellectual technique, has been well analyzed and described by John Dewey and his followers in their various expositions of “reflective thinking.” But these expositions leave out the most important part of the whole matter. There are six different requirements for the intelligent solution of the major practical problems of life which these expositions have failed to note, much less give any instruction concerning how to meet them. These six requirements we must briefly mention, for they are aspects of the problem of achieving
maturity. One is mature only when he can conduct life in the light of intelligence, and this he can do only when he is able to meet these six requirements needed for the exercise of intelligence in dealing with the more complicated and personal problems of life.
The first of these six requirements which are necessary to solve a practical problem intelligently and which are over and above the purely intellectual technique, is to have that disposition of the total personality which will enable one to acknowledge the difficulty when the intellect is able to find it. The first step in solving a problem, according to the technique of reflective thinking, is to locate the difficulty. But if the difficulty is of such a sort as to excite the deep fear of the individual, he may be incapable of acknowledging it. There will be a subconscious, protective mechanism which will prevent him from acknowledging any difficulty which would arouse a devastating fear within him. So, likewise if the difficulty is of the sort to deflate his conceit, supposing he is greatly conceited, or destroy some other fiercely cherished illusion, or excite his envy to towering proportions or run counter to any deep-rooted prejudice. The most important part, then, in this first step in solving a practical problem, is to acquire that mental attitude in which one is sufficiently free of fear, conceit, prejudice, cherished illusions, envy, and other distorting mental attitudes, to
be able to acknowledge the difficulty which the intellect is able to bring to light. Without being thus freed of these ills of the mind no intellectual technique will enable one to locate the trouble.
The second requirement has to do with the way one views the difficulty after it has been found and is acknowledged. One must view it comprehensively and disinterestedly. One must be free of that bias, passion, narrow, specialized interest or other prejudice which distorts the vision and makes reliable judgment impossible. This is a matter of degree, like all the requirements we are here considering. But here, again, it is a matter of becoming as free as possible from those conceits, fears, obsessions, which make it impossible to view the problem comprehensively, and free of distorting bias, after the difficulty has been located.
The third requirement is to be in that state of mind in which one has fullest access to the resources of his own past experience. We all know that in some moods we can draw upon our own past experience for suggestions, and that suggestions flow into the mind much more freely and abundantly at such times than in other moods. To solve a problem we must call up suggestions from our past experience or, as it is popularly called, from our subconscious minds. But we cannot do this effectively unless we are more, instead of less, free of suppressions and, in
general, the distorting attitudes mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs.
The fourth requirement is to have that courage, honesty, and disinterestedness without which we cannot follow through rigorously to the end wherever our logic may lead us. When some illuminating suggestion comes to mind as to how to solve the problem, it must be tested by the imaginative exercise of reason, by pursuing its implications and, perhaps, by tentative, overt ventures. But all this requires courage, honesty, disinterestedness. Hence the acquisition of these attitudes is necessary.
The fifth requirement is the enthusiasm, the zeal or drive which will enable us to act upon the tested suggestion and carry it out in the form of practical behavior. We must have some lure which will induce us thus to act. Often this is the greatest difficulty of all in solving the practical problems of life, when the blind urge is subordinated to intelligence. Where can we find a lure to take the place of the old urge?
Last, and perhaps most difficult of all, we must be able to establish those habits, dispositions, and mental attitudes which will enable us to deal with the various factors involved in carrying through successfully to a final issue the course of action upon which we embark. Pre-eminently this is the problem of how to deal with other people, win their co-operation, learn from them, persuade them. We must be win-
some, gracious, tactful, meek, yet none the less purposive and unswerving in the pursuit of what our intelligence has revealed to he the right. We must be tolerant, open to the suggestions of others, and yet determined in following the light of reason. How to acquire such an adaptive and constantly reconstructed disposition of personality is the last and greatest test. For without it we cannot achieve the last step involved in solving a practical problem, which is to carry out to fulfillment the required course of action.
These six requirements for the practical conduct of life by solving problems intelligently are so important that we wish here to suggest a further elaboration of the method which, in its purely intellectual side, has been so well described and analyzed in such books as John Dewey’s How We Think, Burtt’s Principles and Problems of Right Thinking, ‘McClure’s Introduction to the Logic of Reflection, and other works.
The further development of the method of solving problems which we here propose we shall call worshipful problem-solving, for it endeavors to meet not only the purely intellectual requirements, but also the moral and spiritual which we have just described and which are equally indispensable, for without them the intellect cannot function effectively to solve practical, major problems which deeply involve the personal interests of the individual.
This method of worshipful problem-solving is designed to meet the six requirements above stated. But there is no simple little formula which will automatically transform a personality in all the six ways mentioned. All we can do is to suggest a method which takes these requirements into consideration along with the purely intellectual requirements. He who is morally and intellectually defective will not suddenly become equipped with all the attributes of intellect and personality needed to solve important problems, by the simple device of giving him the right method. But the right method is always better than the wrong method. We hold that if the method here proposed is faithfully practiced, it will tend to build up the attitudes of personality needed to solve satisfactorily the important problems of life. It is not different from the traditional method described in the books above mentioned, but simply adds to that method further practices designed to build up a state of mind in which the traditional method can function more effectively.
The method we propose consists in taking time periodically to go apart and be alone, in order (1) to survey the activities of life in which one plays some part, and get these in perspective with the highest possibilities they carry; (2) quicken and deepen afresh the propulsion of life by exposing the total personality to the stimulus of sovereign loyalty; (3) after this survey and
stimulus, to face some major problem with which life is struggling with a view to calling up into the mind some solving suggestion, or at least establishing some better personal adjustment to the difficulty; (4) examining one’s own habits and mental attitudes with a view to reconstructing them so that one can deal with the difficulty in such a way as to serve his major objective and promote the highest possibilities; (5) finally, he will put into words the impelling interest of his life with whatever reconstruction, reinterpretation, and clarification of it may have resulted from this survey and self-examination; (6) this statement of his major objective, incorporating the readjustment of personal attitudes necessary to carry it out and put it into alignment with the highest possibilities, he will repeat a number of times in order to stamp it into his mental processes so deeply that it will continue to function subconsciously when his mind is given to other things.
These several operations in worshipful problem-solving might be named and classified as follows: (1) relaxation, (2) aspiration, (3) facing the problem, (4) self-examination, (5) statement of need, (6) repetition. But one must not think of them as being separate so that one can be done and finished before another begins. Relaxation and aspiration, for example, go together, and it is impossible to say which comes first.
By relaxation we mean that state of mind in which the narrow, specialized, routine preoccupations of the hour are allowed to fall away. Also the passion, envy, prejudice, fear or other tension is allowed to sink into quietude. The importance of getting into this state of mind before trying to solve any major problem we have already noted.
But how can one get into this state of mind? The means by which it is accomplished are our justification for calling this a worshipful method of solving problems. One must relax, yet not in the way one does when he goes to sleep. It must be a relaxation of the suppressions, tensions, and mental conflicts, but at the same time a quickening of the total resources of the whole personality. This is accomplished when one does two things: first, yields himself up to the stimulus of some objective which is not merely of greatest value to himself, but to all other men also, hence an objective ‘of such sort that deep and stirring interest in it drives out the ordinary social jealousies, envies, fears, and prejudices. Second, rest himself upon that order in the process of existence which sustains and promotes the efforts of himself and of all men when they strive to attain the supreme and communal values of life. As we shall see later, these are the two essential attitudes which make up high religion, and when a man deliberately takes time and means to cultivate these atti-
tudes, he is worshiping. Also we have seen these two attitudes are necessary equipment for solving difficult and important problems.
This high objective, to the stimulus of which one yields himself in worship, as well as the order of existence which sustains and promotes all rightful striving to achieve it, may both be very dimly and tentatively defined in the mind of the individual. If he recognizes the narrow limitations of human knowledge and the high fallibility of the human mind, he will almost certainly hold his idea of them in a way that is subject to much correction and development, much clarification and more detailed specification. That there is such an objective and such an order we think few people will doubt when they understand just what is meant. This meaning we shall attempt to develop more fully later on. Here we only wish to say that it is quite possible for a man to rest himself upon this order and yield himself to this objective even when both are very hazily conceived in his own mind. Indeed, we would insist that he whose ideas of this order and this objective are not rather hazy is assuming a degree of knowledge which he does not truly possess and so is falling into serious error.
To do these two things, to yield oneself to the stimulus of the high communal objective of human life and to rest oneself upon the order which sustains and promotes all striving which
is directed to its attainment, is what we mean by relaxation and aspiration. It is the first and second step in worshipful problem-solving. Furthermore, we insist that no man has fullest access to the resources of his own experience for solving a difficult problem until he has put himself in this state of mind, for only in this state can he reduce to the minimum those suppressions and mental conflicts which prevent the recall of needed past experience and the ready flow into consciousness of relevant suggestions.
After one has thus prepared himself, he is ready to face the problem, which is the third step in worshipful problem-solving. He must first locate the difficulty, which means that he must discover what needs to be changed or removed in order to attain the end desired. Often the chief difficulty is some characteristic of oneself or ‘other fact which one is psychologically incapable of acknowledging until he has lost his prejudices and self-concerned feelings in devotion to something that is inclusive of the good of all or of a great many besides himself and, best of all, if it is something to which all human life can give itself in devoted service. For the highest fulfillment of human life is found when satisfaction is attained not by seeking satisfaction directly, but in serving a cause which is greater than humanity itself. Devotion to such a cause puts one in a state of mind in which he can view himself and all men objec-
tively, without those tensions and prejudices which distort the judgment and blind the vision. Thus only in such a spirit of devotion is one able to view a problem disinterestedly and comprehensively. Also it is only with such devotion that one can examine himself coolly and calmly, without conceit and without despair or discouragement, but keenly and accurately as he would examine any other tool that is employed in the service of the cause.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF DESIRE
The second phase in growing up, we have said, is to seek primarily for the transformation of desires so that their fulfillment will yield greatest value. Many people write and think, and still greater numbers live, as though the greatest value could be attained by simply bringing to fulfillment the desires we happen to have at any particular time. But a very little thought reveals that, while the satisfaction of some desires may yield the greatest value, the satisfaction of others plainly will not. Hence the first and greatest problem in seeking the major values of life is to have those desires which lead to them. This does not necessarily mean any one single system of desires or any one particular kind of desires. It may be that if we are ever to attain the greatest values, our desires must undergo constant transformation to meet the requirements of a changing world. But in any case,
however that may be, desires must be transformed. To recognize this fact, and consequently to make this transformation of desire as important as the striving to fulfill desire, is to become mature. Otherwise stated, the mark of maturity is the rise to dominance of a new desire, namely, the desire to transform desire so that it will meet the requirements of that order which yields the greatest value.
One of the most excellent recent treatments of this matter has been given by Walter Lippmann in his Preface to Morals. This statement by Mr. Lippmann is so important and so excellent and has been so widely read that we must examine it with care.
In his portrayal of the theory of high religion Mr. Lippmann presents the ideal of a regenerate and mature personality as the one great end of all living. Self-respect and disinterested observation are made the supreme value and the way to gather whatever flowers there he. As long as we are true to this ideal of a cleansed and mature personality we can look upon the universe “as comedy or high tragedy or just plain farce” and still “affirm that it is what it is, and that the wise man can enjoy it.”
In Mr. Lippmann one detects a personality far above the average, a personality too brave and too honest to allow any illusion to cover the truth as he is able to discern it. There is greatness here which should command the respect of
all. If we criticize the proposal he makes, it is to point out that Mr. Lippmann as a personality is greater than his theory.
Mr. Lippmann is not a philosophical theorist. He plays his part in the thick of the great achievements of modern life. That is an advantage to him when he undertakes to depict high religion in action as it is lived. But it is a disadvantage when he tries to state the theory of high religion. When he undertakes to state this theory at the end of his book, he becomes a conventional thinker and his greatness has departed. There he merely reports the philosophy of life which has become the vogue in the sophisticated circles in which he moves, so that others who share this conventional view generally say, after reading the last chapter, that it is “strangely convincing.” Naturally, since it is the echo of their own thinking.
But when Mr. Lippmann describes high religion as it is lived in the political, the commercial, and the domestic orders of modern life, it is something very different from the meager religion of self-respect to which his theory reduces
it. In the practical conduct of life his high religion is the discernment, or the striving to discern, the possibilities of greatest value which the machine and science and industry may afford, and the striving to actualize them. This is very different from cultivating and coddling a mature and regenerate personality by viewing
the world as comedy or high tragedy or just plain farce.
Mr. Lippmann’s attempt to discern what possibilities of value may be brought forth from the present industrial and commercial order of life has been grossly misunderstood. He has been accused of defending and endeavoring to perpetuate the evils of capitalism. But that is not true. On the contrary, he is trying to discover and actualize what possibilities of value can be developed out of capitalism. If these possibilities which he suggests should be realized, capitalism would no longer be capitalism, unless one means by capitalism huge aggregations of wealth owned by no small group and managed by no inner circle, but administered by the best-trained and talented men in the whole country for the good of all so far as may be. They who condemn and ridicule such a suggestion as Lippmann makes are generally either one or other of two sorts. Either they still cling to those old ideals which we have said do not apply to this new world, or else they have some utopian scheme, which does not represent a possibility of value brought to light by keen observation of the actual processes of the modern world, but, rather, a theory produced by arm-chair speculations concerning the greatest conceivable good.
How can we dedicate ourselves to undiscovered possibilities in such way as, first, to bring
them to discernment and, second, to bring them into existence? Lippmann has described the method in masterful fashion. He writes: “When he [who would practice high religion] acted, he would know that he was only testing a hypothesis; and if he failed, he would know that he had made a mistake. He would be quite prepared for the discovery that he might make mistakes, for his intelligence would be disentangled from his hopes. The failure of his experiment could not, therefore, involve the failure of his life, for the aspect of life which implicated his soul would be his understanding of life, and, to the understanding, defeat is no less interesting than victory.” [From Preface to Morals, by Walter Lippmann. Reprinted by permission of The Macmillan Company.]
But what is it that this emancipated soul is trying to understand? Is he merely trying to demonstrate his own maturity and rejoice in his own regenerate nature? Or is he trying to bring to light and to actualize whatever possible adjustments of living organisms, meanings, and physical conditions constitute the greatest values? In theory he seems to say it is the first, but in his practical demonstrations he plainly says the latter. Indeed, his high religion is impossible unless he means the latter, for one cannot develop a “cleansed and matured personality” by cultivating it directly and exclusively. If this ideal of his own personality becomes the ruling passion of his life, he will become child-
ish, self-centered, petty, fretful, and cynical. One can only become a mature personality by devoting himself not to his ideals, not even to the ideal of his own maturity, but to the quest of undiscovered values through that method of experimental living so well described by Lippmann.
Thus we come to the third stage in maturity, which means to pass from the lure of ideals to the lure of unexplored possibilities.
FROM IDEALS TO UNEXPLORED POSSIBILITIES
When we discover a possibility of great value, we can devote ourselves to it, but not permanently and irrevocably in a world which is changing as rapidly as ours. In such a changing world the only person who displays maturity is he who recognizes all his ideals to be inadequate, even the ideal of a mature personality, and who gives his life to a search for those possibilities which have not yet been represented by any socially accepted ideal.
This life of search and experimentation can itself be called an ideal, but it is not a final ideal. It is merely a means to the end of finding undiscovered values and making them the goal of endeavor. When these objective possibilities are found and are adequately represented by ideals, such ideals can be taken as our guides, provided the world does not keep on changing so rapidly as to require their constant reconstruction and so an ever-renewed search, not because nothing
is ever found, but because something more is ever to be found. A mature personality can live this way. An immature one cannot.
Mr. Lippmann makes plain that this devotion, this quest, and this self-dedication to undiscovered possibilities, searching and finding and searching yet again, is a life that has been lived by the greatest personalities of the past. This experimentation and reconstruction can never safely end because (1) conditions are always changing, thus making old goods obsolete and opening the way to new ones, and (2) because the possibilities of value are presumably infinite and unexhaustible. Furthermore, Mr. Lippmann goes on to explain, this way of living is being forced upon the modern man under conditions which seem to indicate that a greater number will follow it than has ever been the case in the past. At any rate it is more urgently demanded than ever before, and any other way of life becomes increasingly difficult. Any other way of life must perpetuate the present confusion which will surely drift either into slow decline or into catastrophic disaster.
This way of life Mr. Lippmann calls the way of high religion, and he entitles such religion humanism. So it is, according to the theory of it which he presents. But, as we have noted, his practical demonstration of it makes it just the opposite of humanism. Humanism sets up human desires, human hopes and dreams as the
supreme guides and masters in seeking the good life. But Mr. Lippmann denies that these can be our guides. In his theory of this religion he does leave one solitary ideal as master over all—the ideal of a regenerate personality. But we have seen how even this is cast out and made impossible in the practical demonstrations of this religion in actual life. There high religion becomes the exact opposite of humanism, for it becomes self-dedication to an objective order of existence and possibility constituting value. This order of existence is unexplored and this order of possibility is undiscovered, but it is sought without regard to our desires, hopes, and dreams. For these ‘latter are childish, when they are set up as standard of value. All life is childish, says Mr. Lippmann, when we try to fashion the value of the world into the likeness of our desires and pre-established ideals, instead of making these conform to that objective order of existence and possibility which constitutes value. Any way of life which glorifies human desire and hope and ideal, and ignores any objective order constituting values which may be very different from such desires and hopes, is the religion of immaturity. [ This order is not necessarily “pre-established” except in the sense that all possible order, whether determined or Indetermined, is eternally what it is. Possibilities change when conditions change, but the determined and indetermined possibilities of any specified set of conditions are always the same. All science implies that assumption.]
This searching and experimentation with respect to ideals, which we say is so important for the modern world at the present time, does not mean wild experimentation. To some minds the word “experimentation” suggests that. It does not mean that people should forthwith try experimentally to do whatever happens to come into their heads. On the contrary, experimentation is worthless unless it is planned and controlled in the light of what is known about the matter in question. And every experiment must be carried out only by those people who have the most extensive personal experience with all the factors involved. For example, in the case of modern industry it is quite futile for the armchair theorist to speculate about what specifically should be done, although he may well be justified in insisting that something should be done. But the only people who can seek out and find the genuine possibilities of value which hover over the machine are ‘the men who are actually engaged in industry. They, if they will recognize the inadequacy of our traditional and socially accepted ideals, and will recognize that there are possibilities of value quite unknown to us and quite different from our present desires and hopes, can, by observing this evil and that good, what results from this innovation and that, bring into our lives some of the greater possible values of modern industry. As matter of fact, this is precisely what some of them are
doing. One of the most notable examples is W. T. Hapgood.
To prosecute this search it is necessary to react to the value of undiscovered possibilities. This alone can enable the individual to throw himself into an undertaking with a drive and zest which enable him to carry it through to the end, even when be considers It quite likely that it will not yield the specific good that is expected of it and even while every specific ideal is held tentatively, subject to correction in the light of further evidence. He can do this because the source of his enthusiasm is not the specific undertaking alone, but is, rather, those undiscovered values which this specific undertaking may help to bring to light even when it fails, amid often most effectively when it does fail, precisely because it is experimental. He who does not recognize the fact of undiscovered values and does not find in them the stimulus to strenuous endeavor will lose his drive when his ideals are held tentatively. But he who is led on by undiscovered values will not experience the ebbing of strong propulsion when his ideals become tentative.
He who does not feel the inspiration of unexplored possibilities must make himself think that his ideal is final and Infallible in order to maintain his driving force. He cannot he tentative in his beliefs and projects. He must think the undertaking will unquestionably yield the
result expected, in order to maintain his steadfastness. His energy for living depends upon his certainty in specific beliefs and enterprises. He does not like to call this dogmatism, but dogmatism it is. It is a kind of protective dogmatism, protective of his vital energy. This has probably been the chief source of all dogmatism in the history of religion and morals, the dogmatism that has been so obstructive to the increase of the good.
But the hope and courage and enthusiasm of life may be derived from another source than these specific beliefs and undertakings, and so a man be delivered from any dependence upon certainty of belief in such matters. Undiscovered possibilities of value can engender a passionate quest, and so deliver a man from the necessity of protective dogmatism in matters of specific belief and specific practice. They can give to life the cutting edge of a down-swung ax and carry him through the failures and the doubts of specific undertakings and tentative beliefs.
These undiscovered possibilities of value are not subject to the errors of human judgment precisely because human judgment has not yet specified them. Hence these possibilities can give an unflagging zest to him who is able to react to them. The zeal of such a one is not abated even when his undertakings seem to fail and even when some critical observer would say
his whole life was a failure, as many did say of some of the greatest personalities. The lure which undiscovered values exercise over such men, even when they know these values may be quite alien to their present beliefs and projects, is expressed in such words as these: “Not my will, but thine, be done.” “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are . . my thoughts than your thoughts.” Or, still again: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Such a one can regard every operation as exploratory and every specified ideal and belief as subject to correction without diminishing a fervor that is folly to the eyes of them that know not the lure. The genuine possibilities of value in our age can only be brought to light by exploratory ventures which to many an onlooker will seem to be nothing but failures. But the failure is often that which makes the venture most illuminating.
But how about those beliefs concerning right and wrong that are called Christian, especially the “principles of Jesus” and other accumulated wisdom handed down in the Christian tradition? Do not these impose limits upon the scope and freedom of our search and our experimentation? Others who are not Christian may search and experiment, but we who are Christians have truth, at least so far as concerns the set of beliefs called Christian. So far as they reach we have no justification to experiment if we are
truly Christian. That is the claim some make. We do not think it is correct. As already stated, every experiment, if it is to be of any worth at all, must be devised and practiced in the light of all that is known about the matter in question. If the Christian tradition has relevant knowledge bearing upon any problem, then that knowledge has the same status as any other knowledge and should control the search just as any knowledge might. But knowledge in a changing world should stimulate search and experiment, not limit it.
‘But what advantage is there, then, in being a Christian if we have to keep on searching? The advantage is that in being a Christian one has access to certain insights, clues and suggestions that may help in the search. He has access to certain historic ventures in human living together with the record of what resulted from these ventures. In other words, he has access to data which are relevant and exceedingly important to some of our most vital problems. But does not anyone have access to these same data? No, no one has access to them unless he has not only studied the tradition, but has gotten sufficiently into rapport with the whole movement to discover its significance from the inside. Anyone who does that is a Christian. He may be highly critical of the tradition he has inherited. He may analyze it, discriminating between what is better and what is worse, and use it all to
guide him in his search for hidden possibilities of value in our world of machines and industry. Perhaps such a Christian would not be the most unworthy.
But one thing is plain. The possibilities of value in this new world of machinery and science have yet to be explored. Christianity ought not to be an obstruction to the search. It ought to be a help.