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THE INFINITE IN NATURE, IN MAN, AND IN THE SELF.
Positivist Objections. W HEN it has been my chief endeavour to show
that religion did not begin with abstract concepts and a belief in purely extra-mundane beings, but that its deepest roots can be traced back to the universal stratum of sensuous perception, it is somewhat hard to be told that 'I must necessarily admit an extra-mundane Logos in man, and derive mythology and religion from extra-mundane causes' (Gruppe, p. 218). Still more extraordinary does it seem that the ground on which this charge is founded should be my holding in some modified form the opinion of Schleiermacher, Wuttke, Hellwald, and others, that
the infinite can be known in the finite only, and that it should be known here always and everywhere.'
Again, I am told (p. 222) that if I trace the concept of the infinite back to the most primitive percepts of not quite finite things, I must mean by the infinite 'a potentia of the infinite, the infinitely infinite, the infinite per se, the absolute.' If these words have any meaning at all, they would show a complete misapprehension of my position. I spoke of the sensuous pressure of the infinite which is contained in the simplest perceptions of our senses, while I represented the pure concept of the infinite, to say nothing of the absolute, as the very last result of a long historical process of intellectual evolution. To fix the exact time when the indications of the infinite, which are latent in all sensuous perceptions, became recognised either in mythology or religion, and lastly in philosophy, is completely beyond our power. It is enough if we can show that the rudiments of later mythological, religious and philosophical expressions were present in what I call the early pressure of the infinite upon our senses. I do not object if, from another point of view, this may be called an intellectual pressure 1 also; but what is really important is to understand that mankind did not begin with the abstract concepts of infinity, still less of the absolute, whatever that may mean, but with the simplest perceptions which, in addition to their finite contents, implied likewise something beyond the finite.
The question, again, whether this evolution of thought, beginning with the simplest perceptions, and ending with the highest abstractions, was teleological or not—whether it was purposed, whether it was meant to lead us on to a higher conception of the world—does not concern us at present. It is enough for us that it was real, that it is strictly historical, and that it is at the same time intelligible. Whether it was meant or intended, by whom it was intended, and for what it was intended, these are questions which need not disturb our equanimity. So far as I can see, the evidence for and against a teleological interpretation is equally feeble, but, at all events it need not disquiet those who are only concerned with the establishment of facts, and with a suggestion of their possible origin.
1 "Aber dieser Druck ist ein intellectueller.' Gruppe, p. 225.
Historical Evolution. My principal object has always been to discover an historical evolution or a continuous growth in religion as well as in language. It seems strange, therefore, that while in England some Darwinians, though not Darwin himself, have attacked me for not being a thorough-going evolutionist, Professor Gruppe should try so very hard to prove that I am an evolutionist, and that therefore I am behind the time, as time is understood in certain quarters. Evolution, we are told (pp. 233, 235), is but the disguised sister of Hegelian speculation. We ought to be transformationists, and no longer evolutionists. I do not know what transformations may still await us, but for the present I certainly am and mean to remain an evolutionist in the study of language, mythology, and religion—that is to say, I shall always try to discover in them an intelligible historical growth. That I have not ascribed any evolutionary power to ideas or concepts by themselves, apart from the persons by whom they are held, and uninfluenced by the objective world by which they are determined, I need hardly attempt to prove, considering that I have always adopted as the foundation of all philosophy Kant's well-known principle, that concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind. There are misapprehensions against which it is difficult to defend oneself, because it seems incredible that they should ever have been raised.
Positivist Point of View. Nor do I believe that Professor Gruppe or anybody else really thinks me capable of believing in selfevolving Hegelian ideas, floating about in metaphysical air or blown into our face like soap bubbles by an extra-mundane Logos. On the contrary, he knows, and he says so himself, that my starting-point is from a positivist point of view impregnable, and it is exactly this impregnable character of the position I have taken that has roused so much anger among positivist philosophers.
But now comes the strangest of all arguments. The premisses from which I start are admitted to be impregnable, but as the facts in the history of religion are against them, it follows that after all, my premisses, positivist though they may be, must be wrong.
It is generally supposed that when we come to facts, all controversy must end, but we shall see that facts as well as fictions require careful handling.
Rig-veda. I had taken some of my facts from the Rig-veda, not because I consider that these hymns can bring us near to the very cradle of religious concepts, but simply because we possess no literary documents, so far as I know, that can bring us nearer to it, at least on Aryan ground. I maintained that when the Vedic Rishis celebrated the rivers, the dawn, the sky, or Indra, the god of the sky, they did not simply mean the objects which they saw, but also something beyond, call it unknown, indefinite, infinite, or divine.
Here I am flatly contradicted. The Hindu of the older Rig-veda,' we are told (p. 221), “does not adore the Infinite which lies within or behind the dawn, but the dawn herself, whosoever that may be. Yes, 'who
1 Gruppe, p. 222, Der Ausgangspunkt ist vom positivistischen Standpunkt aus unanfechtbar.'
soever that may be,' ŐOTIS TOT' &otiv, and this 'whosoever that may be' is exactly what I mean by the invisible, the unknown, or the infinite behind the mere splendour of the morning rays. Who ever maintained that the Hindu adored the Infinite in its abstract form, or the Infinite by itself, as lying within or behind the dawn? All I said was that in choosing the dawn as a recipient of his praises, the Vedic poet, whether he was as yet conscious of it or not, meant something more than the definite dawn, the reflected splendour of the sun, that lasted for a short time every day, and then vanished for ever. He meant something within or behind the dawn which did not vanish, which came again day after day, which manifested itself to his senses, but could never be fully grasped by them. This is so clear and so undeniable that nothing but the weakest objections could be raised against it.
We are assured that nothing was further from the thoughts of the ancient poets than to try to comprehend or actually to grasp the incomprehensible and ungraspable, to fly up to the solar bird and there to see the eternal miracle face to face. Who ever suggested such wild flights of fancy for the Vedic poets? It is wonderful enough that in their conception of one of their deities, of Aditi, the concept of the infinite should have found so early an expression, though here too probably at first under the image of the dawn or what lies beyond the dawnl. We can
1 Aditi, an ancient god or goddess, is in reality the earliest name to express the Infinite ; not the Infinite as the result of a long process of abstract reasoning, but the visible Infinite, visible by the naked eye, the endless expanse beyond the earth, beyond the clouds, beyond the sky. That was called A-diti, the un-bound, the unbounded ; one might almost say, but for fear of misunderstandings,