« PreviousContinue »
to the University to make room for younger and more vigorous men. I then formed a small society, consisting of the best Oriental scholars in Europe and India, and we began to publish a series of translations of the Sacred Books of the East, which by this time amounts to thirty volumes, and will ultimately comprise forty-eight.
While engaged in conducting this undertaking, I felt it necessary, before resuming my study of religion, to define more clearly my own philosophical position. I had from the very first made it sufficiently clear, I thought, that to my mind language and thought were inseparable, that thought was language minus sound, instead of language being, as was commonly supposed, thought plus sound. It was from that point of view that I felt justified in treating mythology as I had done, namely, as an affection, or even as a disease, of language, and it was in the same sense that I had tried to read in the annals of language some of the secrets of the growth of religion. The common illusion that language is different from thought, and thought different from language, seemed to me one of the best illustrations of modern philosophical mythology; but I found that even professed philosophers clung to that myth with the same tenacity with which they cling to their belief in faculties and forces, as different from their manifestations. They had so little understood the fundamental principle on which my system rested, namely, the absolute identity of language and thought, that one of them, Professor Gruppe, published his large work on Mythology, chiefly in order to show that instead of explaining mythology as a peculiarity of language, I ought to have explained it as a peculiarity of thought. What is one to say to this kind of criticism, which ignores, or rather runs its head against, the very walls of the fortress which it means to besiege? I thus was almost compelled to publish my last book, the Science of Thought, in which I collected all the facts that had been brought to light by the Science of Language, in support of a theory held by the most eminent philosophers from Plato to Hegel', namely, that Logos is the same thing, whether you translate it by language or by thought, and that as there is no language without reason, neither is there any reason without language.
I hope to treat this question more fully in some of my later lectures. At present I only wished to show what is the red thread which holds my literary work together, and to explain to you why, when I received the invitation to lecture on Natural Theology in this University, I felt that, if life and health were granted me, this was the very work I ought still to accomplish. I want, if possible, to show you how the road which leads from the Science of Language to the Science of Mythology and to the Science of Thought, is the only safe road on which to approach the Science of Religion. This Science of Religion will thus become the test, and I hope the confirmation, of previous theories on language, mythology, and thought; and the work which I began at Leipzig in 1843, will, if my life is spared, be brought to its final consummation in the Lectures which you have allowed me to give in the University of Glasgow.
The task with which you have entrusted me is · See Contemporary Review, October, 1888: ‘My Predecessors.'
enormous—far beyond the powers of any one man, and I know full well, far beyond my own powers. All I can promise you is to help to clear the ground and to lay the foundation; but to erect a building, such as Lord Gifford shadowed forth in his Last Will, to raise a temple wide enough, strong enough, high enough for all the religious aspirations of the human race, that we must leave to future generations -to younger, to stronger, and to better hands.
DEFINITION OF RELIGION.
Definition of Religion, why wanted. TF the Science of Religion is to be treated as one of
I the natural sciences, it is clear that we must begin with a careful collection of facts, illustrating the origin, the growth, and the decay of religion.
But we shall find it impossible to do so, unless we first enter on a preliminary and, I must add, a somewhat difficult inquiry, namely, What is meant by religion. Unless we can come to a clear understanding on that point, we shall find it impossible to determine what facts to include, and what facts to exclude in collecting our evidence for the study of religion.
What then is religion? To many people this will sound a very easy question, as easy as the question, What is man? Practical people object to such questions, and consider any attempt to answer them as mere waste of time. Now it is quite true that there is a kind of public opinion, which for all ordinary purposes settles the meaning of words, and by which we may allow ourselves to be guided in the daily concerns of life. But in philosophical discussions this is strictly forbidden. What is philosophy but a perpetual criticism and correction of language, and the history of philosophy but a succession of new definitions assigned to old and familiar terms ?
Great differences in defining Religion. Besides, there is anything but agreement on the true meaning of religion. Most people, whatever their opinions might be on other points, would probably hold that religion must always have something to do with God or the gods. But even that is not the case. Buddhism, for instance, which is a creed professed by the largest number of human beings, recognises, as taught by Buddha Sâkyamuni, no god, or at all events no creator of the universe, and it has been held in consequence that Buddhism could not be called religion.
Is Buddhism a Religion ? Now it is quite true, we may so define religion that the name could not be applied to Buddhism ; but the question is, who has the right so to narrow the definition of the word “religion' that it should cease to be applicable to the creed of the majority of mankind ? You see that the right of definition is a most sacred right, and has to be carefully guarded, if we wish to avoid the danger of mere logomachies. How often have I been asked, Do you call Buddha's religion a religion, do you call Darwin's philosophy philosophy, or Wagner's music music? What can we answer under such provocation, except, Define what you mean by religion, define what you mean by philosophy, define what you mean by music, and then, and then only, we may possibly come to an agreement as to whether Buddha's doctrines may be called religion, Darwin's writings philosophy, and Wagner's compositions music. I know full well that nothing irritates an adversary so much as to be asked for a definition ; and yet it is well known, or ought to be well known, that defini