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ORDINARY MEETING, APRIL 18, 1887.

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D. HOWARD, Esq., VICE-PRES., Chem. Soc., IN THE CHAIR.

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The Minutes of the last Meeting were read and confirmed.
Works presented to the Library :--
“Proceedings of the Royal Society."

From the same.
"Memoirs of the Imperial University of Japan."
“The Plants of New South Wales.” By Rev. W. WOOLLS, Ph.D.,

F.L.S.

The following Paper was read by the Author :

PRACTICAL OPTIMISM. By CANON W. SAUMAREZ SMITH, ,

B.D., Principal of St. Aidan's College, Birkenhead.

T \HE title of this Paper is derived from a passage in J.

Sully's able and interesting book on Pessimism. The information, the suggestions, and the arguments in that book are full of interest; but there is a fundamental defect in the treatment of his subject which prevents the book from being a complete presentation of the data which claim consideration from those who are seeking for the whole truth in the matter under discussion. Mr. Sully sets aside the “theological ” aspect of the question as consisting of “ transcendental conceptions " which “anticipate” experience, or explain it a priori, and must therefore be regarded as unscientific. And yet he admits that such conceptions are facts of human nature, and make for an optimistic as distinguished from a pessimistic view of life. “Theological truth,” he says, "sometimes, at least, professes to rest to some extent on experience, and to be a fair inference from observable facts. Consequently, if-as must clearly be the only correct way we interpret experience in its widest sense as including facts

that că

and all legitimate inferences from these, it may be urged that we are bound to include theological ideas in our investigation. For example, Christian theology, recognising the misery of our present life, teaches that this misery is to be more than compensated, in the case of a certain proportion of mankind, by future blessings. Now, if this future existence is inferable either from historical or other data, it must plainly be included as an element in the life whose value is to be determined. Again, this theology tells us that the existence of a benevolent and wise Creator is inferable from the complex combinations of the world. If so, we may be sure that even if human life, so far as we can observe it, seems to be other than happy, this defect will be somehow made good.”

And in the passage, with an allusion to which I commenced the paper, after he has argued that an "unqualified optimism would speedily relax all the higher kinds of moral endeavour, he

says if we frame a PRACTICAL OPTIMISM, and say that life is as good as it could be, provided we make the best of it (which seems to be the practical faith of the best Christians), we, no doubt, reach an idea most encouraging to effort."

It is of such optimism that I am now to speak.

2. My object in this paper is not to enter into anything like a historical review of contending theories, or to make a detailed criticism of any particular theory, but to submit a philosophical estimate of the worth of life, as viewed from a Theistic standpoint, and to advocate as reasonable an optimism which is neither baseless nor superficial. I believe, with Professor Flint, that, “the true reading of human life, when it is surveyed in a sufficiently comprehensive way, is not pessimist," and that we cannot survey it "in a sufficiently comprehensive way" unless we deliberately take into account those religious, or theological, data of human experience and history, which Mr. Sully acknowledges to be “facts,” though he chooses to exclude them from his line of reasoning, with the result that that reasoning becomes "narrow and partial." The exclusion of these data makes it impossible, too, to be content with that “scientific meliorism” which some have suggested as countervailing the gloomy and negative tendencies of pessimism. For “ meliorism,” which stands aloof from the acknowledgment of a supreme Divine will, must, in the face of the pessimist's objections, stop short of being a genuine and adequate motive to sustained moral endeavour.*

* As there will not be many direct quotations in my paper, I may as well mention, in a note, some of the books I have consulted in working out my 3. We must start with a clear view of what we mean by the antithetical terms Optimism and Pessimism. It is patent that for minds of limited capacity there can be no allembracing view of the universe. No finite beings can determine what is absolutely best, or absolutely worst. Such knowledge can only belong to an Omniscient, Eternal, Selfexistent Being. But man can reason from phenomena to laws. He can trace tendencies and characterise them; and from accumulated experiences and observations he can arrive at large conclusions which have for him a most important practical value. Thus, in estimating the worth of the world and of human life, he discerns both a malefic and a felicific tendency at work; and, accordingly as he considers the former or the latter to preponderate, does he become

pessimist” or “optimist” in his speculations. Optimism is the theory that good is normal, and evil abnormal, and that the whole course of things make for good. Pessimism is the theory that evil is the normal condition of existence; that good is temporary, evanescent, illusive, and that Non-being is preferable to Being.

These two theories correspond to two sets of phenomena which come under the ratiocinative and reflective observation

Optimism is, logically, antecedent to Pessimism. It is more natural to think that things tend to good than to think that they tend to evil. It is more natural to be hopeful than to be otherwise, and the saying has become proverbial that “hope springs eternal in the human breast." Yet in human life and history this hopefulness is continually dashed with bitter antagonistic experiences, and the question again and again recurs-in one and another shape, but substantially identical-Is life worth living ?

4. The Pessimistic philosophy represented in Schopenhauer and Hartmann is a reflection of the general unrest and disappointment of our age. It is, as has been often remarked, a reaction from the somewhat inconsiderate optimism of the last century.

One reviewer, speaking of Schopenhauer, attributes the rise of much pessimistic literature to the “morbid disappointment which followed the French Revolu

of men.

subject. The principal ones are Sully's Pessimism ; Dr. Gass's Optimişmus und Pessimismus ; Caro's Pessimisme au XIXe siècle ; and Ribot's Philosophie de Schopenhauer. I may also mention Leibnitz's Thcodicée in Janet's Ectracts ; Flint's Theism, and Anti-Theistic Theories ; Wright's Book of Koheleth ; Hartmann's Die Selbstzersetzung des Christenthums und die Religion der Zulcunft. I have also recently perused J. H. Clapperton's Scientific Meliorismi

tion.” Nor does it seem improbable that the excitement produced in some minds by premature hopes of rapid political and social progress in an age of extraordinary scientific discovery, and of application of science to the material wants of men, tends to beget an impatient attitude of mind, which, when not counterbalanced by moral and religious motives, is apt to foster a despairing view of the world, and of the capabilities for happiness of human life.

Reasoned pessimism, however, cannot stand critical analysis, for it is inconsistent with the facts of human history, and with the faculties of the human mind. It is entirely inadequate to explain the positive and persistent aspirations of human nature. As a philosophy it becomes unmeaning, unless egoistic Hedonism be regarded as the only possible explanation of life, and pain and suffering be treated as final and absolutely independent facts. Intellectually viewed, pessimismı is mental suicide, and to assert that “all is illusion” is a mystical despair, not a rational affirmation.

Optimism has far more a priori reason in its favour than the opposite theory; but it is confronted by the mysterious existence of many phenomena which seem to hinder the pleasure, the progress, and the happiness of mankind, and to interfere with that tendency to harmony and joy which the optimistic theory asserts. For the operation of what we call "evil” compels us to regard evil not merely as privation and defeat, but as a strange, antagonistic force which mars joy, hampers progress, and seems inconsistent with the ascription of perfect goodness either to God or to Nature.

5. The truth is that both lines of speculation can be supported by an array of facts and experiences. But the practical resultant which emerges from a fair and full comparison of the arguments that can be advanced on either side is distinctly anti-pessimistic. It should not be forgotten that the question can only be fairly dealt with by recognising that we have to do with metaphysical and ethical phenomena, and that—however much the discoveries of physical science may modify philosophical theories—it is still to the mental, and not to the materialistic, side of our knowledge that disputants on all fundamental problems that touch human action and desire must make their final appeal. This being allowed, it will be perceived that truth-seekers in this dispute aim not at a demonstrative proof, but at moral certainty, and that what we have to look for is not a complete (“scientifico) explanation, but a reasonable inference concerning the principles which should guide us in our view of the constitution and nature of things around us, and of our own action as intelligent beings.

6. That there is much to perplex, to disappoint, to sadden human life, and our views of human destiny, is beyond all question. But pessimism as philosophy is a very different thing from pessimistic utterances in poetry. The latter express the idealised tension of individual sorrow, and are emotional claims for sympathy with individual suffering; the former lays it down as a permanent and dominant principle that all hope of human progress and happiness is vain. The plaintiveness of the poetry is a natural, though often overstrained, outcome of human experience; but the claims of the pessimist as a dogmatic philosopher are arrogant and untenable. His method is inadequate, and his arguments admit of an easy reductio ad absurdum. A “philosophie qui maudit la vie” is a strange and startling phenomenon indeed, when it predicates objective, universal evil, and by a pretentious comparison of pains and pleasures in life makes nature bankrupt” of joy. The method of such a philosophy may be described as a compound of arrogance and moral blindness; for it deliberately refuses to take account of the higher instincts and ideals of the reflective, as distinguished from the sensitive, portion of human nature. It exaggerates by descriptive accumulation all the pains and evils that may befall men in reference to the individual life, and pretends to estimate the value of life by a calculation of a quantitative character, where the real solution of the problem depends upon the correct adjustment of mutually qualitative facts. It views all things from the standpoint of “what is pleasant ?" and practically ignores the question, “what is right ?” It refuses to entertain the idea of God, and substitutes for it the irrational concept of an Unconscious Will. Nor can we fail to detect the absurdity and grotesqueness of pessimistic philosophy, if we really test its reasoning as an offered explanation of the world, or of life. When we are told, in effect, that man's life is only a struggle for existence, with the certainty of being conquered ; or, again, that the summum vonum to be aimed at is a state of “perfect indifference," 'where subject and object disappear, and there is no more will, nor representation, nor world;" when it is laid down, as the true doctrine, that all conscious beings are the victims of a gigantic illusion, and are pitiable puppets” of an irresistible impulse which makes life a succession of sufferings, and compels men to act contrary to their true interest, which is to cease to be; may we not justly term such philosophising, irrational, and absurd ?

The sum

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