The New Age has lately been gently chided for using the words ‘God’ and the ‘soul’ as if they conveyed a definite meaning.


Yes, and if I could have been convinced of our error, I should have been by the argument.  


Why, what was it?


That these terms have still so much superstitious theological power that for the present it is dangerous toemploy them publicly. Public opinion must pass the purgatory of Atheism andMaterialism before it is fit for metaphysics without theology. But my reply was that theNew Age could not be said to be an organ of the public opinion of today, but of the public opinion of tomorrow. Our readers, in fact, have crossed the Red Sea ofMaterialism and the Jordan of Atheism. We can therefore safely employ the old traditional terms with a purified meaning. Guild’ we can say without arousing the evilassociations of the word, and likewise ‘God’ and the ‘soul’ are open now for us to employ without superstition. 


But are the meanings attachable to these terms definite? 


They are now, though, of course, they have not been for several centuries. The last person in Europe to employ the words ‘God’ and the ‘soul’ as exact terms was probably Aquinas. After him the deluge! Luther, I am convinced, had no more exact conception of what he meant by ‘God’ than had General Booth. Both men were secretly anthropomorphic. And these, you will observe, are the relatively classic deists: I mean that they did insist on a clear image. The remaining body of be­lievers, on the other hand, were too sophisticated to regard God as a man, and too unmetaphysical to regard God clearly as an idea. In consequence, they swam in a fog, and saw God and the soul as bog-lights, will-o’-the-wisps, wreaths of smoke, and finally as nothing at all. For them God and the soul had ceased to have any real existence: the words were empty. But we have now returned, I think, to the possibility of definition—defi­nition that really does define. There is nothing vague, for example, in the definition of ‘God’ as the ’cause of the original dispositions of matter’. You may say, if you like, that there is nothing necessarily comfortable in it, nothing essentially beneficent, nothing, in fact, tra­ditionally associated with the theological God. On the contrary, I find in the native dispositions of matter everything, save one thing—namely, the ‘soul’. 


And your definition of the soul, if I remember, is consciousness, or that which becomes aware of the manifestation of the dispositions of matter? 


Yes, that is right; but you will realize the difficulty of obtaining a clear conception of this, since we are it. The soul cannot know itself, since it cannot be both the subject and object of  knowledge simultaneously. As well ask a man to stand upon his own shoulders or a bird to fly over itself as the soul to be an object of its own knowledge. The knower always remains unknown to himself.

But in that event the soul must always remain unknown!

By no means. In the first place there is a form of know­ledge which does not require a subject and an objectIt is knowledge by immediacy. What we ordinarily call knowledge is the sum of our deductions from sense impressions: that is, it is derived not immediately, but mediately, through a chain of impression and deduction. But there is this other means of knowledge which dis­penses with one or more or, in the end, with all the intermediaries. Intuition, for example, dispenses with one of the ordinary steps; genius dispenses with two; but what the saints called illumination dispenses with all. Secondly, as we cannot look directly at the sun, but may gaze on its reflection in water, or even in the moon, so I believe, the soul is reflected in the mind, and may be intermediately and, of course, only partially known by this means. At least, it is evident that there is more in the mind than sense-impression has put there. 


What, for example?

Well, without raising the controversial ghost of the origin of reason (which, by the way, I cannot regard, as the current psychologists regard it, as an evolutionary outcome of instinct), I will indicate what, in my opinion, the mind owes to the shining proximity of the soul. The desire and the hope of immortality are, of course, un­questionable. No animal entertains them. On the other hand, it has been argued that the hope of immortality which the human mind entertains is a mere balance to the human fore-knowledge of mortality, a fore-knowledge unpossessed by the animals also. But I find this immortal longing so enwoven with other qualities and powers of mind that to regard it as a mere counter­balance of our fore-knowledge of physical death is im­possible. On the contrary, every noble quality which distinguishes the human race is derived from the belief in the immortality of the soul. 


But even if this were the case, the truth of immortality would not be established, would it? 


Agreed; but remember that what we are now seeking is a reflection in the mind of the nature of the soul. We are not asking for an intellectual conception capable of rational demonstration. From the rational point of view, the truth of immortality can only be established by the medium of sense-impressions; and since these are for the present out of the question, immortality is rationally undemonstrable. On the other hand, we have to account for the presence of the belief in the mind at all. To employ an old illustration, if a pure crystal sud­denly appears scarlet, we conclude that a scarlet object has been placed near it, and has become reflected in the crystal. Similarly, if a belief appears in the mind without any sensible origin we may conclude may we not, that it is due to the contiguity of some non-sensible object? The reflection of the soul in the mind, I maintain, aroused in the latter a belief in immortality—a belief not founded on reason and not derived from sense-impressions, but a belief nevertheless. 


But in many instances there is no such belief in the mind. Are we to conclude that, unless the belief in immortality exists in the mind, the soul of the man is afar off or entirely absent? 


That need not necessarily be concluded, I think. Very much more may exist in the mind than is dreamt of by the articulatc consciousness. The sum of our formulated beliefs may be, and usually is, far less than the sum of the beliefs on which we habitually act. In many instances, indeed, we actually deny in words what our deeds prove we hold in fact. And this accounts, perhaps, both for the noble conduct of professed atheists and materialists and the ignoble conduct of many professed believers in the immortality of the soul. 


Then, actually, you do not attach much importance to belief?

Not to beliefs usually articulated. A man’s verbal creed may have no real relation with the creed on which he acts. It is a very rare mind that believes what it does, and does what it actually believes. But only in such a mind are thought, feeling, and action really one. 


Allowing, then, that the report of the mind is not usually to be relied upon, what evidence is there that the soul really operates on or through the mind? If the mind is not necessarily aware of it, how can anybody be aware of it? 


I have said that there are the two means; the first is by immediacy, and the second is by a kind of induction. It is possible, I believe, for the soul to know itself by an act of immediacy which for the moment we may call reali­zation. But it is also possible to discover the soul and even to learn its nature by examining its effects on the mind. We must ask ourselves what qualities exist in the mind that appear to have non-sensible origin; and, secondly, we may conclude from those qualities the nature of the power or soul that produces them there.

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