’Strong against tide, the enormous
Emerges as he goes.’
“Mind you emerge! Never heed the tide: there’s plenty of room for it as well as for you!”
Lestrange was being genially bantered by Rose one day at dinner on what Rose called “problems of life and being,” or “springs of action,” or even “higher ground.” Lestrange was oppressively earnest, but he was always good-natured.
“Ultimately?” he had said, “why, ultimately, of course, you must obey your conscience.”
“No, no!” said Father Payne, “that won’t do, Lestrange! Who are you, after all? I mean that the ‘you’ you speak of has something to say about it, to decide whether to disobey or to obey. And then, too, the same ‘you’ seems to have decided that conscience is to be obeyed. The thing that you describe as ‘yourself’ is much more ultimate than conscience, because if it is not convinced that conscience is to be obeyed, it will not obey. I mean that there is something which criticises even the conscience. It can’t be reason, because your conscience over-rides your reason, and it can’t be instinct, generally speaking, because conscience often over-rides instinct.”
“I am confused,” said Lestrange. “I mean by conscience the thing which says ‘You ought!’ That is what seems to me to prove the existence of God, that there is a sense of a moral law which one does not invent, and which is sometimes very inconveniently aggressive.”
“Yes, that is all right,” said Father Payne, “but how is it when there are two ‘oughts,’ as there often are? A man ought to work—and he ought not to overwork—something else has to be called in to decide where one ‘ought’ begins and the other ends. There is a perpetual balancing of moral claims. Your conscience tells you to do two things which are mutually exclusive—both are right in the abstract. What are you to do then?”
“I suppose that reason comes in there,” said Lestrange.
“Then reason is the ultimate guide?” said Father Payne.