An Outline of the History of Christian Thought Since Kant eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 317 pages of information about An Outline of the History of Christian Thought Since Kant.

The resistlessness with which this new view of the life of civilisation has won acknowledgment from men of all classes is amazing.  It rests upon a belief in the self-sufficiency and the all-sufficiency of the life of this world, of the bearings of which it may be assumed that few of its votaries are aware.  In reality this view cannot by any possibility be described as the result of knowledge.  On the contrary, it is a venture of faith.  It is the peculiar, the very characteristic and suggestive form which the faith of our age takes.  Men believe in this indefinite progress of the world and of mankind, because without postulating such progress they do not see how they can assume the absolute worth of an activity which is yet the only thing which has any interest to most of them.  Under this view one can assign to the individual life a definite significance, only upon the supposition that the individual is the organ of realisation of a part of this progress of mankind.  All happiness and suffering, all changes in knowledge and manner of conduct, are supposed to have no worth each for itself or for the sake of the individual, but only for their relation to the movement as a whole.  Surely this is an illusion.  Exactly that in which the characteristic quality of the world and of life is found, the individual personalities, the single generations, the concrete events—­these lose, in this view, their own particular worth.  What can possibly be the worth of a whole of which the parts have no worth?  We have here but a parallel on a huge scale of that deadly trait in our own private lives, according to which it makes no difference what we are doing, so only that we are doing, or whither we are going, so only that we cease not to go, or what our noise is all about, so only that there be no end of the noise.  Certainly no one can establish the value of the evolutionary process in and of itself.

If the movement as a whole has no definite end that has absolute worth, then it has no worth except as the stages, the individual factors included in it, attain to something within themselves which is of increasing worth.  If the movement achieves this, then it has worth, not otherwise.  We may illustrate this question by asking ourselves concerning the existence and significance of suffering and of the evil and of the bad which are in the world, in their relation to this tendency to indefinite progress which is supposed to be inherent in civilisation.  On this theory we have to say that the suffering of the individual is necessary for the development and perfecting of the whole.  As over against the whole the individual has no right to make demands as to welfare or happiness.  The bad also becomes only relative.  In the movement taken as a whole, it is probably unavoidable.  In any case it is negligible, since the movement is irresistible.  All ethical values are absorbed in the dynamic ones, all personal values in the collective ones.  Surely the sole intelligent question about any civilisation is, what sort of men does it produce.  If it produces worthless individuals, it is so far forth a worthless civilisation.  If it has sacrificed many worthy men in order to produce this ignoble result, then it is more obviously ignoble than ever.

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An Outline of the History of Christian Thought Since Kant from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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