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The world is full of schools of thought, theologians and metaphysicians and professors of academic philosophy, transcendentalists and theosophists and Christian Scientists, who perform such mental monkey-shines continuously before our eyes.

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They prove what they please, and the fact that no two of them prove the same thing makes clear to us in the end that none of them has proved anything. The Christian Scientist asserts that there is no such thing as matter, but that pain is merely a delusion of mortal mind; he continues serene in this faith until he runs into an automobile and sustains a compound fracture of the femur—whereupon he does exactly what any of the rest of us do, goes to a competent surgeon and has the bone set.

On the other hand, some devoted young Socialists of my acquaintance have read Haeckel and Dietzgen, and adopted the dogma that matter is the first cause, and that all things have grown out of it and return to it; they have seen that the brain decays after death, they declare that the soul is a function of the brain—and because of such theories they deliberately reject the most powerful modes of appeal whereby men can be swayed to faith in human solidarity.

But even as I recommend these books, I recall the dissatisfaction with which I left them; for it appears that the Positivists have their dogmas like all the rest. Harrison is not content to say that mankind has not the mental tools for dealing with ultimate realities; he must needs prove that mankind never will and never can have these tools, I look back upon the long process of evolution and ask myself, What would an oyster think about Positivism?

What would be the opinion of, let us say, a young turnip on the subject of Mr.

Frederic Harrison's thesis? It may well be that the difference between a turnip and Mr. Harrison is not so great as will be the difference between Mr. Harrison and that super-race which some day takes possession of the earth and of all the universe. It does not seem to me good science or good sense to dogmatize about what this race will know, or what will be its tools of thought.

What does seem to me good science and good sense is to take the tools which we now possess and use them to their utmost capacity.

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What is it that we know about life? We know a seemingly endless stream of sensations which manifest themselves in certain ways, and seem to inhere in what we call things and beings. We observe incessant change in all these phenomena, and we examine these changes and discover their ways.

The ways seem to be invariable; so completely so that for practical purposes we assume them to be invariable, and base all our calculations and actions upon this assumption. Manifestly, we could not live otherwise, and the spread of scientific knowledge is the further tracing out of such "laws"—that is to say, the ways of behaving of existence—and the extending of our belief in their invariability to wider and wider fields.

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Once upon a time we were told that "the wind bloweth where it listeth. Once we were told that dreams came from a supernatural world; but now we are beginning to analyze dreams, and to explain what they come from and what they mean. Perhaps we still find human nature a bewildering and unaccountable thing; but some day we shall know enough of man's body and his mind, his past and his present, to be able to explain human nature and to produce it at will, precisely as today we produce certain reactions in our test-tubes, and do it so invariably that the most cautious financier will invest tens of millions of dollars in a process, and never once reflect that he is putting too much trust in the permanence of nature.

In many departments of thought great specialists are now working, experimenting and observing by the methods of science. If in the course of this book we speak of "certainty," we mean, of course, not the "absolute" certainty of any metaphysical dogma, but the practical certainty of everyday common sense; the certainty we feel that eating food will satisfy our hunger, and that tomorrow, as today, two and two will continue to make four.

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Attempts to show what we can prove by our reason, and what we know intuitively; what is implied in the process of thinking, and without which no thought could be. The primary fact that we know about life is growth. Herbert Spencer has defined this growth, or evolution, in a string of long words which may be summed up to mean: the process whereby a number of things which are simple and like one another become different parts of one thing which is complex. If we observe this process in ourselves, and the symptoms of it in others, we discover that when it is proceeding successfully, it is accompanied by a sensation of satisfaction which we call happiness or pleasure; also that when it is thwarted or repressed, it is accompanied by a different sensation which we call pain.

Subtle metaphysicians, both inside the churches and out, have set themselves to the task of proving that there must be some other object of life than the continuance of these sensations of pleasure which accompany successful growth.

They have proven to their own satisfaction that morality will collapse and human progress come to an end unless we can find some other motive, something more permanent and more stimulating, something "higher," as they phrase it. All I can say is that I gave reverent attention to the arguments of these moralists and theologians, and that for many years I believed their doctrines; but I believe them no longer. I interpret the purpose of life to be the continuous unfoldment of its powers, its growth into higher forms—that is to say, forms more complex and subtly contrived, capable of more intense and enduring kinds of that satisfaction which is nature's warrant of life.

If you wish to take up this statement and argue about it, please wait until you have read the chapter "Nature and Man," and noted my distinction between instinctive life and rational life. For men, the word "growth" does not mean any growth, all growth, blind and indiscriminate growth. It does not mean growth for the tubercle bacillus, nor growth for the anopheles mosquito, nor growth for the house-fly, the spider and the louse.

Neither do we mean that the purpose of man's own life is any pleasure, all pleasure, blind and indiscriminate pleasure; the pleasure of alcohol, the pleasure of cannibalism, the pleasure of the modern form of cannibalism which we call "making money. So when we say that the purpose of life is happiness, we do not mean to turn mankind loose at a hog-trough; we mean that our duty as thinkers is to watch life, to test it, to pick and choose among the many forms it offers, and to say: This kind of growth is more permanent and full of promise, it is more fertile, more deeply satisfactory; therefore, we choose this, and sanction the kind of pleasure which it brings.

Other kinds we decide are temporary and delusive; therefore we put in jail anyone who sells alcoholic drink, and we refuse to invite to our home people who are lewd, and some day we shall not permit our children to attend moving picture shows in which the modern form of cannibalism is glorified. The reader, no doubt, has been taught a distinction between "science" and "faith.

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You reject all faith? You do not take it as a matter of faith that a package of sugar weighs a pound; you put it on the scales and find out—in other words, you make it a matter of experiment. But all the creeds of all the religious sects are full of pronouncements which are no more matters of faith than the question of the weighing of sugar. Is pork a wholesome article of food or is it not? All Christians will readily acknowledge that this is a matter to be determined by the microscope and other devices of experimental science; but then some Jew rises in the meeting and puts the question: Is dancing injurious to the character?

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And immediately all members of the Methodist Episcopal Church vote to close the discussion. What is faith? Faith is the instinct which underlies all being, assuring us that life is worth while and honest, a thing to be trusted; in other words, it is the certainty that successful growth always is and always will be accompanied by pleasure.

The most skeptical scientist in the world, even my friend the physiologist who proves that life is nothing but a tropism, and can be produced by mixing chemicals in test-tubes—this eager friend is one of the most faithful men I know. He is burning up with the faith that knowledge is worth possessing, and also that it is possible of attainment. With what boundless scorn would he receive any suggestion to the contrary—for example, the idea that life might be a series of sensations which some sportive demon is producing for the torment of man! More than that, this friend is burning up with the certainty that knowledge can be spread, that his fellow men will receive it and apply it, and that it will make them happy when they do.

Why else does he write his learned books in defense of the materialist philosophy? And that same faith which animates the great monist animates likewise every child who toddles off to school, and every chicken which emerges from an egg, and every blade of grass which thrusts its head above the ground. Not every chicken survives, of course, and all the blades of grass wither in the fall; nevertheless, the seeds of grass are spread, and chickens make food for philosophers, and the great process of life continues to manifest its faith. In the end the life process produces man, who, as we shall presently see, takes it up, and judges it, and makes it over to suit himself.

You will note from this that I am what is called an optimist; whereas some of the great philosophers of the world have called themselves pessimists. But I notice with a smile that these are often the men who work hardest of all to spread their ideas, and thus testify to the worthwhileness of truth and the perfectibility of mankind.


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There has come to be a saying among settlement workers and physicians, who are familiar with poverty and its effects upon life, that there are no bad babies and good babies, there are only sick babies and well babies. In the same way, I would say there are no pessimists and optimists, there are only mentally sick people and mentally well people.

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Everywhere throughout life, both animal and vegetable, health means happiness, and gives abundant evidence of that fact. All healthy life is satisfactory to itself; when it develops reason, it tries to find out why, and this is yet another testimony to the fact that having power and using it is pleasant. When I was in college the professor would propound the old question: "Would you rather be a happy pig or an unhappy philosopher? Attempts to show that in the field to which reason applies we are compelled to use it, and are justified in trusting it. The great majority of people are brought up to believe that some particular set of dogmas are objects of faith, and that there are penalties more or less severe for the application of reason to these dogmas.

What particular set it happens to be is a matter of geography; in a crowded modern city like New York, it is a matter of the particular block on which the child is born. A child born on Hester Street will be taught that his welfare depends upon his never eating meat and butter from the same dish. A child born on Tenth Avenue will be taught that it is a matter of his not eating meat on Fridays. A child born on Madison Avenue will be taught that it is a question of the precise metaphysical process by which bread is changed into human body and wine into human blood.

Each of these children will be assured that his human reason is fallible, that it is extremely dangerous to apply it to this "sacred" subject, and that the proper thing to do is to accept the authority of some ancient tradition, or some institution, or some official, or some book for which a special sanction is claimed. Has there ever been in the world any revelation, outside of or above human reason?

Could there ever be such a thing? In order to test this possibility, select for yourself the most convincing way by which a special revelation could be handed down to mankind. Take any of the ancient orthodox ways, the finding of graven tablets on a mountain-top, or a voice speaking from a burning bush, or an angel appearing before a great concourse of people and handing out a written scroll. Suppose that were to happen, let us say, at the next Yale-Harvard football game; suppose the news were to be flashed to the ends of the earth that God had thus presented to mankind an entirely new religion.

What would be the process by which the people of London or Calcutta would decide upon that revelation? First, they would have to consider the question whether it was an American newspaper fake—by no means an easy question. Second, they would have to consider the chances of its being an optical delusion. Then, assuming they accepted the sworn testimony of ten thousand mature and competent witnesses, they would have to consider the possibility of someone having invented a new kind of invisible aeroplane. Assuming they were convinced that it was really a supernatural being, they would next have to decide the chances of its being a visitor from Mars, or from the fourth dimension of space, or from the devil.

In considering all this, they would necessarily have to examine the alleged revelation. What was the literary quality of it? What was the moral quality of it? What would be the effect upon mankind if the alleged revelation were to be universally adopted and applied? Manifestly, all these are questions for the human reason, the human judgment; there is no other method of determining them, there would be nothing for any individual person, or for men as a whole to do, except to apply their best powers, and, as the phrase is, "make up their minds" about the matter.

Reason would be the judge, and the new revelation would be the prisoner at the bar. Humanity might say, this is a real inspiration, we will submit ourselves to it and follow it, and allow no one from now on to question it. But inevitably there would be some who would say, "Tommyrot! And who would decide between them and the great mass of men?