James Hyslop

James Hyslop

Professor of Logic and Ethics from 1889-1902 at Columbia University, New York. One of the most distinguished American psychical researchers, a prolific writer and the greatest American propagandist of survival. When Richard Hodgson died in 1905 Hyslop took his place as chief investigator of Mrs. Piper and devoted the following year to the organisation of a new American SPR. "I regard the existence of discarnate spirits as scientifically proved", said Hyslop in "Life After Death" (1918).

General Questions and Values of a Future Life

 - James Hyslop -

          I HAVE discussed the whole problem of a future life purely as a scientific question. I have not invoked human interests as an argument or an influence for determining conviction. I have appealed strictly to the nature of the problem and the facts which are relevant to its solution. Human interests often affect the convictions of the individual on this subject as well as many or all others, but it is the purpose of the scientific spirit to eliminate emotional influences from the solution of all questions of fact. It is hard, of course, to dissociate our interests from any problem, and though we have to deprecate their undue influence on conviction, there is always a reason for recognizing that they have a place in final meaning of any fact. The pragmatic philosophy is founded on the recognition of this place for the emotions, and religion has been affected by them more perhaps than any other body of beliefs. The "will to believe" has all along been a powerful factor in determining the direction in which belief goes, and the skeptical, usually also the scientific man, deprecates this, but the will to disbelieve is just as much the danger of the skeptic as the "will to believe" is of the believer. One class is as much tarred and feathered with the use of the will in its problems as the other. It is the duty of both, while they admit a place for the will in both belief and disbelief, to adjust it to the facts, and that is true scientific method.

There is also a bias in previous opinions affecting the challenge to change our ideas at any stage of our development and that bias may consist in fixed ideas or a fixed attitude of will, both perhaps being always associated together in greater or less degree of one or the other factor. But an intellectual bias is more easily conquered than an emotional and volitional one. Facts offer the mind no chance to escape their cogency, and we can only deceive ourselves by equivocating when asked to revise beliefs, if we do not wish to run up against stone walls. Scientific men and skeptics do not always escape this bias. The unsophisticated believer in any doctrine is less affected by this bias than the educated man. He may refuse, often rightly enough, to allow the sophisticated scientist to make a football of his beliefs, but this is because he rightly enough clings to practical problems which are for him the meaning of the intellectual ones, and he does not separate the two fields as does the scientific man and philosopher. With such we have no dispute. They do not require to unravel paradoxes.

When it comes to the belief in survival after death, which is convertible with the belief in the existence of discarnate spirits, there are two superficial difficulties which most believers have to face in the matter, difficulties which the sophisticated man always urges against the belief. They are (1) the illusion about the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and (2) the conflict between the cultured and the uncultured man in the interpretation of the world. Each of these must be examined.

The first impulse of most scientific men is to oppose the belief in spirits because they seem to be a restoration of the idea of the supernatural. For more than three centuries the supernatural has been excluded from scientific recognition of any kind, and with most men of that class it is like a red rag to a bull. In the present age, however, there is no excuse for this hostility. There was a time when the opposition between the "natural" and the "supernatural" had a meaning of some importance, but it has none any more. The conception of the "natural" has so changed that it either includes all that had formerly been denominated by the "supernatural" or it does not prevent the "supernatural" from existing alongside of it. The antithesis between the two ideas has changed from age to age and as a result one term has altered its import as much as the other. The first meaning of the term "natural" was the physical. This served to define the "supernatural" as the spiritual. Christianity asserted the opposition most clearly, as it set up the theistic system with the idea of spirit as wholly unphysical. In Greek thought the "supernatural," if we could use the term at all in it, was the supersensible physical world and mind or spirit was only a kind of matter more refined than the coarser type affecting the senses. But Christianity assigned none of the material attributes to spirit, and thus altered the conception both of the "natural" and the "supernatural."

When the scientific spirit arose, however, it relegated metaphysics, including the physical speculations of philosophers, to the limbo of the imagination and the "natural" became the uniform, whether in matter or mind. Before this, mind was essentially "supernatural," but now that the uniformities of mind were recognized, as like those of matter, it was not so easy to confine the "natural" to matter and the phenomena of mind were no longer regarded as "supernatural." As in the miracles the "supernatural" became convertible with the capricious or lawless; that is, irregular and unpredictable. The antithesis was no longer between the physical and the spiritual, but between the uniform and the capricious, and the scientific man denied that there was any caprice in "nature." This meant that there was no "supernatural" at all, and as he reduced the phenomena of mind to functions of the organism, it had no place for the "supernatural" in his scheme.

The fact is, however, that both terms are relative. That is, they are relative to the definitions which you may give of them. If the "natural" is made convertible with the "physical" as material substance, then space, time, ether, electricity, magnetism are "supernatural." If it be made convertible with the "physical" as including physical phenomena and activities, then ether, mind, space and time are "supernatural." If it be made convertible with the uniform or fixed order, then it actually includes nearly all that had formerly been expressed by the "supernatural" and the latter is left to denote the capricious and lawless events of the world, which has been the tendency of its meaning. But if the capricious and lawless be admitted as a fact we should have the "supernatural" without question and set off from the "natural." But you can exclude the "supernatural" only by including the capricious within the territory of the fixed and uniform, and by thus extending the term "natural" you would not only include all that had once been expressed by the "supernatural," but you would not be able to draw the inferences or insist-on the implications which had depended on the formerly narrower import of the "natural."

However, that is the last thing the advocate of the "natural" will do. He never thinks of the fact that the extension of the "natural" to include the "supernatural" of the earlier period implies the very existence of all the facts on which the older "supernatural" depended and that spirit becomes a part of the scheme of things. He is equivocating with the term. He is trying to remain by the implications of the older "natural" while he extends its meaning to exclude those implications. In fact the distinction to-day between the "natural" and the "supernatural" no longer has any controversial value. We have only proved that spirit exists as a fact, or that we have facts which will not permit any other explanation of them than the fact of their existence, and you may call them either "natural" or "supernatural," physical or spiritual. I for one shall not stickle at the terms of the case. It is a question of fact and evidence, and not of preserving the usage of terms that have wholly outlived their usefulness. I refuse to discuss the question in its terms. The man who insists on it has not done clear thinking.

After the fear of science that the "supernatural" would be restored to power, if the existence of spirit be proved, there is an influence against it quite as strong or stronger. But it cannot be so easily argued with. It is a matter of taste. This however, would not affect it so much were it not that the Spiritualists have been mostly to blame for the possibility of invoking scientific blemishes to support ridicule on other grounds. Throughout all history, beginning among savages, Spiritualism has invited the contempt of intelligent and refined people. A large part of the conflict between the primitive Spiritualists, fetish worshippers, followers of incantations and the oracles, totem worshipers, the practise of sorcery, and all superstitious ritualism, and the philosophers, was based upon the everlasting opposition between intelligence and ignorance.

Confucious founded his system of ethics entirely upon secular and social principles. He admitted the existence of spirits, the discarnate but he advised letting them alone and ignored their existence as much as the Epicureans did their gods. The Buddhists denied the existence of spirits, but made concessions in practical politics to the superstitions of the common people by sugar coating their philosophy with reincarnation, though that had no interest for those who really understood it. Judaism in its monotheistic impulse was mortally opposed to idolatry and the naive fetishism of its time. Its intelligent people strove to destroy every vestige of it. The Greek philosophers even of the materialistic type believed in spirits, as we have seen above, but they made no use of them in their cosmic theories. The early Greek philosophy was exclusively occupied with material causes, the "stuff" out of which things were made, and almost wholly neglected efficient or creative causes par excellence. When the schools of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics came they could ignore Spiritualism altogether and gave knowledge that degree of refinement and association with aesthetics, the latter being more important to the race than ethics, that Spiritualism had neither to be considered nor respected. In the course of time Christianity cultivated some harmony of the intellectual with the aesthetic until its present chief antagonism to Spiritualism in which it was founded is based upon aesthetic reasons alone. Throughout it all, intelligence has been arrayed against ignorance and has associated with it the antagonism between refinement and vulgarity, a conflict far more irreconcilable than the conflict between science and religion.

The chief hostility of the academic man to-day against psychic research is based upon his dislike of the vulgarity of spiritualistic performances and the triviality of its incidents. The intellectual man of to-day has inherited the Greco-Roman aristocratic feelings in regard to knowledge and has added to it, unconsciously perhaps, the Christian ideals of what a spiritual world would be, if it exists at all, and with these standards revolts against the puerilities of the phenomena as he characterizes them. He has forgotten his science in his devotion to the aesthetic life and intellectual and literary refinements. He thinks no good can come out of Nazareth. The attack of the Pharisees and Sadducees upon Christ and his apostles was based upon their plebeian character, not upon the untrue nature of their facts. This sort of snobbery has perpetuated itself and the academic world is the inheritor of its antagonisms. This class of self-appointed authorities arrogates every right to regulate human thinking, and when it cannot achieve its purpose by reason, it appeals to ridicule, and has never learned that all the great ethical movements of history have originated and sustained themselves among the common people. It is their duty to lead, not to despise them. But they dispense contempt of those they were appointed to teach and then wonder why their self-arrogated wisdom is not respected!

The Christian Church also shares in this hostility to the whole subject more than it should. It is true that just at this time it cannot be reproached as much for antagonism as it could a generation ago. Then it maintained the attitude of aestheticism as much as the academic world. But its own decline of power and the shame that an institution which was founded on the immortality of the soul should cultivate ridicule for scientific proof of what it already believed and always taught has become too great to find any excuse for its continuance. Its own crying needs for certitude that may justify its claims are too strong for it to resist any longer and the dawn is beginning to show on the horizon of its vision. But it is too slow and too cowardly in many instances to seize the reins of power which it once enjoyed and to be at the front of this contest with materialism. It has been too thoroughly saturated with the aesthetic view of life. It has imbibed the spirit of intellectual aristocracy and has too often become the inheritor of the Phariseeism and Sadduceeism of its first enemies to see the way of redemption. Snobbery in high places helps to blind its vision of the truth. No wise man can disregard the facts of nature whatever their unbidding appearance. Professor William James once wrote that a scientific man - and the scientific man is first a lover of truth - would investigate in a dunghill to study a new fungus and thereby find laws of nature that might be discovered nowhere else. But the academic and religious aesthete prefers artistic comfort and environment to the truth.

Too many seek first beauty and truth and goodness afterward. In fact they too often make beauty convertible with the good and never find the real ethics at which nature aims. Nothing but the cold truth, divested of the illusions that hover around material art and refinement, can ever awaken man to the correct sense of duty. Knowledge may be obscured often by the life of ease and materialistic culture, but the Nemesis is always near to disturb that inglorious peace. The fishermen of Galilee were the conquerers of the world. They did not wear ermine or live in luxury. They had no fine carpets or paintings to adorn the walls of their homes. They did not talk in philosophic terms that no one could understand but themselves. If philosophy is to have any legitimate function in the world it must be convertible into the language of common life at some point of its meaning. No doubt it has its esoteric aspects and that it cannot be understood as a whole by every one. But it is not a true philosophy unless it touches life in some general doctrine or belief. But between religion and philosophy survival after death has been either an object of faith or of ridicule. In an age where certitude is demanded for every belief, faith will have difficulty in maintaining itself. In an age which seeks the assurance that science can give faith and aesthetics will not save the church and the multitude will turn to any method that offers it a refuge from despair. They are never nice about the form of truth. If it be the truth, they will sacrifice the elegancies of polite society to it. No doubt some concessions are needed to good taste, but this will no more save a decaying creed than vulgarity will destroy a true one.

The Spiritualists have been too slow to appreciate the value of culture in the protection of truth among those who value that commodity more than the accuracy of their intellectual formulas. While abandoning the church and its creeds and appealing to facts, they have neglected scientific method as well as the ethical impulses of religion and the influence of good taste. Demanding the favor of both science and religion they despise the method of one and the ethical ideals of the other. No wonder the word Spiritualism has become a byword among intelligent people, and no redemption can come from calling themselves by a respectable name while their performances have no respectability in them.

If Spiritualism had long ago abandoned its evidential methods to science and joined in the ethical and spiritual work of the world it might have won its victory fifty years ago. Christianity was founded on psychic phenomena, and it neglected miracles in the interest of moral teaching, especially when it could no longer reproduce the healing of its founder. Its primary impulse was ethical teaching and not a vaudeville show. When Spiritualism has as much passion for morals as it has morbid curiosity for communication with the dead, it may hope for success, but not until then. The intelligent man, whether in the church or the college, will stay his interest until he is safe from the gibes of his friends for sympathy with the twaddle and unscientific discourse of the average psychic. But if the respectable classes know their duty they will organize the inquiry and combine truth and good taste with scientific method to revive the dying embers of religious and ethical passion. No intelligent person would allow the truth to perish because it is not clothed in the majesty of art or the beauty of literary expression.

Spiritualism had one merit. It looked at the facts. The scientific man and the church cannot claim that defense in their objections to it. They allowed their aesthetics to influence judgments that should have subordinated taste to truth. But whatever apology can be made for Spiritualism in this one respect, it forfeited consideration because it did not and does not organize its position into an ethical and spiritual force for the redemption of individual and social life. It concentrated interest on communication with the dead and came to the facts only to witness "miracles." Christ complained that many of his followers were interested in his work only for the loaves and fishes, or for the spectacular part of it. The regeneration of their lives was secondary. St. Paul entered a similar complaint against the Athenians for being interested only in some new thing, not in the eternal truths in which salvation was found, no matter in what form you conceived that salvation. Communication with the dead has no primary interest in our problem. It is but a mere means to the establishment of certain truths which have a pivotal importance in the protection of an ethical interpretation of nature. To congregate only to see the chasm bridged between two worlds has no importance compared with other objects to be attained by it. We do not dig tunnels or build bridges just for the sake of the amusement. We have an ulterior object of connecting places and resources which have an intimate part in the economic and social structure. Communication with the dead is not to take the place of a theatre or the movie, but to find a principle which shall be a means of starting an ethical inspiration, or of protecting the claims of those who have discovered the real meaning of nature.

I can understand the impression created by the triviality of the facts in the communications, but I can hardly respect the minds that do not see why this is the case, or that suppose they are in the least testimony to the nature of the future life in their superficial interpretation. The inexcusable habit of many minds is to suppose that spirits are occupied in that life with the trivial matters communicated, and as our own spiritual life is much superior to any such conception as that, these people unfavorably compare the two worlds. They picture to themselves a world given over to thought and conversation about the little articles of household interest or of the past physical life; and having, under the tutelage of various religions, formed the conception that the next life is idyllic and paradisaic, even though they have in most cases construed this in materialistic terms and conceptions, they revolt against occupation with the trivialities of life. They do not take offense at pearly gates and golden streets, or a sublimated monarchy and its accompaniments, or at an intellectual banquet of literati, or anything except preoccupation with a duplication of the physical. But there is no reason to interpret the messages as either representing a physical life or as evidence of what the general life is like.

The problem, as we have shown, is one of personal identity and that requires trivial facts for its proof and assurance in regard to the supernormal character of the knowledge. The more elevated and inspiring communications are not evidence and have to be minimized in the treatment of the subject. Living men, when asked to prove their personal identity over a telegraph line or the phonograph, resort naturally to just such trivialities to effect their end, and they are not proof of their character or their general life. No one would think for a moment to ridicule them for such communications or use them to determine the general nature of their lives and occupations.

There are paradoxes and perplexities enough in certain communications, but they are such only for those who use materialistic categories or standards of judgment when interpreting them. Construe them as indicating a mental world, such a spiritual life as we denominate by that term right among ourselves in the physical life, as involving larger creating powers of consciousness than we now enjoy, and perhaps more direct creative powers, and we should have no trouble in displacing the sensuous ideas formed from the language employed in the communications. If we were not so materialistic now, we should not be so much astonished or offended at certain types of messages. But, supposing certain statements to be used as we would use them in describing the physical life as we know it, we receive from the language the effect of an absolute contradiction of our experience or else the statement of an impossibility which appears just as preposterous. But it appears so only because we try the case by the standards of sensory life which do not apply to a purely mental life, though their pictorial character may mislead us into mistakes and illusions.

However, once recognize the supersensible nature of that life; the inadequacy of sensory standards and conceptions of it, and the creative possibilities of thought as in dreams and other subconscious activities, and we may find all the paradoxes resolve themselves into. casual proofs of the nature of a spiritual life. The process of communication between the two worlds is so fragmentary and confused that it may well suggest a chaotic and disordered world to those who do not know or recognize the fragmentary and confused nature of the process. But make this characteristic of it clear once for all, and we can build up a whole as science has enabled those who know to reconstruct an extinct animal from the fragments of skeleton which has lain for ages in the rocks.

Another important consideration in behalf of the spiritistic theory is its pivotal character. By this I mean its support to other truths which are independently believed to have value, or may even have their whole integrity determined by it. The same principle' rules in other questions. For instance, the whole theory of Mechanics is dependent on the fact and law of inertia. If inertia were not true we should have Biology instead of Mechanics. We could not depend on the stability of our manufacturing processes but for inertia. The same is true of impenetrability and gravity. Again the law of gravitation is necessary to our construction of astronomical theories. We could not simplify our ideas of the cosmos without it. We might invent supporting theories as in the Ptolemaic system, but we should find confusion ever increasing with their invention and multiplication. But gravitation reduces the cosmos to a perfectly simple and intelligible conception. The law of supply and demand is necessary for understanding economics. It is pivotal to its structure. The rotundity of the earth was necessary to enable Columbus to make a reasonable plea for the means of discovering America.

It is similar with survival after death. It is the key to certain ideals and conceptions of life. It puts a value on personality which materialism must distinctly deny or weaken. Materialism cannot perpetuate any of the values which it recognizes. It can never reproduce anything but a succession of individuals with transient mental states. Sensation and copies of sensation in memory and imagination are all it can secure and these only for a short time. The individual personality is snuffed out of existence. But the instinct for self-preservation creates a tendency to prolong consciousness and to make this prolongation the standard of ethics in this life. The hostility to suicide, whether opposing the act in others or ourselves, is more or less testimony to this view, and certainly the supreme value which we place upon personality, the stream of consciousness, is unescapable evidence of what human nature values as the highest object of interest and preservation. Without it, all the ethical impulses dependent upon it must shrivel and decay.

Materialism cannot sustain any other view than that consciousness is a function of the brain, and if it or any other view of the cosmos admitted or contended that organic life was the limit of its intelligence and purpose, then sensuous experience with accompanying mental states for a brief period would be the only meaning of life. All the higher achievements of the mental life would be sacrificed to the sensuous existence. But once concede that the inner stream of consciousness, with all the sanctities which it values and maintains, can exist after death, then you will have clear indication that the sensible life is secondary and that personality is the thing that nature specially conserves, and you will have a situation in which the infinities felt in normal consciousness will have some meaning. Otherwise they would be mere bubbles on an ocean of illusion. Survival shows that nature values personality above all else and that it does not snuff this out when it dissolves the physical organism and its sensory phenomena. With that survival you have a standard of values, not merely for the next life, but for this one also, a standard which we have instinctively employed in all our systems of education, whether of the intellect, the feelings or the will; that is, science, art and ethics.

It is the permanent that philosophers have always Placed at the base and the goal of reality, and that permanence always has its eye on the future as well as the past and the present. Our present life would have no rationality but for the constants in it, for the thread of unity that runs through it, the permanent element in spite of change. Our development, whether physical or spiritual, depends on the possibility of pursuing one aim in a world chaos, so to speak. Habit is the condition of rational life and habit represents the persistence of certain thoughts and modes of activity. Their meaning would be lost unless the subject of them can persist. Hence the constants or uniformities of life are the condition of whatever achievements we have attained in our evolution.

It is the future that determines the full meaning of life, not the past or the present. All thought and action, especially action, has reference to the future, whatever relation they may have to the past and present. In fact the pragmatic philosopher has made this future the fundamental meaning of his truth. There is no disputing this fact in all ethical questions. For ethics pertains to the realization of an end in the future, not to thinking about the past which is mere history. With this essential characteristic of all ethical ideas and ideals, you may well ask if nature is strictly ethical to implant so fixed and necessary an element in human nature and then cut it short at the grave without the fruition which is a part of its very being. There is no reason whatever for drawing the line of meaning for life at the grave except the supposed fact that death ends all. The essence of ethics involves the future, even though it terminates for the individual at death, and we should have to be Stoics about its extension, if facts proved that life or personality ended at the dissolution of the body. But how much less nature would mean for us when it establishes an opposition between the ideals which it implants and the opportunities to realize them?

Immanuel Kant felt this so keenly that he regarded immortality as the necessary consequence of a rational world. He assumed, however, that the world was rational, but the scientific point of view suspends its judgment on that rationality until it has proved the fact of survival. This technical question of accuracy or inaccuracy of Kant's view aside, however, it is certain that the proof of survival would establish a complete consonance between the instincts affecting our ideals and conduct, and the facts of nature. The value of personality as we view it in ethical and social life would be vindicated by scientific evidence and the melancholy outlook which death offers to the materialist would be changed into a rainbow of promise, the dawn of another morning.

It is thus apparent that immortality has ethical implications when other theories of consciousness and its destiny have none. All theories either directly or indirectly favoring materialism or its equivalent, whether called idealism or not, do not satisfy ethical postulates in regard to the values placed upon personality or the ethical impulses in our very conceptions of morality as it requires the future for the realization of its ideals. Man will always place ethics above everything else. Knowledge and art have their value, their utilitarian meaning, determined by their relation to the ends which ethics serve. Any theory which does not imply or conserve these will have difficulty in vindicating itself 'at the bar of intelligence.

Materialism can sustain no ethics beyond present satisfaction, and if our highest ideals are found in the greater deeps of internal personality, while materialism offers no time for their realization, the belief in survival reconciles the imperative of conscience with the limitations under which the fulfilment of it can be attained in this life. Survival gives us time where materialism does not, and the conflict between duty and our limited possibilities here is fully satisfied in the continuance of our chances for achievement.

I have said immortality is a pivotal belief; that is, supporting in some way a number of other beliefs or maxims of life and conduct. Besides an influence on the individual life it also has a great significance for social ethics. The interest in it may be largely an egoistic one. It is not always so, for I often meet with those who care little for it for themselves, but they passionately desire it for their friends or those they love. It thus becomes an altruistic instinct. But it probably affects the majority of the race as an egoistic instinct connected with the same general impulse of self-preservation and the prolongation of consciousness. Hence the greater interest of men and women in survival than in the other phenomena of psychic research.

The mysteries of nature evoke less interest than the possibility that life looks into eternity. Assure men of this, and they will listen to its gospel. But its ethical implications do not stop with individual interest. Survival establishes that view of personality which enables us to concentrate emphasis upon the rights of others in the struggle for existence. On the materialistic theory which has only matter and force to determine its ideals personality independent of sense has no existence or value, and the individual would be tempted to sacrifice all other personality to his own. But once establish the fact that personality is permanent and we have the eternal value of our neighbor fixed upon as secure a, basis as our own. We may have a center of social interest in others, as well as a position which offers larger hopes to the process of evolution. Man need not stop with the pursuit of self-interest, but will find his salvation in the social affections, precisely as taught in primitive Christianity, and as is more uniformly insisted on in spiritistic communications than any other fact. The contradictions about the nature of the next life are numerous enough to make one pause in accepting anything about it. But there is no variation on the theme of social service and the value of altruistic interests and conduct. The permanence of personality protects this ideal and offers a stable basis for all social ethics. But it does so, not because of any direct indication of this effect, but because it serves as a standard of value for every individual and enables the ethical teacher to enforce maxims of conduct which would be less effective without survival than with it. All progress by education and reasoning depends upon premises that can force a proper conclusion. The educational influences of the world can do nothing without resorting to reason or discipline. Reason is an appeal to a man's intellect; discipline appeals to his will. Education by reason depends on argument; education by discipline depends on restraints or punishment. Where there is no universal recognition of ethical postulates whatever morality we get-and this. is objective morality - depends on the force which the ruler can apply to extort obedience to the law. But where each man recognizes the moral law restraint and discipline may be abolished. In the one system power is the authority and in the other it is reason. The latter represents the minimum of social friction.

Now the establishment of the value of personality in the scheme of nature will offer the rational man a leverage on social instincts, if not to create them, certainly to encourage their proper exercise and to protect them by showing that they are a part of the scheme aiming at the permanence of the individual and the eternal place they have in the evolution of man. It is not that we can directly infer the system of social ethics from survival or the permanence of personality, but that we can more easily connect this ethics with a stable basis and reinforce them by the fact of that permanence. The brotherhood of man will have a new sanction, one of the sanctions it received in its earlier association in Christianity with the immortality of the soul. Its natural synthesis is that association.

The next matter of interest is the relation of a future life to the problem of Theism. The present writer thinks that Theism cannot have a basis of any importance without first proving survival after death. The usual course of theologians is to proceed in the reverse order. They try to prove the existence of God and then argue regressively to survival from his character. But I regard this procedure as unfounded and such a change of venue as to create rather than to lay skepticism. Let me make this clear.

It is most interesting to remark that primitive Christianity had no foundation whatever in a philosophy or a theology. The existence of God was not made the logical basis of survival. The New Testament writers did not argue from the intelligence and goodness of God to immortality, but asserted the latter on the ground of certain alleged facts embodied in the story of the resurrection and other psychic experiences. The New Testament is one record of psychic experiences including spiritual healing. Christ taught no system of philosophic theism. He probably emphasized immortality in his teaching much less than ethics. If what was said about it before the story of the resurrection was interpolated by the apostles and disciples, he made as little of it until the end of his life as Confucius. But whether this possibility be true or not, it is certain that belief in the existence of God was not made the condition of believing in survival after death. The ground for this latter belief was a scientific one; namely, an appeal to facts, real or alleged, and theism crept into the system after the age of "miracles" had disappeared and they found a need to protect the doctrine by a comprehensive scheme of the cosmos. When they could not rely any longer on psychic phenomena, they constructed a philosophy which required the existence of a Divine intelligence to explain the cosmos. They applied finally the argument from design to prove the existence of God and then reasoned regressively to the conclusion that this Divine intelligence would preserve its creatures.

But the circumstance that made this method precarious was the disparity between the conception of God which they held and the evidence for him as defined. God had to be a being of infinite intelligence and power and character to serve as a basis of either certitude or hope about the spiritual outcome for man. But the actual facts of nature gave no assured evidence of this character. All that nature manifested was an interest in organic beings, so far as normal and scientific experience went. The intelligence revealed in such beings was decidely finite and the character of this divine being, if reflected in the frightfully ugly spectacle of nature, offered no encouraging prospect for benevolence. Nature seemed a shambles, and one hesitated to worship the author of such a system. There was no definite assurance in normal experience that personality survived; and unless it did survive, the Divine seemed to be a mockery. There was no superficial evidence that this Divine existed. Nature did not reflect the ideals of theism.

But if it could be proved that nature as a fact actually preserved personality, this showed an order superior to the creation of organic life, and its meaning had to be found in some supersensible or transcendental existence. Find that personality is the permanent fact of human existence and the circumstance will offer a retrogressive argument as to the character of the basis of nature. If it actually sustains what the supposed rationality of the world meant, it would be natural to suppose that this continuity of personal consciousness was some evidence of the tendency of things and reflecting the nature of the process which brought us hither. Theism thus becomes an inference or consequence of immortality rather than immortality a deductive inference from the idea of God.

If our religious minds could have the courage to frankly abandon purely deductive methods, to make their peace with scientific method and to follow inductive methods, they would soon find their way out of the wilderness. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by the appeal to facts instead of a priori definitions and deduction from premises including more than their evidence supplies. Prove immortality scientifically and theism is most likely to follow as a natural consequence. Let the human mind see that nature is rational in the preservation of personality, and there will be no need to start with an a priori ideal and argue from it in an equally a priori manner to conclusions that cannot be any better established than the premise they are made to rest upon. But any conclusion resting on proved facts will have nothing to contend with but the ordinary liabilities to fallacy. The facts will be assured and the psychological reaction from assurance of survival will be an easier acceptance of intelligence in the cosmos at least equal to the protection of survival. The risks of skepticism will be less, because the main outlook and demand upon our instincts will have been settled scientifically and we can feel less anxiety about theistic problems, while we shape life to realize ideals which will themselves constitute the best evidence for the Divine.

I have not appealed to the consolations of survival after death, because it is a scientific question, so far as this work is concerned. We require always to maintain as much of an impersonal interest in it as possible, not because the personal is wrong, but because we escape illusion about the subject more readily in that way. But for the bias that might lead us astray the personal interest might be emphasized. But apart from this the scientific man must recognize that he has the belief always to consider in his practical life. The intensity of the desire to live and enjoy, especially in young life, offers a way to all sorts of idealism, influenced partly by the joys of living and partly by the want of wide experience with nature. This may even grow with this experience and the will to live becomes a passion which no practical man can ignore.

We have only to look at the ancient ethics and philosophies in the orient which were conceived either in neglect of, or in antagonism to barbaric religions founded on animism and fetishism, and to note how these philosophies and ethics had to compromise with the religions in social and political matters, in order to find that the practical man to-day must reckon with the belief in survival in whatever he does. It has been so bound up with ideals of the better kind that even the skeptic has often to send his children to religious institutions to be assured that morality will be a part of the environment of his offspring. No man's education is complete until he at least understands religion and its springs. He may think what he pleases, but he must understand it, and immortality has been the atmosphere in which thousands of generations have been bred and cultured. Whatever modification, or even denial it undergoes, must be accompanied by some constructive theory of things that will save the ideals that have sprung from it

But how shall we save any high ethics without protecting the value of personality exactly as nature does it, if survival be a fact? We have before us the two conceptions of nature. One, the materialistic, is that nature cares only for physical organisms and the transient joys which they offer. No ideal that we may value can have any hope of realization beyond either the phenomenal life or beyond the possibilities which a badly conducted cosmos or social system will allow. Duty and the best, even in this life, require some sacrifices to attain them. And we are often not allowed the time or opportunity to realize what we are bound to pursue, if we respect the best impulses in ourselves. But if we can believe that nature preserves personality and still offers beyond the grave a chance to redeem our natures or to realize the right ideals, the ugly aspect of nature is less disheartening and we can more readily act on the maxim that "all is well that ends well," even while we have to protest against the process. The second view of nature which is based upon survival instead of the annihilation of personality offers this opportunity and it protects ideals which an ephemeral existence can never favor adequately.

It is all very well to tell mankind that duty requires us to act either without reward or without making reward the primary condition of virtue, but this language will not stimulate the will to action which instincts do not favor. It is true enough that my duties lie right in this world, and that I must not always be dreaming of the after life and what it offers to the hopes and imagination, either in correction of the evils here or in opportunity to redeem character. I should vie with any one in emphasizing the place of salvation in the present and that looking to the future will not do it, if we do not cultivate the ideals and habits of redemption in the present. But all action looks to ends, and there is no reason for drawing the line of redemption and realization at the grave, if nature does not do this. I am quite as much entitled to put the time of realization at a thousand or ten thousand years as at three score and ten, if nature does this.

It is a question of facts and what the cosmos intends, and we should find that immortality will conserve more ethics than any materialistic scheme that we can contrive. It is usually men who have been bred in a Christian environment and its ethical ideals that preserve them after they have adopted a cosmic theory which does not reckon with them. Ethical ideals die more slowly than intellectual convictions. The pressure of environment keeps a man in a strait-jacket, unless he is willing to be a martyr, long after he has abandoned the views which serve those ethical ideals. We cannot change our conduct safely over night, as we can often change our intellectual beliefs. Time is always in favor of the dissolution of the ethics founded on beliefs that are dead, only the process in one is more gradual than in the other. We have only to look at history to see this, and it is one of the most patent things in the world that our ethical ideals are decaying. There is much that is going which should go, and it is unfortunate that the disappearance of error and distorted morals should carry with them the best conquests of the ages. If we can save the good while we dispel error by proving survival after death, the intelligent man and the moral idealist might be expected to discriminate between the use and the abuse of any belief.

The established fact that nature values personality more than it does mere organism ought to suffice to give intelligent men a leverage on the passions of men, whether man conceives his ethics in terms of rewards or obedience to an abstract duty. All ethics are based upon hope and this because no action of the will whatever is rational without an end which always requires the future for the realization of it, and we must be assured that the law of nature allows of that fulfilment. Hope is therefore as much a part of the cosmic scheme as is any interest in the past or the present. No science or philosophy is complete without taking it into account. Nothing but absolute assurance that death annihilates us can justify the limitation of ethical conduct to the attainments of the physical life. Any reasonable probability or scientific proof of survival will justify the cultivation of an ethics which takes into account the remote future while it does not sacrifice the present to it. That is the function and the value of the belief in immortality.

But there is in addition to all this the social problem. I have discussed the question as if it were entirely an individual interest. But the social fabric is as much interested in it as the individual. This may be only for the reason that the social system is a plurality of individuals existing in certain ethical relations which have to be maintained to save us from perpetual war. But whatever the reason, it is certain that the belief in survival will help us in the solution of our social problems. I do not need to state its value in this connection as one of inducing the individual to sacrifice something in this life to gain more in the next, nor make him contented with evil and suffering here with the prospect of escaping it beyond the grave. While that is nothing more than what we demand of every ethical individual in the ethics of the present life, when we ask him not to be a glutton if he expects to escape the gout, there has grown up a Stoical ethics which demands that we should not seek rewards in the future. This is well enough to prevent men from maximizing the future and minimizing the present, but it is usually only the counsel of not crying over spilled milk and requires a nature already well developed ethically to follow it.

Logical consistency and obstinacy are often as much the impulses that take to this maxim as any love of virtue. Moreover Stoicism has never conquered the world and when it makes a Simon Stylites of each of us, it does not redeem civilization. It smacks of the idea of courage, but its defender is usually careful to limit its application. Throwing aside formal systems like this and those who do not adequately recognize the utilities of life, we may insist that social systems will he determined by the ideals which the majority of its members have formed. In the present age those ideals are materialistic in every sense of the term. That is both sensational and philosophical materialism prevail, the first among the unintelligent and the latter among the scientific classes.

It is said that 300,000 copies of Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe, a materialistic work, were sold among the laboring classes alone in England in four years. I understand that it was this fact which instigated Sir Oliver Lodge to start his propaganda for the purpose of arousing the religious classes from their lethargy and stupidity in the situation. The poor had waited in all the ages for a better world. They could put up with suffering, if only happiness came at the end. But to cut off the prospect of ultimate happiness was only to enthrone the forces of the French Revolution again - and they have come!

The historians and economists have talked about the economic interpretation of history and now they are reaping the fruits of their teaching. Their doctrine is coming home to plague them. The unsuccessful in the struggle for existence are demanding and fighting for their "share in the hog's wash." They have the throat of Ophiucus and the conscience of a bear. Their oppressors may have been no better, but there has been a remnant of idealists who have tried to defend the spiritual meaning of history, but they had been unfortunate enough to link their doctrine with indefensible traditions and have gone down before physical science and the influence of economics. Men have become practical materialists as well as philosophical ones, and often practical materialists where they are not philosophical ones. Physical science has achieved so much that it has secured all the worshipers; and the spiritual interpretation of life, in default of evidence for its truth, must retire into the limbo of illusions. You are not going to save civilization without that interpretation of the meaning of nature which puts personality as the basis of its interest. Physical science with all its conquests has done nothing more than to support a larger population than could be sustained without its discoveries and inventions. It has done nothing for the spiritual life of man.

It is true enough that a man must have his physical necessities satisfied before he can seek and attain any other ends, and it is just as true that he will form his conception of the divine which the satisfaction of his appetites will favor. But at the same time, it is as true that you may supply his physical wants as much as you please, and there is no guarantee that he will conceive God to be anything more than a stomach filler. Happiness is not always the same thing. With one it is, as Carlyle has said, merely enough of "hog's wash" and with another it is some more spiritual attainment. Man does not live by bread alone, even when bread is necessary, though too many are willing to stop with it, and the misfortune is that the poverty problem involves a paradox or a hopeless riddle. You cannot expect a man to pursue the spiritual unless he has satisfied the material needs of his nature and when you have satisfied these you have no assurance that he will seek the spiritual. The solution has to be left to nature or Providence and every effort we make only seems to land us in perplexities.

If, however, we can saturate the human mind with the belief in survival after death and the fact that it is the higher aspects of his personality that nature values, you will have the same fulcrum for the moving of its attention that you have now in Copernican astronomy, Newtonian gravitation and Darwinian Evolution, or any other belief which is pivotal for the interpretation of nature. Let it be as definitely assured as any scientific doctrine and it must enter into the calculations of conduct in the same way. It will color history with the ideals which it is capable of instigating. The brotherhood of man may be scientifically defended again as well as ethically. The center of gravity for ethics will not be placed in sensory happiness alone, but will be pushed into the intellectual or inner life of higher knowledge and emotions, and carry with it the proper depreciation of sensuous enjoyment as having less value and less right to dominate the springs of conduct. Nor is it a fatal fault that it may sometimes divert motives into wrong channels. That is true of any idea with the spiritually undeveloped.

The belief in immortality may not be an unmixed good, because man will abuse any truth you can teach him, until he learns to see it in the right light. But the educational forces of the world need the stabilizing power of such a truth to arouse some sort of reflection that may take the place of war to civilize man. We can influence a man in only two ways, by reason or by force. When we cannot reason with him we have to fight with him. The school and the police are our alternatives. The school can be useful only where it has certified truth for its major premise. You cannot inculcate spiritual ideas unless you have a spiritual philosophy or scientifically proved truth. This is an engine of power to convey belief or to stabilize the direction of evolution, to force the mind to recognize the fact that nature respects personality more than it does organic forms, and to establish beyond question that it is the inner life of the mind, both for personal satisfaction and the attainment of social ideals, that triumphs over the sensuous enjoyments of the world. In all ages the belief in a future life, if it existed at all in the political organism, has been able to make itself felt in the social structure, even when that structure was governed by the disbeliever.

The French Revolutionists found that they had to compromise with the religious instincts and set up the Goddess of Reason. Skepticism would not see the social organism perish, as that is also self destruction, and it would beg for tolerance to save that structure, though the doctrine that saves it is regarded as an illusion! Even materialism tried to save the ideals that have originated in another philosophy, but the poor balk at no consequences when they see the logical meaning of what they have been taught. With the economic interpretation of history in their minds and no knowledge of other ideals than food and physical luxury, they put materialism into practise and sacrifice what the intellectuals would preserve, though their philosophy has no tendency to protect it. It will devolve on a spiritual view of nature to lead the world out of the wilderness of Sinai.

There is one very important thing to be overcome by proving survival after death. It is the fear of death. I do not mean any special craven fear, for it is probable that this is rarer than we often think. The healthy man has no time to think about it and the ill man does not care. But all prefer to prolong consciousness as much as possible. In that sense the fear of death characterizes all persons, even though we have the courage to sacrifice life in behalf of a moral cause. In a materialistic age, however, there is sure to be a large number of persons who will value life above all else. This instinct was probably at the basis of pacifism in most instances. If we cannot count on continuing consciousness we shall make the most of that which we have, whether for one kind of enjoyment or another, and endeavor to prolong it to the utmost. This is the secret of the development of medicine which combines a philanthropic vocation with the exploitation of the sick and in many cases avails to save a man from the consequences of his sins, less to correct his sins. The saving of his soul was left to the priest and of his body to the physician. The priest saved his soul without charges while the physician could exploit him and his fear of death to his heart's content. With the growth of materialism the desire not to die increased and the physician has complete command of the desires which will sacrifice all to the prolongation of consciousness. The individual physician may often live above this situation and so it is only the system or the practical outcome of the medical life that I have in mind here. It is based upon the desire to escape death and to prolong life.

Now that we require to learn is a simple law of nature. It is the equal universality of death with life, or the dissolution of all compounds, organic and inorganic, unless something interferes to prevent it. Death is as much a fixed policy of nature as life is, and if we can only assure ourselves of its place in the economy of the world as a mere transitional process to new environment, we shall have the same attitude toward it that we do toward life. We shall recognize it as a part of an ethical dispensation, a part of a scheme for helping in spiritual development, not terminating it. There is no reason why we should endeavor to prolong life except to meet the responsibilities of it and to develop spiritual ideals, and when the physical aspect of it begins to decay, we might even be glad to die and learn to rejoice at it as we do at a birth.

Indeed death is but a second birth just as birth is our first death. We know at least two stages of our life, the prenatal and the postnatal, and communication with the dead proves the post mortem life, thus giving us an idea of three stages of our development with possibilities yet to be learned. But we have reason to treat death as a benevolent event in the process of evolution, and the sooner we come to regard it so, the stress and suffering of life will be less. We shall prepare and wait for it as we would for an assured happiness, There is nothing to hinder thus looking at it, except the philosophy of materialism. That view of nature out of the way would find us rejoicing at the prospect of a transition to new environment and death might be regarded as an equally happy event with living.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For the from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Tennyson had caught in this poetic glimpse the spirit of inspiration that breaks out "from the circumambient eternity to color with its own hues man's little islet of time."


The article above was originally entitled 'General Questions and Values' and was taken from James Hyslop's "Life After Death. Problems of the Future Life and Its Nature" (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1918).

More articles by James Hyslop

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