BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle


The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour


The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


Human freedom ; and, A plea for philosophy

by John Williamson Nevin

Excerpt:

The same order holds in the sphere of humanity. Every man comprehends in himself a life, which is at once both single and general, the life of his own person, separately considered, and the life at the same time of the race to which he belongs. He is a man; the universal conception of humanity enters into him, as it enters also into all other men: while he is, besides, this or that man, as distinguished from all others by his particular position in the human world. Here again, too,«s before, the relation between the general and the particular or single, is not one of outward conjunction simply; as though the man were, in the first place, complete in and of himself, and were then brought to stand in certain connections with other men, previously complete in the same way. His completeness as an individual involves of itself his comprehension in a life more general than his own. The first can have no ?place apart from the second. The two forms of existence are not the same in themselves, but they are indissolubly joined together, as constituent elements of one and the same living fact, in the person of every man.

All this belongs to our constitution, considered simply as*i part of the general system of nature. -But man istnore than nature, though organically one with it as the basis of his being. His life roots itself in this sphere, only to ascend by means of it into one that is higher. It becomes complete at last, in the form of self-conscious, self-active spirit. The general law of its existence, as regards the point here under consideration, remains the same; but with this vast difference, that what was mere blind necessity before, ruled by a force beyond itself, is now required to become the subject of free intelligence and will, in such way as to be its own law. It is as though the constitution of the world were made to wake within itself to a clear apprehension of its own nature, and had power at the same time to act forth its meaning by a purely spontaneous motion. Reason and will are concerned in the movement of the planet through its appointed orbit, in the growth of the plant, and in the activity of the animal; but in all these cases, they are exerted from abroad, and not from within the objects themselves. The planet obeys a law, which acts upon it irrespectively of all consent on its own part. So in the case of the plant: it grows by a life which is comprehended in itself, but in the midst of all, it remains as dark as the stone that lies motionless by its side; its life is the power still of a foreign force, which it can neither apprehend nor control. The animal can feel,, and is able also to move itself from place to place; yet in all this, the darkness of nature continues unsurmounted as before. The intelligence which rules the animal is not its own; and it cannot be said to have any inward possession whatever of the contents of its own life. This consummation of the world's meaning is reached at last, only in the mind of man, which becomes thus, for this very reason, the microcosm or mirror, that reflects back upon the whole inferior creation its true, intelligible image. Here life is no longer blind and unfree. The reason and will, by which it is actuated, are required to enter into it fully, and to become, by means of it, in such separate form, self-conscious and self-possessed. This is the idea of personality, as distinguished from the conception of a simply individual existence in the form of nature. Man finds his proper being at last, only in such life of the spirit.

Personality, however, in this case, dioes not supersede the idea of individual natural existence. On the contrary, it requires this as its necessary ground and support. The natural is the perpetual basis still of the intellectual and moral. The general character of life, therefore, in the view of it which is before us at this time, is not overthrown by this exaltation, as has been already intimated, but is only advanced by it into higher and more significant force. It still continues to revolve as before, between the two opposite poles, which we have found to enter into it from the start, and exhibits still to our contemplation the same dualistic aspect, resulting from the action of these forces, whose inseparable conjunction at the same time forms its only true and proper unity. It is still at once actual and ideal, singular and universal; only now the union of these two forms of existence is brought to be more perfect and intimate than before, by the intense spiritual fusion to which all is subjected in the great fact of consciousness.

Consciousness is itself emphatically the apprehension of the particular and single, in the presence of the universal. The two forms of life flow together, in every act of thought or will. Personality is, by its very conception, the power of a strictly universal life,, revealing itself through an individual existence as its necessary medium. The universal is not simply in the individual here blindly, as in the case of the lower world, but knows itself, also, and has possession of itself, in this form; so far, at least, as the man has come to be actually what he is required to be by his own constitution. The perfection of his nature is found just in this, that as an individual, inseparably linked in this respect to the world of nature, from whose bosom he springs, he shall yet recognize in himself the authority of reason, in its true universal character, and yield himself to it spontaneously as the proper form of his own being. Such clear recognition of the universal reason in himself, accompanied with such spontaneous assent to its authority, is that precisely, in the case of any human individual, which makes him to be at once rational and free. The person is necessarily individual; but in becoming personal, the individual life is itself made to transcend its own limits, and maintains its sepaiate reality, only by merging itself completely in the universal life which it is called to represent.

Personality and moral freedom are, properly speaking, the same. By this last we are to understand simply, the normal form of our general human life itself. As such, it is nothing more nor less than the full combination of its opposite poles, in a free way. In -the sphere of nature this union is necessary and inevitable; in the human spirit, it can be accomplished only by intelligent, spontaneous action, on the part of the spirit itself.' The individual life in this form, with a full sense of its own individual nature, and with full power to cleave to this as a separate, independent interest, must yet, with clear consciousness and full choice, receive into itself the general life to which it of right belongs, so as to be filled with it and ruled by it at every point. Then we have a proper human existence.

Moral freedom then, the only liberty that is truly entitled to the name, includes in itself two elements or factors, which need to be rightly understood, first, in their separate character, and then in their relation to each other, in order that this idea itself may be rightly apprehended. It is the single will moving with self-conscious free activity in the orbit of the general will. The constituent powers by which it comes to exist, are the sense of self on the one hand, and the sense of a moral universe on the other, the sense of independence, and the sense of authority or law. It is the perfect union of the single and the universal, the subjective and the objective, joined together as mutually necessary, though opposite, polar forces in the clear consciousness of the spirit.

Let us direct our attention now, for a moment, separately to each of these great constituents of freedom.


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