It is, of course, easy to understand the reluctance of Idealists to admit the incompatibility of their doctrine with moral responsibility. No philosopher wishes to find himself obliged to defy the postulates of so apparently fundamental an aspect of experience as the moral consciousness. Some Idealists, as for example Bosanquet, have sought very strenuously indeed to rebut explicitly the suspicion of a-moralism, but the result (as I venture to think others beside the present writer must have felt) is a little bewildering. In the very midst of metaphysical argument which seems to imply beyond question that the moral point of view is merely secondary and subordinate, we are suddenly confronted by passages whose one aim seems to be to allay the apprehensions of the jealous guardian of morals. When Bosanquet assures us, for example, that 'there is no meaning in applying to him [a moral agent] any "must" or "cannot help it" except in the sense that everything is what it is,'1 he is obviously hoping to persuade the reader that his doctrine is in reality morally innocuous. But how can the reader fail to recall that the whole burthen of Bosanquet's tale is that' everything is what it is' in virtue of its rational coherence with the entire system of reality? And a 'must' or 'cannot help it' which means this is so far from being morally innocuous that it must be said to imply the sheer denial of all significance to the sphere of morals.
It is, I think, not altogether easy to determine what Bosanquet's thoughts really are on this matter. A somewhat less ambiguous expression of his view occurs, however, in a passage just subsequent to that already cited. There, in reference to his well-known doctrine that freedom in its true meaning is in the last resort one with rationality, he tells us that all that this doctrine does 'is to supplement the strictly moral attitude "it is I, and I only, who have to act; it is I who determine what is to happen, and in determining it I am good or bad," an attitude which cannot exist per se, nor be pushed to the bitter end.'1 When we couple this with the further statement that our assumption of absolute freedom is 'quite right and true in view of a moral decision to be made' 2 but (as is implied) metaphysically invalid, we can see fairly clearly what Bosanquet's attitude is. He is very loth indeed to condemn unreservedly the moral point of view. But he cannot disguise from himself that on his own principles this point of view will not bear ultimate scrutiny. The philosophic point of view entails for Bosanquet what he euphemistically calls a 'supplementation' of the moral point of view. 'Annihilation' is the word which a good many readers will regard as more fitting. Even the plain man, with all his undoubted talent for harbouring contradictions without unrest, will be a little suspicious of the value of a 'moral' postulate which is 'metaphysical 'moonshine.
1 Principle of Individuality and Value, p. 355.
It is an ungrateful task to have to dwell further upon what to myself seems so incontrovertible a fact as the incompatibility of Absolute Idealism with moral responsibility. But there are one or two arguments adduced by Idealists which seem to have exercised a good deal of influence in the way of disguising the true position, and some reference to these appears to be unavoidable.
One line of argument, which has on occasion been utilised by ethically interested Determinists as well as by the Idealist is as follows. 'Is it not apparent,' it is asked, 'that observation of the actual facts of experience reveals no slackening of moral effort on the part of those who subscribe to our doctrine of freedom (or determinism)? Many of the greatest figures of history, and especially of religious history, have explicitly adopted a view of this type, and yet it would be grotesque to accuse at least the majority of these persons of failing to honour the voice of Duty either in precept or in practice. How are we to interpret this save as meaning that a denial of the freedom of "alternatives" is not felt to invalidate moral responsibility?'
1 Principle of Individuality and Value, p. 355 (italics mine).
2 Ibid., p. 353.
Now as to the facts here alleged there is, I think, no serious dispute. Intellectual conviction of the systematic or determined character of the universe, even where it takes the uncompromising form of the theological doctrine of Predestination, does not, or docs not conspicuously, extinguish the fire of moral aspiration. But why is this? Must we accept the somewhat paradoxical interpretation which the Determinist suggests? Or is there not a far simpler interpretation to our hand in the phenomenon to which we drew attention at the beginning of the present chapter? Is the reason, in short, not just that by the very constitution of our nature it is a psychological impossibility to engage in willing at all without spontaneously claiming for oneself the 'freedom' which one's explicit theory may deny? If such a claim does indeed force itself upon man throughout his practical endeavours, then little wonder if his philosophical or theological dogma, unable to find a footing in the foreground of his consciousness, is almost wholly inoperative. This explanation is surely at least a possible one, and it seems distinctly preferable to supposing that rational beings subscribe with open eyes to so manifest a self-contradiction as the union of moral responsibility with Determinism.
But more. The theoretical conviction of universal necessi-tation is not in truth wholly inoperative. In respect of the wider purposes of life, as when men and nations, taking long views, plan their future, the insidious influence of Determinism is unmistakable. What, for example, of the proverbial 'apathy of the East?' And this phenomenon, be it noted, is entirely consistent with the explanation of the partial impotence of Determinism upon conduct offered in the preceding paragraph. Where it is a case of the 'duties nearest to hand,' our immediate practical concerns, the deliverance of the volitional consciousness pushes Determinist theory into the background.