The negative side of the Idealist doctrine need not detain us. It consists in the denial that human conduct is subject to 'natural' causation. Its classical statement in T. H. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics is doubtless familiar to all. The nerve of the argument is, it will be remembered, that 'motives,' the determinants of human conduct, cannot rightly be interpreted as 'natural events' (as mere physical wants, e.g. may be) in that they imply for their possibility the constitutive activity of the 'non-natural' principle of 'self-consciousness'.
It seems evident, however, that even if so much were granted, a good deal more is necessary before human freedom is established as a significant reality. In fact it is, I think, fair to say that Idealism's real problem of freedom only now begins. For the Idealist has got to explain to us how we are to conceive the relation of the constitutive activity of finite subjects to the constitutive activity of the one Absolute Mind or Spirit. The finite spirit may not be determined as 'natural' objects are determined. But it is extremely hard to see how, consistently with Rational Monism, it can be conceived as other than a channel through which the Absolute Spirit pours its being. The Idealist can certainly have no commerce with such views of freedom as that adumbrated in the above section, views which postulate a break in the rational continuity of things. These are ruled out ab initio, as 'sins against the Holy Ghost of Logic' (to borrow Professor Sorley's apt phrase). How then is the freedom of finite persons to be saved? This brings us to Idealism's positive doctrine.
So far as I understand it, the orthodox Idealist answer is in essentials that of Spinoza. It may be briefly outlined as follows. Everything that is issues by rational necessity from the nature of the Whole, Supreme Mind. But man, qua mind, is in a position of peculiar privilege. For, qua mind, he is the Whole in principle. The Supreme Mind is the full consummation of the mind which is present, in germinal form, in every rational being. Accordingly the progressive development of mind or rational personality, as it grows in complexity of systematic organisation towards its ideal of fully concrete unity, must be regarded as a process in which man articulates, in advancing degrees of adequacy, the nature of the Whole itself. Hence follow the most important consequences. Our actions all flow from the nature of the Whole, without doubt. But in the degree in which our personalities are rationally organised, and therefore express the nature of the Whole, they must be held to flow from our nature also. And so far we shall be self-determined or 'free.' Or (to follow more closely the language of Spinoza) so far as our action can be understood by reference to our own nature alone, thus far we are its 'adequate cause,' or genuinely 'active.' In a word, while no man is wholly free, every man is free in 'degree,' according to the measure in which he articulates in his own personality the systematic unity of the Whole.
Now this doctrine - whether or not we call it a doctrine of 'freedom' - does, I think, follow logically enough from the Idealist presupposition of the ultimate identity of Mind and Reality. It possesses a similar status to the doctrine of 'Degrees of Truth and Reality,' of which, indeed, it is little more than an application. But it will be evident at once to the reader that if the Bradleian supra-rational Absolute be accepted in place of the Idealist rational Absolute, the doctrine loses all significance. From the Supra-rationalist standpoint there can be no principle available for determining the degree in which finite mind manifests the character of ultimate reality. A doctrine which presumes to tell us what freedom is, and how far it extends, 'in the light of the Whole,' is on Supra-rationalist principles the merest verbiage.
It follows, however, that the doctrine of freedom which the present work will seek to maintain must itself be less than ultimate. Actually, no more will be claimed for it than that it expresses 'final Phenomenal Truth.' But on this two remarks fall to be made.
Phenomenal Truth is, when viewed in contrast with Noumenal Truth, 'illusion.' But it is not mere illusion. It is necessary to distinguish between' illusions' which are removable by the advance of experience, and 'illusions' which are not thus removable, because rooted in the nature of experience itself: or, otherwise expressed, between 'intellectually corrigible' and 'intellectually incorrigible' illusions. Only the former class does it seem fitting to regard as illusions in a seriously dyslogistic sense, 'mere' illusions. And it is to the latter class, I shall argue, that the 'freedom' here to be defended belongs. I shall try to show that it is something the assertion of which is ineradicably bound up with the nature of human experience. And if the objection is still made that, even granting these premises, yet a doctrine of freedom which makes of it a 'necessary illusion' cannot be held of much account, since the knowledge we have that freedom is ultimately illusory is amply sufficient, even without the knowledge how, to deprive it of all moral import, the answer is, I think, obvious enough. The objection rests on the false assumption that to have knowledge that, for an ultimate vision, man is not 'free,' is equivalent to having knowledge that, for an ultimate vision, man is 'determined.' But the latter does not follow from the former in the very least. If we keep consistently to the conception of ultimate Reality as 'supra-rational,' it is evident that the same reasons which compel us to say that 'freedom' (as man must conceive it) is illusory, compel us also to say that 'determination' (as man must conceive it) is illusory. It is absolutely vital to keep in mind that the 'ultimate' point of view gives no positive information. 'Ultimately not-free' does not entitle us to say 'ultimately determined'.