lewis field-hite-ultimate-reality-the-swedenborg-society-london-1936

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  • 1. SWEDE BORG TR SACTIONSSOCIETY (Inc.) umber ThreeUltimate RealityAddress given byThe Reverend LEWIS FIELD HITE, A.M. (Harvard)Professor of Philosophy, The New-Church Theological SchoolAt the International Swedenborg Congress, London

2. ULTIMATE REALITYAddress given byThe Reverend LEWIS FIELD HITE, A.M. (Harvard)Professor of Philosophy, The New-Church Theological SchoolAt the International Swedenborg CongressLondon.SWEDENBORG SOCIETY (INCORPORATED)SWEDENBORG HOUSEHART STREET, LONDON, W.C. 11936/5 I 0 (F re 3. /1P.,,o..#-SUltimate Reality . v "f., "~ (f~5Jl]!!MATE REALIT~theproper designation of the subject about which philosophyis peculiarly concerned.In assigning me this subject, therefore, the Congressis asking that I present my views on the central themeof metaphysics, and yet I am not sure that this effortwould be the natural response to the present occasion.I presume there is on the part of this assemblya general agreement as to what ultimate reality is;and accordingly I am expected to make some commentson what we all have more or less definitely in mind.In other words, I take it for granted that amongstudents of Swedenborg there is complete agreementas to the doctrine that God is the only really existingand self-subsisting being in the universe. So, then,we may say at once, God is the ultimate reality, andour thoughts thus pass from the realm of philosophyto that of theology.But I do not interpret my task as identical withthat of dogmatic or even systematic theology, and I amsure you would all be disappointed if I should contentmyself with merely reciting Swedenborgs familiardoctrines about the nature of God and the world.Indeed, the mere recital of these doctrines wouldraise questions of interpretation of the most profoundand far-reaching kind. If, for instance, we should5 4. say God is love and wisdom and add that love andwisdom are the very and only substance and form,we make an assertion that goes to the very bottom ofmetaphysics. If, now, we note that the point of thisdoctrine is philosophically that substance and formare love and wisdom rather than that love and wisdomare substance and form, we see that it presents a newview of substance and form. So, too, if we affirmthat God is love we merely repeat Christian tradition,but if we assert that love is God we announce thefundamental thesis of a new revelation-a thesiswhich gives new significance to the word love, andtransforms the theological doctrine that God is theultimate reality to the philosophical statement thatthe ultimate reality is love. It seems inevitable, then,that I must, with what light I have from our doctrinesand from history in general, undertake to say whatultimate reality is as I conceive it. First, then, letus glance at history.From the days of the early Greeks, all downthrough the ages to the present time, the intellectualenergies of the master minds of our race have beendirected to the underlying problems of existence andof life. The human mind is so constituted that thefacts of ordInary experience inevitably suggest deepermeanings; but the practical exigencies of daily lifealso demand a knowledge of the relations and connections of things sufficient to ensure the success offoresight, purpose, and method. In this way the6 5. intellectual and the practical needs of mankind havecombined in infinitely various fashion to bring orderand system into the field of raw experience. Successand failure, trial and error, furnish the workshop forsharpening wits and acquiring skill. The fit and theunfit, the deceptive and the certain, the changingand the permanent, the varying and the constant, theapparent and the known, tend to fall into familiar andconvenient groups which henceforth serve the pur-poses of both practical and intellectual control andprogress. Under these circumstances, as the inevitableoutcome of practical and rational intelligence, thedistinction between appearance and reality wasestablished, and the notion of ultimate realitygradually came to be defined. Ordinary practical lifeis satisfied with relative stability and permanence inthe objects with which it has to do. The timber andstones, the bricks and mortar, the iron and steel withwhich we build our houses, keep their shape andstay where they are put sufficiently to ensure thecorrectness of calculations made generations andcenturies before. On the other hand, trees and plants,and especially animals, exhibit changes of growth,decay and movement such that no certain predictionabout their future condition at any given time ispossible. .To-day the grass is in the field, to-morrowit is cast into the oven. The very predicate ofexistence, when we press it too hard, becomesambiguous and uncertain. We cannot say is and7 6. keep to it. The" is" passes inevitably and almostinstantaneously into" was." The predicate of existence,under such stress and strain, becomes infected withchange and variety, so that it seems, superficially atany rate, impossible to assert existence withoutqualification in any case whatsoever. The graniterocks and the everlasting hills appear to the eye ofthe geologist as momentary aspects of all-pervadingchange. navra XWPL Kat OV8EV }-t~VL, as the wise men ofold said. All things a!e in a flux; nothing is. Thus_.--....._--- -- we see that the practical stability of things becomes,on further acquaintance, merely rel?tive. But relativestability suggests degrees, while practical convenienceforces the task of distinguishing the more from theless stable, thus setting up a serial arrangement whichwould, upon the supervening of intellectual motives,be carried back to the least and forward to the greatestdegree of stability. Such a scheme of things occasionsthe rational demand for absolute stability on the onehand, and the entire lack of stability on the other.These demands are satisfied by that which is changelessfrom any and every point of view, and that which isever changing. The motives herein concerned aregenuine and constant human motives, ever operativeand ever effective. They lead in one direction tothe conception of the real as that which is absolutelyabiding, superior to all change and yet the groundof all change. In the other direction they lead tothe conception of a universal, ceaseless flux.8 7. These motives were conspicuously present in earlyGreek philosophy. The world of humanity wasalready very, very old when the Greek race firstappeared upon the stage of history. General views ofthe world and of life had become common property,so as to be motives and subjects for literary treatment.Intellectual interests had begun to stir the minds ofmen with larger and deeper questions than thosewhich the needs of ordinary practical life made urgent.This was the situation when Early Greek philosophyentered upon its unique and brilliant career. In theolder mythologies and cosmogonies, the world ofphenomena had been partially reduced to order andsystem. Ovpav6f, rata, ilKEav6f, and the eldest of thegods, "EpOf, appear as representing the beginning.Thence follows the generation and order of thingsdown to the present world of ordinary observation.Here that which is original, the beginner and thebegetter, appears as the ultimate reality. The primesource of things and the powers of begetting, orproduction, are looked to for explanation of the actualworld, and in mythological language a completeexplanation was given. But such explanations didnot go very far in accounting for the actual presentbehaviour of things. Attention was accordingly moreand more directed to the existing order, and interestwas transferred from questions of origin to questionsas to the present. The question, What the world wasat the beginning? was changed to, What the world9 8. is now? as it stands. When, therefore, Thales, 600years B.C., declared that all things came from water,he gave expression to a new view of the world. Forwhen Anaximenes said the world was mist, whenAnaximander said it was the boundless, when Heraclitus said it was fire, and Empedocles that it wasearth, air, fire and water, and Anaxagoras that it wasa mixture of an infinite number of infinitely smallelements or seeds, they all gave substantially thesame answer, namely, that the world is a singlehomogeneous body, or a mixture of such bodies,and .all things are made out of this body or mixture.Reflection upon these various answers, and criticism ofthem, led to the recognition of other general features ofthe world besides background and things. Heraclitusdirected attention to all-pervading change. For himthe world is a process, and fire is the body whichconstitutes this process. Fire is the reality; thethings which we observe are mere stages andappearances which this ever-living fire undergoesand presents. The philosophy of Heraclitus makesthe fact of change central, fundamental, and real.Parmenides, on the other hand, directed attention tothe fact of permanence. To ordinary observation,things abide and also change. But, said Heraditus,look a little closer and you will see that everythingchanges. Nothing really remains the same frommoment to moment. In the upward movement ofthe flame and the unceasing motion of the flowing10 9. river, we have the true types of the real nature ofthings.Parmenides, however, insisted that if you lookstill closer you will see that change is mere appearanceand presupposes the permanent. A thing must persistthrough its changes if it is to exhibit change at all.That which persists in and through change is thereal in things. The real world, then, is a changeless,homogeneous, continuous body, without beginningor end in time.These two views of the world recognize andemphasize two fundamental characters of experience,and they have maintained themselves in all subsequentmetaphysics. The effort to reconcile them forcedearly Greek philosophy to its final position. It wasseen that the real world must be in some senseabiding; it was also seen that variety and changemust


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