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Thinking in Opposites
An investigation of the nature of man
as revealed by the nature of thinking

by Paul Roubiczek

Part III:

Chapter 11


Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 2


The many implications of the opposition between necessity and freedom would require, for a full elaboration, a separate study; what can be said about them here, therefore, has to be more in the nature of indications than what we have said about space and time.

subsection (a)

Necessity and freedom in external reality

Once more, we need not discuss the fact that these concepts belong to our laws of thinking. Hume has proved that the concept of necessity cannot be derived from our actual experience, which only leads to probability, and Kant has shown that it is founded upon the opposite of freedom and thus established by our thinking.

The case of these interconnected opposites, however, is in a certain respect a special case. Necessity is based on events, and the knowledge of events, as we have seen, is based on concepts transferred from internal reality, quite apart from the fact that they are much more closely connected with time than with space. This makes this aspect of external reality rather similar to internal reality, and as necessity is thus based on internal reality in any case, we can easily overlook that it is interconnected with freedom. The opposition to freedom, which it still implies, can appear as a mere matter of definition. This inevitable and yet hidden participation of internal reality makes it understandable that it was possible to develop a purely mechanical view of the whole of existence and to deny freedom and internal reality altogether. But the mere fact that necessity is so closely linked with time should make us think, and we have seen that it is usually wrong to consider opposites as mere means of definition. In fact, the interconnection between necessity and freedom can be discovered easily when we approach them without prejudice, especially if we become aware of the distortions of our knowledge to which any overlooking of freedom has led and inevitably must lead.

Necessity as we have seen, represents the fundamental concept of external reality. We could never deal satisfactorily with this reality if we could not rely on the same causes necessarily producing, in the same circumstances, the same effects—if, for instance, we had to be prepared for our tables jumping into the air at any moment, whenever they pleased. All such thoughts about the absence of necessity are, in fact, nothing but abstract speculations; our actual apprehension of, or dealing with, external reality is firmly based on the concept of necessity. It is true that we do not always succeed in establishing this basis, but this is always felt as a serious defect, and the resulting uncertainty and insecurity show that we can understand external reality only so far as the knowledge of it can be based on necessity. It is impossible to imagine this reality without the concept of necessity, for this would dissolve everything into a complete chaos which, as our daily experience with our tables shows, external reality is not.

This is confirmed when we consider those events which we are unable to recognize as necessary. There are undoubtedly inexplicable accidents, but we cannot help thinking that we only see them as accidents because we are unable to discover their real causes. We presuppose that we should recognize their necessity. Many modern physicists claim that there are regions in which we are definitely unable to exclude the accidental; but this only shows that necessity belongs to our thinking and not to reality as such; it does not contradict what we have said, for our understanding ends where necessity can no longer be discovered. There is also man's ability to choose; but if we think about it in purely external terms, we cannot account for it and are always led to deny it, claiming that man's activities, if only correctly understood, would appear just as mechanical as all other events. When using external terms, we never discover freedom, but only necessity.

Certainly, we have to deal with these accidental phenomena, too; we cannot simply wait until, in some distant future, necessity may have been discovered. But, in external reality, our ways of dealing with them are highly unsatisfactory. We are forced, for instance, to use the calculus of probability and this, as we have shown, helps us in the world of atoms and electrons where the individuality of the single unit does not matter, or when we are concerned with the purely material. (See Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraphs 1-6.) But it is of very little avail in our own lives, for, in spite of an overwhelming probability, the one improbable case may still happen or even recur and confute all our calculations. The possibility of choice, on the other hand, seems only to account for the chaos into which human society has been plunged time and again.

Necessity thus seems to determine external reality far more exclusively than space. We can discover certain gaps, but not, as is the case of time, any definite external appearance of freedom. Nevertheless, the concept of freedom is needed if we want to grasp this reality fully.

We are inclined, owing to the enormous successes of modern science and the obvious failure to reduce the concept of God to a convincing 'First Cause', to forget that we really cannot think of necessity without a beginning, for any process must have started somehow. A beginning, however, cannot be further determined, and so necessity must have started from its opposite, freedom. Nor can we ever account for our grasping of external reality unless we consider ourselves as completely different—that is, free—agents. (See Chapter 2, Section 2, paragraphs 1-3.) If we deny this, we accept external reality as primary reality, as is done in all comprehensive mechanical explanations. But this means that we do not understand this reality at all; we are overwhelmed by it and submit to it completely, not only when this can help us to apprehend it but also when we should use it for making internal reality real. The accidental and man's ability to choose must not be regarded as mere shortcomings which can be entirely overcome if we accumulate a little more of the same kind of external knowledge; if we rely on this, we only blind ourselves to the fact that there are forces at work which we can neither explain nor subdue, and thus we destroy man together with his ability to choose. The use of the probable mechanical effects of propaganda for the directing of human affairs, to which the mechanical view is bound to lead, is only one of many examples of the inevitable disastrous consequences. These apparent shortcomings must be understood as definite signs of the essential limitations of external reality and as pointing beyond it. We have to relate them to freedom which, by revealing the existence of internal reality, is just as necessary for the correct grasping of external reality as necessity itself, for unless we see this distinction, we include in external reality absolute elements which make it impossible to remain 'objective'.

That necessity and freedom are indissolubly interconnected can be seen when we compare them with the constructive concepts. As necessity contains internal elements, the distinction between them is again more difficult than in the case of space and time, but this makes it even more imperative to remain aware of the difference between them.

Necessity is based on the opposition between cause and effect, for it refers to the sequence of events. At present, this opposition is overcome by deriving from it the law of causality, and this law is then identified with necessity. This identification, however, is quite wrong; causality refers only to a necessary and explicable connection between cause and effect, while necessity can also be imagined in different ways. It has been connected with such concepts as 'fate' and 'providence', with concepts, that is, which make the participation of freedom even more obvious than the idea of a first cause, for fate stood above the gods and providence is the work of God; neither can be divorced from some such further concepts which represent inexplicable and free agents. To reduce the conception of necessity to that of causality is an arbitrary restriction of our knowledge, which leaves us completely bewildered when the physicists happen to disown the general validity of the causal law. We should recognize that necessity belongs to the interconnected opposites and thus points beyond external reality by its interconnection with freedom, while cause and effect are merely constructive concepts, indispensable if we want to grasp external reality as such, but purely formal and without further implications. Then both the impoverishment of our knowledge and our bewilderment when we discover it could be avoided.

This is confirmed by the constructive concepts 'form' and 'content'. Causality is a form of events, and necessity, as it is based on abstractions from internal reality, can also be only a form, and so both make us seek the content. Causality is made up of cause and effect and therefore makes us look for elements which we can find in external reality; we can be satisfied with the discovery of forces detected with the help their effects, which, as we have seen, only push the content further back. (See Chapter3, Section 2, paragraphs 2-3.) But we have to remember that the concept of necessity is comprehensive, so that we cannot push the content beyond it. It thus requires a completely different content which is itself not subject to necessity, but creates it. No purely external energy, even if we spell it Energy, can ever satisfy this demand.

As we could not make clear distinctions right from the beginning, we have had to mention necessity and freedom among the constructive concepts, but when describing the difference between the two realities, we have replaced the concept 'freedom' by that of 'the accidental'. (See Chapter 3, Section 2, paragraphs 12-15.) It would help, in fact, to introduce such concepts as 'the determined' and 'the accidental', to distinguish the constructive concepts from the interconnected opposites. Each single happening appears to us in either of these two forms; we either recognize its determination by a definite cause or not. But what apears determined to us may still take place within an accidental context—when we are wounded by a falling stone, the wound is determined by it, but the falling of the stone just at the moment when we happened to pass the spot seems still accidental—and what appears accidental to us may still be determined by an underlying necessity, as in this case, for instance, by fate. If we use these concepts systematically, we are not misled by the tendency, inevitably connected with the apprehension of external reality, to eliminate the accidental, but discover that the opposition between the determined and the accidental cannot be completely transcended any more than that between the other constructive conepts. This means that causality can never cover the whole field of necessity, and that therefore even the most comprehensive reign of necessity does not abolish freedom.

Whenever we drive our questioning far enough, we are inevitably confronted with the accidental. We have had to stress that the question 'Why?' can never be answered in any fundamental or comprehensive way. (See Chapter 10, Section 1, paragraph 11.) But we could fully explain external reality only if we knew why everything is as it is. It is utterly superficial to think that we have explained external reality as soon as we seem to understand the motions and perhaps even the origin of the stars. Only the knowledge why stars have come into being at all, why there is a world of stars and the earth which we inhabit among them, and why there are forces which work in this and no other way, could lead to a full explanation. That is, we are bound to meet sooner or later what appears to us accidental, and thus prevented from forgetting freedom. Even the determined reminds us of freedom, for it shows that the accidental cannot be the final explanation; something more positive must be behind it, because it is unbelievable that mere accident could ever produce order. We may shuffle the single letters of the alphabet for ever without producing sense.

The constructive concepts and the interconnected opposites can again be distinguished by applying the test of infinity, for the latter have to be thought of as infinite, while the former are only distorted by it, as the mixing up of causality and necessity has shown. Infinity would also represent the only way of overcoming the opposition between necessity and freedom; if our understanding of necessity were complete, without leaving any gaps, we could also understand the free agency behind it, and if we knew freedom completely, we could completely translate it into unchangeable laws. But this thought only confirms our inability to unite them.

Even the full awareness of these opposites cannot transcend the barriers which cut us off from absolute knowledge in external reality, for both necessity and freedom remain here again purely formal. Necessity, though pointing to some positive power behind it, is grasped as the form of a connection or relationship; whether causal or not, it always indicates that the sequence of events cannot be altered nor influenced from outside; it is the expression of underlying laws. Freedom, on the other hand, whether it appears in accidents or choices, here means no more than something negative, than the absence of necessity. But this changes once more when we consider what these two comcepts mean in internal reality.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

subsection (b)

Necessity and freedom in internal reality

The fact that even external necessity is closely connected with internal reality makes it all the more difficult to exclude the external forms of necessity and freedom from this reality. We have seen moreover, that the principles, which are of great inner importance, borrow their forms form external events, (See Chapter 7, Section 3, paragraphs 9-11.) and so we must not even exclude the external forms of necessity and freedom. As these concepts refer to our actions, and as our actions interfere with external reality, we obviously have to pay greater attention to it than in the case of space and time which underlie our apprehension. We have to consider, therefore, both the meaning of their external appearance for internal reality and their purely internal forms. It is their double role which helps us to clear up many of the apparent contradictions which are contained in the conception of freedom.

The fundamental concept of internal reality is freedom. Just as no practical action would be possible unless the same cause necessarily produced the same effect, no value would be possible without freedom. The moral values, because they refer to actions, show this most clearly, for they are based on our ability to choose the right or wrong action; but, also, the search for truth and the appreciation of beauty would not make sense without our ability to act in freedom. If none but mechanical effects could be produced within us, the concept 'truth' would lose its meaning, for even the mechanistic theory would then be nothing but the necessary consequence of physiological causes, (See H. H. Farmer, God and Men, p. 40.) and these effects would give rise to pleasant or unpleasant emotions, but nothing could be called beautiful. The idea that inner experiences are of any importance would have to be discarded altogether.

Freedom, however, appears to us in two forms. On the one hand, it means freedom of choice, and this means the making real of internal reality in the framework of external reality. It is true that we cannot discover this freedom with the help of external terms; we have just said that the external approach can always lead only to the discovery of necessity. Nevertheless, we could not possibly understand the position of man without presupposing his freedom; the most convincing proofs will never convince us that, for instance, we cannot raise our hand whenever we please; if we are unable to, we shall rightly come to the conclusion that something is wrong with us. We can neither prove man's freedom of choice externally nor discard it; we have to start from it if we want to arrive at any understanding at all. Yet this kind of freedom does not exhaust the meaning of this concept, for, on the other hand, it is only when we make the right choice that we really become free. Our choice can either enslave us or set us free; if we choose to follow our ambition or even a misinterpreted ideal, for instance, we become the slaves of this aim; we have to choose the right values in the right context to experience freedom. Thus freedom also means the realm of these values; we become free when we discover and choose the realm of freedom. The choice as such is the external form, but freedom has to be recognized and experienced as an inner content for it to come to life fully.

Both these forms of freedom are interconnected with necessity which therefore also acquires two forms.

External necessity plays a great part in our lives. We could not achieve anything practical if we did not act in accordance with external necessity, and there are vast regions in our minds which we have had to describe as impersonal and where external influences tend to produce mechanical effects. To counteract these compulsions, freedom has to be translated into compulsory laws too, such as moral laws or laws of honour, or into a convention of decent behaviour or the duties of a citizen. We have to confront external necessity by a necessity based on the presupposition of freedom, for we could not grasp the realm of freedom without expressing it in terms of necessity. If we consider freedom as mere arbitrariness or license, we reman uncertain about what it means, and are never able to discover whether what appears to us as freedom is due to conforming to external necessity, of which we are unaware, or to our choice of the right path. We cannot clearly differentiate without applying the laws of thinking; we only know what freedom really implies when it is expressed by a binding necessity. So long as it is a question of choosing, therefore, we must have laws to tell us what is right and what wrong.

But this, once more, is a merely formal expression of necessity which cannot do justice to freedom as such. Freedom also needs another necessity; we should be so bound by freedom that we cannot do otherwise but act upon it; it has to be experienced as an inner necessity. 'By their fruits ye shall know them'—the effects of freedom should come forth necessarily and yet without any external compulsion, for even moral laws can falsify it; it should make itself felt at any moment directly. The full realization of freedom needs no laws; it produces, at any moment, an immediate inner necessity of its own.

This can be seen in several ways. External laws are based on the past, internal laws on the future; they do not explain what exists, but what we should do, thus leaving room for freedom. Yet we have shown that, though this including of the future is most important for our understanding of the present when we reach the goal, the present as such may have quite a different meaning when we actually experience it, and that we are in danger of missing this meaning if we still remain bound by our preconceptions. (See Chapter 3, Section 2, paragraphs 16-20.) We do not grasp freedom so long as we only see the laws which tell us how it should be made real; we must also have a fuller idea of it to be able to judge the result independently from the laws producing it. Moreover, as these laws refer to the future, they are based, not on cause and effect, but on intentions and aims. These cannot be dispensed with; we are bound to have intentions and this implies aims. We believe in a cause, however, only if we discover its effect, and we are inclined to believe the same of intentions. But this is a mistake, for intentions may not have any external effect whatever and still exist and even be genuine, and they may or may not produce unnoticeable, but important, internal effects. We simply cannot judge them in terms of external laws. The fruits by which we should know people may not spring from any intentions at all, but be the necessary consequence of a full realization of inner freedom. Necessity, therefore, though it has to be based on the relationship between intentions and aims and expressed by laws, must also transcend them.

The moral laws themselves confirm this conclusion. Any moral demand can perhaps best be described as an 'inescapable claim'. (I am following here H. H. Farmer. Cf., for example, The Servant of the Word, pp. 41-43; The World and God, pp. 70-72.) Though necessary in its own context, it pays attention to our freedom by establishing, not a compulsion by a definite order, but a claim which leaves us free to accept or to reject it. But it has to be inescapable, and it becomes so when we recognize its justification, so that we are unable to reject it without knowing, at the same time, that we ought to accept it. To be understood, it has to be expressed by moral laws referring to external actions or relationships—'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'. But it can become inescapable only by the knowledge of that inner necessity within us which is freedom.

This need for purely internal forms of necessity and freedom, however, never allows us to dismiss their external forms altogether, because the tension between these two forms is also essential. So long as we consider the external forms of necessity and freedom alone, their relationship remains a complete mystery. As we recognize necessity and have to assume freedom, we can never succeed in drawing definite boundaries between their spheres. We could say, for instance, that necessity determines the external course of events and that freedom lies in their interpretation, for many events, though they cannot be altered, can be seen by us either as blessing or as disaster, and we may be able to transform even disaster into a fruitful stimulus. This is probably the nearest we can get to such a limitation and there is undoubtedly much truth in it, but it is insufficient. The exercise of freedom in the interpretation of events will gradually transform us; we then enter into the course of events as a different cause; and thus we shall be able to influence them in accordance with freedom. On the other hand, to insist on the possibility of our positive interpretation of events in all circumstances rather overtaxes our strength. We can only test the relationship between necessity and freedom by our actions, and we have to test them again and again to find out in each particular case how we can assert our freedom. This, however, is not to be regretted as something inevitable to which we must resign ourselves. On the contrary, it is most important that the mystery should be preserved, for it is the constant attempt to find out by our actions where freedom can be exercised and where not that transforms necessity into an inner compulsion which can be experienced and which therefore makes it internally real. It is only when we experience necessity in this way that we can understand its opposite, freedom. If we could act as we liked, we could rely on our whims and intuitions and accept, if any, the standards we liked; the experience of compulsion and the disappointments due to it are necessary to make us transcend arbitrariness and to awaken our desire to find true freedom.

Any attempt to behave in accordance with moral laws shows the importance of this tension. If, for instance, we try to help our neighbour, we may succeed or fail, and we may fail either because we do not achieve what we intended or because our success which we considered as a help turns out to have no effect or the opposite one. The more we try to help, the more we see how little effective help depends upon us; our success is dependent on external circumstances and its effect on the character and circumstances of the other person, and we cannot count upon understanding his personal situation fully. This does not in the least affect our duty to help, but we have to strive for both, for helping and for taking our powerlessness into account. This will gradually make us see that it is most important to base our help on the right values and convictions, for our actions, event if they fail, can still help by embodying and expressing an attitude which helps. Our neighbour may not be helped if we get him the position he desires, for this may strengthen his wrong ambitions, but he may be helped, whether we succeed or not, if he experiences love. This we could not achieve if we insisted on external success alone, for this would, at the same time, transmit wrong and damaging convictions, nor if, recognizing our limitation, we took them all too easily for granted or gave up helping altogether, for this would inevitably harden us against our neighbour, nor if we restricted our help to purely spiritual help, for no intention can be believed unless it is seen to drive us towards action. Yet no theory can tell us how long we have to insist on external action and when we may give in; we simply have to try, and even if we try hard, we may still fail by giving in just a little too soon or too late. But if we experience each such failure fully and painfully, we feel and recognize the compulsion of necessity together with the urgent claims of freedom; by each such step, therefore, the true realm of freedom will become more clearly visible; and thus, in the end, we shall have helped by our example.

As the realm of freedom has to be made real in internal reality, the personal example is the final embodiment of help. We shall see later that it is also the clearest embodiment of the 'inescapable claim', for it is both a claim only and yet inescapable if it makes the right appeal. Force and violence, compared with it, are nothing but weakness, for if we are led to use them to impose moral rules we betray our inability to make the right appeal. ('Loving humility is marvellously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.' Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, vol. 1, p. 302 [Everyman Ed.].) It is here that we come to the roots of our responsibility. We should be an example, and it is within the powers of almost any one of us to become one, for the right striving, even if unsuccessful, can be sufficient to establish it. But who has not spoilt it by a wrong action or an action undone, by indifference or concern for himself, all of which he could have avoided? 'Understand that you too are guilty, for you might have been a light to the evildoers . . . and you were not a light to them.' (The Brothers Karamazov, p. 334.) This responsibility we can no longer decline. But we also need for its full realization to be aware of the mystery of the relationship between necessity and freedom, for only because we never know how far the consequnces of our actions reach can we never claim that this responsibility is limited and that we need not always pay attention to it. We have become accustomed, mainly under the influence of the natural sciences, to consider the relationship between cause and effect as something which can be easily recognized, but this does not apply to the human sphere; here it is bound to transcend our knowledge and we can never fully recognize what causes an effect. A word or action which we hardly notice may exercise a strong influence upon the development of a child; a forgotten book may suddenly influence the course of historical events; we may help or hurt where we least expect it. We have to accept unlimited responsibility because, even if we seem to decline it for very good reasons, we may still overlook some possible effects of our actions, and we may want to overlook them. (For a fuller treatment of this problem see my book, The Misinterpretation of Man, pp. 254 ff.)

That we must not destroy the tension between the two forms of both necessity and freedom also becomes clear when we look at the personal example from another point of view. Personality develops with the help of actions, for we cannot understand the principles of action embodied in the moral laws without trying to act according to them. We are hardly able to dispense with the law without obeying it first. But the accomplished example, too, though it no longer needs the law, cannot become obvious and believable without the attempt to translate it into action; even the most abstract striving for a mystical union with God, for instance, is not convincing unless it is accompanied by the renunciation of worldly fame, possessions and power. How can we distinguish between these different kinds of action? (How important this problem is can be seen in the age-old theological controversy about the true relationship between grace or faith and works. We shall return to it; see Chapter 12, paragraphs 8-12.)

It is true that there seem to be exceptions. There are great personalities, such as saints or geniuses, who have been given that for which we have to strive, and who seem to embody freedom perfectly, either by their nature or in consequence of one great experience or sudden illumination. No law or action has made them what they are, and freedom moulds and permeates their being so completely that they radiate it directly, again without the help of any action or any of the external forms of necessity and freedom. But these apparent exceptions only further elucidate what we have said.

On the one hand, we must not forget that actions due to laws, though embodying our freedom of choice, do not give expression to the realm of freedom. The true success of our free choice is to reach this realm, but no accomplishment here can ever be due to our efforts alone; it opens the gates to the realm of freedom and the effects of our endeavours thus infinitely transcend the cause. To consider it as merely our own merit would exclude everything besides the connection between cause and effect and thus destroy freedom. This is more than a purely logical conclusion; so long as we look for success, we think that everything depends on our intentions and overlook the independent existence of internal reality, and this will most probably find expression in our remaining enslaved by vanity or selfishness or ambition. We have to strive hard, and yet any result achieved must not be regarded as directly due to our striving; we can only understand freedom by opposing it to necessity. The mere thought that we can bring it about ourselves destroys it by excluding the very realm of freedom on which it is based. We have to strive for external aims and yet hope that the innermost core of internal reality will be touched and reveal the futility of all our striving. Here again we can see, from the human side, the meaning of the Christian concept of grace. As this means, however, that the results which matter have to be given to us, the exceptional personality only shows more clearly what we all have to experience.

On the other hand, no great personality concerned with the right values can be imagined without suffering, and this suffering, to establish the right kind of example, has to be of the right kind—that is, it must not be selfish, but due to the full experience of the suffering of others. Can such suffering arise without the desire to help others and see them saved? Its highest realization is certainly based on love, and there is no love of one's neighbour or of God which would not force man to include external reality again, and then the tension between the external and internal forms of necessity and freedom reappears. Love for one's neighbour requires concern for him and help; love of God, if divorced from the Christian conception, can perhaps also be divorced from the love of one's neighbour, but even then, as all religions show, some other external discipline has to be introduced. Even those personalities, therefore, who simply radiate freedom and are examples by their very being show once more what is generally valid—that their being is based on the urge to be active. The internal forms of necessity and freedom also imply action.

The distinction between the two kinds of action may still be difficult to make, because they can be—and frequently are—very similar or even, seen from outside, identical. We can strive to help somebody, or we can help him because our nature forces us to do so, but the resulting action may be exactly the same. Yet we shall be greatly helped in making this distinction if we realize that both necessity and freedom have external and internal forms within internal reality, and if we always confront them anew. (Particularly because of the interconnection between action and suffering. See Chapter 12, paragraph 13 ff.)

It remains difficult, however, to attain a clear knowledge of inner freedom as such. It is an inner necessity from which nothing but the right fruits can emanate, so that they come forth necessarily and yet freely. But what is this realm of freedom from which they thus come forth? We have just said that love is its fullest embodiment, for love sets us free by finding us; we never feel more completely ourselves and therefore free than when love makes us surrender completely. Then we solve the mystery of the relationship between necessity and freedom by transforming it into a clear experience. But this, though probably self-evident, can no longer be understood in terms of necessity and freedom; their opposition can help us to discover the right forms of love, but love must be there before these distinctions can be of any use. Necessity and freedom can no longer help us, because they refer to events and actions while the realm of freedom, from which love springs, must be something existing and static. Once more, therefore, though they are of the greatest importance themselves, these interconnected opposites lead on to further such opposites; the more so as, in this case, we cannot separate external and internal reality as completely as they should be separated.

This is confirmed by the temptations to which necessity and freedom can make us succumb. The temptation of necessity is fatalism, the complete giving in to necessity and the renunciation of any attempt to break through it by actions of our own. Thus, however, necessity also destroys man, for nobody can live fully without at least trying to exercise his powers. It is true that fatalism is only a distortion of the trust and confidence which we should possess, but it is a fundamental distortion, for we cannot have this trust and confidence without faith, and faith cannot be directed towards events alone, but must be directed towards their source. This can also be seen if such a faith in the events alone takes the opposite, optimistic form. We make necessity the basis of a belief in progress, but this only represents the same temptation in a different disguise. If we believe that everything which happens creates something good necessarily and automatically, we also rob man's freedom of its meaning and destroy it, for if the events themselves are bound to guarantee progress, we cannot feel justified in interfering with them for the sake of something we believe to be good. Any moral exertion on our part would only hinder the automatic working of progress. just as in the case of fatalism, we have to submit passively to necessity. (For a fuller treatment of the relationship between the belief in progress and morality see my book, The Misinterpretation of Man, pp. 147 ff.)

The temptation of freedom is licence and arbitrariness which, as we have seen before, are a dangerous distortion of freedom. They must, in the end, lead to pessimism, for if we believe that we can always do whatever we like, we are bound to be disappointed and finally to doubt the existence of any intelligible order. This, however, either leads back to necessity, for this kind of freedom becomes an unbearable burden which must be shaken off as completely as possible; or else man is again faced with destruction, for nobody can believe in the complete senselessness of existence without destroying internal reality and thus himself.

The temptations show, too, that necessity and freedom represent very important and real facts in our lives, and this distinguishes them again from the constructive concepts. At first, owing to the rather ambiguous nature of necessity and freedom, it may seem difficult to distinguish them from the constructive concepts; intentions and aims or means and ends seem just as real to us as moral or similar laws and the freedom to choose. This similarity disappears, however, when we are aware of inner necessity and the realm of freedom. If we know an inner necessity, this inescapable urge supersedes all intentions, ends and aims, which all depend on our will; if we know, not only the possibility of choice, but the realm of freedom, it becomes identical with internal reality itself and thus transcends all its single elements. By embracing the whole of internal reality, however, it points once more beyond this opposition and shows the need for opposites which refer to the basis of all such events.

Paul Roubiczek

subsection (c)


As we have always had to refer to morality to explain the application of necessity and freedom, no further explanation is needed to show that they form the basis of the absolute value of goodness. It is the one of these values, after all, which is concerned with our actions. But necessity and freedom help us to see goodness in the right perspective, for this value has a double aspect too. It is, at one and the same time, in some respects the most and in other respects the least important of the absolute values.

Goodness, by referring to our actions, is the only one of the absolute values which provides a test of its truth. Truth as such must shine in its own light, and beauty, too, cannot be further determined; but goodness, as we have to act upon it, is tested by the results we achieve. We have seen that these results can be quite different from what we expected, and that this contradiction helps us to recognize what goodess really means. (See Chapter 3, Section 1, paragraphs 9-11.) It is true that the appearance of goodness can hide very different—even immoral—intentions and motives, but this will hardly suffice to mislead us constantly in our own case or to disguise the truth in the actions of others for ever. As always, we must not expect perfection and the complete avoidance of error, but—in this case and not in others—we can learn to test, by their application and the results to which they lead, the laws and principles in which we believe. If we really and honestly want goodness, and when the patient testing of the boundaries between necessity and freedom has taught us the meaning of true freedom, there will be little mistake, in the end, in judging the fruits by which we shall know ourselves and others.

That we find truth in goodness can also be seen when we want to judge abstract convictions and ideas, for there is no other test than goodness. Neither belief in a necessary evolution leading to constant progress by a cruel life and death struggle nor totalitarianism could have exercised the disastrous attraction which they had if this fact had not been forgotten or despised, nor could natural science have led us astray to such an extent. Truth and beauty alone will never enable us to find our way through the wilderness of fascinating abstract ideas; and this, too, makes goodness so very important.

Nevertheless, it is also dangerous to concentrate on goodness alone and to divorce it from the other absolute values. This danger exists because goodness seems self-sufficient. Truth, as we have seen, always points beyond itself; beauty, as we shall see, can never be confined to the impressions or embodiments which we already know; only goodness, because it demands constant activity, can appear as a final principle which is sufficient to give content to the whole of our lives, especially when it is translated into moral laws. Though morality, even logically, needs some source from which to spring, we see that it has been divorced from religion or any other basis and accepted as the sole absolute guide in life. But in this case we are either easily forced into rigidity, into upholding the laws and their external aims at all costs, and this rigidity hardens us and destroys goodness; or we may become sentimental, revel in our feelings and cherish them, so as to overlook the shortcomings of mere morality. We are then in danger of either becoming severe judges or of being unable to make any clear distinctions at all.

The source of this danger can be recognized when we remember that the absolute values are values—that is, that they have to be thought of as positive and negative. This, once more, is more important for goodness than for the other two. Falsehood and ugliness are certainly very real in our world, but we shall try to avoid falsehood and consider it as purely negative unless we want to make use of it for evil purposes, and the same applies to ugliness. Both acquire a positively dangerous aspect only by being related to the moral sphere; the negative value with which we have to concern ourselves, therefore, is evil. Evil, however, remains a stumbling block so long as we do not succeed in transcending the level of values.

We have seen that good and evil are dependent opposites and that no conception of good is possible if we remove the concept of evil; this concept as such, therefore, does not contradict the existence of the good. But values are more than mere concepts; they become real in human life and society; and there evil appears no longer as a mere opposite to goodness, but can become so strong that it destroys the good and makes us despair of its possibility and power. We only need to look at ourselves without prejudice to recognize that, at any moment, evil threatens to become much more real than good, and this is even more obvious in the society created by us. To make a value real, moreover, we have to bestow it upon objects or events, and as negation, in the moral sphere, is far more definite than the positive which we have to experience always anew, evil can also be more easily discovered than good. It is true that we have, nevertheless, a feeling that evil is somehow less real than good, for we know that it can help us to become more sensitive and that it may become a strong stimulus to make us strive for the better, and what appears to us as the unjust cruelty of fate can lead to fruitful suffering and atonement. Could we ever arrive at the good without suffering evil? Yet all this can hardly be upheld when we look at the world around us; there evil seems definitely the stronger force, and it appears as sentimentality or unforgivable naiveté to deny its power—a power so great that it seems able to destroy the very meaning of life. We have to agree that evil as such exists and works and leads to the gravest possible consequences; and our efforts to stick to the good may well appear as hopeless illusions.

There seem to be two solutions to this conflict. The one we have just discussed; we concentrate entirely on the moral laws which say how to overcome evil, and then it is our fault if we do not accept or follow these laws, but evil can be overcome. This is bound to force us eventually into rigidity or sentimentality, because, as we must denounce evil as mere failure, we remain unable to do justice to its external appearance. The other solution is dualism; we regard good and evil as the two fundamental forces which constitute primary reality. But this, too, is unsatisfactory, because values, as we have seen, do not belong to primary reality. It is when we conceive goodness in such ways as these that truth and beauty appear as far more significant and goodness as the least inspiring of the absolute values.

Goodness can be seen in its true perspective, however, without forcing us to deny the great power of evil, when we base this value on the opposition between necessity and freedom. For their different forms help us to grasp the two aspects of this value correctly.

First, there are the two forms of necessity. We need the laws, but must transcend them, too, which means that the laws are absolute but not the aims. The laws are absolute, because they have to be compelling and must not be broken; yet this absoluteness does not contradict the need finally to overcome them, for by developing our moral nature, they can make themselves superfluous. ('The deepest of all moral requirements . . . is not to act conscientiously, but to seek an ever more penetrating conscientiousness.' J. Oman, Grace and Personality, p. 63.) Only if external aims were absolute should we never be able to dispense with the laws which tend to make us rigid. But the aims are not absolute because we can, and should, progress from external to internal reality.

Second, there are the two forms of freedom. The values are the equivalent of the freedom of choice, for it is this freedom which implies the freedom to do wrong. But there is the realm of freedom, too, to which goodness has to conform as well; goodness, therefore, must lead beyond choice and value. This realm of freedom is purely positive and thus, though evil is real outside this realm, it is less real than goodness, for goodness applies both outside and inside this realm. Good and evil must be experienced with equal strength, for only thus can our experience of the good become complete, yet the realm of freedom cannot be conceived in a negative way; the negative value, therefore, must have helped us to experience the positive fully and must be left behind. We have to progress from the freedom of choice to the realm of freedom; this shows that goodness is more than a mere opposite of evil and that we must achieve more with it than a formal morality.

Third, there is the mystery of the interaction between necessity and freedom. The realm of freedom is not simply given, but we have to make it real by constantly renewed testing of the boundaries between necessity and freedom—that is, we have to live the dualism between good and evil to discover the true nature and the power of the good. In other words, we must include evil in our responsibility, but cannot overcome it directly, for freedom and goodness, though they have to be made real by us, must not be included in the relationship of cause effect. Evil must be wiped out by atonement and forgiveness, and we cannot achieve forgiveness, but must be forgiven. (These terms may to many sound purely religious, but J. Macmurray remarks correctly: 'To describe the everyday experience of two people sharing a common life we have to use such words as fellowship, communion, enmity, estrangement, guilt, forgiveness, reconciliation.' The Structure of Religioius Experience, p. 53.) The direct connection between morality and its effects is broken down and we can adhere to goodness without denying the reality of evil.

We see, therefore, that goodness cannot be regarded as self-sufficient, but that it points—as any absolute value should—to the absolute. For we could not make the good the expression of an inner necessity unless our conception of it were firmly grounded in the experience of the absolute which safeguards freedom.

This dependence of goodness on a more comprehensive absolute can also be recognized when we consider the possibility of failure in relation to the absolute values. We could say, for instance, that the obvious power of evil in our world destroys these values. But can they be destroyed? They do not exist as such somewhere in space and time; they become real only when we meet the absolute by applying them. To apply them means to bestow the value on objects or events, and so we cannot even discover them unless we look for their positive effects or try to bring them about. It is we who may fail to become good or to do the good and thus to meet the absolute, but the absolute values are not touched by this, for then we do not touch their sphere. Even if we only relate our failure to them, it is immediately changed into success, for this helps us to get a clearer knowledge of the absolute values. But if we remain powerless to make them real, they do not come into being at all; the idea of failure can always refer only to our power, never to that of the absolute values. This shows once more that the opposition between good and evil is different from that absolute which we meet in goodness as such and which must needs transcend it, for failure is only possible on the level of good and evil, but there remains a region in goodness itself which is not touched by it.

Necessity and freedom thus ensure that we get a clear idea of goodness. We have to see it also in two forms. As a pure value which, appearing as good and evil, provides us with the only test of truth, it is the most important of the absolute values. Nevertheless, we must not rely on goodness alone, for it also transcends evil and is dependent on a more fundamental absolute; it merges into a sphere which is beyond action. As this absolute cannot be grasped as the effect of a cause, as the result of our own efforts, we have, when we want to approach it more directly, to leave the striving for goodness behind. The absolute has to confront us, we have to be forgiven, we have to be presented with it—that is, we are led beyond the sphere of action towards the absolute value of beauty.

go to CHAPTER 11, Section 3

go to: Chapter 11, Section 3, "The One and the Many"

back to beginning of Section 2