A Modern Theory of Ethics, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 15

Ecstasy and Ethical Theory

A. Destructive Arguments

So far I have only described, and now I must attempt a critical estimate of, the ecstatic experiences and their significance. It may be that all are in a sense illusory. Of course, in one sense they are what they are rigorously introspected to be. But in so far as they consist in value-judgments, these judgments may be erroneous; and I have described them all as apprehensions or judgments of the intrinsic value of a certain object, namely the universe. They are intuitions of value, together with judgments that the value intuited is characteristic of a certain object. Now we do often pass from intuitions of value to erroneous value-judgments, just as we often pass from intuitions of sense-qualities to erroneous percepts. It is possible that in all these cases of ecstasy we do but ‘project’ upon the external situation a complacency whose source is in truth merely ‘organic’. Thus, perhaps, the aesthetic ecstasy does but project upon the aesthetic object, or rather upon the universe seen through that object, a ‘feeling of harmonious activity’ which in fact comes to us from the harmonious activity of our own powers of apprehension. Similarly with the ecstasy of intellectual contemplation. And in the strange ecstasy of defeat or of pain perhaps the organism, stimulated into intense activity (overt or internal) by the urgent situation, experiences an irrepressible ‘physiological cheerfulness’, which, since there is no familiar object to justify its existence, persuades the subject that he is apprehending some occult external value or excellence hitherto unnoticed.

A somewhat similar explanation may be derived from psycho-analysis. This ecstatic emotion, it may be said, is a typical case of ‘irrational affect’. Could we but analyse the patient’s mind, we should discover that some perhaps obscure and insignificant feature of the present environment happened to be for his ‘unconscious’ a symbol affording gratification to repressed cravings rooted perhaps in his infancy. And indeed the intensity and mystery of the mood of ecstasy do suggest that it is the values of remote childhood that are being enjoyed again.

Let us consider the physiological argument first. No doubt in aesthetic and in intellectual experience the sense of the harmonious activity of our powers of apprehension may play an important part in delighting us. Indeed, careful introspection confirms this much of the theory. And this ‘activity of our powers of apprehension’ is doubtless activity of the organism, and has a physiological aspect. But it does not follow that the ecstatic experiences are essentially experiences of our own harmonious activity. For instance, both in the aesthetic ecstasy, and in ordinary aesthetic appreciation, we are concerned with objects other than our own organic activities. In our admiration of, let us say, a tragic drama we experience something which seems quite different from any delight that we may also have in the exercise of our capacities. Introspection here reveals two distinct factors in the experience, delight in the aesthetic object and delight in our own activity of apprehension and appreciation. It is difficult to believe that the one is merely an ‘illusory’ projection of the other. Of course, if we suppose that all value experiences are projections of organic well-being, we must admit that ecstasy is so also. But if teleological activities other than those of the experient’s own organism are sometimes the immediate ground of value-judgments, then the value experienced in ecstasy may turn out to be of this kind. And, in fact, many values do seem to be thus experienced as good quite apart from their relation to the experient himself and his organic needs. Thus of the values of other individuals and of society it seems true that, so far from being reducible to organic needs of the experient himself, they may be intuited as values though opposed to private needs, and may subsequently mould the organism. Thus finally they do afford the individual organic fulfilment; but they do so because the organism has gradually become attuned to these extra-organic values. A man’s love of another and his loyalty to society, though they are not reducible to any instinct or complex of instincts, do induce in him private needs for the activities of love and loyalty.

But though this general theory of conation be admitted, there still remains a difficulty in respect of ecstasy. I have argued that the extra-organic values, though not grounded in the tendency of the individual organism, are none the less grounded in the tendencies of some active substances, other than the tendencies of the individual organism.

But both in the ecstatic experiences and in ordinary aesthetic experience this seems not to be the case. The value of the immediate aesthetic object, and of the more remote object of aesthetic ecstasy, the value also of the object of intellectual ecstasy, and the value cognized in the ecstasy of defeat — these, it may be said, constitute no fulfilments, unless they be after all fulfilments of the experient himself or his own organism. Apart then from the fallacy of reducing all conation to organic fulfilment, there is some reason for holding that, after all, ecstasy at least must be so explained.

Let us state the issue starkly. Our ethical theory demands that the good apprehended in ecstasy should be judged good just because, or in that, it is cognized as a case of fulfilment; since we have claimed that goodness and fulfilment, when clearly envisaged, are simply identical. Thus either our theory is false, or in ecstasy we experience no goodness, or the goodness experienced in ecstasy is, after all, a case of fulfilment; and if so, what is it a fulfilment of, unless of organic tendencies, ‘projected’ upon the external world?

Introspection, as we have observed, emphatically denies this last explanation. In all these experiences two factors are discoverable, namely complacency in the free exercise of our powers of apprehension and that unique act of admiration for something distinct from our own activity, namely the external universe. The two may be confused, but they are distinguishable.

It is easy to mistake the delight in exercise for the pure aesthetic experience, and conversely it is easy to ‘explain’ the aesthetic appreciation and the aesthetic ecstasy itself as mere delight in exercise. But this is plausible only through a failure of introspection. Similarly with the object of intellectual contemplation. To reduce the ‘beauty’ of mathematics to a projection of the mathematician’s delight in his own agility is to deny, for the sake of a theory, the clear deliverance of introspection, which reveals both delight in our own activity and delight in the object. And even more obtuse is it to confuse the intellectual ecstasy (induced, may be, by the contemplation of the’ beauty’ of mathematics) with a sense of being in intellectual training. Of course, it may still be that the theory which identifies them is right and introspection wrong. But the deliverance of introspection in all these cases is precise and intense, and not lightly to be denied. In the case of the strange ecstasy of defeat the theory of organic fulfilment is peculiarly unplausible. How unlikely is it that, just when we are so crushed and abject that we can scarcely perform the simplest action, we should at the same time be experiencing an unusual and irrepressible animal cheerfulness which forces us to find some objective excuse for our emotion!

This leads us to the psycho-analytical account of ecstasy. This theory, like the other, seeks to reduce all conation to certain capacities innate in the organism. I will not here repeat the argument which asserts that, however true this theory may be of particular cases of morbid, and even of many normal, desires, it is unjustified as a general theory of conation. I will only point out that to say (for instance) that the supreme emotional experiences of the adult are mere derivatives of childhood experiences is no more significant than to say that the intense emotional experiences of childhood are shown by their relation with the supreme emotions of the adult to have been nobly pregnant, or to have been early approximations to, or attempts at, the mature emotions of the adult. To reduce ecstasy, for instance, to a sexual ‘Oedipus’ complex, is but to find in early sexual experiences the first gropings toward ecstasy and the spiritual life. Sometimes, owing to an unpropitious environment, the individual remains throughout his life in this backwater of the stream of conative development; sometimes by good fortune he passes on to more thorough fulfilments of his capacity. And in maturity, were his ecstasy to be ‘psycho-analysed’, he might gladly, admit to himself, ‘Yes, this supreme excellence that I have’ known is after all the very thing that I was seeking long ago in those recently-unearthed but long-repressed disreputable childhood cravings.’ But if he were to suppose therefore that he had’ explained away’ his ecstasy, he, would be as simple as the psycho-analyst himself. Rather he should hold that, though those repressed childhood cravings had largely controlled the direction of his development, what he finally developed into (through the help of a propitious environment) was a being with capacities of appreciation far richer than a child’s, and further that in his ecstatic experience he apprehended and appreciated more clearly the value toward which he was very blindly groping in his ‘disreputable’ childhood.

Thus, supposing the Freudian ‘aetiology’ to be in a sense true, we might yet reinterpret its account of the ecstatic experiences so as to dignify the ‘disreputable’ rather than vilify the sublime.

The tragic ecstasy, for instance, might of course be traced to masochistic or sadistic impulses. Its vaunted aesthetic value might be explained as a symbolical wish- fulfilment, either of a lust to sacrifice what is precious, for fear of vindictive powers, or of an itch to inflict defeat on others as a symbol of one’s own might. But, preserving in either case the aetiology, we might just as well claim that masochism and sadism were early experiments in ecstasy as that ecstasy is just masochism or sadism.

But the real trouble with Freudianism is not its iconoclasm, which indeed has been both salutary and entertaining, Its real weakness is a purely intellectual blunder. For Freudianism, like all kinds of pure instinct psychology, fails to recognize that the extra-organic environment may instil in the individual new behaviour-tendencies not simply reducible to the. outfit inherited by the organism. It clings to the concept of an individual whose fundamental nature is fixed at birth and incapable of any real enlargement; whereas the truth is that the environment itself, working of course on the ground plan of the individual’s innate disposition, may build thereon a nature whose capacities are no more discoverable in the primitive nature than a symphony is discoverable in the mere instruments of the orchestra that plays it.

The physiological and psycho-analytical arguments, then, fail to prove that ecstasy is a mere illusory projection of emotion whose real source is not conscious. But though the arguments are not convincing, ecstasy might still be illusory, in either of the suggested manners, or in some other. And certainly its illusoriness is suggested by the apparent absence of any active substance whose fulfilment it is that is cognized.

Is the only common element in all these ecstatic experiences simply the exhilaration of transcending, or seeming to transcend, the tyranny of one’s own desires or the limitations of one’s own illusions? In all these experiences we certainly do seem to have this transcendence. In intellectual ecstasy we seem to have put away error and to be at last in the presence of reality. In the aesthetic ecstasy also we have some such sense of being face to face with the real, and of being purged of mundane desires. The appeal of ‘abstract’ art, for instance, seems to lie partly in the sense that we have shed all cravings for the romantic and sentimental. In the ecstasy of defeat perhaps our admiration of the objective situation is but a projection of our delight in our own unexpected emancipation from desire. For in the extremity of exhaustion we may become apathetic; and this apathy may be mistaken for transcendence of desire. And well may we value transcendence of the limitations of private cravings, for this has ever been the way to richer experience. Obscure but greater values keep ever beckoning us out beyond our familiar cravings, so that resignation and transcendence, from being mere means to mental enlargement, may come to be regarded as intrinsically good. Plausibly, then, it might be argued that in ecstasy we do but find fulfilment for an habitual lust for resignation in situations in which, as a matter of fact, there is no higher value to justify the resignation.

It may be so. But the possibility that it may be so constitutes in itself no proof that it is so. And let us not lose sight of the extreme experienced difference between the tragic ecstasy and mere resignation. The one is a state of triumph, though of triumph in defeat; the other is a state of surrender, though often it may open the door to fuller life. The one is a self-oblivious absorption in an object, even though the object includes one’s own person as a member; the other is essentially a consciousness of the private self, since it is resignation of the self’s desires in the hope of a fuller life on a higher plane. These experiences seem utterly different. And unless we find very cogent reason for identifying them, we must continue to distinguish them.

B. Hypothesis of Hyper-Biological Perfection

The only positive reason for supposing that the experiences which I have called ecstatic are not simply illusory, but appreciations of a unique kind of objective excellence, is the content of the experiences themselves. They are all so profoundly different from, and richer than, the various experiences of which they are said to be illusory ‘projections’. This difference I have tried to make clear. It consists partly in the fact that, whereas all ordinary values are direct or indirect fulfilments of teleologically active substances, the value cognized in ecstasy seems not to be so. The appreciation of the values cognized in ecstasy certainly constitutes a teleological fulfilment, namely a fulfilment of our psychical capacity; but the objective excellence cognized is apparently no fulfilment. This uniqueness of the object of ecstasy has, as we have seen, given rise to the theory that in ecstasy we are ‘disintoxicated’ from the influence of all values. But this theory we have judged false. Ecstasy is essentially an experience of the goodness of an object, namely of the universe, and comes therefore within the purview of ethics. If, however, we accept an ethical theory which describes ‘good’ as the fulfilment of the activity of active substances, and if we cannot explain ecstasy away as illusory, how can we reconcile our ethical theory with this unique kind of value-experience? Some, as we have seen, would say that the very fact that this question can be asked at all shows the falsity of our theory.

We are now trying to grapple with phenomena very far removed from our everyday experience; and a theory which is valid within familiar fields may well need to be reinterpreted to accommodate itself to these obscure facts. Just as our familiar concepts of space and time, though valid for all ordinary purposes, need to be restated as a concept of space-time so as to accommodate certain obscure physical facts, so the concepts of good and evil, valid within the sphere of common sense, may need to be reinterpreted in the light of ecstasy.

Bearing this in mind, let us close this whole ‘highly speculative discussion by attempting on the one hand to see more deeply into the facts of ecstasy, and on the other to discover further implications of our ethical theory, in the hope that on this deeper level fact and theory may turn out to be in harmony.

There is reason to believe that in certain cases the emergence of organism involves not only harmony but also conflict of units within the organic system. Four instances are enough to illustrate this principle. First, between the members of any healthy living body, there are many strains and antagonisms of an ordered kind, and within the microscopic structure of the tissues the same is true, while the central nervous system is itself a system of minor systems which both co-operate and conflict. But so long as the organism is healthy, the conflict is ordered in relation to the needs of the whole. Second, psychical activity, which seems to be an activity emergent from the merely physical and the merely physiological, seems to occur only where the fulfilment of lower-order activity is delayed by resistance. It is in hindrance to our bodily functions arid psychical enterprises that we advance in thought. Third, it is from the conflicts, no less than from the co-operation, of individual minds that the social mentality is born. We could never pass from the private to the public view if there were never conflict between private interests, or if we never had to choose between loyalty to ourselves and loyalty to the community. Fourth, in the region of art the most excellent aesthetic object is that in which the most recalcitrant material is successfully organized under the most exacting form.

Qui, l’oeuvre sort plus belle

D’une forme au travail


Vers, marbre, onyx, émail.

Further, it is in tragic art, rather than in comedy, that the distinctive aesthetic excellence is most compelling; and this would seem to be because in tragic art it is most clearly seen as a superior excellence emerging from conflict on subordinate planes.

Now in all the ecstatic experiences conflict plays a part. In some of them it is focal, in others marginal. But I should say that even in those cases in which we rise to ecstasy through the apprehension, for instance, of a simple sense quality, or a gesture or facial expression, or the poignancy of watching any careless gaiety, we contemplate this datum as it were against a vast and vague background of conflict, victory, and defeat. We see and admire the datum, whatever it be, as the expression of one side of a conflict; and at the same time we rise imaginatively above the conflict, and appreciate, or seem to appreciate, a superior excellence which seems to characterize the universe as a whole. This superior excellence we experience as something definitely other than biological fulfilment. As the excellence of dramatic tragedy entails biological (and psychological) defeat, so the cosmical excellence which we seem to apprehend in all ecstasy entails the subordination of biological. organisms for the sake of something which might be called ‘hyper-biological perfection’. There is ambiguity in the prefix ‘hyper ‘. Is this perfection really biological, but upon a far higher plane; or is it opposed to the essential nature of biological fulfilment? Since, however, we are not yet in a position to answer this question, the ambiguity of ‘hyper’ is very convenient. We need only to say that this ‘hyper-biological’ perfection is experienced by man as something very different from every kind of biological fulfilment known to him.

Many would say, and I agree with them, that there is no evidence that any such unique quasi-aesthetic excellence does characterize the universe — no evidence, that is, save the deliverance of ecstasy itself. Is ecstasy, therefore, an irrational value-judgment based upon a typical ‘irrational affect’ which is not justified by any character of the object valued? We have seen that it may be so explained, but that these explanations sound curiously superficial, though subtle. And during the ecstatic experience itself such explanations are not at all desolating, but merely ludicrous.

During the ecstatic experience the only explanation that is believable is one which accords with the actual content of the experience, namely that a hitherto unappreciated excellence of the universe is revealed to us. We can easily believe, for instance, that for the moment we have risen to a higher emergent plane of psychical activity, that we have learnt a truer kind of valuing, that we regard the universe not as a striving member usually regards it, but as it would regard itself, or as its creator might regard it.

If this were true we might say of ecstasy that it was the experience of the highest emergent value. And we should have to suppose that while the value-judgment which we make in ecstasy is wholly irrational and unjustified within the universe of discourse of ordinary affairs, it is justified upon a higher plane of experience.

But we could not simply suppose that in ecstasy we appreciate a higher order of teleological value, since the deliverance of the mood is definitely of a non-teleological excellence. Yet, in general, as we have seen, the higher values are no less teleological than the lower. For instance, the rise from private desire to the appreciation of society is a rise from minor to major teleological ends. Only in aesthetic appreciation do we seem to rise above the whole sphere of striving, and then we appreciate the non-teleological excellence of only a certain limited object. In ecstasy, however it is induced, we appreciate, or seem to appreciate, a non-teleological excellence of the universe.

If, then, we take the experience at its face value, we shall have to believe that it consists of a true, though rationally ungrounded, judgment of the intrinsic excellence of the universe, not indeed as the supreme fulfilment of cosmical biological tendencies, but rather as an aesthetic whole within which the principle of biological, or teleological, organism plays its part upon many planes, and is not necessarily victorious.

There is an unfortunate ambiguity in the words ‘organism’ and ‘organic’, an ambiguity which confuses this whole discussion and is clearly revealed in the preceding paragraph. The cosmos might be a perfect organism in one sense while in another sense it was not. It might be perfectly organic in the sense in which a work of art is said to be organic, but not. organic at all in the sense in which an animal or plant is said to be organic. It might, that is, be such that all its parts were perfectly subordinated to some central unifying principle, though that principle were not a system of teleological behaviour-tendencies, nor yet conscious activity. In ecstasy, then, we seem to apprehend the cosmos as perfectly organic in the aesthetic sense; yet what the unifying principle is, we cannot say. We find it excellent in the sense in which a picture or a symphony is excellent, not in the sense in which a dinner is excellent, nor even in the sense in which a bird’s flight and a human person are excellent.

C. Theoretical Difficulties

But such an account of the matter seems to constitute a flat denial of the view that by ‘good’ we mean essentially fulfilment of teleological activity.

I believe that this difficulty can be overcome in a manner which both clarifies our theory and helps us to be more precise about the deliverance of ecstasy.

In an earlier chapter we identified fulfilment of tendency with realization of capacity, actualization of potentiality, the bringing into being of new actuality. What we admire most readily is concrete and perfectly fulfilled organism of the biological or psychological kind, emergent in its own members and controlling them for the expression of its own nature. And organism (upon all levels) we saw to be good just in that it is the fullest expression of the capacity of members, the fullest actualization of potentiality of active substance. And the ideal, we have held all along, is, in some sense, the perfected cosmical organism in which all substance fully expresses its capacity. In pure aesthetic appreciation we admire a concrete organic phantom, imposed upon members which both co-operate and conflict. And in those aesthetic objects in which human striving is utilized, we admire the appearance of a higher organicity achieved by the human material itself, but upon a plane above the plane of ordinary human fulfilment.

Now in ecstasy we seem to admire the appearance of organism on a plane above the whole sphere of teleological activity. This appearance may be illusory; but it is after all essentially an appearance of organism, or of that concrete and complex unity in diversity which is the essential character of organism. All that is thwarted in the world obtains, we feel, complete fulfilment through its membership in the perfect organic unity of the cosmos. If this description be true, the object of ecstasy not only is after all a case of fulfilment, but also is actually valued because it is cognized as such. But it is not that kind of fulfilment which is achieved by the teleological tendencies of men and animals; it is fulfilment, analogous rather to the fulfilment of the aesthetic material in the aesthetic unity. It is a hyper-biological fulfilment emergent in a whole composed of biological striving and its environment. But what kind of fulfilment this might be is altogether obscure. Just as we may make judgments of the excellence of aesthetic objects without necessarily being able to analyse that excellence, so in ecstasy we make judgments of the excellence of the universe without being able to analyse that excellence. All we can say is that, if the deliverance of ecstasy is true, some unifying principle there must be, under which the cosmos is perfectly unified, and in the achievement of which all substance perfectly fulfils its capacity. In ecstasy we seem to apprehend in some manner the perfection of the cosmos as a quasi-aesthetic object; but we are not good enough ‘art critics’ to analyse that perfection. And it were better to say ‘hyper-aesthetic’ rather than ‘quasi-aesthetic’; for the work of art itself offers only a phantom, and a meagre phantom, of that which in ecstasy is burnt into us. Further we can say of this obscure unifying principle that it is not in any ordinary sense the fulfilment of mere teleological processes, even of a cosmical individual, since it is experienced as essentially an eternal perfection in which the success and failure of teleological processes are both members. More than this we cannot say.

Some hint of the solution of our problem may perhaps be found in the word 'eternal'.98 In arguing that good is essentially the fulfilment of teleological activity we regard the universe solely as a temporal process; for teleology involves a movement towards the realization of an end that is not yet. But if our temporal experience is in some way incomplete, if the ultimate reality is in some sense supratemporal, embracing the temporal process as one of its attributes, teleology is only a partial aspect of something eternal. For supratemporally, though the end is made actual by successful striving, yet the achieved end and the striving co-exist eternally. Not that they are contemporaneous and everlasting, for temporally the one follows the other; but that in the supratemporal view events of different date are equally actual. That which temporally appears as victory after striving, is supratemporally an eternal factor; and it is supported by another eternal factor, which temporally appears as the process of effort. In unsuccessful striving, on the other hand, there is eternally the process of effort, but eternally no achieved end. If, then, in moments of unique insight we were to apprehend the familiar world from the point of view of eternity, we should see it as a factor in the eternal perfection of the organized supratemporal substance; and we should inevitably contrast that eternal perfection with the familiar perfecting of temporal teleological process. Yet in truth the two would not be different in essence. The eternal perfection would be in fact the very same fulfilment of potency as that which we see temporally as teleological fulfilment. The universe would be glimpsed as organic; yet not as biological process, but rather as hyperbiological, and having a quasi-aesthetic perfection of form, in which the whole potency of substance would be fully expressed. Ecstasy, then, would be an apprehension of the familiar temporal good and evil as factors in an eternal excellence.

Now not only is the whole course of this argument very dubious, but also we must question whether the deliverance of ecstasy itself really warrants the statement that we apprehend the familiar world from the point of view of eternity and as a factor in eternal perfection of organized substance. We said originally merely that it revealed an unexpected value of the familiar world itself. Possibly these two propositions could be reconciled, but I shall not attempt to face this problem here. I will only point out that, if this argument is true, our ethical theory is not incompatible with the deliverance of ecstasy. In the temporal view the essence of good is found to be the fulfilling of teleological process; but supra temporally regarded, this fulfilling is an eternal perfection of being; and it is this perfection which, in ecstasy, we glimpse as an attribute of the familiar temporal world. Thus in the last analysis there is no difference between the good experienced in ordinary life and the good experienced in ecstasy. Both alike are the fullness of the expression of the nature of substance.

One possible and serious objection to this reconciliation must be faced. The introduction of the supratemporal, it may be said, merely obscures and does not solve the problem, the essence of which is, not that the value given in ecstasy is an eternal value, but that it is a value which incorporates within itself both victory and defeat, even upon the highest possible emergent level. If by ‘good’ we mean fulfilment, what sense is there in saying that in ecstasy we apprehend a value which is not incompatible with the defeat of all vital activity, even the defeat of an emergent cosmical individual? (For nothing less than this can be meant by saying that the value given in ecstasy is not biological.)

The solution of this difficulty would seem to be as follows. We have already distinguished between two senses of the word ‘organism’, namely the aesthetic (or that which for convenience may be called the aesthetic), and the biological. This distinction must be further developed in the distinction between organism as the seat of emergent activity, and organism as the seat of one kind of emergent activity, namely consciousness. In ecstasy it seems that even though consciousness were never to be achieved upon the largest scale, even were it to be defeated and annihilated on every level, yet cosmical emergent activity, or rather emergent perfection of being, is eternally achieved. Now this must seem to many a meaningless statement; but only to those for whom consciousness itself is necessarily the highest possible kind of emergent activity. If on the other hand consciousness is regarded as essentially instrumental, there is nothing unreasonable in supposing that cosmical fulfilment might entail the final annihilation of consciousness, in fact that, in spite of complete biological tragedy, the cosmos might be perfect.

If this argument is correct (which, of course, is immensely improbable), the bearing of the distinction between the temporal and the supratemporal is as follows. Consciousness is essentially an activity, and therefore temporal. It is also supratemporal, in so far as it holds together the past and the present; but only partially so, in that it is manacled to a passing present. The highest kind of good, then, which must be a predicate of the supratemporal whole, cannot be a character merely of the highest kind of consciousness. For consciousness is temporal; and the highest good is eternal. The hyper-biological perfection of being is no far off divine event. It occurs at no one point or points in the time process; it is not even repeated at all points. It is an attribute strictly of the supratemporal whole. It is to be apprehended by us only in those bewildering incursions of the eternal, which I have called ecstasy. But though our temporal consciousness may thus experience something of the eternal, and may perhaps in the distant future come to experience it far more fully, it cannot ever itself be eternal. The greatest of all goods cannot be a character of passing subjectivity; it must be a character of the greatest of all possible objects of subjectivity, namely, the supratemporal whole.

In some such manner then, if our temporal experience gives less than the full truth about time, we might solve this difficult problem. But a more immediate and less difficult problem is still upon our hands. We have indeed found that the object of ecstatic valuation is after all an appearance of fulfilment; but clearly the very fact that we previously denied this, while yet claiming that the object was intrinsically good, suggests that we have been wrong in identifying good and fulfilment. Even if all goods are as a matter of fact fulfilment, good and fulfilment, it may be said, are now shown to be distinct ideas.

The answer to this objection is that we failed to analyse the deliverance of ecstasy completely. The excellence which we discover is indeed something wholly aloof, not only from our private fulfilments but even from the highest conceivable rank of such biological fulfilment, in which individuals, over against an environment, achieve free activity and development. Yet this excellence which we cognize in ecstasy is cognized as an emergent expression of an organic whole consisting of biological individuals and their environment. And even if the universe, temporally regarded, were to become completely organized as one biological individual, that individual would have an environment, namely its own members. Now if that internal environment of the cosmical individual were to have in it the seeds of decay for the cosmical individual, there would still be the possibility that, from this inevitable defeat of the cosmical individual by its members, a supreme non-biological aesthetic unity might emerge. And this unity would constitute a fulfilment of the parts of the universe, though not a biological fulfilment.

The truth is, then, that in ecstasy we experience a supreme fulfilment, and experience it (truly or falsely) as the fulfilment of the capacity of the objective universe. But because this fulfilment is not a biological fulfilment, and because in ecstasy biological fulfilments are often experienced as defeated, we too hastily deny that what we experience is fulfilment of any kind. But what we experience in ecstasy is in fact experienced as fulfilment. For whatever our rational judgment about it, we feel toward the cosmos as toward something perfect, in which, though there is conflict within it, the conflict itself is a harmonious member within the whole. Without discovering any ‘hidden reality’, we discover in the familiar real a unity, a perfection, hitherto unnoticed. Or better, we feel toward the familiar real as toward such a unity; yet rationally we find no clear justification for our feeling. Such an experience admittedly might be mere ‘irrational affect’; but equally it might be an emergence into a higher kind of experience which cannot as yet be rendered intelligible.

I said too hastily that in ecstasy we ‘feel’ toward the cosmos as toward something perfect. The word ‘feel’ is ambiguous. It might imply that upon the evidence of our own feeling or ‘affect’ we impute a character to a cognized object. Careful introspection suggests that what happens in ecstasy is something more subtle. We seem to cognize a perfection of fulfilment, and therefore we feel ecstatically toward it; yet we cannot analyse our cognition. We have a cognitive intuition of cosmical excellence, of the perfection of the familiar total object of experience. But we cannot correlate that intuition with the general body of knowledge. There is nothing unique or extraordinary in such an unanalysable intuition. We often, for instance, have percepts which defy analysis. What is unique in the ecstatic intuition is that which is intuited, namely the perfection of the familiar universe.

D. Conclusions as to Ecstasy and the Ideal

We have been indulging in very vague and doubtful speculation, the sole empirical foundation of which is the ecstatic experience itself in its diverse forms. Apart from this there is no justification whatever for any such addition to our ethical theory as has been attempted in this chapter. And indeed many very intelligent persons would consider that the ecstasies are sufficiently explained as mere ‘projections’ of emotion upon an object to which no such emotion is appropriate. On the other hand many perhaps no less rigorous thinkers would hold that the ecstatic experience is itself so overwhelmingly cogent that, though indeed it must certainly be severely criticized in the light of the rest of our knowledge, the essence of it which survives such criticism compels our acceptance, even though, to accommodate it, we may have to reorganize our whole philosophy.

I have suggested one way in which a biologically-founded theory of ethics can be reconciled with the deliverance of ecstasy; but it has been a very speculative way, which many would reject as entirely illegitimate. We are faced with three possible courses. Either we reject the deliverance of ecstasy as illusory and preserve our ethical theory intact; or we decisively accept it and readjust our theory in some such manner as that of the preceding pages; or we simply suspend judgment. Surely the third is the sane course. For the upshot of our discussion is just that, though we have come to some conclusion as to what the deliverance of ecstasy is, and have found a means of reconciling our theory with this unique experience, we have no reason for believing its unique deliverance save its own cogency. Therefore, while we accept it thankfully as in fact the supremely satisfying experience of life, and seek to relate it within the general system of our knowledge in some manner which neither denies the truth of its deliverance nor wrecks the system, we must ever remember that minds believe too easily what they earnestly desire to believe; and therefore we must discount much of the cogency of ecstasy, and suspect our attempts to show its validity. We must, in fact, maintain a strict agnosticism with regard to it.

But something positive does transpire from this discussion. We have indeed no clear evidence that the deliverance of ecstasy is true, that ecstasy is not merely a ridiculous trick played on us by our own little-understood constitution; but whether there is a valid object for it or not, this emotion is the emotion that would be appropriate to a universe which did in fact possess such an excellence as we seem to discover in it. If ecstasy is not evidence of an actual attribute of the universe, it at least suggests an attribute that a universe must have, if it is to be ideal. It must have this hyper-teleological, quasi-aesthetic excellence, which when we experience it, commands our worship. For this supratemporal perfection of form, and no mere success of temporal striving, is seen to be the extreme of that which in more familiar spheres we call ‘fulfilment of teleological activity’, and ‘good’.

At an earlier stage we said that the ideal was that the; whole universe should achieve organism, and progressively fulfil its capacity upon the highest of all emergent levels. All our human endeavour, we said, however microscopic its scope, must be controlled in relation to that end. And clearly the only way for us as a race to serve in this cosmical task is to strive to organize our tiny planet and facilitate, if may be, the development of ever richer, subtler and more unified mind. In a still more microscopic sphere, the sphere of our own individual endeavour, this must be ever the supreme practical aim to which all other and more easily espoused aims must be in the last resort subordinate; although these also are intrinsic goods which depend for their value upon no ulterior end. (For we have ever insisted that each biological individual is a ground of intrinsic good, whether it co-operates upon a higher plane or not.)

Such, we said, must be the ideal, and such its,relation to our daily lives. But now we must admit that over-reaching this whole realm of value, aloof even from the fulfilment of the cosmos itself as a biological individual with an ‘internal’ environment, is excellence or fulfilment of another kind, which we appreciate most easily in our own poor works of art, but which we sometimes seem to apprehend as an attribute of the universe itself as a whole.

The general system of our knowledge does not by any means confirm the deliverance of ecstasy. It were therefore dishonest and mere ‘wish-fulfilment’ to claim that the ecstatic judgment were true. But if our knowledge does not confirm it, neither does it positively deny it. We are therefore entitled to the hope that it is true. And since this supreme excellence presents itself as claiming our worship, we are under obligation to worship it; even while we are also under obligation not to lose sight of the fact that we cannot be sure of the validity of the ecstatic judgment. But however this be, we may assert confidently that, whether the whole of things has this supreme character or not, it ought to have. And such an assertion is, to say the least, not unimportant.

Finally, remembering the argument which suggests that the act of admiration itself constitutes a fulfilment of the object admired, we must surmise that, if the universe has in fact such hyper-biological unity as ecstasy seems to discover, then worship, even on the part of such microscopic beings as ourselves, is not utterly futile.

But if the wild speculations of these last three chapters are wholly mistaken, as is all too likely, yet we are on solid ground in holding that the essence that is meant by ‘good’ is fulfilment, and in deriving the remote and the practical ideals from the needs of organisms of all ranks. Every actual organism which comes into existence claims fulfilment; and its claim must be taken into account in the ideal. But also every organism which might come into existence must be taken into account. And those must be brought to pass which, directly or indirectly, will afford the most complete fulfilment to the latent capacities of the active substance which is the cosmos.

Imported into the sphere of human affairs this abstract ideal takes a more precise form, which should be the guiding principle of all our conduct and all social policies. We must seek to make it possible for all actual men and women to fulfil themselves in the highest activities of which they are capable, and we must endeavour so to order our societies that yet richer capacities may occur and be fulfilled.

98 The following argument, of course, owes very much to the absolutism of the great Idealists. While such matter is wholly unreliable (so it seems to me), as the foundation of a philosophical system, it is not out of place in this frankly extravagant speculation.

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