William Ernest Hocking

William Ernest

American Idealist Philosopher at Harvard University

Author Quotes

However rich we may become in knowledge of the deeper causes of historical results, we forgo all understanding of history if we forget this inner continuity,--i.e., the conscious intentions of the participants in history-making and their consciously known successes.

Principle II: The presumptions of the law are creative presumptions : they are aimed at conditions to be brought about, and only for that reason ignore conditions which exist.

I am in thy soul. These things around me are in thy experience. They are thy own; when I touch them and move them I change thee. When I look on them I see what thou seest; when I listen I hear what thou hearest. I am in the great room of thy soul; and I experience thy very experience.

Principle III: Presumptive rights are the conditions under which individual powers normally develop.

I find that a man is as old as his work. If his work keeps him from moving forward, he will look forward with the work.

Principle IV: There is one natural right and one only.

If I can reconcile myself to the certainty of death only by forgetting it, I am not happy. And if I can dispose of the fact of human misery about me only by shutting my thoughts as well as myself within my comfortable garden, I may assure myself that I am happy, but I am not. There is a skeleton in the closet of the universe, and I may at any moment be in the face of it. Happiness is inseparable from confidence in action; and confidence of action is inseparable from what the schoolmen called peace -- that is, poise of mind with reference to everything I may possibly encounter in the chances of fortune.

Pure community is a matter of no interest to any will; but a community which pursues a common good is of supreme interest to all wills; and what we have here said is that whatever the nature of that common good ? it must contain the development of individual powers, as a prior condition for all other goods.

It is right, or absolute right, that an individual should develop the powers that are in him. He may be said to have a "natural right" to become what he is capable of becoming. This is his only natural right.

Religion is bound up in the difference between the sense of ignorance and the sense of mystery: the former means, "I know not"; the latter means "I know not; but it is known."

Law deals not with actual individuals, but with individuals artificially defined. We cannot say that law-makers are under an illusion to the effect that all men are equal. They do not even suppose them all alike in being reasonable, or in being well informed about the law, or in being morally sensitive about their own rights or the rights of others. Law-makers have probably never been blind about the conspicuous facts of human difference. Nevertheless, the law in every community ? and not alone in modern communities ? proposes to treat certain large groups of individuals as were alike ?before the law.?

The only thing that can set aside a law as wrong is a better law, or an idea of a better law. And the only thing that can give a law the quality of better or worse is the concrete result which it promotes or fails to promote.

Legal rights are presumptive rights.

There is, then, in these matters some absolute finding in the seeking: salvation is, to seek salvation, for in seeking it one has already abandoned mortality and his sin.

Life itself is individual, and the most significant things in the world ? perhaps in the end the only significant things ? are individual souls. Each one of these must work its own way to salvation, win its own experience, suffer from its own mistakes: "through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui," yes, and through crime and retribution, "what you are picks its way." Any rule which by running human conduct into approved grooves saves men from this salutary Odyssey thwarts the first meaning of human life. [The quotation within this quotation is from the last stanza of Walt Whitman's "To You" from Leaves of Grass]

This merely formal conceiving of the facts of one's own wretchedness is at the same time a departure from them--placing them in the object. It is not idle, therefore, to observe reflexively that in that very Thought, one has separated himself from them, and is no longer that which empirically he still sees himself to be.

Love and sympathy are the activity of the idea. And in their exercise, the idea is enlarged. The lover widens his experience as the non-lover cannot. He adds to the mass of his idea-world, and acquires thereby enhanced power to appreciate all things. Is not this the sufficient solution of that long-standing difficulty between 'egoism and altruism?' The altruist alone can accumulate that treasure of idea through which all things must be enjoyed that are enjoyed. No one has, or can have, any 'egoistic' satisfaction except as a consequence of so much effective love of reality as there is in him by birth or acquisition.

We are driven to confess that we actually care more for religion than we do for religious theories and ideas: and in merely making that distinction between religion and its doctrine-elements, have we not already relegated the latter to an external and subordinate position? Have we not asserted that "religion itself" has some other essence or constitution than mere idea or thought?

No religion is a true religion that does not make men tingle to their fingertips with a sense of infinite hazard.

We cannot swing up on a rope that is attached only to our own belt.

Nothing can stir the "depths" of mind, but total out-of-doors. We call "depth," last dregs, etc., that in man which only ultimate facts and happenings can interest; that which the near and usual can neither rouse nor ruffle. Somewhere in each man, we imagine, there lies an ultimatum, to be backed by all his energies from all reservoirs, ordinary and extraordinary,--what can elicit from any man such ultimatum and ultimatum-backing?--nothing that has not somewhere in it the word All! There are such things, we think, as ruling passions, "deepest desires," in any man some nameable or un-nameable last ambition--what can set such a depth on fire?--nothing but some total opportunity (real or believed real), discovered in the wide world beyond the self.

What our view of the effectiveness of religion in history does at once make evident as to its nature is--first, its necessary distinction; second, its necessary supremacy. These characters though external have been so essential to its fruitfulness, as to justify the statement that without them religion is not religion. A merged religion and a negligible or subordinate religion are no religion.

Nothing is more evident, I venture to think, as a result of two or three thousand years of social philosophizing, than that society must live and thrive by way of the native impulses of individual human beings.

When law was held to come direct from the gods, it required a bold man and a prophet to propose a change in it. Perhaps it is still true that a law-maker ought to be something of a prophet. But if so, we are committed in western lands to the belief that prophetic capacity is widespread: the making of law goes on everywhere merrily and apace. In the midst of this vast labor it becomes clear to us that the more we relieve the gods of their burdens, the more we need to know what the gods know, the general principles on which law should be made. And if this knowledge were universal, and were applied in good faith, the law-makers themselves would in turn be relieved! In either case, then, we are bound to keep trying for a systematic grasp of those principles of law which we now possess in vague and fragmentary fashion.

But further, the presumption of a desired condition is, in any group of plastic minds, a force tending to bring about the thing presumed, i.e., to create it. It aids a boy to reach maturity to treat him as if he were a little older than he is. A little older: for the presumption loses its effect if it is too wide of the actual fact. The fundamental presumptions of the law are justified on this basis and to this extent: if they are too wide of the truth to be creative, they are not justified.

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American Idealist Philosopher at Harvard University