William Ernest Hocking

William Ernest

American Idealist Philosopher at Harvard University

Author Quotes

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.

Now this perfect openness to experience is not possible if pain is the last word of pain. Unless there is something behind the fact of pain, some kind of mystery or problem in it whose solution shows the pain to be other than what it pretends, there is no happiness for man in this world or the next; for no matter how fair the world might in time become, the fact that it had been as bad as it is would remain an un-banishable misery, un-banishable by God or any other power.

Wherever moral ambition exists, there right exists. And moral ambition itself must be presumed present in sub-consciousness, even when the conscious self seems to reject it, so long as society has resources for bringing it into action; in much the same way that the life-saver presumes life to exist in the drowned man until he has exhausted his resources for recovering respiration.

Every social need, such as the need for friendship, must be a party to its own satisfaction: I cannot passively find my friend as a ready-made friend; a ready-made human being he may be, but his friendship for me I must help to create by my own active resolve.

Only the man who has enough good in him to feel the justice of the penalty can be punished; the others can only be hurt.

Without good-will, no man has any presumptive right, except the right or opportunity to change his will, so long as there is hope of it.

For maturity is marked by the preference to be defeated rather than have a subjective success. We as mature persons can worship only that which we are compelled to worship. If we are offered a man-made God and a self-answering prayer, we will rather have no God and no prayer. There can be no valid worship except that in which man is involuntarily bent by the presence of the Most Real, beyond his will.

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

For those who have only to obey, law is what the sovereign commands. For the sovereign, in the throes of deciding what he ought to command, this view of law is singularly empty of light and leading. In the dispersed sovereignty of modern states, and especially in times of rapid social change, law must look to the future as well as to history and precedent, and to what is possible and right as well as to what is actual.

Principle I: Legal rights are presumptive rights.

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]

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William Ernest
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American Idealist Philosopher at Harvard University