« PreviousContinue »
has been unable until comparatively late times either to raise or answer the question, Was mind before matter or matter before mind? The Jews seem to have been the first nation raised above such materialism, and raised also, in consequence, above pantheism to a true theism. It is the Bible which has impressed on the human mind the great thought of the creation of matter by the will, the word of God.
The rude religious materialism now referred to is, of course, a very different thing from a speculative anti-religious materialism, but it explains why, as soon as speculation appeared and assumed an anti-religious attitude, it should have presented itself in the form of materialism. In spite of all that has been said against speculation, however, it is not the rule, it is only the exception, for it to be anti-religious; it is not the rule, but only the exception, for it to lead to materialism. The tendency of speculation, of refined and disciplined reflection of thought which seeks really to comprehend what it has before it, is, if history may be credited, to get beyond matter, not to rest in it. The history of materialism impartially written is not a very brilliant one. Comparatively few of the world's greatest thinkers have been adherents of this system. Its advocates have often done it little credit. In China, more than three hundred years before
i See Appendix V.
the Christian era, an avowedly atheistical materialism was widely prevalent. It was the chief task in life of one of the most celebrated Chinese philosophers, Meng-tseu, better known in the West as Mencius, to combat this doctrine, and the views of man's duty and destiny which were based on it. He believed it to have caused a vast amount of harm to his country, and that no society could long exist which entertained it. A few lines from an essay of one of the men whose teaching he strove to counteract will probably be sufficient to convince you that he was not far wrong. Yang Choo said, “Wherein people differ is the matter of life ; wherein they agree is death. While they are alive we have the distinctions of intelligence and stupidity, honourableness and meanness; when they are dead we have so much rottenness decaying away,—this is the common lot. Yet intelligence and stupidity, honourableness and meanness, are not in one's power; neither is that condition of putridity, decay, and utter disappearance. A man's life is not in his own hands, nor is his death ; his intelligence is not his own, nor is his stupidity, nor his honourableness, nor his meanness. All are born and all die;—the intelligent and the stupid, the honourable and the mean. At ten years old some die; at a hundred years old some die. The virtuous and the sage die; the ruffian and the fool also die. Alive, they were Yaou and Shun, the most virtuous of men ; dead, they are so much rotten bone. Alive, they were Klëe and Chow, the most wicked of men; dead, they are so much rotten bone. Who could know any difference between their rotten bones? While alive, therefore, let us hasten to make the best of life. When about to die, let us treat the thing with indifference and endure it; and seeking to accomplish our departure, so abandon ourselves to annihilation.”
Plainer language than this there could not be. The whole essay is of the same character and tenor. Its author was avowedly without God and without hope in the world. He thought human beings were mere combinations of particles of dust, and would dissolve into particles of dust again. He saw that however differently men lived, their common lot was death; and he fancied that after death there was nothing left but “rotten bone.” A man lives virtuously, but if he is unhappy all through life, as the virtuous often are, his virtue would seem, since there is no future world, to have done him no good. You may praise him after he is dead, but that is no more to him than to the trunk of a tree or a clod of earth. Or he may live what is called a vicious life, but if he have thereby the joy of gratifying his desires, any blame you may give him after he is dead will not take away from the reality of his enjoyment. Blame is to the bad man, after death, like praise to the good man—as worthless as it is to the trunk of a tree or a clod of earth. Fame, therefore, according to Yang Choo, is but a phantom, virtue is but a delusion, and enjoyment has alone some reality and good in it. Hence he advises men not to care for praise or blame, virtue or vice, except as a means of enjoyment; to seek merely to make themselves as happy as they can while happiness is within their reach; to eat and drink, for to-morrow they die. That is one of the oldest systems of ethical materialism and of materialistic ethics. It is a very simple theory, and to the vast majority of men it will seem a very consistent theory. A few exceptionally constituted natures may combine a materialistic creed with generous and self-denying conduct, but the ordinary man of all lands and ages will find in a materialism which denies God and a future life the justification of sensuality and selfishness."
None of the greater systems of Hindu phil. osophy can be properly classed as materialistic; but among the minor systems there is one-the Charvāka philosophy—closely akin to that just described. It assumes that perception by the senses is the only source of true knowledge. It maintains that the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, are the original principles of all things,
1 See Appendix VI.
and that they are eternal. It represents intelligence as resulting from a modification of the aggregate of these elements, when combined and transformed into the human body, just as the power of inebriation is produced by the mixing of certain ingredients. The faculty of thought, according to it, is destroyed when the elements from which it arises are dissolved. There is no soul apart from the body: the soul is only the body distinguished by the attribute of intelligence. The various phenomena of the world are produced spontaneously from the inherent nature of things, and there is nothing supernatural — no God, no fate even, no other world, no final liberation, no recompense for acts. Prosperity is heaven and adversity is hell, and there is no other heaven or hell. The so-called sacred books—the three Vedas -were composed by rogues or buffoons. The exercises of religion and the practices of asceticism are merely a means of livelihood for men devoid of intellect and manliness. The sole end — the only reasonable end-of man is enjoyment:“While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee,
even though he runs in debt; When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again?” That, so far as I know, is the only system of thorough materialism among the philosophies of India. And certainly, in one sense, it is as thorough as can be imagined. It shows no reverence