Review of A Realistic Philosophy of Religion by A.C. Garnett
The reviewer resisted an impulse to return this volume, written by an eminent philosopher, for it deals with problems beyond the competence of sociological research, but because the foundations of the argument include whole chapters on Social Origins and on Social Psychology, in which sociologists have done much work, it was decided to use the five hundred allotted words to record the judgment arrived at after a very careful reading. Unfortunately, the judgment is negative in these two areas of discussion.
Social origins comes into the discussion in a chapter on the birth of religion in mankind, which concludes with a vivid account of the experiences of primitive man at a period far earlier than that into which most myth-makers have ventured, We have a detailed account, given by the aid of what is called "a little sober imagination," of primitive man when his language was so undeveloped that signs and not words were used in the ceremonies, and the stages are set forth in the manner of Rousseau or Hobbes and with the scientific method of Kipling's "Just So" Stories.
In the psychological portions of the book, the central concept is the "disinterested will." Taken literally this is obviously a contradiction in terms, for an act of the will is specific and definite and never disinterested. (The term. occurs repeatedly; a word count was begun but abandoned when the total had reached ninety-seven.) It means, as used, an altruistic will, leading to unselfish action against the interest of the "ego," which in turn is concerned with the "organism," There thus emerges a sort of schizophrenic theory of the self. The "ego" is an unlovely thing but the "disinterested will" is a distinct personal agency (p. 244) not rooted in the "physical organism" (p. 313) and is the source of all unselfishness.
American sociologists have agreed on a different theory of the nature of the self. My interest in relief for the Chinese, in contributing to the Red Cross or in working for the Victory Loan is now held to be a part of my ego and not a check on it. The self develops and grows in social experience. Not since Herbert Spencer have sociologists been interested in the conflict between egoism and altruism, It is not a question of selfishness or unselfishness, but rather what kind of self is developed and cherished.
Dr. Garnett accepts what sociologists regard as an .outmoded associationist psychology, supplemented by his own notion of the innate antagonism between the ego and his "disinterested will." Having presented the arguments
( 338) for the existence of such a will, the transition to his theological position is direct. On page 244 is this enthymeme : Harmony with the disinterested will is harmony with God; therefore, the disinterested will is God. (But try this: Harmony with the lend-lease policy is harmony with Roosevelt, therefore the lend-lease policy is Roosevelt-but harmony with the lend-lease policy is harmony with Churchill; therefore Roosevelt is Churchill.)
The whole argument rests on the theory of the self adopted and must stand or fall with it. In the opinion of this reviewer, it falls.
The elaboration of the proofs for the existence of God and for immortality do not concern us here. One is impressed with the clarity of expression and the urbanity of the writer, as well as his scholarship. His arguments will strengthen the conviction of those already convinced. -
Lake Forest, Illinois