Dear Lunn,—I agree that we need more controversy, and I believe that no one does more than yourself to clear a way through the jungle of modem nonsense. What, then. was I driving at in my review of Within That Cif)?
Descartes, you remember, attempted really to doubt everything, and upon this basis of real doubt to erect a philosophic system in which he could not doubt. This method of approach involves a contradiction. If you really begin by doubting everything, you cannot, as it were, get started again, for you have deprived yourself of any possible secure starting point.
Now the impression I have got from your works has been that they smack a little of this Cartesian method. You seem to me to have tried to reduce your mind to a tabula rasa and, armed only with your reason, to have sought for the true Faith. And you have found it. I should be prepared to argue that either that there is a fallacy in your reasoning or that you have reached the Faith with the help of more weapons than your reason alone. (I am not here referring to actual conversion by grace; I am only talking of such certainty in religious matters as is attainable by natural processes).
For example. when I wrote that you forced your readers to listen to long arguments showing that every rational man nzust accept this or that conclusion when in fact lots did not, you retort by doubting whether those who refuse to accept these conclusions are in fact unprejudiced.
But surely they could retort that you also may not be perfectly unprejudiced either. Are you? Am I? Is anybody? Only a monstrous abstraction could refrain from belief about any single matter until that matter has been thrashed out by argument and every objection to the rationality of the belief answered—and yet everything we take for granted plays its part in disposing us to take another step forward or backward.
Each one of us, from the moment we enter into this world until the moment when we leave it, are being affected by one thing or another, each of which makes us a slightly different kind of person from what we were before we were so affected. Our
life consists or should consist of a mental and spiritual growth by a slow process of assimilation and rejection of the influences that come to bear on us.
Reason, no doubt, plays a directing part in this process, but will, emotion, taste, all collaborate with it and indeed affect it so that in time a more and more subtle, a more and more deep discriminating power, made up of all our faculties, takes the place of mere reason or mere will or mere emotions, etc.
You will appreciate that I have no space here to work this out—another book of letters would be needed!—but let me end by giving two concrete applications of the.difference between my outlook and the one I thought I detected in your apologetic writings prior to Within That City.
remember noting the difference between your attitude in regard to the dogma of Hell in your letters to Father Knox and in Now I See. I contend that in Now I See you did not answer your own objections in your letter to Father Knox by any rational proof. All that had happened was that your own discriminating power had changed and, in my opinion, grown finer.
When you wrote Now I See you appreciated better the reasons why there must be a Hell and ceased to appreciate the force of J. S. Mill's objection to it. Your " prejudices," in the best sense of the words, i.e., those thousands of events in your history each leaving its mark on you, that made you a more or less different person with a more or less different standard of values had changed, not the force of one pure rational argument as against another rational argument.
Lastly, let me apply what I have tried to convey to the question of personal experience. Why do I tend to be more influenced by personal experience than mere abstract argument? Because I can watch and follow the growth of that discriminating power in others and satisfy myself that it is far finer and deeper than any discrimMating power of my own. I can watch it developing in the works of Newman, for example, or of von }Rigel, and I am consequently deeply impressed when it is the means by which these thinkers and actively holy souls reach certain positions. It was, in fact, my sense—if you will allow me to say so—of the growth of your own discriminating power which made me praise so highly your last book and, by contrast, criticise your previous ones. Which only goes to show that I attributed to you a growth which was far more human than any to which you yourself seemed to lay claim.
To conclude: controversy is essentially a weapon of defence and consolidation; defending and consolidating a position one knows to be the right one. In such controversy, reasoning plays almost the only part. But while the position can be defended entirely by rational controversy, other positions—i.e., the state of soul of other people—are rarely stormed by mere rational controversy.
Even when one sallies forth and breaks down their outer works, one is really strengthening one's own position, so that a time may later come when the opponent, impressed in a thousand ways by the insecurity and unsatisfactoriness of his own position, will voluntarily capitulate and ask to be taken into the one position worth holding.
Whether this actually takes place or not depends even more on what has been going on within the opponent's position and on the appreciation of the difference between two positions taken as a whole (argument from personal experience) than on any direct attack by the methods of rational controversy — however necessary and important these may be in order to break down the barriers that make understanding and comparison possible.
Each one of us is a unique entity with only abstract reason common to us all and transferable from one to another. I am only pleading for the recognition of the fact that the acceptance of a position depends as much on the self-initiated changes in the non-transferable part of ourselves as on the seeing of conclusions which are or should be common property.