Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/355

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
351
SOMETHING NEW IN "FREEWILL"

trine. It holds up improvement as at least possible. "Freewill" is thus a general cosmological theory of promise.

It is very important to understand just what this means. It means that we may assume, as a relief from despondency, that things may happen in the future which have absolutely no ground in what has been or what is. We have, by hypothesis, no means of knowing anything whatever about these things to which we look forward. We can not frame a reasonable expectation of any kind — we only know that we may expect the unexpected.

Let us imagine Schopenhauer, the pessimist, and Candide, the merry optimist, banished together to a world of this lawless description, and condemned to pass a month in the same pension. The beds are hard, the coffee is weak, the dinner is not wholly satisfactory, and the company is mixed.

"Candide," says Arthur, after a week spent in mortifying the flesh, "how does this strike you?"

"I shall not answer you in the spirit of the exaggerated optimism which I once tried to cultivate," responds the sobered philosopher, "for the condition of things is, indeed, somewhat trying; but I know your weakness, and I feel it my duty to point out to you that, if we may not be optimists here, we may at least be meliorists. In such a world as this, no one can know what is going to happen next. In this general uncertainty there lies concealed a promise. Cheer up!"

"Cheer up?" thunders the German, "Candide, you are incorrigible. As you have abandoned your optimism, I should be ungenerous not to modify my pessimism; but beyond pejorism I can not, as a rational being, consent to go. You admit that things are bad; you admit that, for all we can know to the contrary, they may at any time be worse. That is enough for me — God alone can know how miserable the next week may find us."

"But think of the promise," insists the man of hopeful temper, "is there nothing in that?"

"The promise? The promise of what?" is the scornful reply. "Who can take comfort in a promise so long as it is uncertain whether it is a promise to pay or a promise to extort payment? Your meliorism and my pejorism are the same thing, or two aspects of the same thing — the thing may best be described as discontent with the present and complete uncertainty touching the future."

Candide relapses into silence; he can not conscientiously load the dice of "freewill" and make them work together for good. He can not assure his companion that things are going to be better, when it is purely problematic whether there is going to be any change at all, and whether, if there be a change, it will be a change for the better or for the worse. He may not exercise a confidence in the Cosmos, or in