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What is Philosophy?

Part I

Climbing;
or,
The Law of Attainment

"This is Philosophy, to make remote things tangible; common things extensively useful; useful things extensively common; and to leave the least necessary for the last."
—Walter Savage Landor

It has been well said that Philosophy consists in "making remote things tangible." And it goes without saying that the best way to make a remote thing tangible is to go up to it and touch it instead of waiting for it to come to us I to be touched. And yet how few people seem to realize this obvious truth. Instead of climbing the tree to get at the cherries, some simply open their mouth and expect the cherries to fall into it. And how often they are disappointed because they are foolish enough to expect impossibilities and miracles instead of conforming to the laws of nature and the light of reason! If they were wise they would learn how to climb the tree as the only means of getting at the fruit. And, in the attainment of that simple end, certain first principles are involved which are valuable as illustrating the conditions of all human achievement.

The attainment of any object, be it great or small, involves a definite process or method of procedure just as much as does a journey by land or a voyage by sea, and the various stages may be aptly mapped out by filling in the object-lesson already outlined. First and foremost, then, we have a definite object in the cherries. They are real cherries—not imitations. Then we have a definite desire or motive to get at them—we are hungry. That means that we assume a definite mental attitude towards the object in view, and this direction or inclination, as applied to the cherries, is upwards. A child would stretch out his hands towards them. That is nature's language, direct, simple, and definite—a language more powerful than words. Then we cast about for the best means of going in the direction of our desire, the most suitable means of approach, the best avenue. There are different ways of getting up a tree, and the combined ingenuity of ages has devised a means which is so simple, so direct, and so effectual in its operation, that from it we may build up an entire system of philosophy. It is the ladder, or scale, i.e. a series of steps arranged in ascending order so that each step leads up to the next in one unbroken sequence from the first to the last. Then we learn how to use the ladder by conforming our individual movements to its construction, namely, by using our feet and hands in rhythmic alternation. And now having, by our own exertion systematically applied, raised our position from a lower level to a higher, a new world opens up to our view; we have changed our circumstances and created for ourselves a new environment. We are surrounded by cherries! The cherries, once far off, are no longer "remote," they have become "tangible." They are ours! But even now our final aim is not attained and we continue the steps of the process on a still higher plane. We eat and enjoy the cherries and in so doing we assimilate them into our bodies and they become a part of ourselves. One step further. Having satisfied our own hunger we forget not that others also are hungry. We descend with a basket full of cherries. These we distribute to our friends in need, and in blessing others we find ourselves doubly blest, for virtue is its own reward. And now for the application of this simple parable. To say nothing of cherries, even the best things in the world—especially spiritual things—are of little use to us unless we can reach them. So long as they are remote they are useless, and in proportion as they are near they are valuable, and therefore wisdom suggests that we should learn the best way of "making remote things tangible."

In the physical world the life of an organism depends upon its being completely in touch with its surroundings. That is to say in the natural order of things the surroundings of every organism are tangible to itself, and so long as they remain tangible, i.e. in touch, so long there is life, but if from any cause those surroundings are cut off, then death at once ensues. In ethics the same law prevails. Spiritual life depends upon perfect vital contact of the soul with its surroundings, that is, touch with God within and touch with man without. If both these surroundings, the inner and the outer, are not perfectly in contact, that is, mutually tangible, life is impaired and there is no wholeness, holiness, health, harmony. Hence in all true Religion, God is apprehended as a real living Presence and not as an absent far-away Power that has to be summoned, when need be, by some mysterious process of invocation or incantation; for God dwells not in temples of stone but in all created things and, most of all, in that preeminently sentient and responsive of all His works, the Heart of man. In that temple not made with hands awe can speak to God and He to us. There we can worship in spirit and in truth. There, as living branches of the true Vine, we can bring forth the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. It is not enough to acknowledge the Power of God by verbal proclamation in psalm and hymn and spiritual song. No such artificial means can avail to bring within our reach the Presence of the Most High. All that these things can do is to suggest a dim symbolical appearance or image, for nothing short of vital contact with life will either create or sustain life, What we have to do is to place ourselves in position to receive and appropriate that Power as our own, use it for our own purposes, apply it as the motive of our own life, and prove to the world by ocular demonstration the possibility of working miracles of faith and love. The Christ-Spirit within us only awaits our touch to manifest itself to us, and through us as the instruments of its manifestation. Only by drawing near to Him can we make God a tangible Reality.

He that would lead a good life must adopt a certain order of succession in the conduct of it, and the greatest teachers of mankind have insisted upon the adoption of such a system in the attainment of virtue as the one suggested in our parable. "All moral teachings set up a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, the ascent of which can only be accomplished by starting from the lowest step." And this order lies in the very essence of things. But whether the perfecting process that is open to us as moral beings be finite or infinite, our duty is to continue to ascend that golden ladder even though its top be hidden in the clouds of our own unbelief and we hear only as a faint echo that cheering Voice of Love that ever bids us "Come up hither."

(To be Continued)

Knowledge leads to unity, and ignorance to diversity.
—Ramakrishna
I Observe myself and I come to know others.
—Lao-Tze
The strength of a man’s virtue must not be measured by his extraordinary efforts, but by his ordinary life.
—Pascal

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W. H. Gill

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