Philosophy Class

"The Truth will make you odd."

Personal Metaphysical Problem

G.K. Chesterton      "People are selfish, because they have a self."

G.K. Chesterton: A Personal Metaphysical Problem

1. This journalist and thinker, G.K. Chesterton, an Englishman who lived from 1874 to 1937, and was thought of by the philosopher Etteine Gilson as one of the "deepest thinkers who ever lived", had a black period in his life. His cure was not psychiatry, but a change in philosophy. He states that he took modern philosophy (read the beliefs of Kant et al) to its logical conclusion which he stated is solipsism and lived it.

2. "It was as if I had myself projected the universe from within, with all its trees and stars; and that is so near to the notion of being God that it is manifestly even nearer to going mad. Yet I was not mad, in any medical or physical sense; I was simply carrying the skepticism of my time as far as it would go... While dull atheists came and explained to me that there was nothing but matter, I listened with a sort of calm horror of detachment, suspecting that there was nothing but mind... The atheists told me so pompously that he did not believe there was any God; and there were moments when I did not believe there was any atheist." G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography, p. 88

3. In order to prevent himself from going mad, he "invented a rudimentary and makeshift mystical theory of my own. It was substantially this; that even mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, was extraordinary enough to be exciting." Autobiography, p. 89 and 90

The following contains instances of Chesterton's final thoughts which were what he claims saved him from madness:

1. "Men spoke much in my boyhood of restricted or ruined men of genius: and it was common to say that many a man was a Great Might-Have-Been. To me it is a more solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not -Have-Been." Orthodoxy, p. 64

2. "Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange." Orthodoxy, p. 82

3. "This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. ... when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales; we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door." Orthodoxy, p. 98



The following poem shows Chesterton's horror when he flirted with really believing the Idealist epistemology.


From: Collected Poems of G.K. Chesterton "The Mirror of Madmen" p. 327


"I dreamed a dream of heaven, white as frost. .

The splendid stillness of a living host:

Vast choirs of upturned faces, line o'er line.

Then my blood froze; for every face was mine.

Spirits with sunset plumage throng and pass,

Glassed darkly in the sea of gold and glass.

But still on every side, in every spot.

I saw a million selves, who saw me not.

I fled to quiet waste land, where on a stone.

Perchance, I found a saint, who sat alone:

I came behind: he turned with slow, sweet grace.

And faced me with my happy, hateful face.

I cowered like one that in a tower doth hide.

Shut in my mirrors upon every side:

Then I saw, islanded in skies alone

And silent, one that sat upon a throne.

His robe was bordered with rich rose and gold,

Green, purple, silver out of sunsets old:

But o'er his face a great cloud edged with fire,

Because it covereth a world's desire.

But as I gazed, a silent worshipper,

Methought the cloud began to faintly stir;

Then I fell flat, and screamed with grovelling head,

'If thou hast any lightning, strike me dead!

'But spare a brow where the clean sunlight fell,

The crown of a new sin that sickens hell.

Let me not look aloft and see mine own

Features and form upon the Judgement - throne.'

Then my dream snapped: and with a heart that leapt

I saw across the tavern where I slept,

The sight of all my life most full of grace,

A gin-damned drunkard's wan half-witted face."