Vol. XXIII No. 7 — July 1945

Personal Masonic Philosophy

Philosophy is a word which has almost as many meanings as there are men to use it. The dictionary gives its “popular usage” definition as “The general principles, laws or causes that furnish the rational explanation of anything — practical wisdom.” If philosophy be defined as “the science of principles,” Masonic philosophy might be considered as that rationale of Freemasonry which sets forth its principles, causes, reasons for existence, future possibilities, all with reference to its fundamental verities.

It was with some such thought that Dean Roscoe Pound, eminent Masonic jurist, wrote his famous “Philosophy of Masonry.” In it he examined and classified the four brethren whom he regards as the greatest Masonic philosophers — Preston, Krause, Oliver, and Pike.

Pound’s evaluation of these thinkers may be summarized; Preston held knowledge to be the chief aim of life; he believed the function of Masonry was to provide a body of knowledge and a system of lectures by means of which it could be transmitted to its members.

Krause conceived morality in law and government to be the great end towards which a people should strive. He held Masonry to be the one institution through which this end might be achieved.

Oliver linked Masonry with religion and conceived it to be the one best approach to God.

Pike substituted “The Absolute” for the God of Oliver’s philosophy, and thought that Masonry, through its symbols and allegories, helped each brother in his quest for the highest good.

From the standpoint of the student — perhaps it should be said from the standpoint of the philosopher — these are doubtless true and valuable paragraphs, stating in few words a whole system of thought.

But the average individual Freemason will understand little and care less of what great thinkers have developed about the Ancient Craft. Your own personal philosophy of Freemasonry will likely have neither education nor morals nor God nor such abstractions as The Absolute as key words or thoughts.

It has been said that “philosophy abounds more than philosophers and learning more than learned men.” Much that is philosophy is not so recognized by its thinkers, and there is much wisdom in many people who never think of what they know as learning.

Joubert said “Whence? Whither? Why? How? These questions cover all of philosophy.” For the average Mason “whence” and “whither” might be left out — Masons are usually less interested in whence we came or whither we go, than in the “why” and “how” by which Freemasonry may affect their own lives and conduct.

Voltaire, great philosopher, said “The discovery of that which is true and the practice of that which is good are the two most important objects of philosophy.”

It is with this simple definition in mind that an attempt may be made to point a way by which each of us may develop a Masonic philosophy which is satisfactory to its deviser.

Pike’s writings were far above the heads of the majority, but one idea on which Pike insisted was of great advantage to the common man; the right of each Freemason to discover and interpret the symbols of Freemasonry for himself.

The Masonic philosophy which is ours is a personal possession, made by each of us for our use and none other. It is for each of us to discover what is true for us, and practice what is good for us, in our personal Masonic philosophy, uncaring of what our brother finds is the best philosophy for him.

Staying within the framework of the word in our use of “philosophy” as a label, we must have a point of departure. Referring to the dictionary, then, let us begin with a “rational explanation” of what Freemasonry’s work may be.

It is generally conceded that “to develop character in men” is Freemasonry’s object; it will do here as a foundation for any personal Masonic philosophy.

But how Freemasonry develops character in men is another matter. For the appeal of Freemasonry is many-sided, and what strikes a responsive chord in one heart leaves another mute, and vice versa.

Is the truth to be found in Masonic teachings of greatest importance? Before answering, recall that many schools of life and living have believed that the pursuit and attainment of happiness is the chief good and the greatest end of all endeavor.

Truth and happiness may, indeed, be the same; if different they may not be incompatible. But they also may be diametrically opposite. It is true that a murderer, caught, will be hanged, but it is no happiness to the murderer to know it!

If the truths of Freemasonry are most important, Masonic philosophy will demand the pursuit of the verities, regardless of the results to the inquirer. If the happiness Freemasonry may bring to the individual is its most important side, then a personal Masonic philosophy will require the Fraternity to fit in with those civil, social and moral laws — and only those — which bring happiness.

Does it seem that the two are incompatible, and that a philosophy which could embrace both cannot be a “rational explanation” which can be applied to Freemasonry?

Let us quote Pound himself, to show that what may seem opposites can yet be reconciled in one all embracing philosophy. He said: “We have long outgrown the notion that Masonry is to be held to one purpose or one object, or is to be hemmed in by the confines of one philosophy. If we are taught truly that the roof of the Mason’s workshop is ‘the clouded canopy or starry decked heavens’ nothing that goes on beneath that capacious covering can be wholly alien to us. Our fraternity is to be of all men and for all men; it is to be of all time and for all time. The needs of no one time and no one people can circumscribe its objects. The philosophy of no one time, of no one people, and much more of no one man, can be admitted as its final authority”

If we take this as authoritative, obviously a personal philosophy of Masonry based on its truths is as possible as one based on the happiness which Freemasonry may bring its possessor.

The brother to whom the truths of Masonry are the cornerstones on which he must found his individual philosophy will consult the symbols, read the allegories, absorb the stories, make his own the legends which cluster about the Ancient Craft. The Masonic ritual quotations from the Bible will be to him signposts pointing out new paths, to follow which is to gain a new truth at the end. He will take Pike’s dictum as his own rule of study, and fail to be satisfied with the “official” or “authoritative” explanation of any symbol. He will pursue it with thought untrammeled by those of other thinkers until he finds his own truth within it. Admitting as a premise, for instance, that “geometry teaches the more important truths of morality” he will be unsatisfied until he has demonstrated for himself that there is a direct connection between the science of earth measurement and the moral principles which govern men’s actions. Any mind can take in the idea that a flight of winding stairs may lead to a middle chamber, but the hunter of truth, in his personal philosophy of Masonry, will insist on an explanation satisfactory to him, as to why so much is made of the winding stairs in the degree which insists on the importance of knowledge as a foundation for manhood’s labors.

Per contra, he who must predicate his Masonic philosophy on the idea that the pursuit and attainment of happiness is the chief end of man and therefore of Masons, must look at the geometrical demonstration of moral truths from the standpoint of human well being. He must satisfy himself that happiness, in the longer view, is dependent upon morality, that there is none to be found outside its principles; that apparent happiness beyond the moral law must be “ungeometrical” and therefore subject to scientific disproof.

It is not contended here that personal Masonic philosophy can, or should, go no further than “truth” on the one hand and “pursuit of happiness” on the other. They are but beginnings. Each may have a hundred ramifications, bypaths, and divergent schools of thought. It is here only contended that any Masonic philosophy can by logical steps be shown to have a beginning in one or the other of these.

There are men who, having been brought up in a certain religion, practicing certain formal observances every Sunday in accordance with that bringing up, have found that manhood’s thoughts would criticize and make little of what in childhood and youth was fundamental.

Whether a departure from the religious instruction of youth is the fault of the individual or of his teachers or of his church is not here the question. It is the fact, not the cause, which is of interest; some men do grow away from early religious teachings and from church affiliations.

As young men such as these for a time fill a mental or spiritual void with practical affairs — home, family, making a living, sport, amusement, study. But to many comes at last a realization that there is an emptiness, a place not filled, a vacancy which produces mental unease and spiritual illness.

In Freemasonry many such have found an answer. If Freemasonry is not a religion, it is religion without the qualifying article; it is a form of worship in which the Great Architect is neither defined in theology nor circumscribed by dogma; it is a manner of approach to the unseen verities which, because of its very catholicity and lack of detail, can and does appeal to many men of many minds.

Such a man will base his personal Masonic philosophy upon the spiritual, rather than the mental or the moral truths of Freemasonry; or, if you will, he will engage in his pursuit of happiness via a personal Masonic philosophy which is predicated upon the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.

Kant, great philosopher, observed that philosophy does not discover truth; truth is already in evidence. Philosophy sets truth in order, relates one truth to another truth, and by thus bringing clarity out of confusion, makes all truths applicable to human life.

The personal philosophy of Masonry must set in order those ideas which are regarded as truth, must relate them one to the other, and thus make them of use in life. And it matters not at all that what may be a truth to one is nonsense to his neighbor. Man lives by the truth he recognizes, not that which his friends find important.

It is of no use to tell the primitive that thunder is not the voice of an angry God — that it is mere sound caused by impinging bodies of air momentarily swept apart by the passage of a bolt of lightning. He knows neither vacuum nor body of air nor lightning; he does know the rolling thunder. His truth is not our truth; his philosophy cannot be our philosophy, nor ours, his. But who shall say that the sacrifice he lays upon his fire to propitiate the angry god is less important to him than our putting up a lightning rod is to us? Each seeks to escape harm from great forces loose in the heavens; each has a philosophy which satisfies.

There are Masons who believe that King Solomon founded the three degrees and wrote the ritual of Freemasonry. There are those to whom the story of the Master Builder is literal history. Many people devoutly believe all statements in the Old Testament. Some Biblical scholars believe certain passages should be read as allegories rather than history. A personal philosophy of Masonry is helped, not injured, by a strong belief in any doctrine; it is belief which is important in the development of a philosophy; truth is its end, not its beginning. Philosophy is a rationalization of things as we believe them to be. There is no difference between Atlas, supporting the world and the theory of gravitation which keeps the world in the solar system because of an unknown force, as far as an individual philosophy is concerned — the question is, what holds the world up? The answers vary with the outlook, the education and the science of the philosopher, but all find an explanation which satisfies them.

There have been as many philosophies of life as there have been peoples, and ages in which they lived. The philosophies of one age frequently carry over into the next, either to fight or to coalesce with and modify the newer. A thousand years ago a religious philosophy was upheld by, if not founded upon, dreams and visions. Laughed out of serious thinking in the course of a few hundred years, there are even yet soothsayers and “prophets” who read the future in our dreams — and some people believe them. Yet there is also a body of recognized science which finds in day dreams and night dreams a clue to human character and the mainsprings of human actions. Here again it was the belief, not the fact, which was important. If our ancestors fought, bled and died over the question of how many angels could dance on the point of a needle, at least they believed in angels, and their philosophy was predicated thereon a philosophy which satisfied them and enabled them to live the better than it was to them either truth, or a condition of their happiness.

Our personal Masonic philosophy will be founded on one of two cornerstones. It may develop along social, moral, religious, sectarian, fellowship or other lines.

How will it end? No one can say, of course, with any authority. But if we keep our Masonic philosophy within the framework of Freemasonry — which means within the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man — it will probably round itself out in a vision of a universal religion, which will embrace all creeds; a universal government which will embrace all humanity; a universal knowledge which will make all mankind kin, thus outlawing war, eliminating the criminal and bringing about that Utopia in which the search for truth is ended because all truth is evident, and men no more pursue happiness because all men are happy.

The Masonic Service Association of North America