THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE CONDITIONED
Reprinted, with Additions, from "The Contemporary Review."
Comprising some Remarks on Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy and on Mr. J.S. Mill's Examination of that Philosophy
BY H.L. MANSEL, B.D.
WAYNFLETE PROFESSOR OF MORAL AND METAPHYSICAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
ALEXANDER STRAHAN, PUBLISHER LONDON AND NEW YORK 1866
MUIR AND PATERSON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.
The circumstance that the following remarks were originally published as an anonymous article in a Review, will best explain the style in which they are written. Absence from England prevented me from becoming acquainted with Mr. Mill's Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy till some time after its publication; and when I was requested to undertake the task of reviewing it, I was still ignorant of its contents. On proceeding to fulfil my engagement, I soon discovered, not only that the character of the book was very different from what the author's reputation had led me to expect, but also that my task would be one, not merely of criticism, but, in some degree, of self-defence. The remarks on myself, coming from a writer of Mr. Mill's ability and reputation, were such as I could not pass over without notice; while, at the same time, I felt that my principal duty in this instance was the defence of one who was no longer living to defend himself. Under these circumstances, the best course appeared to be, to devote the greater portion of my article to an exposition and vindication of Sir W. Hamilton's teaching; and, in the additional remarks which it was necessary to make on the more personal part of the controversy, to speak of myself in the third person, as I should have spoken of any other writer. The form thus adopted has been retained in the present republication, though the article now appears with the name of its author.
My original intention of writing a review of the entire book was necessarily abandoned as soon as I became acquainted with its contents. To have done justice to the whole subject, or to Mr. Mill's treatment of it, would have required a volume nearly as large as his own. I therefore determined to confine myself to the Philosophy of the Conditioned, both as the most original and important portion of Sir W. Hamilton's teaching, and as that which occupies the first place in Mr. Mill's Examination.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE CONDITIONED.
The reader of Plato's Republic will readily recall to mind that wonderful passage at the end of the sixth book, in which the philosopher, under the image of geometrical lines, exhibits the various relations of the intelligible to the sensible world; especially his lofty aspirations with regard to "that second segment of the intelligible world, which reason of itself grasps by the power of dialectic, employing hypotheses, not as principles, but as veritable hypotheses, that is to say, as steps and starting-points, in order that it may ascend as far as the unconditioned ([Greek: mechri tou anypothetou]), to the first principle of the universe, and having grasped this, may then lay hold of the principles next adjacent to it, and so go down to the end, using no sensible aids whatever, but employing abstract forms throughout, and terminating in forms."
This quotation is important for our present purpose in two ways. In the first place, it may serve, at the outset of our remarks, to propitiate those plain-spoken English critics who look upon new terms in philosophy with the same suspicion with which Jack Cade regarded "a noun and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear," by showing that the head and front of our offending, "the Unconditioned," is no modern invention of Teutonic barbarism, but sanctioned even by the Attic elegance of a Plato. And in the second place, it contains almost a history in miniature of the highest speculations of philosophy, both in earlier and in later times, and points out, with a clearness and precision the more valuable because uninfluenced by recent controversies, the exact field on which the philosophies of the Conditioned and the Unconditioned come into collision, and the nature of the problem which they both approach from opposite sides.
What is the meaning of this problem, the solution of which Plato proposes as the highest aim of philosophy—"to ascend to the unconditioned, and thence to deduce the universe of conditioned existence?" The problem has assumed different forms at different times: at present we must content ourselves with stating it in that in which it will most naturally suggest itself to a student of modern philosophy, and in which it has the most direct bearing on the subject of the present article.
All consciousness must in the first instance present itself as a relation between two constituent parts, the person who is conscious, and the thing, whatever it may be, of which he is conscious. This contrast has been indicated, directly or indirectly, by various names—mind and matter; person and thing; subject and object; or, lastly, in the distinction, most convenient for philosophy, however uncouth in sound, between self and not self—the ego and the non-ego. In order to be conscious at all, I must be conscious of something: consciousness thus presents itself as the product of two factors, I and something. The problem of the unconditioned is, briefly stated, to reduce these two factors to one.
For it is manifest that, so long as they remain two, we have no unconditioned, but a pair of conditioned existences. If the something of which I am conscious is a separate reality, having qualities and modes of action of its own, and thereby determining, or contributing to determine, the form which my consciousness of it shall take, my consciousness is thereby conditioned, or partly dependent on something beyond itself. It is no matter, in this respect, whether the influence is direct or indirect—whether, for instance, I see a material tree, or only the mental image of a tree. If the nature of the thing in any degree determines the character of the image—if the visible form of a tree is different from that of a house because the tree itself is different from the house, my consciousness is, however remotely, influenced by something different from itself, the ego by the non-ego. And on the other hand, if I, who am conscious, am a real being, distinct from the things of which I am conscious—if the conscious mind has a constitution and laws of its own by which it acts, and if the mode of its consciousness is in any degree determined by those laws, the non-ego is so far conditioned by the ego; the thing which I see is not seen absolutely and per se, but in a form partly dependent upon the laws of my vision.
The first step towards the reduction of these two factors to one may obviously be made in three different ways. Either the ego may be represented as a mode of the non-ego, or the non-ego of the ego, or both of a tertium quid, distinct from either. In other words: it may be maintained, first, that matter is the only real existence; mind and all the phenomena of consciousness being really the result solely of material laws; the brain, for example, secreting thought as the liver secretes bile; and the distinct personal existence of which I am apparently conscious being only the result of some such secretion. This is Materialism, which has then to address itself to the further problem, to reduce the various phenomena of matter to some one absolutely first principle on which everything else depends. Or it may be maintained, secondly, that mind is the only real existence; the intercourse which we apparently have with a material world being really the result solely of the laws of our mental constitution. This is Idealism, which again has next to attempt to reduce the various phenomena to some one immaterial principle. Or it may be maintained, thirdly, that real existence is to be sought neither in mind as mind nor in matter as matter; that both classes of phenomena are but qualities or modes of operation of something distinct from both, and on which both alike are dependent. Hence arises a third form of philosophy, which, for want of a better name, we will call Indifferentism, as being a system in which the characteristic differences of mind and matter are supposed to disappear, being merged in something higher than both.
In using the two former of these terms, we are not speaking of Materialism and Idealism as they have always actually manifested themselves, but only of the distinguishing principle of these systems when pushed to its extreme result. It is quite possible to be a materialist or an idealist with respect to the immediate phenomena of consciousness, without attempting a philosophy of the Unconditioned at all. But it is also possible, and in itself natural, when such a philosophy is attempted, to attempt it by means of the same method which has approved itself in relation to subordinate inquiries; to make the relation between the human mind and its objects the type and image of that between the universe and its first principle. And such attempts have actually been made, both on the side of Materialism and on that of Idealism; and probably would be made oftener, did not counteracting causes frequently hinder the logical development of speculative principles.
In modern times, and under Christian influences, these several systems are almost necessarily identified with inquiries concerning the existence and nature of God. The influence of Christianity has been indirectly felt, even in speculations prosecuted in apparent independence of it; and the admission of an absolute first principle of all things distinct from God, or the acknowledgment of a God separate from or derived from the first principle of all things, is an absurdity which, since the prevalence of Christianity, has become almost impossible, even to antichristian systems of thought. In earlier times, indeed, this union of philosophy with theology was by no means so imperative. A philosophy like that of Greece, which inherited its speculations from a poetical theogony, would see no difficulty in attributing to the god or gods of its religious belief a secondary and derived existence, dependent on some higher and more original principle, and in separating that principle itself from all immediate connection with religion. It was possible to assume, with the Ionian, a material substance, or, with the Eleatic, an indifferent abstraction, as the first principle of things, without holding that principle to be God, or, as the only alternative, denying the existence of a God; and thus, as Aristotle[A] has observed, theologians endeavoured to evade the consequences of their abstract principles, by attributing to the chief good a later and derived existence, as the poets supposed the supreme God to be of younger birth than night and chaos and sea and sky. But to a Christian philosophy, or to a philosophy in any way influenced by Christianity, this method of evasion is no longer possible. If all conditioned existence is dependent on some one first and unconditioned principle, either that principle must be identified with God, or our philosophical speculations must fall into open and avowed atheism.
[A] Metaph., xiv. 4.
But at this point the philosophical inquiry comes in contact with another line of thought, suggested by a different class of the facts of consciousness. As a religious and moral being, man is conscious of a relation of a personal character, distinct from any suggested by the phenomena of the material world,—a relation to a supreme Personal Being, the object of his religious worship, and the source and judge of his moral obligations and conduct. To adopt the name of God in an abstract speculation merely as a conventional denomination for the highest link in the chain of thought, and to believe in Him for the practical purposes of worship and obedience, are two very different things; and for the latter, though not for the former, the conception of God as a Person is indispensable. Were man a being of pure intellect, the problem of the Unconditioned would be divested of its chief difficulty; but he is also a being of religious and moral faculties, and these also have a claim to be satisfied by any valid solution of the problem. Hence the question assumes another and a more complex form. How is the one absolute existence, to which philosophy aspires, to be identified with the personal God demanded by our religious feelings?
Shall we boldly assume that the problem is already solved, and that the personal God is the very Unconditioned of which we were in search? This is to beg the question, not to answer it. Our conception of a personal being, derived as it is from the immediate consciousness of our own personality, seems, on examination, to involve conditions incompatible with the desired assumption. Personal agency, similar to our own, seems to point to something very different from an absolutely first link in a chain of phenomena. Our actions, if not determined, are at least influenced by motives; and the motive is a prior link in the chain, and a condition of the action. Our actions, moreover, take place in time; and time, as we conceive it, cannot be regarded as an absolute blank, but as a condition in which phenomena take place as past, present, and future. Every act taking place in time implies something antecedent to itself; and this something, be it what it may, hinders us from regarding the subsequent act as absolute and unconditioned. Nay, even time itself, apart from the phenomena which it implies, has the same character. If an act cannot take place except in time, time is the condition of its taking place. To conceive the unconditioned, as the first link in a chain of conditioned consequences, it seems necessary that we should conceive something out of time, yet followed by time; standing at the beginning of all duration and succession, having no antecedent, but followed by a series of consequents.
Philosophical theologians have been conscious of this difficulty, almost from the earliest date at which philosophy and Christian theology came in contact with each other. From a number of testimonies of similar import, we select one or two of the most striking. Of the Divine Nature, Gregory Nyssen says: "It is neither in place nor in time, but before these and above these in an unspeakable manner, contemplated itself by itself, through faith alone; neither measured by ages, nor moving along with times."[B] "In the changes of things," says Augustine, "you will find a past and a future; in God you will find a present where past and future cannot be."[C] "Eternity," says Aquinas, "has no succession, but exists all together."[D] Among divines of the Church of England, we quote two names only, but those of the highest:—"The duration of eternity," says Bishop Pearson, "is completely indivisible and all at once; so that it is ever present, and excludes the other differences of time, past and future."[E] And Barrow enumerates among natural modes of being and operation far above our reach, "God's eternity without succession," coupling it with "His prescience without necessitation of events."[F] But it is needless to multiply authorities for a doctrine so familiar to every student of theology.
[B] C. Eunom., i., p. 98, Ed. Gretser.
[C] In Joann. Evang., tract. xxxvii. 10.
[D] Summa, pars. i., qu. x., art. 1.
[E] Minor Theol. Works, vol. i., p. 105.
[F] Sermon on the Unsearchableness of God's Judgments.
Thus, then, our two lines of thought have led us to conclusions which, at first sight, appear to be contradictory of each other. To be conceived as unconditioned, God must be conceived as exempt from action in time: to be conceived as a person, if His personality resembles ours, He must be conceived as acting in time. Can these two conclusions be reconciled with each other; and if not, which of them is to be abandoned? The true answer to this question is, we believe, to be found in a distinction which some recent critics regard with very little favour,—the distinction between Reason and Faith; between the power of conceiving and that of believing. We cannot, in our present state of knowledge, reconcile these two conclusions; yet we are not required to abandon either. We cannot conceive the manner in which the unconditioned and the personal are united in the Divine Nature; yet we may believe that, in some manner unknown to us, they are so united. To conceive the union of two attributes in one object of thought, I must be able to conceive them as united in some particular manner: when this cannot be done, I may nevertheless believe that the union is possible, though I am unable to conceive how it is possible. The problem is thus represented as one of those Divine mysteries, the character of which is clearly and well described in the language of Leibnitz:—"Il en est de meme des autres mysteres, ou les esprits moderes trouveront toujours une explication suffisante pour croire, et jamais autant qu'il en faut pour comprendre. Il nous suffit d'un certain ce que c'est ([Greek: ti esti]) mais le comment ([Greek: pos]) nous passe, et ne nous est point necessaire."[G]
[G] Theodicee, Discours de la Conformite de la Foi avec la Raison, Sec. 56. Leibnitz, it will be observed, uses the expression pour comprendre, for which, in the preceding remarks, we have substituted to conceive. The change has been made intentionally, on account of an ambiguity in the former word. Sometimes it is used, as Leibnitz here uses it, to denote an apprehension of the manner in which certain attributes can coexist in an object. But sometimes (to say nothing of other senses) it is used to signify a complete knowledge of an object in all its properties and their consequences, such as it may be questioned whether we have of any object whatever. This ambiguity, which has been the source of much confusion and much captious criticism, is well pointed out by Norris in his Reason and Faith (written in reply to Toland), p. 118, Ed. 1697: "When we say that above reason is when we do not comprehend or perceive the truth of a thing, this must not be meant of not comprehending the truth in its whole latitude and extent, so that as many truths should be said to be above reason as we cannot thus thoroughly comprehend and pursue throughout all their consequences and relations to other truths (for then almost everything would be above reason), but only of not comprehending the union or connection of those immediate ideas of which the proposition supposed to be above reason consists." Comprehension, as thus explained, answers exactly to the ordinary logical use of the term conception, to denote the combination of two or more attributes in an unity of representation. In the same sense, M. Peisse, in the preface to his translation of Hamilton's Fragments, p. 98, says,—"Comprendre, c'est voir un terme en rapport avec un autre; c'est voir comme un ce qui est donne comme multiple." This is exactly the sense in which Hamilton himself uses the word conception. (See Reid's Works, p. 377.)
But this distinction involves a further consequence. If the mysteries of the Divine Nature are not apprehended by reason as existing in a particular manner (in which case they would be mysteries no longer), but are accepted by faith as existing in some manner unknown to us, it follows that we do not know God as He is in His absolute nature, but only as He is imperfectly represented by those qualities in His creatures which are analogous to, but not identical with, His own. If, for example, we had a knowledge of the Divine Personality as it is in itself, we should know it as existing in a certain manner compatible with unconditioned action; and this knowledge of the manner would at once transform our conviction from an act of faith to a conception of reason. If, on the other hand, the only personality of which we have a positive knowledge is our own, and if our own personality can only be conceived as conditioned in time, it follows that the Divine Personality, in so far as it is exempt from conditions, does not resemble the only personality which we directly know, and is not adequately represented by it. This necessitates a confession, which, like the distinction which gives rise to it, has been vehemently condemned by modern critics, but which has been concurred in with singular unanimity by earlier divines of various ages and countries,—the confession that the knowledge which man in this life can have of God is not a knowledge of the Divine Nature as it is in itself, but only of that nature as imperfectly represented through analogous qualities in the creature. Were it not that this doctrine has been frequently denounced of late as an heretical novelty, we should hardly have thought it necessary to cite authorities in proof of its antiquity and catholicity. As it is, we will venture to produce a few only out of many, selecting not always the most important, but those which can be best exhibited verbatim in a short extract.
CHRYSOSTOM.—De Incompr. Dei Natura, Hom. i. 3: "That God is everywhere, I know; and that He is wholly everywhere, I know; but the how, I know not: that He is without beginning, ungenerated and eternal, I know; but the how, I know not."
BASIL.—Ep. ccxxxiv.: "That God is, I know; but what is His essence I hold to be above reason. How then am I saved? By faith; and faith is competent to know that God is, not what He is."
GREGORY NAZIANZEN.—Orat. xxxiv.: "A theologian among the Greeks [Plato] has said in his philosophy, that to conceive God is difficult, to express Him is impossible. ... But I say that it is impossible to express Him, and more impossible to conceive Him." [Compare Patrick, Works, vol. iii., p. 39.]
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM.—Catech. vi. 2: "We declare not what God is, but candidly confess that we know not accurately concerning Him. For in those things which concern God, it is great knowledge to confess our ignorance."
AUGUSTINE.—Enarr. in Psalm, lxxxv. 8: "God is ineffable; we more easily say what He is not than what He is." Serm, cccxli.: "I call God just, because in human words I find nothing better; for He is beyond justice.... What then is worthily said of God? Some one, perhaps, may reply and say, that He is just. But another, with better understanding, may say that even this word is surpassed by His excellence, and that even this is said of Him unworthily, though it be said fittingly according to human capacity."
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA.—In Joann. Evang., 1. ii., c. 5: "For those things which are spoken concerning it [the Divine Nature] are not spoken as they are in very truth, but as the tongue of man can interpret, and as man can hear; for he who sees in an enigma also speaks in an enigma."
DAMASCENUS.—De Fide Orthod., i. 4: "That God is, is manifest; but what He is in His essence and nature is utterly incomprehensible and unknown."
AQUINAS.—Summa, pars. i., qu. xiii., art. 1: "We cannot so name God that the name which denotes Him shall express the Divine Essence as it is, in the same way as the name man expresses in its signification the essence of man as it is." Ibid., art. 5: "When the name wise is said of a man, it in a manner describes and comprehends the thing signified: not so, however, when it is said of God; but it leaves the thing signified as uncomprehended and exceeding the signification of the name. Whence it is evident that this name wise is not said in the same manner of God and of man. The same is the case with other names; whence no name can be predicated univocally of God and of creatures; yet they are not predicated merely equivocally.... We must say, then, that such names are said of God and of creatures according to analogy, that is, proportion."
HOOKER.—Ecc. Pol., I., ii. 2.—"Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of His name, yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can know Him."
USHER.—Body of Divinity, p. 45, Ed. 1645: "Neither is it [the wisdom of God] communicated to any creature, neither can be; for it is unconceivable, as the very essence of God Himself is unconceivable, and unspeakable as it is."
LEIGHTON.—Theol. Lect. XXI., Works, vol. iv., p. 327, Ed. 1830: "Though in the schools they distinguish the Divine attributes or excellences, and that by no means improperly, into communicable and incommunicable; yet we ought so to guard this distinction, as always to remember that those which are called communicable, when applied to God, are not only to be understood in a manner incommunicable and quite peculiar to Himself, but also, that in Him they are in reality infinitely different [in the original, aliud omnino, immensum aliud] from those virtues, or rather, in a matter where the disparity of the subjects is so very great, those shadows of virtues that go under the same name, either in men or angels."
PEARSON.—Minor Theol. Works, vol. i., p. 13: "God in Himself is an absolute being, without any relation to creatures, for He was from eternity without any creature, and could, had He willed, be to eternity without creature. But God cannot naturally be known by us otherwise than by relation to creatures, as, for example, under the aspect of dominion, or of cause, or in some other relation."[H]
BEVERIDGE.—On the Thirty-nine Articles, p. 16, Ed. 1846: "But seeing the properties of God do not so much denote what God is, as what we apprehend Him to be in Himself; when the properties of God are predicated one of another, one thing in God is not predicated of another, but our apprehensions of the same thing are predicated one of another."
LESLIE.—Method with the Deists, p. 63, Ed. 1745: "What we call faculties in the soul, we call Persons in the Godhead; because there are personal actions attributed to each of them.... And we have no other word whereby to express it; we speak it after the manner of men; nor could we understand if we heard any of those unspeakable words which express the Divine Nature in its proper essence; therefore we must make allowances, and great ones, when we apply words of our nature to the Infinite and Eternal Being." Ibid., p. 64: "By the word Person, when applied to God (for want of a proper word whereby to express it), we must mean something infinitely different from personality among men."
[H] Bishop Pearson's language is yet more explicit in another passage of the same work, which we give in the original Latin:—"Non dantur pro hoc statu nomina quae Deum significant quidditative. Patet; quia nomina sunt conceptuum. Non autem dantur in hoc statu conceptus quidditativi de Deo."—(P. 136.)
The system of theology represented by these extracts may, as we think, be fairly summed up as follows: We believe that God in His own nature is absolute and unconditioned; but we can only positively conceive Him by means of relations and conditions suggested by created things. We believe that His own nature is simple and uniform, admitting of no distinction between various attributes, nor between any attribute and its subject; but we can conceive Him only by means of various attributes, distinct from the subject and from each other.[I] We believe that in verum, aut bonum esse, aut omnino ipsum esse. His own nature He is exempt from all relations of time; but we can conceive Him only by means of ideas and terms which imply temporal relations, a past, a present, and a future.[J] Our thought, then, must not be taken as the measure and limit of our belief: we think by means of relations and conditions derived from created things; we believe in an Absolute Being, in whose nature these conditions and relations, in some manner unknown to us, disappear in a simple and indivisible unity.
[I] This will be found most distinctly stated in the context of the extract from Beveridge, and in the citations from St. Augustine given in his notes; to which may be added the following from De Trinitate, vi. 7:—"Deus vero multipliciter quidem dicitur magnus, bonus, sapiens, beatus, verus, et quidquid aliud non indigne dici videtur; sed eadem magnitudo ejus est quae sapientia, non enim mole magnus est, sed virtute; et eadem bonitas quae sapientia et magnitudo, et eadem veritas quae illa omnia: et non est ibi aliud beatum esse et aliud magnum, aut sapientem, aut verum, aut bonum esse, aut omnino ipsum esse."
[J] Compare the remarkable words of Bishop Beveridge, l.c., "And therefore, though I cannot apprehend His mercy to Abel in the beginning of the world, and His mercy to me now, but as two distinct expressions of His mercy, yet as they are in God, they are but one and the same act,—as they are in God, I say, who is not measured by time, as our apprehensions of Him are, but is Himself eternity; a centre without a circumference, eternity without time."
The most important feature of this philosophical theology, and the one which exhibits most clearly the practical difference between reason and faith, is that, in dealing with theoretical difficulties, it does not appeal to our knowledge, but to our ignorance: it does not profess to offer a definite solution; it only tells us that we might find one if we knew all. It does not profess, for example, to solve the apparent contradiction between God's foreknowledge and man's free will; it does not say, "This is the way in which God foreknows, and in this way His foreknowledge is reconcileable with human freedom;" it only says, "The contradiction is apparent, but need not be real. Freedom is incompatible with God's foreknowledge, only on the supposition that God's foreknowledge is like man's: if we knew exactly how the one differs from the other, we might be able to see that what is incompatible with the one is not so with the other. We cannot solve the difficulty, but we can believe that there is a solution."
It is this open acknowledgment of our ignorance of the highest things which makes this system of philosophy distasteful to many minds: it is the absence of any similar acknowledgment which forms the attraction and the seductiveness of Pantheism in one way, and of Positivism in another. The pantheist is not troubled with the difficulty of reconciling the philosophy of the absolute with belief in a personal God; for belief in a personal God is no part of his creed. Like the Christian, he may profess to acknowledge a first principle, one, and simple, and indivisible, and unconditioned; but he has no need to give to this principle the name of God, or to invest it with such attributes as are necessary to satisfy man's religious wants. His God (so far as he acknowledges one at all) is not the first principle and cause of all things, but the aggregate of the whole—an universal substance underlying the world of phenomena, or an universal process, carried on in and by the changes of things. Hence, as Aristotle said of the Eleatics, that, by asserting all things to be one, they annihilated causation, which is the production of one thing from another, so it may be said of the various schools of Pantheism, that, by maintaining all things to be God, they evade rather than solve the great problem of philosophy, that of the relation between God and His creatures. The positivist, on the other hand, escapes the difficulty by an opposite course. He declines all inquiry into reality and causation, and maintains that the only office of philosophy is to observe and register the invariable relations of succession and similitude in phenomena. He does not necessarily deny the existence of God; but his personal belief, be it what it may, is a matter of utter indifference to his system. Religion and philosophy may perhaps go on side by side; but their provinces are wholly distinct, and therefore there is no need to attempt a reconciliation between them. God, as a first cause, lives like an Epicurean deity in undisturbed ease, apart from the world of phenomena, of which alone philosophy can take cognisance: philosophy, as the science of phenomena, contents itself with observing the actual state of things, without troubling itself to inquire how that state of things came into existence. Hence, neither Pantheism nor Positivism is troubled to explain the relation of the One to the Many; for the former acknowledges only the One, and the latter acknowledges only the Many.
It is between these two systems, both seductive from their apparent simplicity, and both simple only by mutilation, that the Philosophy of the Conditioned, of which Sir William Hamilton is the representative, endeavours to steer a middle course, at the risk of sharing the fate of most mediators in a quarrel,—being repudiated and denounced by both combatants, because it declares them to be both in the wrong. Against Pantheism, which is the natural development of the principle of Indifferentism, it enters a solemn protest, by asserting that the Absolute must be accepted in philosophy, not as a problem to be solved by reason, but as a reality to be believed in, though above reason; and that the pseudo-absolute, which Pantheism professes to exhibit in a positive conception, is shown, by the very fact of its being so conceived, not to be the true Absolute. Against Positivism, which is virtually Materialism, it protests no less strongly, maintaining that the philosophy which professes to explain the whole of nature by the aid of material laws alone, proceeds upon an assumption which does not merely dispense with God as a scientific hypothesis, but logically involves consequences which lead to a denial of His very existence. Between both extremes, it holds an intermediate position, neither aspiring, with Pantheism, to solve the problems of the Absolute, nor neglecting them, with Positivism, as altogether remote from the field of philosophical inquiry; but maintaining that such problems must necessarily arise, and must necessarily be taken into account in every adequate survey of human nature and human thought, and that philosophy, if it cannot solve them, is bound to show why they are insoluble.
Let us hear Hamilton's own words in relation to both the systems which he opposes. Against Pantheism, and the Philosophy of the Unconditioned in general, he says:—
"The Conditioned is the mean between two extremes,—two inconditionates, exclusive of each other, neither of which can be conceived as possible,[K] but of which, on the principles of contradiction and excluded middle, one must be admitted as necessary. On this opinion, therefore, our faculties are shown to be weak, but not deceitful. The mind is not represented as conceiving two propositions, subversive of each other, as equally possible; but only as unable to understand as possible either of the two extremes; one of which, however, on the ground of their mutual repugnance, it is compelled to recognise as true. We are thus taught the salutary lesson, that the capacity of thought is not to be constituted into the measure of existence; and are warned from recognising the domain of our knowledge as necessarily co-extensive with the horizon of our faith. And by a wonderful revelation, we are thus, in the very consciousness of our inability to conceive aught above the relative and finite, inspired with a belief in the existence of something unconditioned beyond the sphere of all comprehensible reality."—Discussions, p. 15.
[K] It must be remembered that, to conceive a thing as possible, we must conceive the manner in which it is possible, but that we may believe in the fact without being able to conceive the manner. Had Hamilton distinctly expressed this, he might have avoided some very groundless criticisms, with which he has been assailed for maintaining a distinction between the provinces of conception and belief.
Against Materialism, and virtually against Positivism in general, he says:—
"If in man, intelligence be a free power,—in so far as its liberty extends, intelligence must be independent of necessity and matter; and a power independent of matter necessarily implies the existence of an immaterial subject—that is, a spirit. If, then, the original independence of intelligence on matter in the human constitution—in other words, if the spirituality of mind in man be supposed a datum of observation, in this datum is also given both the condition and the proof of a God. For we have only to infer, what analogy entitles us to do, that intelligence holds the same relative supremacy in the universe which it holds in us, and the first positive condition of a Deity is established, in the establishment of the absolute priority of a free creative intelligence. On the other hand, let us suppose the result of our study of man to be, that intelligence is only a product of matter, only a reflex of organization, such a doctrine would not only not afford no basis on which to rest any argument for a God, but, on the contrary, would positively warrant the atheist in denying His existence. For if, as the materialist maintains, the only intelligence of which we have any experience be a consequent of matter,—on this hypothesis, he not only cannot assume this order to be reversed in the relations of an intelligence beyond his observation, but, if he argue logically, he must positively conclude that, as in man, so in the universe, the phenomena of intelligence or design are only in their last analysis the products of a brute necessity. Psychological Materialism, if carried out fully and fairly to its conclusions, thus inevitably results in theological Atheism; as it has been well expressed by Dr. Henry More, Nullus in microcosmo spiritus, nullus in macrocosmo Deus. I do not, of course, mean to assert that all materialists deny or actually disbelieve a God. For, in very many cases, this would be at once an unmerited compliment to their reasoning, and an unmerited reproach to their faith."—Lectures, vol. i, p. 31.[L]
[L] This part of Hamilton's teaching is altogether repudiated by a recent writer, who, strangely enough, professes to be his disciple, while rejecting all that is really characteristic of his philosophy. Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his work on First Principles, endeavours to press Sir W. Hamilton into the service of Pantheism and Positivism together, by adopting the negative portion only of his philosophy—in which, in common with many other writers, he declares the absolute to be inconceivable by the mere intellect,—and rejecting the positive portions, in which he most emphatically maintains that the belief in a personal God is imperatively demanded by the facts of our moral and emotional consciousness. Mr. Spencer regards religion as nothing more than a consciousness of natural facts as being in their ultimate genesis unaccountable—a theory which is simply a combination of the positivist doctrine, that we know only the relations of phenomena, with the pantheist assumption of the name of God to denote the substance or power which lies beyond phenomena. No theory can be more opposed to the philosophy of the conditioned than this. Sir W. Hamilton's fundamental principle is, that consciousness must be accepted entire, and that the moral and religious feelings, which are the primary source of our belief in a personal God, are in no way invalidated by the merely negative inferences which have deluded men into the assumption of an impersonal absolute; the latter not being legitimate deductions from consciousness rightly interpreted. Mr. Spencer, on the other hand, takes these negative inferences as the only basis of religion, and abandons Hamilton's great principle of the distinction between knowledge and belief, by quietly dropping out of his system the facts of consciousness which make such a distinction necessary. His whole system is, in fact, a pertinent illustration of Hamilton's remark, that "the phenomena of matter" [and of mind, he might add, treated by materialistic methods], "taken by themselves (you will observe the qualification, taken by themselves), so far from warranting any inference to the existence of a God, would, on the contrary, ground even an argument to his negation." Mr. Spencer, like Mr. Mill, denies the freedom of the will; and this, according to Hamilton, leads by logical consequence to Atheism.
In the few places in which Hamilton speaks directly as a theologian, his language is in agreement with the general voice of Catholic theology down to the end of the seventeenth century, some specimens of which have been given on a previous page. Thus he says (Discussions, p. 15): "True, therefore, are the declarations of a pious philosophy,—'A God understood would be no God at all;' 'To think that God is, as we can think Him to be, is blasphemy.' The Divinity, in a certain sense, is revealed; in a certain sense is concealed: He is at once known and unknown. But the last and highest consecration of all true religion must be an altar [Greek: Agnosto Theo]—'To the unknown and unknowable God.'" A little later (p. 20) he says: "We should not recoil to the opposite extreme; and though man be not identical with the Deity, still is he 'created in the image of God.' It is, indeed, only through an analogy of the human with the Divine nature, that we are percipient and recipient of Divinity." In the first of these passages we have an echo of the language of Basil, the two Cyrils, and John Damascene, and of our own Hooker and Usher; while in the second we find the counter truth, intimated by Augustine and other Fathers,[M] and clearly stated by Aquinas, and which in the last century was elaborately expounded in the Divine Analogy of Bishop Browne,—namely, that though we know not God in His own nature, yet are we not wholly ignorant of Him, but may attain to an imperfect knowledge of Him through the analogy between human things and Divine.
[M] As e.g., by Tertullian (Adv. Marc., l. ii., c. 16): "Et haec ergo imago censenda est Dei in homine, quod eosdem motos et sensus habeat humanus animus quos et Deus, licet non tales quales Deus: pro substantia enim, et status eorum et exitus distant." And by Gregory Nazianzen, Orat. xxxvii.: "[Greek: Onomasamen gar hos hemin ephikton ek ton hemeteron ta tou Theou]" And by Hilary, De Trin., i. 19: "Comparatio enim terrenorum ad Deum nulla est; sed infirmitas nostrae intelligentiae cogit species quasdam ex inferioribus, tanquam superiorum indices quaerere; ut rerum familiarium consuetudine admovente, ex sensus nostri conscientia ad insoliti sensus opinionem educeremur."
As regards theological results, therefore, there is nothing novel or peculiar in Hamilton's teaching; nor was he one who would have regarded novelty in theology as a recommendation. The peculiarity of his system, by which his reputation as a philosopher must ultimately stand or fall, is the manner in which he endeavoured to connect these theological conclusions with psychological principles; and thus to vindicate on philosophical grounds the position which Catholic divines had been compelled to take in the interests of dogmatic truth. That the absolute nature of God, as a supertemporal and yet personal Being, must be believed in as a fact, though inaccessible to reason as regards the manner of its possibility, is a position admitted, almost without exception, by divines who acknowledge the mystery of a personal Absolute—still more by those who acknowledge the yet deeper mystery of a Trinity in Unity. "We believe and know," says Bishop Sanderson of the mysteries of the Christian faith, "and that with fulness of assurance, that all these things are so as they are revealed in the Holy Scriptures, because the mouth of God, who is Truth itself, and cannot lie, hath spoken them; and our own reason upon this ground teacheth us to submit ourselves and it to the obedience of faith, for the [Greek: to hoti], that so it is. But then, for the [Greek: to pos], Nicodemus his question, How can these things be? it is no more possible for our weak understandings to comprehend that, than it is for the eyes of bats or owls to look steadfastly upon the body of the sun, when he shineth forth in his greatest strength."[N] This distinction Hamilton endeavoured to extend from the domain of Christian theology to that of philosophical speculation in general; to show that the unconditioned, as it is suggested in philosophy, no less than as it connects itself with revealed religion, is an object of belief, not of positive conception; and, consequently, that men cannot escape from mystery by rejecting revelation. "Above all," he says, "I am confirmed in my belief by the harmony between the doctrines of this philosophy, and those of revealed truth.... For this philosophy is professedly a scientific demonstration of the impossibility of that 'wisdom in high matters' which the Apostle prohibits us even to attempt; and it proposes, from the limitation of the human powers, from our impotence to comprehend what, however, we must admit, to show articulately why the 'secret things of God,' cannot but be to man 'past finding out.'"[O] Faith in the inconceivable must thus become the ultimate refuge, even of the pantheist and the atheist, no less than of the Christian; the difference being, that while the last takes his stand on a faith which is in agreement alike with the authority of Scripture and the needs of human nature, the two former are driven to one which is equally opposed to both, as well as to the pretensions of their own philosophy.
[N] Works, vol. i., p, 233.
[O] Discussions, p. 625.
Deny the Trinity; deny the Personality of God: there yet remains that which no man can deny as the law of his own consciousness—Time. Conditioned existence is existence in time: to attain to a philosophy of the unconditioned, we must rise to the conception of existence out of time. The attempt may be made in two ways, and in two only. Either we may endeavour to conceive an absolutely first moment of time, beyond which is an existence having no duration and no succession; or we may endeavour to conceive time as an unlimited duration, containing an infinite series of successive antecedents and consequents, each conditioned in itself, but forming altogether an unconditioned whole. In other words, we may endeavour, with the Eleatics, to conceive pure existence apart and distinct from all phenomenal change; or we may endeavour, with Heraclitus, to conceive the universe as a system of incessant changes, immutable only in the law of its own mutability; for these two systems may be regarded as the type of all subsequent attempts. Both, however, alike aim at an object which is beyond positive conception, and which can be accepted only as something to be believed in spite of its inconceivability. To conceive an existence beyond the first moment of time, and to connect that existence as cause with the subsequent temporal succession of effects, we must conceive time itself as non-existent and then commencing to exist. But when we make the effort to conceive time as non-existent, we find it impossible to do so. Time, as the universal condition of human consciousness, clings round the very conception which strives to destroy it, clings round the language in which we speak of an existence before time. Nor are we more successful when we attempt to conceive an infinite regress of time, and an infinite series of dependent existences in time. To say nothing of the direct contradiction involved in the notion of an unconditioned whole,—a something completed,—composed of infinite parts—of parts never completed,—even if we abandon the Whole, and with it the Unconditioned, and attempt merely to conceive an infinite succession of conditioned existences—conditioned, absurdly enough, by nothing beyond themselves,—we find, that in order to do so, we must add moment to moment for ever—a process which would require an eternity for its accomplishment.[P] Moreover, the chain of dependent existences in this infinite succession is not, like a mathematical series, composed of abstract and homogeneous units; it is made up of divers phenomena, of a regressive line of causes, each distinct from the other. Wherever, therefore, I stop in my addition, I do not positively conceive the terms which lie beyond. I apprehend them only as a series of unknown somethings, of which I may believe that they are, but am unable to say what they are.
[P] See Discussions, p. 29. Of course by this is not meant that no duration can be conceived except in a duration equally long—that a thousand years, e.g., can only be conceived in a thousand years. A thousand years may be conceived as one unit: infinity cannot; for an unit is something complete, and therefore limited. What is meant is, that any period of time, however long, is conceived as capable of further increase, and therefore as not infinite. An infinite duration can have no time before or after it; and thus cannot resemble any portion of finite time, however great. When we dream of conceiving an infinite regress of time, says Sir W. Hamilton, "we only deceive ourselves by substituting the indefinite for the infinite, than which no two notions can be more opposed." This caution has not been attended to by some later critics. Thus, Dr. Whewell (Philosophy of Discovery, p. 324) says: "The definition of an infinite number is not that it contains all possible unities; but this—that the progress of numeration, being begun according to a certain law, goes on without limit." This is precisely Descartes' definition, not of the infinite, but of the indefinite. Principia, i. 26: "Nos autem illa omnia, in quibus sub aliqua consideratione nullum finem poterimus invenire, non quidem affirmabimus esse infinita, sed ut indefinita spectabimus." An indefinite time is that which is capable of perpetual addition: an infinite time is one so great as to admit of no addition. Surely "no two notions can be more opposed."
The cardinal point, then, of Sir W. Hamilton's philosophy, expressly announced as such by himself, is the absolute necessity, under any system of philosophy whatever, of acknowledging the existence of a sphere of belief beyond the limits of the sphere of thought. "The main scope of my speculation,"[Q] he says, "is to show articulately that we must believe, as actual, much that we are unable (positively) to conceive as even possible." It is, of course, beyond the range of such a speculation, by itself, to enter on an examination of the positive evidences in support of one form of belief rather than another. So far as it aims only at exhibiting an universal law of the human mind, it is of course compatible with all special forms of belief which do not contradict that law; and none, whatever their pretensions, can really contradict it. Hence the service which such a philosophy can render to the Christian religion must necessarily, from the nature of the case, be of an indirect and negative character. It prepares the way for a fair examination of the proper evidences of Christianity, by showing that there is no ground for any a priori prejudice against revelation, as appealing, for the acceptance of its highest truths, to faith rather than to reason; for that this appeal is common to all religions and to all philosophies, and cannot therefore be urged against one more than another. So far as certain difficulties are inherent in the constitution of the human mind itself, they must necessarily occupy the same position with respect to all religions alike. To exhibit the nature of these difficulties is a service to true religion; but it is the service of the pioneer, not of the builder; it does not prove the religion to be true; it only clears the ground for the production of the special evidences.
[Q] Letter to Mr. Calderwood. See Lectures, vol. ii, p. 534.
Where those evidences are to be found, Sir W. Hamilton has not failed to tell us. If mere intellectual speculations on the nature and origin of the material universe form a common ground in which the theist, the pantheist, and even the atheist, may alike expatiate, the moral and religious feelings of man—those facts of consciousness which have their direct source in the sense of personality and free will—plead with overwhelming evidence in behalf of a personal God, and of man's relation to Him, as a person to a person. We have seen, in a previous quotation, Hamilton's emphatic declaration that "psychological materialism, if carried out fully and fairly to its conclusions, inevitably results in theological atheism." In the same spirit he tells us that "it is only as man is a free intelligence, a moral power, that he is created after the image of God;"[R] that "with the proof of the moral nature of man, stands or falls the proof of the existence of a Deity;" that "the possibility of morality depends on the possibility of liberty;" that "if man be not a free agent, he is not the author of his actions, and has therefore no responsibility, no moral personality at all;"[S] and, finally, "that he who disbelieves the moral agency of man, must, in consistency with that opinion, disbelieve Christianity."[T] We have thus, in the positive and negative sides of this philosophy, both a reasonable ground of belief and a warning against presumption. By our immediate consciousness of a moral and personal nature, we are led to the belief in a moral and personal God: by our ignorance of the unconditioned, we are led to the further belief, that behind that moral and personal manifestation of God there lies concealed a mystery—the mystery of the Absolute and the Infinite; that our intellectual and moral qualities, though indicating the nearest approach to the Divine Perfections which we are capable of conceiving, yet indicate them as analogous, not as identical; that we may naturally expect to find points where this analogy will fail us, where the function of the Infinite Moral Governor will be distinct from that of the finite moral servant; and where, consequently, we shall be liable to error in judging by human rules of the ways of God, whether manifested in nature or in revelation. Such is the true lesson to be learnt from a philosophy which tells us of a God who is "in a certain sense revealed, in a certain sense concealed—at once known and unknown."
[R] Lectures, vol. i., p. 30.
[S] Lectures, vol. i, p. 33.
[T] Ibid., p. 42.
It is not surprising that this philosophy, when compared with that of a critic like Mr. Mill, should stand out in clear and sharp antagonism. Mr. Mill is one of the most distinguished representatives of that school of Materialism which Sir W. Hamilton denounces as virtual Atheism. We do not mean that he consciously adopts the grosser tenets of the materialists. We are not aware that he has ever positively denied the existence of a soul distinct from the body, or maintained that the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile. But he is the advocate of a philosophical method which makes the belief in the existence of an immaterial principle superfluous and incongruous; he not only acknowledges no such distinction between the phenomena of mind and those of matter as to require the hypothesis of a free intelligence to account for it; he not only regards the ascertained laws of coexistence and succession in material phenomena as the type and rule according to which all phenomena whatever—those of internal consciousness no less than of external observation—are to be tested; but he even expressly denies the existence of that free will which Sir W. Hamilton regards as the indispensable condition of all morality and all religion.[U] Thus, instead of recognising in the facts of intelligence "an order of existence diametrically in contrast to that displayed to us in the facts of the material universe,"[V] he regards both classes of facts as of the same kind, and explicable by the same laws; he abolishes the primary contrast of consciousness between the ego and the non-ego—the person and the thing; he reduces man to a thing, instead of a person,—to one among the many phenomena of the universe, determined by the same laws of invariable antecedence and consequence, included under the same formulae of empirical generalization. He thus makes man the slave, and not the master of nature; passively carried along in the current of successive phenomena; unable, by any act of free will, to arrest a single wave in its course, or to divert it from its ordained direction.
[U] That this is the real battle-ground between the two philosophers is virtually admitted by Mr. Mill himself at the end of his criticism. He says:—"The whole philosophy of Sir W. Hamilton seems to have had its character determined by the requirements of the doctrine of Free-will; and to that doctrine he clung, because he had persuaded himself that it afforded the only premises from which human reason could deduce the doctrines of natural religion. I believe that in this persuasion he was thoroughly his own dupe, and that his speculations have weakened the philosophical foundation of religion fully as much as they have confirmed it."—P. 549. Mr. Mill's whole philosophy, on the other hand, is determined by the requirements of the doctrine of Necessity; and to that doctrine he intrepidly adheres, in utter defiance of consciousness, and sometimes of his own consistency. Which of the two philosophers is really "his own dupe," Mr. Mill in believing that morality and religion can exist without free will—that a necessary agent can be responsible for his acts—or Sir W. Hamilton in maintaining the contrary, is a question which the former has by no means satisfactorily settled in his own favour.
[V] Hamilton, Lectures, vol. i, p. 29.
This diametrical antagonism between the two philosophers is not limited to their first principles, but extends, as might naturally be expected, to every subordinate science of which the immediate object is mental, and not material. Logic, instead of being, as Sir W. Hamilton regards it, an a priori science of the necessary laws of thought, is with Mr. Mill a science of observation, investigating those operations of the understanding which are subservient to the estimation of evidence.[W] The axioms of Mathematics, which the former philosopher regards, with Kant, as necessary thoughts, based on the a priori intuitions of space and time, the latter[X] declares to be "experimental truths; generalizations from observation." Psychology, which with Hamilton is especially the philosophy of man as a free and personal agent, is with Mill the science of "the uniformities of succession; the laws, whether ultimate or derivative, according to which one mental state succeeds another."[Y] And finally, in the place of Ethics, as the science of the a priori laws of man's moral obligations, we are presented, in Mr. Mill's system, with Ethology, the "science which determines the kind of character produced, in conformity to the general laws of mind, by any set of circumstances, physical and moral."[Z]
[W] Mill's Logic. Introduction, Sec. 7.
[X] Ibid., book ii. 5, Sec. 4.
[Y] Mill's Logic, book vi. 4, Sec. 3.
[Z] Ibid., book vi. 5, Sec. 4.
The contrast between the two philosophers being thus thoroughgoing, it was natural to expect beforehand that an Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, by Mr. Mill, would contain a sharp and vigorous assault on the principal doctrines of that philosophy. And this expectation has been amply fulfilled. But there was also reason to expect, from the ability and critical power displayed in Mr. Mill's previous writings, that his assault, whether successful or not in overthrowing his enemy, would at least be guided by a clear knowledge of that enemy's position and purposes; that his dissent would be accompanied by an intelligent apprehension, and an accurate statement, of the doctrines dissented from. In this expectation, we regret to say, we have been disappointed. Not only is Mr. Mill's attack on Hamilton's philosophy, with the exception of some minor details, unsuccessful; but we are compelled to add, that with regard to the three fundamental doctrines of that philosophy—the Relativity of Knowledge, the Incognisability of the Absolute and Infinite, and the distinction between Reason and Faith—Mr. Mill has, throughout his criticism, altogether missed the meaning of the theories he is attempting to assail.
This is a serious charge to bring against a writer of such eminence as Mr. Mill, and one which should not be advanced without ample proof. First, then, of the Relativity of Knowledge.
The assertion that all our knowledge is relative,—in other words, that we know things only under such conditions as the laws of our cognitive faculties impose upon us,—is a statement which looks at first sight like a truism, but which really contains an answer to a very important question,—Have we reason to believe that the laws of our cognitive faculties impose any conditions at all?—that the mind in any way reacts on the objects affecting it, so as to produce a result different from that which would be produced were it merely a passive recipient? "The mind of man," says Bacon, "is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things shall reflect according to their true incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced." Can what Bacon says of the fallacies of the mind be also said of its proper cognitions? Does the mind, by its own action, in any way distort the appearance of the things presented to it; and if so, how far does the distortion extend, and in what manner is it to be rectified? To trace the course of this inquiry, from the day when Plato compared the objects perceived by the senses to the shadows thrown by fire on the wall of a cave, to the day when Kant declared that we know only phenomena, not things in themselves, would be to write the history of philosophy. We can only at present call attention to one movement in that history, which, was, in effect, a revolution in philosophy. The older philosophers in general distinguished between the senses and the intellect, regarding the former as deceptive and concerned with phenomena alone, the latter as trustworthy and conversant with the realities of things. Hence arose the distinction between the sensible and the intelligible world—between things as perceived by sense and things as apprehended by intellect—between Phenomenology and Ontology. Kant rejected this distinction, holding that the intellect, as well as the sense, imposes its own forms on the things presented to it, and is therefore cognisant only of phenomena, not of things in themselves. The logical result of this position would be the abolition of ontology as a science of things in themselves, and, a fortiori, of that highest branch of ontology which aims at a knowledge of the Absolute[AA] [Greek: kat' exochen], of the unconditioned first principle of all things. If the mind, in every act of thought, imposes its own forms on its objects, to think is to condition, and the unconditioned is the unthinkable. Such was the logical result of Kant's principles, but not the actual result. For Kant, by distinguishing between the Understanding and the Reason, and giving to the latter an indirect yet positive cognition of the Unconditioned as a regulative principle of thought, prepared the way for the systems of Schelling and Hegel, in which this indirect cognition is converted into a direct one, by investing the reason, thus distinguished as the special faculty of the unconditioned, with a power of intuition emancipated from the conditions of space and time, and even of subject and object, or a power of thought emancipated from the laws of identity and contradiction.
[AA] The term absolute, in the sense of free from relation, may be used in two applications;—1st, To denote the nature of a thing as it is in itself, as distinguished from its appearance to us. Here it is used only in a subordinate sense, as meaning out of relation to human knowledge. 2ndly, To denote the nature of a thing as independent of all other things, as having no relation to any other thing as the condition of its existence. Here it is used in its highest sense, as meaning out of relation to anything else.
The theory of Hamilton is a modification of that of Kant, intended to obviate these consequences, and to relieve the Kantian doctrine itself from the inconsistency which gave rise to them. So long as the reason is regarded as a separate faculty from the understanding, and things in themselves as ideas of the reason, so long the apparent contradictions, which encumber the attempt to conceive the unconditioned, must be regarded as inherent in the constitution of the reason itself, and as the result of its legitimate exercise on its proper objects. This sceptical conclusion Hamilton endeavoured to avoid by rejecting the distinction between the understanding and the reason as separate faculties, regarding the one as the legitimate and positive, the other as the illegitimate and negative, exercise of one and the same faculty. He thus announces, in opposition to Kant, the fundamental doctrine of the Conditioned, as "the distinction between intelligence within its legitimate sphere of operation, impeccable, and intelligence beyond that sphere, affording (by abuse) the occasions of error."[AB] Hamilton, like Kant, maintained that all our cognitions are compounded of two elements, one contributed by the object known, and the other by the mind knowing. But the very conception of a relation implies the existence of things to be related; and the knowledge of an object, as in relation to our mind, necessarily implies its existence out of that relation. But as so existing, it is unknown: we believe that it is; we know not what it is. How far it resembles, or how far it does not resemble, the object apprehended by us, we cannot say, for we have no means of comparing the two together.
[AB] Discussions, p. 633.
Instead; therefore, of saying with Kant, that reason is subject to an inevitable delusion, by which, it mistakes the regulative principles of its own thoughts for the representations of real things, Hamilton would say that the reason, while compelled to believe in the existence of these real things, is not legitimately entitled to make any positive representation of them as of such or such a nature; and that the contradictions into which it falls when attempting to do so are due to an illegitimate attempt to transcend the proper boundaries of positive thought.
This theory does not, in itself, contain any statement of the mode in which we perceive the material world, whether directly by presentation, or indirectly by representative images; and perhaps it might, without any great violence, be adapted to more than one of the current hypotheses on this point. But that to which it most easily adjusts itself is that maintained by Hamilton himself under the name of Natural Realism. To speak of perception as a relation between mind and matter, naturally implies the presence of both correlatives; though each may be modified by its contact with the other. The acid may act on the alkali, and the alkali on the acid, in forming the neutral salt; but each of the ingredients is as truly present as the other, though each enters into the compound in a modified form. And this is equally the case in perception, even if we suppose various media to intervene between the ultimate object and the perceiving mind,—such, e.g., as the rays of light and the sensitive organism in vision,—so long as these media are material, like the ultimate object itself. Whether the object, properly so called, in vision, be the rays of light in contact with the organ, or the body emitting or reflecting those rays, is indifferent to the present question, so long as a material object of some kind or other is supposed to be perceived, and not merely an inmaterial representation of such an object. To speak of our perceptions as mere modifications of mind produced by an unknown cause, would be like maintaining that the acid is modified by the influence of the alkali without entering into combination with it. Such a view might perhaps be tolerated, in connection with the theory of relativity, by an indulgent interpretation of language, but it is certainly not that which the language of the theory most naturally suggests.
All this Mr. Mill entirely misapprehends. He quotes a passage from Hamilton's Lectures, in which the above theory of Relativity is clearly stated as the mean between the extremes of Idealism and Materialism, and then proceeds to comment as follows:—
"The proposition, that our cognitions of objects are only in part dependent on the objects themselves, and in part on elements superadded by our organs or our minds, is not identical, nor prima facie absurd. It cannot, however, warrant the assertion that all our knowledge, but only that the part so added, is relative. If our author had gone as far as Kant, and had said that all which constitutes knowledge is put in by the mind itself, he would have really held, in one of its forms, the doctrine of the relativity of our knowledge. But what he does say, far from implying that the whole of our knowledge is relative, distinctly imports that all of it which, is real and authentic is the reverse. If any part of what we fancy that we perceive in the objects themselves, originates in the perceiving organs or in the cognising mind, thus much is purely relative; but since, by supposition, it does not all so originate, the part that does not is as much absolute as if it were not liable to be mixed up with, these delusive subjective impressions."—(P. 30.)
Mr. Mill, therefore, supposes that wholly relative must mean wholly mental; in other words, that to say that a thing is wholly due to a relation between mind and matter is equivalent to saying that it is wholly due to mind alone. On the contrary, we maintain that Sir W. Hamilton's language is far more accurate than Mr. Mill's, and that the above theory can with perfect correctness be described as one of total relativity; and this from two points of view. First, as opposed to the theory of partial relativity generally held by the pre-Kantian philosophers, according to which our sensitive cognitions are relative, our intellectual ones absolute. Secondly, as asserting that the object of perception, though composed of elements partly material, partly mental, yet exhibits both alike in a form modified by their relation to each other. The composition is not a mere mechanical juxtaposition, in which each part, though acting on the other, retains its own characteristics unchanged. It may be rather likened to a chemical fusion, in which both elements are present, but each of them is affected by the composition. The material part, therefore, is not "as much absolute as if it were not liable to be mixed up with subjective impressions."
But we must hear the continuation of Mr. Mill's criticism:—
"The admixture of the relative element not only does not take away the absolute character of the remainder, but does not even (if our author is right) prevent us from recognising it. The confusion, according to him, is not inextricable. It is for us to 'analyse and distinguish what elements' in an 'act of knowledge' are contributed by the object, and what by our organs, or by the mind. We may neglect to do this, and as far as the mind's share is concerned, we can only do it by the help of philosophy; but it is a task to which, in his opinion, philosophy is equal. By thus stripping off such of the elements in our apparent cognitions of things as are but cognitions of something in us, and consequently relative, we may succeed in uncovering the pure nucleus, the direct intuitions of things in themselves; as we correct the observed positions of the heavenly bodies by allowing for the error due to the refracting influence of the atmospheric medium, an influence which does not alter the facts, but only our perception of them."
Surely Mr. Mill here demands much more of philosophy than Sir W. Hamilton deems it capable of accomplishing. Why may not Hamilton, like Kant, distinguish between the permanent and necessary, and the variable and contingent—in other words, between the subjective and the objective elements of consciousness, without therefore obtaining a "direct intuition of things in themselves?" Why may he not distinguish between space and time as the forms of our sensitive cognitions, and the things perceived in space and time, which constitute the matter of the same cognitions, without thereby having an intuition, on the one hand, of pure space and time with nothing in them, or on the other, of things in themselves out of space and time? If certain elements are always present in perception, while certain others change with every act, I may surely infer that the one is due to the permanent subject, the other to the variable object, without thereby knowing what each would be if it could be discerned apart from the other. "A direct intuition of things in themselves," according to Kant and Hamilton, is an intuition of things out of space and time. Does Mr. Mill suppose that any natural Realist professes to have such an intuition?
The same error of supposing that a doctrine of relativity is necessarily a doctrine of Idealism, that "matter known only in relation to us" can mean nothing more than "matter known only through the mental impressions of which it is the unknown cause,"[AC] runs through the whole of Mr. Mill's argument against this portion of Sir W. Hamilton's teaching. That argument, though repeated in various forms, may be briefly summed up in one thesis; namely, that the doctrine that our knowledge of matter is wholly relative is incompatible with the distinction, which Hamilton expressly makes, between the primary and secondary qualities of body.
[AC] The assumption that these two expressions are or ought to be synonymous is tacitly made by Mr. Mill at the opening of this chapter. He opens it with a passage from the Discussions, in which Hamilton says that the existence of things in themselves is only indirectly revealed to us "through certain qualities related to our faculties of knowledge;" and then proceeds to show that the author did not hold the doctrine which these phrases "seem to convey in the only substantial meaning capable of being attached to them;" namely, "that we know nothing of objects except their existence, and the impressions produced by them upon the human mind." Having thus quietly assumed that "things in themselves" are identical with "objects," and "relations" with "impressions on the human mind," Mr. Mill bases his whole criticism on this tacit petitio principii. He is not aware that though Reid sometimes uses the term relative in this inaccurate sense, Hamilton expressly points out the inaccuracy and explains the proper sense.—(See Reid's Works, pp. 313, 322.)
The most curious circumstance about this criticism is, that, if not directly borrowed from, it has at least been carefully anticipated by, Hamilton himself. Of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, as acknowledged by Descartes and Locke, whose theory of external perception is identical with that which Mr. Mill would force on Hamilton himself, Hamilton says: "On the general doctrine, however, of these philosophers, both classes of qualities, as known, are confessedly only states of our own minds; and while we have no right from a subjective affection to infer the existence, far less the corresponding character of the existence, of any objective reality, it is evident that their doctrine, if fairly evolved, would result in a dogmatic or in a sceptical negation of the primary no less than of the secondary qualities of body, as more than appearances in and for us."[AD] It is astonishing that Mr. Mill, who pounces eagerly on every imaginable instance of Hamilton's inconsistency, should have neglected to notice this, which, if his criticism be true, is the most glaring inconsistency of all.
[AD] Reid's Works, p. 840.
But Hamilton continues: "It is therefore manifest that the fundamental position of a consistent theory of dualistic realism is—that our cognitions of Extension and its modes are not wholly ideal—that although Space be a native, necessary, a priori form of imagination, and so far, therefore, a mere subjective state, that there is, at the same time, competent to us, in an immediate perception of external things, the consciousness of a really existent, of a really objective, extended world." Here we have enunciated in one breath, first the subjectivity of space, which is the logical basis of the relative theory of perception; and secondly, the objectivity of the extended world, which is the logical basis of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. It is manifest, therefore, that Hamilton had not, as Mr. Mill supposes, ceased to hold the one theory when he adopted the other.[AE]
[AE] See Examination, p. 28.
The key to all this is not difficult to find. It is simply that objective existence does not mean existence per se; and that a phenomenon does not mean a mere mode of mind. Objective existence is existence as an object, in perception, and therefore in relation; and a phenomenon may be material, as well as mental. The thing per se may be only the unknown cause of what we directly know; but what we directly know is something more than our own sensations. In other words, the phenomenal effect is material as well as the cause, and is, indeed, that from which our primary conceptions of matter are derived. Matter does not cease to be matter when modified by its contact with mind, as iron does not cease to be iron when smelted and forged. A horseshoe is something very different from a piece of iron ore; and a man may be acquainted with the former without ever having seen the latter, or knowing what it is like. But would Mr. Mill therefore say that the horseshoe is merely a subjective affection of the skill of the smith—that it is not iron modified by the workman, but the workman or his art impressed by iron?
If, indeed, Hamilton had said with Locke, that the primary qualities are in the bodies themselves, whether we perceive them or no,[AF] he would have laid himself open to Mr. Mill's criticism. But he expressly rejects this statement, and contrasts it with the more cautions language of Descartes, "ut sunt, vel saltem esse possunt."[AG] The secondary qualities are mere affections of consciousness, which, cannot be conceived as existing except in a conscious subject. The primary qualities are qualities of body, as perceived in relation to the percipient mind, i.e., of the phenomenal body perceived as in space. How far they exist in the real body out of relation to us, Hamilton does not attempt to decide.[AH] They are inseparable from our conception of body, which, is derived exclusively from the phenomenon; they may or may not be separable from the thing as it is in itself.
[AF] Essay, ii 8, Sec. 23.
[AG] Reid's Works, p. 839.
[AH] We have been content to argue this question, as Mr. Mill himself argues it, on the supposition that Sir W. Hamilton held that we are directly percipient of primary qualities in external bodies. Strictly speaking, however, Hamilton held that the primary qualities are immediately perceived only in our organism as extended, and inferred to exist in extra-organic bodies. The external world is immediately apprehended only in its secundo-primary character, as resisting our locomotive energy. But as the organism, in this theory, is a material non-ego equally with the rest of matter, and as to press this distinction would only affect the verbal accuracy, not the substantial justice, of Mr. Mill's criticisms, we have preferred to meet him on the ground he has himself chosen. The same error, of supposing that "presentationism" is identical with "noumenalism," and "phenomenalism" with "representationism," runs through the whole of Mr. Stirling's recent criticism of Hamilton's theory of perception. It is curious, however, that the very passage (Lectures, i., p. 146) which Mr. Mill cites as proving that Hamilton, in spite of his professed phenomenalism, was an unconscious noumenalist, is employed by Mr. Stirling to prove that, in spite of his professed presentationism, he was an unconscious representationist. The two critics tilt at Hamilton from opposite quarters: he has only to stand aside and let them run against each other.
Under this explanation, it is manifest that the doctrine, that matter as a subject or substratum of attributes is unknown and unknowable, is totally different from that of cosmothetic idealism, with which Mr Mill confounds it;[AI] and that a philosopher may without inconsistency accept the former and reject the latter. The former, while it holds the material substance to be unknown, does not deny that some of the attributes of matter are perceived immediately as material, though, it may be, modified by contact with mind. The latter maintains that the attributes, as well as the substance, are not perceived immediately as material, but mediately through the intervention of immaterial representatives. It is also manifest that, in answer to Mr. Mill's question, which of Hamilton's two "cardinal doctrines," Relativity or Natural Realism, "is to be taken in a non-natural sense,"[AJ] we must say, neither. The two doctrines are quite compatible with each other, and neither requires a non-natural interpretation to reconcile it to its companion.
[AI] Examination, p. 23.
[AJ] Examination, p. 20.
The doctrine of relativity derives its chief practical value from its connection with the next great doctrine of Hamilton's philosophy, the incognisability of the Absolute and the Infinite. For this doctrine brings Ontology into contact with Theology; and it is only in relation to theology that ontology acquires a practical importance. With respect to the other two "ideas of the pure reason," as Kant calls them, the human soul and the world, the question, whether we know them as realities or as phenomena, may assist us in dealing with certain metaphysical difficulties, but need not affect our practical conduct. For we have an immediate intuition of the attributes of mind and matter, at least as phenomenal objects, and by these intuitions may be tested the accuracy of the conceptions derived from them, sufficiently for all practical purposes. A man will equally avoid walking over a precipice, and is logically as consistent in avoiding it, whether he regard the precipice as a real thing, or as a mere phenomenon. But in the province of theology this is not the case. We have no immediate intuition of the Divine attributes, even as phenomena; we only infer their existence and nature from certain similar attributes of which we are immediately conscious in ourselves. And hence arises the question, How far does the similarity extend, and to what extent is the accuracy of our conceptions guaranteed by the intuition, not of the object to be conceived, but of something more or less nearly resembling it? But this is not all. Our knowledge of God, originally derived from personal consciousness, receives accession from two other sources—from the external world, as His work; and from revelation, as His word; and the conclusions derived from each have to be compared together. Should any discrepancy arise between them, are we at once warranted in rejecting one class of conclusions in favour of the other two, or two in favour of the third? or are we at liberty to say that our knowledge in respect of all alike is of such an imperfect and indirect character that we are warranted in believing that some reconciliation may exist, though our ignorance prevents us from discovering what it is? Here at least is a practical question of the very highest importance. In the early part of our previous remarks, we have endeavoured to show how this question has been answered by orthodox theologians of various ages, and how Sir W. Hamilton's philosophy supports that answer. We have now to consider Mr Mill's chapter of criticisms.