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CHAPTER III.: ITS COROLLARIES. - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Psychology 
The Principles of Psychology (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855).
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§ 10. Without noticing the many theories of Knowledge and Nature, which older times gave birth to, the end in view will be sufficiently answered, by taking a modern sample of each leading type. Let us commence with the Idealism of Berkeley.
This, in common with kindred systems of thought, is obviously, when regarded from our present stand-point, open to the criticism that it consists of a series of dependent propositions, no one of which possesses greater certainty than the single proposition to be disproved. Not to rest in this general statement of the objection, however, let us consider its application in detail.
It is an awkward fact, that Idealism cannot state its case without assuming Realism by the way. Erase from its argument all terms implying the objective reality of things, and its argument falls to pieces. Instance, in illustration of this, a passage from the first of Berkeley's Dialogues.
“Philonous. Then, as to sounds, what must we think of them? Are they accidents really inherent in external bodies, or not?
Hylas. That they inhere not in the sonorous bodies, is plain from hence; because a bell, struck in the exhausted receiver of an air-pump, sends forth no sound. The air, therefore, must be thought the subject of sound.
Phil. What reason is there for that, Hylas?
Hyl. Because, when any motion is raised in the air, we perceive a sound, greater or lesser, in proportion to the air's motion; but, without some motion in the air, we never hear any sound at all.
Phil. And granting that we never hear a sound but when some motion is produced in the air, yet I do not see how you can infer, from thence, that the sound itself is in the air.”
If now we demur to the many obvious assumptions of Realism which this reasoning involves, and insist on Berkeley restating it without taking for granted anything save the existence of mind and ideas, he cannot do so. Let the words that stand for objective realities be supposed to stand for our ideas of them, and the argument becomes meaningless. If it be said that these objective realities are but hypothetically assumed for the purpose of meeting an opponent, it is replied that this cannot be; for Berkeley's reasonings are, in truth, his justification of Idealism to his own mind; and if he could justify Idealism to his own mind without making these assumptions, he could show us the way. How, then, can his argument be valid? An assumption may be legitimate if the reasoning based on it, by bringing out a result congruous with known truths, prove the assumption true. But what if the reasoning prove the assumption false, whilst the very terms of the reasoning presuppose its truth? We do, indeed, in mathematics assume a certain number to be the answer to a given question, and on this assumption legitimately base an argument which, by ending in an absurdity, disproves the assumption. In such case, however, the successive steps are not rendered possible only by the truth of the number assumed; for they may be as well gone through with any other number. But if the argument ended in proving that there was no such thing as number, it would do what Berkeley's argument does—it would base upon a thing's existence the proof of its non-existence.
This reasoning in dialogue offers, indeed, great facilities for gaining a victory. When you can put into an adversary's mouth just such replies and admissions as fit your purpose, there is little difficulty in reaching the desired conclusion. Throughout the discussion, Hylas repeatedly assents to things which, on his opponent's own principles, he should not have assented to. Thus, shortly after the outset, Philonous, with the view of proving the purely subjective character of heat, obtains from Hylas the admission, that an “intense degree of heat is a very great pain.” He then asks—“Is your material substance a senseless being, or a being endowed with sense and perception?” To which Hylas replies—“It is senseless, without doubt.” “It cannot, therefore, be the subject of pain,” continues Philonous. “By no means,” rejoins Hylas. And Philonous then goes on to argue, that as an intense heat is a pain, and as a pain cannot exist in a senseless material substance, it follows that an intense heat can exist only in a perceiving mind. But what right has Hylas to make the answers he does? The argument sets out with the position that sensible things are the only things we certainly know; these sensible things are defined as “the things we immediately perceive by the senses;” and Philonous, resolutely ignoring everything else, says:—“Whatever other qualities, therefore, you speak of, as distinct from these, I know nothing of them.” Had Hylas, as he should have done, taken the same ground, the dialogue would have run thus.—
Phil. Is material substance a senseless being, or a being endowed with sense and perception?
Hyl. I cannot say.
Phil. How do you mean you cannot say?
Hyl. I mean that like you, “I know nothing” of any qualities of bodies save those I immediately perceive through the senses; and I cannot immediately perceive through the senses whether material substance is senseless or not.
Phil. But you do not doubt that it is senseless?
Hyl. Yes; in the same way that you doubt my external reality—doubt whether I am anything more than one of your ideas. Did we not, at the beginning, Philonous, distinguish between things known immediately and things known mediately?
Hyl. Did you not make me admit that sensations are the only sensible things; that is, the only things immediately perceived; and that I cannot know the causes of these sensations immediately, but can only know them mediately by reasoning?
Phil. I did.
Hyl. And your whole argument is an attempt to show that these things which I know mediately—these things, whose existence I infer as the causes of my sensations, do not exist at all.
Hyl. How, then, can you put any trust in my reply, when I either say that matter is sensitive, or that it is not sensitive? The only sensitiveness that I can immediately perceive is my own.
Phil. You know that I am sensitive.
Hyl. Yes, but how? I see you turn when spoken to, and shrink when burned; from such facts, joined with my personal experiences, I infer that you are sensitive as I am; and if you must have an answer to your question, I infer that matter is not sensitive, because it shows no such signs.
Hyl. Well! do you not see that if you adopt this answer your whole reasoning is vitiated? You set out to disprove a certain portion of my mediate knowledge. To do this, you now ask from me another portion of my mediate knowledge, as you have already asked several, and will, I suppose, ask more. You are combining these many portions of mediate knowledge, and will draw from them a conclusion; and this conclusion—this piece of doubly mediate knowledge, you will, I suppose, offer to me in place of the mediate knowledge you would disprove. Certainly I shall reject it. I demand that every link in your argument shall consist of immediate knowledge. If but one of them is an inference, and not a thing “immediately perceived by sense,” I shall say that your conclusion has the same uncertainty with this that you combat, plus the uncertainty attendant on all argument. Nay, indeed, were every step in your demonstration a piece of immediate knowledge, I should argue that as the inference you drew was but mediate knowledge, it could have no greater warrant than the adverse one. As it is, however, your inference, as judged by your own principles, has incomparably less warrant.
Space permitting, it might be argued at length that Berkeley confounds the having a sensation with the knowledge of having a sensation. Unconsciously doing homage to the principle that the fewer times the Universal Postulate is assumed, the more certain is the conclusion, he professes to recognize that only which is immediately perceived—that which involves but one assumption of the postulate; and declines to recognize the mediate perceptions which involve it more than once. Yet what he starts with as primary and unquestionable facts belong to this last class. Whilst the reception of a sensation may be a simple undecomposable mental act; to observe the reception of a sensation is decidedly a composite one. The knowledge of having a sensation, so far from being an act of immediate consciousness, presupposes a much-involved process. It presupposes a synthesis of those ideas constituting the notion of personal identity; and then a recollection of how that personal identity has just been affected. Or, to state the position in another form—It is impossible for any one to know he has a sensation, without self-consciousness becoming an element of his thought. Self-consciousness, however, can never be known immediately, but only by recollection. No one can be conscious of what he is, but only of what he was a moment since. That which thinks can never be the object of direct contemplation; seeing that to be this, it must become that which is thought of, not that which thinks. It is impossible to be at the same time that which regards and that which is regarded. We never can be literally self-conscious, but can only know at each instant what we were the instant before; and can but infer present existence from the cognition of existence just past. And if self-consciousness cannot be immediate knowledge, nothing can be immediate knowledge into which self-consciousness enters as one concept. Therefore, the knowledge of having sensations cannot be immediate knowledge. Were the consciousness of sensations the same thing as the consciousness of receiving sensations, Berkeley's first step would be unassailable. As it is, however, the assumption on which his whole argument rests, is open to the same criticism that he himself passes on the adverse assumption; namely, that it is not a perception, but a synthesis of perceptions.
But the true answer to Idealism—the answer of which the foregoing must be regarded as adumbrations—is involved in the answer to Scepticism; to which let us now turn.
§ 11. Hume's doubts as to the validity of reason, should have led him not to a state of suspense, but to an entire rejection of all his conclusions. Such a course might be proved logically necessary, even from his own point of view. Let us, however, suppose him to be in possession of the views above advanced; and then observe the course his scepticism must take.
“I doubt whether my subjective beliefs have any objective basis; that is, when I have an impression, I have no proof that there is anything external causing it; that is, though I cannot for a moment rid myself of the belief that there is something, yet there may be nothing. But how do I know that there may be nothing?”
“Reason tells me so.”
“But if, when I say—‘It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be,’ I say so because I have an invariably existent belief to that effect—a belief proved to invariably exist by my inability to conceive its negation; and if, when I draw a conclusion from this logical aphorism, I do so by saying that if the aphorism be true, I have a similarly indestructible belief that my deduction is true; then it follows that all my reasoning consists in concluding those things to be true in which I have an indestructible belief—a belief proved indestructible by my inability to conceive its negation.”
“But I have just this kind of belief in an external world. Now that I am looking at the table, I find that by no effort, however violent, can I conceive that the table is an impression in me and not a thing outside of me. I can make a verbal proposition to that effect; but I am quite incapable of making my thoughts respond to it. Whilst looking away from the table, I can vaguely conceive that the fact might be so; but whilst looking at the table, I feel it utterly impossible to conceive that the fact is so.”
“Evidently, then, my belief in the externality of things has the same warrant that every step in my argument has—is simply arrived at by an argument of one step.“
“Hence, to conclude that there is no proof of an external world, is to reason my way to the conclusion that reason is fallacious. But if reason be fallacious, then the reasoning by which I prove the fallacy of reason is itself fallacious. Then reason is not fallacious. Then its inferences respecting the fallacy of reason are true. And so on perpetually.”
“It results, therefore, from my position, that it is impossible to decide whether reason is fallacious or not fallacious.”
“Be it which it may, however, it is clear that my scepticism is not logically justifiable. If reason be not fallacious, then is the single-stepped argument which proves the existence of objects, valid. If it be fallacious, then it is manifestly impossible to shake an argument of one step by an argument of many steps.”
Leaving general statements of the case, and setting ourselves to consider it fundamentally, we find that the whole question at issue resolves itself into this—Which is the more certain, the existence of objects or the existence of impressions and ideas? Possibly some of the foregoing considerations may have led the reader to suspect that Philosophy has after all given a wrong answer to this question. If so, they will have prepared the way for an examination into the relative validity of our beliefs in subjective and objective things, as tested by the number of times the Universal Postulate is assumed in arriving at each belief respectively. And, to avoid reasoning in a circle, he will see the propriety of sweeping his mind clear of hypotheses, so that, freed from all disturbing influences, it may be brought to bear afresh upon the facts.
Having as far as possible done this, let him contemplate an object—this book, for instance. Resolutely refraining from theorizing, let him now say what he finds. He finds that his consciousness is filled with the existence of the book. Does there enter into this state of his consciousness any notion about sensations? No: he finds that such notion, so far from being contained in his consciousness, has to be fetched from elsewhere, to the manifest disturbance of his then state of consciousness. Does he perceive that the thing he is conscious of is an image of the book? Not at all: so little does his consciousness know of any image, that it is only by remembering his metaphysical readings that he can suppose such image to exist. So long as he refuses to translate the facts into any hypothesis, he feels that he is conscious of the book, and not of an impression of the book—of an objective thing, and not of a subjective thing. He feels that the sole content of his consciousness is the book considered as an external reality. He feels that this recognition of the book as an external reality is a simple indivisible act. Whether originally separable into premisses and inference or not (a question which he manifestly cannot here entertain), he feels that this act is undecomposable. And, lastly, he feels that, do what he will, he cannot reverse this act—he cannot, whilst contemplating the book, believe that it is non-existent—he cannot conceive that where he sees it there is nothing. Hence, whilst he continues looking at the book, his belief in it as an external reality possesses the highest validity possible. It has the direct guarantee of the Universal Postulate; and it assumes the Universal Postulate only once.
Perhaps he will object that though this belief apparently involves but one assumption of the postulate, it really involves two—that he not only postulates the object, but that in doing so he postulates himself. Doubtless if his thought is—“I know the book exists,” he postulates himself as well as the object. But his primary thought is simply—“The book exists;” and his own being is no more postulated in that thought than it is in these words which express it. Sir William Hamilton does indeed assert that we are conscious of subject and object “in the same indivisible moment of intuition;” but as was hinted in passing, this assertion will not be uniformly assented to; and it here becomes needful to assign reasons for dissenting from it.
Under ordinary circumstances, the time during which any one state of consciousness continues uninterrupted is so brief that it is impossible to distinctly identify it. These words, though successively occupying the reader's mind as symbols, are yet so instantaneously followed by their meanings that their symbolism passes unobserved. Moreover, while recognizing and interpreting them, his mind is rapidly taking note of other things—of the paper they are printed on; of his hands; of other parts of his body within view; of the sensations that periodically lead him to change his posture; and of the sounds and movements going on around him. Manifestly, were there no other evidence, it might, on the one hand, be argued as before, that some of the phenomena thus rapidly succeeding one another must be very liable to be mistaken for simultaneous ones; whilst, on the other hand, it might be reasonably inferred that as the more observable facts of consciousness form a series, so do the less observable ones; and that strictly, no two things can be present to consciousness at the same instant, or known “in the same indivisible moment of intuition.”
When we turn from ordinary circumstances to extraordinary ones, we obtain sufficiently clear indications of the fact that the consciousness of objective existence is accompanied by an unconsciousness of subjective existence. Let the thing perceived be a very astonishing one, and the observer becomes perceptibly oblivious of himself. Our ordinary language recognizes this fact. We say of such an one that he is absorbed in contemplation; lost in wonder; has forgotten himself: and we describe him as afterwards returning to himself; recollecting himself. From a deeply interested spectator who is so far possessed by his perception as not to hear what is said to him, up to the stupified victim of an impending catastrophe, may be seen all grades of this state. Under this last and extreme degree of it, persons are killed, from the inability to recover their self-consciousness in time to avoid danger. Even those who, in such case, are not completely paralyzed, manifest much the same mental state; for it frequently happens that they are wounded without knowing it; and they are generally surprised to hear afterwards what they did whilst in peril—a fact proving that their actions were automatic rather than conscious. Probably most, on being reminded of these truths, will be able to recall the perceptible period, during which a startling sight or sound occupies consciousness to the exclusion of the idea of self; and all who do this will see that an ordinary perception as well as an extraordinary one, must, while it lasts, exclude the idea of self; but that it lasts too short a time to admit of the exclusion being observed.
A yet stronger reason for asserting that the subject is not postulated in perceiving an object, is, that the subject can itself become known only as an object. By his division of our perceptions into those of the object-object and those of the subject-object, Sir William Hamilton himself implies that all the things perceived by consciousness must be relatively objective; and that hence self-consciousness is possible only by regarding self objectively. This must be admitted, whichever view be espoused respecting the nature of the ego. If it be held that the cognition of self consists in the impressions of self received through the senses, and in combinations and recollections of them, the objective nature of the cognition is directly implied. If otherwise it be held that self is a something by which all impressions, both internal and external, are contemplated, then, as this something cannot contemplate itself directly, but can know itself only by contemplating its past acts—can know itself only by the objective registry which it has just left of itself—it must still be known objectively. Hence, on either hypothesis, to say that consciousness of subject and object is simultaneous, is to say that in perceiving one object we necessarily perceive another object—an assumption alike gratuitous and improbable. Nay, more; it is an assumption that will be found wholly inadmissible if we do but consider the bearing of the above argument on the acts of incipient intelligence. For if the notion of self be made up of those impressions of self received through the senses, then it is a manifest corollary that the infant's earliest perceptions must be unaccompanied by any notion of self; seeing that there at first exist no materials out of which that notion can be formed. And if, according to the alternative theory, the notion of self is that of a primitive undecomposable power by which all mental processes are achieved; it still follows that as this power can know itself only by contemplating the objective registry of its acts; and as some acts, some perceptions, must have been achieved before there can be any objective registry to contemplate; the notion of self cannot coexist with the first perceptions.
But, perhaps, the most conclusive disproof of Sir William Hamilton's doctrine is deducible from one of his own axiomatic principles. At page 49 of his “Discussions on Philosophy,” &c., he says:—“Relatives are known only together: the science of opposites is one. Subject and object, mind and matter, are known only in correlation and contrast—and by the same common act.” Now, were all antitheses those between self and not-self, nothing would remain to be said. But there are numberless antitheses, both members of which pertain to the not-self; and numberless others, both members of which pertain to self—of the one class, full and empty, moving and stationary, equal and unequal; of the other, pleasure and pain, belief and disbelief, &c. According to the foregoing general law, each of these pairs of relatives can be known only by the contrast of its terms—motion only as the correlative of rest, and so on. But if the ego is always present to consciousness as the correlative of the non-ego, how can two elements of the non-ego ever be conceived as the correlatives of each other? If I can know a part only by contrast with a whole, then the two things present to consciousness together must be whole and part. If that which I contemplate as the correlative to a part is the self which recognizes it, then I cannot contemplate whole as its correlative. As, however, we know that whole and part are known as correlatives, it follows inevitably from the general principle above quoted, that in the act of recognizing the relation between them, it is impossible for me to recognize the relation between myself as subject, and either of them as object.
Thus there is good ground for the belief that the cognition of the non-ego does not involve a simultaneous cognition of the ego—ground which is strengthened by the remembrance that we can express cognition of objective being in words that involve no assertion of subjective being (the book exists), which we could not do did the one conception involve the other—and ground yet further strengthened by the consideration that we can perfectly well conceive an object to remain in existence after our own annihilation, which it would be impossible to do if the cognition of subject and object were simultaneous, and consequently inseparable. Further inquiry therefore serves to confirm, rather than to shake, the direct verdict of consciousness—that the cognition of an object as an external reality is an undecomposable mental act involving the Universal Postulate once only.
Turn we now to the hypotheses which serve as fulcra for the attempted overthrow of Realism, beginning, as we may properly do, with Hypothetical Realism—the comparatively unassuming one from which the others have sprung, but whose parentage they have, in their high pretensions, found it convenient to ignore.
No one can form any conception of the representative hypothesis without abandoning his first centre of consciousness, in which he is simply percipient, and taking up another position, from which to inspect the act of percipience. A spectator gazing at a fire is simply conscious of the fire. If you tell him he cannot know the fire, but merely his impression of a fire, he can realize your meaning only by regarding both the fire and himself as objects, and observing how the one affects the other. What now is involved in this proceeding? He postulates the fire; he postulates himself; and he postulates the relation between these. In his original state of percipience, not only does his cognition of the fire seem immediate and undecomposable, but he cannot even conceive that it may be a compound cognition, without going much out of his way to do so. Whereas in this state to which you bring him, not only does the alleged representative cognition seem at once decomposable into three things, but he cannot even conceive it without the three things. In the one case he cannot by any effort use the postulate more than once: in the other, he cannot by any effort avoid using it three times.
Thus too is it with Absolute Idealism. Idealism assumes that minds are entities; that ideas are entities; and that ideas exist in minds. Even supposing that it has the guarantee of the Universal Postulate for each of these, yet, as involving them all, its proposition has three times the liability to error possessed by the proposition it sets out to disprove. Let it be granted that its belief—mind is an entity, is a belief proved by the inconceivableness of its negation to invariably exist (which is not the fact; for mind is conceivable as not an entity, but a process); let it be granted that it has the like authority for the belief—ideas are entities (which is not the fact; for ideas are conceivable as phases of the process, mind); and let it be granted, that for its belief—ideas exist in mind, it has this same highest warrant (which is not the fact; for it is conceivable that ideas are not in mind but are mind)—let it be granted, I say, that each of these beliefs is indisputable; still, Idealism stands in the position of being unable to frame its hypothesis without thrice making an assumption which the adverse hypothesis makes but once.
At first sight, the scepticism of Hume, by not asserting the existence of mind, escapes this difficulty. But the escape is apparent only. In reality, Hume makes even more assumptions than Berkeley does. He sets out by saying, that our cognitions resolve themselves into impressions and ideas; and on this division all his reasoning hinges. Obviously, did he merely postulate these two things, the foundation of his argument would be less certain than the undecomposable belief he calls in question. But he artfully postulates more than two things, without seeming to do so. For what is contained in the concept—an impression? Translate the word into thought, and there are manifestly involved a thing impressing and a thing impressed. It is impossible to attach any idea to the word, save by the help of these other ideas. Without contending at length, as I might, that our conceptions of things impressing and things impressed are gained by seeing bodies act upon each other, and that we cannot realize these conceptions without supposing the objectivity of such bodies—without dwelling upon the illegitimacy of an argument which assumes that there are impressions, and then goes on to show that there are neither things impressing nor things impressed; and which thus, taking the abstract for its fulcrum, proposes to overset the concrete from which it is abstracted,—without dwelling upon this, it will suffice for present purposes to remark, that unless Hume postulates the three things—the impression, the impressing, and the impressed, his reasoning is meaningless from the very beginning. Unless its constituent words are the signs of thoughts, an argument is a mere game of symbols. Refrain from rendering your terms into ideas, and you may reach any conclusion whatever. The whole is equal to its part, is a proposition that may be quite comfortably entertained so long as neither wholes nor parts are imagined. If, then, Hume's argument claim to be anything more than a string of logical forms containing no substance, its first term—an impression—must be used only as the representative of a definite concept; and no such definite concept can be formed without two other things—the impressing and the impressed—being involved. The existence of ideas being further involved as an essential part of Hume's premisses, it results that (saying nothing about the assumed relation between impressions and ideas) he postulates four things to the one thing postulated by Realism.
So that, even did these idealist, sceptical, and other kindred theories require no long chains of syllogisms to get from their premisses to conclusions at variance with Realism—were their conclusions immediately, instead of remotely, consequent on the premisses—they would still be placed in the dilemma that their respective assumptions are three and four times as liable to error as the assumption they dispute.
As a last resort it will perhaps be urged, that the proposition of Realism is still an inference, and not an intuition—that our notion of the externality of things is not immediate, but involves a synthesis. The first reply is, that we cannot possibly know that our notion of their externality is a synthesis, with anything like the certainty with which we can know that their externality is real. As the reasoning employed to prove the synthetic nature of the realistic belief, is itself a synthesis of a highly complicated kind, whilst the synthesis of Realism is one of the simplest possible—so simple as to have become organic—it follows that any such objection to Realism is, like the many kindred ones, self-destructive; it repeatedly assumes the validity of that whose validity it questions. The second reply is, that all knowledge whatever involves synthesis; and that no metaphysical hypothesis can be framed without a more complex synthesis than that required by Realism. Instance the proposition—Ideas exist in mind. Here are three syntheses. Idea is a general word applicable to various states of consciousness; and, as we see in the child, comes to have a meaning only after the putting together of many experiences. Mind is a synthesis of states of consciousness—is a thing we can form no notion of without re-membering, re-collecting some of our mental acts. Every conception of relation is a synthesis—that of inclusion being one. The child is enabled to recognize one thing as in another, by a series of observations similar to, and simultaneous with, those that teach it the externality of things; and until these observations have been generalized, the proposition that ideas are in mind must be unthinkable. Thus, then, each of the words idea, in, mind, involves a synthesis; and the proposition—Ideas exist in mind, is a synthesis of syntheses. Passing from the assumptions of Idealism to its argument, it might be shown that each of its syllogisms is a synthesis of syntheses; and that its conclusion, reached by putting together many syllogisms, is a synthesis of syntheses of syntheses. Instead, then, of the realistic belief being objectionable on the ground of its synthetic nature, its superiority is, that it is less open to this objection than any other belief which can be framed.
The grossly fallacious character of every metaphysical doctrine at variance with ordinary credence, and of the scepticism which forms the logical outcome common to them all, will, however, from our present stand-point, be most vividly perceived on considering the general aspect and pretension of their arguments; or rather of the sceptical argument regarded as a type of the class. For, granting the sceptic his premisses, and making no objection to his reasoning, what is the sum total of his achievement? Simply this; that by a long and involved series of steps he brings Realism's belief in the existence of objects to a reductio ad absurdum. But his conclusion that objects do not exist, Realism brings to a reductio ad absurdum by a single step. At best, then, he does but offer a many-stepped reductio ad absurdum in place of a single-stepped one. What, now, is the worth of such an offer? If the reductio ad absurdum afford valid proof, the belief of Realism is true. If it do not afford valid proof, what becomes of the sceptic's argument? Awkward as this dilemma looks, it will appear worse on remembering that every one of the many syllogisms by which scepticism reaches its goal, tacitly assumes the validity of the reductio ad absurdum. Not only where Hume from time to time says, “For ‘t is evident,” and “‘t is impossible to conceive,” &c., but in every successive sentence, in everything he asserts, in everything he denies, he takes for granted the infallibility of the realist's test. He cannot move a single step on the way to his own conclusion, without postulating that which disproves his conclusion.
Scepticism, then, is reducible to this extreme predicament—that the assumption on which it founds its argument is less certain than the assumption it sets out to disprove; that each of the many steps in its argument is less certain (as involving a more complex synthesis) than the single step of the adverse argument; and that it cannot take any one of these many steps without endorsing that adverse argument.
§ 12. It is curious to see a doctrine which positively contradicts our primary cognitions, chosen as a refuge from another doctrine which simply doubts them. In the philosophy of Kant, however, this is done Scepticism merely questions all things; and professes to decisively affirm nothing. Kantism, in anxiety to escape it, decisively affirms things contrary to universal belief. That Space and Time are “forms of sensibility” or “subjective conditions of thought” that have no objective basis, is as repugnant to common sense as any proposition that can be framed. And to adopt this proposition instead of the one that we have no sufficient evidence of any objective existence, seems to be a preference of the greater evil to the less.
Of the general criticisms that may be passed upon the hypothesis that Space and Time are conditions or forms of the ego, impressed by it on the non-ego in the act of perception, one is that it gratuitously entails difficulties to avoid what are not difficulties. For if, in congruity with the ordinary belief, we suppose the non-ego to exist under certain universal conditions or forms, it will obviously follow that in being impressed upon the ego the non-ego must carry its universal conditions or forms along with it, and must generate in the ego corresponding conditions or forms that will be also universal. The facts, therefore, are quite explicable on the supposition that all knowledge is from experience. If, on the other hand, to explain these facts, it be assumed that the conditions belong to the ego, and the materials to the non-ego, it results that the non-ego is unconditioned. But unconditioned existence is inconceivable. Consequently, it becomes impossible to conceive that there can be any non-ego at all. If it be replied that the hypothesis itself involves that we cannot conceive anything without impressing our own forms of thought upon it, and that therefore an unconditioned non-ego is by the hypothesis inconceivable, even though existent, the rejoinder is, that an existence of which we have no evidence, which we cannot conceive, and which it is impossible that we should conceive, is an existence we have as strong a warrant for denying as we have for denying anything.
On turning from the abstract to the concrete, this gratuitous making of difficulties is still more clearly seen. The fact on which Kant bases his assertion, that Space is a subjective form and not an objective reality—the fact, namely, that we can conceive the annihilation of bodies, but cannot conceive the annihilation of Space—is a fact quite comprehensible on the hypothesis that all knowledge is from without. Making no attempt to analyse the notion of Space, which, even if here practicable, would entail too long a digression, it will suffice for present purposes to say that we know Space as an ability to contain bodies. I am aware that this is no definition properly so-called; seeing that as the words contain and bodies both imply ideas of Space, the definition involves the thing to be defined. But leaving out, as irrelevant, all consideration of the mode in which we come by our ideas of Space, and of bodies as occupying Space, it will, I think, be admitted, that the antithesis between bodies and an ability to contain bodies, truly represents the contrast in our conceptions of the sensible non-ego (Matter) and the insensible non-ego (Space). And if we know Space as an ability to contain bodies, the fact that we cannot conceive its annihilation, is quite accountable on the experience-hypothesis. Bodies we can conceive annihilated, because, by evaporation, and by burning, we have seen them annihilated—annihilated, that is, to the senses. But the ability to contain bodies we cannot conceive annihilated, because we have never known it absent. In all our experience that ability has remained constant; and hence the conception of it is similarly constant in our minds. Evidently, then, our powerlessness to conceive the non-existence of Space requires no such hypothesis as that of Kant for its explanation.
Were it only that the experience-hypothesis explains all that the Kantian hypothesis is intended to explain, and does this without involving us in such insurmountable difficulties, its superiority would be sufficiently marked. But it does more. It accounts for a certain peculiarity in our conceptions of Space, which the Kantian hypothesis does not account for: this peculiarity being, that every conception of Space which can be formed by a single mental act is limited to such portion of Space as we can have experience of at one time. Let any one attempt to form an idea of the whole surrounding sphere of Space simultaneously, and he will find it impossible to do so. When standing upright, he can very well conceive the hemisphere of Space extending in front of him; but he cannot in the same act of thought include the hemisphere of Space that is behind. On watching his mind, he will perceive that in thinking of the Space that is behind, he becomes momentarily unconscious of the Space that is in front. If, to get rid of perturbing circumstances, he mentally abolishes the Earth and all objects, and supposes himself in an infinite void, he will still find that the infinity at any moment occupying his imagination is the infinity extending on one side of him, and never the infinity on both sides. Now the Kantian hypothesis not only leaves this fact unaccounted for, but is at variance with it; for if Space be a form of thought, our conception of it should be simple, total, uniform, and altogether unrelated to external perception. Whereas, the experience-hypothesis not only accounts for it, but involves it, as an inevitable deduction; for if all knowledge is from without, the conception which we can by one act form of Space cannot exceed the perception which one act can give us of it. To the first theory the fact is an obstacle: to the second it is a confirmation.
Passing from these general criticisms to the fundamental criticism, the first thing to be noticed is, that Kant does involuntary homage to the Universal Postulate in assigning grounds for his dogma. Not to dwell upon the fact that his whole argument turns upon the existence of Space and Time, and that for the belief in their existence the Universal Postulate is his sole warrant; and only observing, by the way, that the distinction he draws between these and other things, hinges entirely upon conceivableness and inconceivableness; let us go on to remark, that he infers from our inability to conceive the annihilation of Space and Time, joined with our ability to conceive the annihilation of all other things—he infers from these facts, that Space and Time are receptivities, subjective conditions and not objective realities. We can conceive bodies non-existent: we cannot conceive Time and Space non-existent: therefore, Time and Space are forms of thought. What now is the worth of his “therefore?” At best merely this; that given these premisses, there arises an indestructible belief in this conclusion. Our conceptions of Time and Space comporting themselves thus; the inference that they are subjective, follows as a belief proved by the inconceivableness of its negation to invariably exist. Only reminding the reader that, as above shown, it does not thus follow; it is here to be observed that, granting his whole position, Kant has no higher guarantee for his inference than the Universal Postulate. The thing must be so, he says: and the entire meaning of this must is, that no other thing can be conceived.
Having by implication assumed the validity of this canon of belief, whose warrant he wrongly supposes himself to have; what does Kant do? He forthwith asserts that which this canon denies; and denies that which this canon asserts. The subjectivity of Time and Space being, he alleges, irresistible as an inference, he insists on it as a fact; and to receive it as a fact involves two impossibilities—the forming of concepts of Time and Space as subjective forms, and the abolition of the concepts of Time and Space as objective realities. The truth is, that Kant's proposition is both positively unthinkable in itself, and immediately involves a positively unthinkable consequence.
Consider, first, the thing affirmed—that Time and Space are subjective conditions of thought, or properties of the ego. Is it possible to realize the meaning of these words? or are they not simply groups of signs which seem to contain a notion, but which really contain none? An attempt to construct the notion will quickly show that the last is the fact. Think of Space—of the thing, that is; not of the word. Now think of self—of that which is conscious. And then, having clearly realized these concepts, put the two together, and conceive the one as a property of the other. What results? Nothing but a conflict of two thoughts that cannot be united. It would be as practicable to imagine a round square. What, then, is the worth of the proposition? As Mr. Mansel, himself a Kantist, says in his subtle work, “Prolegomena Logica:”—
“A form of words uniting attributes not presentable in an intuition, is not the sign of a thought, but of the negation of all thinking. Conception must thus be carefully distinguished, as well from mere imagination, as from a mere understanding of the meaning of words. Combinations of attributes logically impossible may be expressed in language perfectly intelligible. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the phrase bilinear figure, or iron-gold. The language is intelligible, though the object is inconceivable.”
If this be true, Kant's proposition is empty sound. If, as Sir William Hamilton says, those propositions only are conceivable of which subject and predicate are capable of unity of representation, then is the subjectivity of Space inconceivable; for it is impossible to bring the two notions, Space and property of the ego, into unity of representation.
Such being the character of the proposition affirmed, consider now the character of the proposition which is, by implication, denied; viz. that Time and Space are objective realities. The negation of this proposition is as inconceivable as the affirmation of the other. Neither Kant nor any one else ever rid himself of the belief in the externality of Space. That conception of it which he describes as incapable of annihilation is the conception of it as an external non-ego; and if this non-annihilability of the conception be appealed to as having any significance at all, it signifies the validity of the conception in its totality. In short, the belief in Space as an objective reality is a belief proved by the inconceivableness of its negation to invariably exist; and is, therefore, a belief having the highest possible certitude. And the same is manifestly true of Time.
See then the position in which Kant stands. He assumes, that from our inability to annihilate Space and Time in thought, the inference that they are subjective necessarily follows—follows as an inference whose negation is inconceivable. But the inference that they are subjective involves two inconceivable things. Kant's proceeding, then, is essentially an assertion of two inconceivabilities in place of one. Recognizing by implication the Universal Postulate, he, out of professed submission to its authority, straightway twice denies its authority. He chooses a double impossibility to escape from a single one. Granting his assumption, therefore, his proposition is indefensible; and when his assumption proves to be unwarrantable—when, as we have seen, the inference which he thinks necessary, turns out to be not necessary—the accumulated absurdity of his position becomes strikingly apparent.∗
The systems of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, are manifestly open to parallel criticisms—criticisms, however, which, as being substantially repetitions of the foregoing, it is needless here to detail.
§ 13. Do we not thus, then, reach the desired reconciliation between Philosophy and Common Sense? We have seen—first, that the existence of beliefs is, in so far as our reasoning faculties are concerned, the fundamental fact; next, that beliefs which invariably exist are those which, both logically and of necessity, we must adopt; further, that those are invariably existent beliefs, of which we cannot conceive the negations; and, lastly, that whether beliefs having this warrant be infallible or not, it must equally happen that the fewer times we assume the validity of such warrant in reaching any conclusion, the more certain must that conclusion be. These positions being granted; it inevitably results, as we have found, that the current belief in objects as external independent entities, has a higher guarantee than any other belief whatever—that our cognition of existence considered as noumenal, has a certainty which no cognition of existence considered as phenomenal, can ever approach; or, in other words—that, judged logically as well as instinctively, Realism is the only rational creed; and that all adverse creeds are self-destructive.
From our present point of view, not only does the seeming discordance between the verdicts of abstract and practical reason wholly disappear, but their verdicts explain each other. On the one hand, the extreme vividness and unconquerable strength of our common-sense convictions answer to the extreme brevity of the process by which each of them is arrived at; or, in other words—to the single assumption of the Universal Postulate which each of them involves. On the other hand, the shadowy and unconvincing character of metaphysical inferences answers to the extreme complexity of the arguments by which they are drawn; that is—to the numerous assumptions of the Universal Postulate they severally imply. Thus our involuntary adhesion to the first, and our inability to hold the last, answer to their respective claims as measured by the fundamental test of credibility. The instinct justifies the logic: the logic accounts for the instinct. It was hinted at the outset, that an inquiry into our knowledge by means of our knowledge, must, if rightly conducted, be consistent in its results—that the analysis of Philosophy must agree with the synthesis of Common Sense. This we now find to be the fact: not simply as shown in the coincidence of their conclusions; but as further shown in the rationale afforded by the one of the confidence felt by the other.
Here, too, we may remark the identity of the illusion common to all metaphysical reasonings; the illusion, namely, that our cognition of logical necessity has a higher certainty than our cognition of anything else. Not recognizing the fact, that for the validity of every step in an argument, we have no better guarantee than we have for an intuition of sense; but assuming, on the contrary, that whilst our simple perceptions of external existences are fallible, our complex perceptions of internal existences are infallible—assuming this, men have sought to reach by reasoning, a knowledge that transcends ordinary knowledge. Like Kant, they have thought it “a scandal to philosophy, and human reason in general, to be compelled to accept the existence of external things on the testimony of mere belief.” That it is possible by a chain of syllogisms to gain a conviction more positive than any conviction immediately derived from the senses, is the assumption which every metaphysical argument tacitly makes. The endeavour by one school to establish an Ontology, and the assertion by another, that we cannot prove the existence of noumena, alike take for granted that demonstration has a validity exceeding that of intuition. To Common Sense, standing steadfastly on a given spot, the first says that there is a series of steps by which that spot may be arrived at; the second says that there is no such series; but they agree in saying, that until a series of steps has been gone through, Common Sense cannot stand on that spot at all. This superstition in mental dynamics has a curious analogy to a current superstition in physical dynamics. Much as the mechanic, familiar with the effects of levers, wheels, and pulleys, has come to attribute to them intrinsic powers; the metaphysician, struck with the results achieved through logical forms, ascribes a virtue to the forms themselves: and as the one hopes by an arrangement of these levers, wheels, and pulleys, to generate force; so does the other hope by some logical combination to evolve certainty. In both cases, however, the result is directly the reverse. As every additional part of a mechanical apparatus entails a loss of force, so does every syllogism entail a loss of certainty. As no machine can produce an effect equivalent to the moving power, so no argument can establish a conclusion equally certain with that primary knowledge on which all argument is based.
§ 14. Before closing, it will be desirable, both with a view of preventing any possible misconstruction, and for the purpose of meeting the last objections of scepticism, to specify the extent to which the foregoing reasonings justify the convictions of Common Sense. At first sight, it is liable to be inferred that as our cognitions of external realities, immediately reached through the senses, have a higher validity than any cognitions mediately reached by reasoning, so also have our cognitions of all their apparent properties. But this is not true. Though the Universal Postulate endorses our beliefs in an outer world and in personal existence—in Matter, Force, Space, Time, Change, Motion, Extension, Form, and the so-called primary attributes of things—it does not endorse our beliefs in colour, scent, sound, and the attributes classed as secondary. For while our beliefs in the first are of the kind whose negations are inconceivable, we can, after a little analysis, very readily conceive the negations of our beliefs in the last.
“But,” it may be asked, “how happens it that while in assigning to a body the property of occupying space, the direct verdict of consciousness is trustworthy, it is not trustworthy in assigning to such body the property of redness? Is not the last cognition, like the first, reached by a single act of thought involving the Universal Postulate once only? Nay, indeed, is not the cognition of redness a simpler one than the cognition of extension of three dimensions? And must we not, therefore, say that, judged by the canon of belief, the cognition of redness is, if anything, the more certain of the two?”
The difficulty here started would seem to reopen the whole question. Were there no other mode of meeting it, however, there would still be the sufficient answer that the truth of a belief proved by the inconceivableness of its negation to invariably exist, being the one thing beyond all question, it follows that if some of our beliefs are thus proved invariably existent, whilst some are not, we have no alternative but to class them as certain and uncertain respectively. But, besides this general reply, there are special ones.
In the first place, it is to be remarked that that disbelief in the objectivity of heat, of scent, of sound, considered as such, which a cultured intelligence attains to, is not at all of the same order as Idealism's disbelief in matter and space. It is a disbelief quite reconcilable with the facts of consciousness. Just as a higher knowledge has enabled us to interpret the daily rising and setting of the sun as implying, not his motion round the earth, but the rotation of the earth on its axis; so, a higher knowledge enables us to interpret the phenomena of heat, scent, and sound, as not inherent in things, but as effects produced by things upon us. In either case we come to conceive the facts under new relations; and in either case our ability so to conceive them, implies that the new conception does not conflict with our fundamental beliefs. The modification in our mode of regarding them still allows to colour, sound, and the rest, a substantive existence in the external world, though not under the forms in which we cognize them—does not, like Scepticism, present them under the inconceivable form of impressions which there is nothing to produce.
Possibly, however, it will be argued, as it may be argued, that to admit the invalidity of immediate consciousness in respect to the so-called secondary properties of things, is to throw doubt upon its validity in all other cases; that as the advance of intelligence has enabled us to recognize these secondary properties as merely phenomenal, so, a still further advance may enable us to recognize the primary properties also, as merely phenomenal; and that thus Matter, Force, Space, Time, and the external world in general, may ultimately be reduced to the same category with the rest, as purely subjective existences.
The most satisfactory reply to this is one that unfortunately cannot now be given; based as it is upon truths that are to be reached only by a Special Analysis. Could it here be shown, as it will be shown in a subsequent part of this work, that our cognitions of the so-called secondary properties of things, differ in nature fundamentally from our cognitions of the so-called primary properties, the impossibility of such a result as that just suggested would be at once seen. Even without the aid of any Special Analysis, however, it may, I think, be rendered certain that no such result can ever occur.
For the possibility of disproving these primordial beliefs would imply that there exist data of superior certitude on which a disproof may be built. The reasoning by which it is demonstrated that colour and sound, as conceived by us, are simply subjective impressions, takes for granted the objectivity of Space, Force, and Matter—cannot reach its conclusion without postulating the external world and its primary attributes. And as, without these fulcra, Natural Philosophy would be unable to overthrow the vulgar beliefs in sound and colour as objective realities, so, without some yet more solid fulcra can Scepticism never shake the universal beliefs in an external world and its primary attributes. But no such fulcra exist. Not only has it been shown that, as measured by the number of times the Universal Postulate is assumed in arriving at them respectively, the cognitions with which Idealism and Scepticism set out, are far less certain than the cognitions they call in question; but it has been shown that our cognitions of external existence have the highest guarantee that any cognitions are capable of (§ 11). As, consequently, there can never be found cognitions having a higher certainty, there can never be found data on which a disproof of our realistic convictions can be based.
To this there seems one only rejoinder possessing any plausibility; namely, that though some of our realistic convictions must ever remain invulnerable, yet others of them may hereafter undergo a transformation like that which our aboriginal convictions respecting colour and sound have done—that as certain of our beliefs concerning objective attributes have been abolished by a logical combination of certain other of our beliefs concerning them, so may yet further beliefs concerning objective attributes be abolished. Could the conclusions reached by the Special Analysis be here cited, it might be shown in detail that such a result is not possible—that the primary attributes are involved in the very conception of an external world. But it must suffice for the present to say again, as was said when commenting upon the controversy respecting necessary truths, that as the inability to conceive the negation of a belief implies the agreement of all past experience in its support; and as no belief whatever of which human nature is capable can have any higher warrant than this; we are justified in holding as valid, all such of Realism's propositions as have the Universal Postulate for their guarantee:—knowing that the essential elements of its creed can never be shaken, from want of a fulcrum; and not admitting the hypothetical possibility that some elements of its creed may yet be shaken to have any weight.
It remains but to notice Scepticism's last refuge; namely, the position that even granting Realism's propositions to be incapable of disproof—even granting the externality of things to be indisputable—even granting the indisputableness of those fundamental attributes involved in the conception of this externality—yet we can never truly know that these exist as we understand them to exist. Whilst it may ever remain impossible for us to think of them as otherwise, yet they may be otherwise. This position we shall find to be as logically inadmissible as it is practically unthinkable. For one of two things must be true of it. It must either admit of no justification by reason, or it must admit of some justification. If it admits of no justification by reason, then it amounts to a tacit negation of all reason. It posits that as possible, which, by its own admission, can be entertained not as a conceivable proposition, but only as a verbally intelligible one; and if it be allowable, without assigning grounds, to do this in the present case, it is allowable to do it in any case: whence it will follow that every conclusion can be met by a counter conclusion which may be posited as possible; and all conclusions being thus rendered worthless, intelligence is abolished. If, on the other hand, reasons in justification of the position be assigned—if it be alleged that we cannot know that things exist as we understand them to exist, because we cannot transcend consciousness; then there is at once taken for granted the validity of that test whose validity is called in question. The Universal Postulate is assumed and denied in the same breath. As already more than once shown, the invariably existent belief, which is our warrant for asserting the reality of Matter, Motion, Space, and Time, is likewise our warrant, and our sole warrant, for every because: and to assume the trustworthiness of this warrant in the one case for the purpose of proving its untrustworthiness in the other, is the climax of absurdity. Evidently, then, we cannot rationally entertain a thought at variance with these primary dicta of consciousness. We cannot take a single step towards invalidating Realism without committing a logical suicide.
[∗]It may be useful here to notice that Sir William Hamilton, who, from some passages in his writings (see, for instance, p. 882 of the “Dissertations”), might be supposed to hold that Space is both a law of thought and a law of things; but who proves himself to be a disciple of Kant by saying—“It is one merit of the philosophy of the conditioned, that it proves Space to be only a law of thought, and not a law of things;” has been led by his Kantism into a suicidal argument. In his trenchant criticism on Dr. Brown, he brings into strong relief the inconsistency of that writer by putting side by side two positions which he respectively receives and repudiates. The passage, which will be found at page 90 of the “Discussions,” is as follows:— “I cannot but believe that material things exist:—I cannot but believe that the material reality is the object immediately known in perception. The former of these beliefs, explicitly argues Dr. Brown, in defending his system against the sceptic, because irresistible, is true. The latter of these beliefs, implicitly argues Dr. Brown, in establishing his system itself, though irresistible, is false.“ Now when Sir William Hamilton asserts that Space is “only a law of thought, and not a law of things,” he falls into an absurdity of exactly the same kind as the one which he here exposes. To show this it needs but to make a small addition to the foregoing passage, and to change the names, thus:— I cannot but believe that material things exist:—I cannot but believe that the material reality is the object immediately known in perception:—I cannot but believe that the space in which material realities are perceived is objectively real. The two former of these beliefs, explicitly argues Sir William Hamilton, in defending his system against the sceptic, because irresistible, are true. The latter of these beliefs, implicitly argues Sir William Hamilton, in establishing his system itself, though irresistible, is false. And thus Sir William Hamilton, by asserting the untrustworthiness of consciousness, himself overthrows his own system.