- Special Introduction
- I.: Descartes—his Life and Writings .
- II.: Philosophy In the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries Preceding Descartes .
- III.: The Cogito Ergo Sum — Its Nature and Meaning .
- IV.: Cogito Ergo Sum — Objections to the Principle.
- V.: The Guarantee of the Principle .
- VI.: The Criterion of Truth .
- VII.: The Ego and the Material World .
- VIII.: Innate Ideas.
- IX.: Malebranche (1638-1715) †
- X.: Spinoza (1632-1677) — Relations to Descartes .
- XI.: Development of Cartesianism In the Line of Spinoza—omnis Determinatio Est Negatio .
- XII.: Hegelian Criticism — the Ego and the Infinite .
- Discourse On Method
- Part I.
- Part II.
- Part III.
- Part IV.
- Part V.
- Part VI.
- The Meditations
- Preface to the Reader.
- Synopsis of the Six Following Meditations.
- Meditations On the First Philosophy In Which the Existence of God, and the Real Distinction of Mind and Body, Are Demonstrated.
- Meditation I.: Of the Things On Which We May Doubt .
- Meditation II.: Of the Nature of the Human Mind ; and That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body .
- Meditation III.: Of God: That He Exists.
- Meditation IV.: Of Truth and Error .
- Meditation V.: Of the Essence of Material Things ; and , Again , of God; That He Exists .
- Meditation VI.: Of the Existence of Material Things , and of the Real Distinction Between the Mind and Body of Man .
- The Principles of Philosophy.
- To the Most Serene Princess , Elisabeth, Eldest Daughter of Frederick, King of Bohemia, Count Palatine , and Elector of the Sacred Roman Empire .
- The Principles of Philosophy.
- Part I.: Of the Principles of Human Knowledge .
- Part II.: Of the Principles of Material Things .
- Part III.: Of the Visible World .
- Part IV.: Of the Earth .
- Appendix: Reasons Which Establish the Existence of God, and the Distinction Between the Mind and Body of Man, Disposed In Geometrical Order.
The life of Descartes is best read in his writings, especially in that choice and pleasing fragment of mental autobiography, the Discours de la Méthode. But it is desirable to give the leading facts and dates of a career as unostentatious and barren of current and popular interest, as it was significant and eventful for the future of modern thought.
René Descartes was born on the 31st March, 1596. His birthplace was La Haye, a small town in the province of Touraine, now the department of the Indre et Loire. His family, on both sides, belonged to the landed gentry of the province of Poitou, and was of old standing. The ancestral estates lay in the neighborhood of Châtelleraut, in the plain watered by the Vienne, as it flows northward, amid fields fertile in corn and vines, to the Loire. The manor, called Les Cartes, from which the family derived its name, is about a league from La Haye. It is now embraced in the commune of Ormes-Saint-Martin, in the department of Vienne, which represents the old province of Poitou.
The mother of the philosopher was Jeanne Brochard, and his father was Joachim Descartes, a lawyer by profession, and a counsellor in the Parliament of Bretagne. This assembly was held in the town of Rennes, the old capital of the province, and there the family usually resided during the session. René was the third child of the marriage. The title of Seigneur du Perron, sometimes attached to his name, came to him from inheriting a small estate through his mother. His elder brother followed the father's profession, and became in his turn a counsellor of the Parliament of Bretagne. He seems to have been a proper type of the conventional gentleman of the time. So far from regarding it as an honor to be connected with the philosopher, he thought it derogatory to the family that his brother René should write books. This elder brother was the first of the family to settle in Bretagne, so that it is a mistake to represent Descartes as a Breton. He was really descended from Poitou ancestry.
In 1604, at the age of eight, he was sent to the recently-instituted Jesuit College of La Flèche. The studies of the place were of the usual scholastic type. He mastered these, but he seems to have taken chiefly to mathematics. Here he remained eight years, leaving the college in 1612. After a stay in Paris of four years, the greater part of the time being spent in seclusion and quiet study, at the age of twenty-one he entered the army, joining the troops of Prince Maurice of Nassau in Holland. He afterward took service with the Duke of Bavaria, then made a campaign in Hungary under the Count de Bucquoy. His insatiable desire of seeing men and the world, which had been the principal motive for his joining the army, now urged him to travel. Moravia, Silesia, the shores of the Baltic, Holstein, and Friesland, were all visited by him at this time. Somewhat later, in 1623, he set out from Paris for Italy, traversed the Alps and visited the Grisons, the Valteline, the Tyrol, and then went by Innsbruck to Venice and Rome. In the winter of 1619-20, when, after close thinking, some fundamental point in his philosophy dawned on his mind, he had a remarkable dream, and thereupon he vowed to make a pilgrimage to Loretto. There can be little doubt that he actually fulfilled his vow on the occasion of this visit to Italy, walking on foot from Venice to Loretto. He finally settled to the reflective work of his life in 1629, at the age of thirty-three, choosing Amsterdam for his residence. Holland was then the land of freedom—civil and literary — and this no doubt influenced his decision. But he also, as he tells us, preferred the cooler atmosphere of the Low Lands to the heat of Italy and France. In the former he could think with cool head, in the latter he could only produce phantasies of the brain.
Here, professing and acting on the principle, Bene vixit bene qui latuit, he meditated and wrote for twenty years, with a patience, force, and fruitfulness of genius which has been seldom equalled in the history of the world. His works appeared in the following order: Discours de la Méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences; plus la Dioptrique, les Météores et la Géométrie, qui sont des Essais de cette Méthode. Leyden: 1637. This was published anonymously. Etienne de Courcelles translated the Method, Dioptrics, and Meteors into Latin. This was revised by Descartes, and published at Amsterdam in 1644. The Geometry was translated into Latin, with commentary, by Francis von Schooten, and published at Leyden, 1649. The Meditations were first published in Paris in 1641. The title was Meditationes de prima Philosophia, in qua Dei existentia et animæ immortalitas demonstrantur. In the second edition, published under the superintendence of the author himself at Amsterdam in 1642, the title was as follows: Renati Descartes Meditationes de prima Philosophia, in quibus Dei existentia et animæ a corpore distinctio demonstrantur. His adjunctæ sunt variæ objectiones doctorum virorum ad istas de Deo et animæ demonstrationes cum responsionibus auctoris. The Meditations were translated into French by the Due de Luynes in 1647. The Principia Philosophies appeared at Amsterdam in 1644. The Abbé Picot translated it into French, 1647, Paris. The Traité des Passions de l'Âme appeared at Amsterdam in 1649.
Regarding the Method of Descartes, Saisset has very well said: “It ought not be forgotten that in publishing the Method, Descartes joined to it, as a supplement, the Dioptrics, the Geometry, and the Meteors. Thus at one stroke he founded, on the basis of a new method, two sciences hitherto almost unknown and of infinite importance — Mathematical Physics and the application of Algebra to Geometry; and at the same time he gave the prelude to the Meditations and the Principles — that is to say, to an original Metaphysic, and the mechanical theory of the universe.”
The appearance of the Discours de la Méthode marked an epoch not only in philosophy, but in the French language itself, as a means especially of philosophical expression. Peter Ramus, in his violent crusade against Aristotle, had published a Dialectic in French, but it was the Discours de la Méthode of Descartes which first truly revealed the clearness, precision, and natural force of his native language in philosophical literature. The use, too, of a vernacular tongue, immensely aided the diffusion and appreciation of the first great movement of modern thought.
Descartes, though a self-contained and self-inspired man, of marked individuality and a spirit of speculation wonderful for its comprehensiveness, had not the outspoken boldness which we are accustomed to associate with great reformers. He was not one, indeed, who cared to encounter the powerful opposition of the Church, to which by education he belonged. This is obvious from many things in his writings. He avoided, as far as possible, the appearance of an innovator, while he was so in the truest sense of the word. When he attacked an old dogma, it was not by a daring march up to the face of it, but rather by a quiet process of sapping the foundations. He got rid also of traditional principles not so much by direct attack as by substituting for them new proofs and grounds of reasoning, and thus silently ignoring them.
One little incident of his life shows at once the character of the man and of the times in which he lived, and the difficulties peculiar to the position of an original thinker in those days. He had completed the manuscript of a treatise De Mundo, and was about to send it to his old college friend Mersenne in Paris, with a view to arrange for its printing. In it he had maintained the doctrine of the motion of the earth. Meanwhile (November, 1633), he heard of the censure and condemnation of Galileo. This led him not only to stay the publication of the book, but even to talk of burning the manuscript, which he seems to have done in part. Descartes might no doubt have taken generally a more pronounced course in the statement of his opinions; but, looking to the jealous antagonism between the modern spirit represented by philosophy and literature on the one hand, and the old represented by theology on the other, during the immediately preceding period of the Renaissance and in his own time, it is doubtful whether such a line of action would have been equally successful in gaining acceptance for his new views, and promoting the interests of truth. An original thinker, with the recent fates of Ramus, Bruno, and Vanini before his eyes, to say nothing of the loathsome dungeon of Campanella, may be excused for being somewhat over-prudent. At any rate, it is not for us in these days to cast stones at a man of his character and circumstances. In these times singularity of opinion, whether it imply originality and judgment or not, is quite as much a passport to reputation with one set of people as the most pronounced orthodoxy is with another.
Even in Holland, however, he was not destined to find the absolute repose and freedom from annoyance which he sought and valued so highly. The publication of the Method brought down on him the unreasoning violence of the well-known Voët (Voëtius), Protestant clergyman at Utrecht, and afterward rector of the university there. With the characteristic blindness of the man of theological traditions, he accused Descartes of atheism. Voët allied himself with Schook (Schookius), of Groningen. The two sought the help of the magistrates. Descartes replied to the latter, who, in a big book, had accused him of scepticism, atheism, and madness. The influence of Voët was such that he got the magistrates to prepare a secret process against the philosopher. “Their intention,” says Saisset, “was to condemn him as atheist and calumniator: as atheist, apparently because he had given new proofs of the existence of God; as calumniator, because he had repelled the calumnies of his enemies.” The ambassador of France, with the help of the Prince of Orange, stopped the proceedings. Descartes is not the only, nor even the most recent instance, in which men holding truths traditionally cannot distinguish their friends from their foes.
Queen Christina of Sweden, daughter of the great Gustavus Adolphus, had come under the influence of the writings of Descartes. She began a correspondence with him on philosophical points, and finally prevailed upon him to leave Holland, and come to reside in Stockholm. He reached that capital in October, 1649. The winter proved hard and severe, and the queen insisted on having her lecture in philosophy at five in the morning. The constitution of the philosopher, never robust, succumbed to the climate. He died of inflammation of the lungs, on the nth February, 1650, at the age of fifty-four. In 1666 his remains were brought to France and interred in Paris, in the church of Sainte-Geneviève. “On the 24th June, 1667,” says Saisset, “a solemn and magnificent service was performed in his honor. The funeral oration should have been pronounced after the service; but there came an order from the Court [in the midst of the ceremony] which prohibited its delivery. History ought to say that the man who solicited and obtained that order was the Father Le Tellier.” A finer illustration of contemporary narrowness before the breadth and power of genius could not well be found.
In 1796, the decree made by the Convention three years before, that the honors of the Pantheon should be accorded to Descartes, was presented by the Directory to the Council of the Cinq-Cents, by whom it was rejected. It was thus that the national philosopher of France was treated by ecclesiastic and revolutionist alike.
In 1819, the remains of Descartes were removed from the Court of the Louvre, whither they had been transferred from Sainte-Geneviève, to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. There Descrates now lies between Montfaucon and Mabillon.
Centuries Preceding Descartes.
The first step in the continuous progress to the principle of free inquiry, whose influence we now feel, was taken in the fifteenth century. This epoch presented for the first time in modern history the curious spectacle of the supreme authority in matters of thought and faith turned against itself. The principle of authority had been consecrated by scholasticism. During its continuance, intellectual activity was confined to methodizing and demonstrating the truths or dogmas furnished to the mind by the Church. No mediaeval philosopher thought of questioning the truth of a religious dogma, even when he found it philosophically false or indemonstrable. The highest court of philosophical appeal in scholasticism was Aristotle; and the received interpretations of “the philosopher” had become identified with the dogmas sanctioned by the Church, and therefore with its credit and authority. But events occurred in the middle of the fifteenth century which tended to disparage the Aristotle of the Schools. Hitherto the writings of Aristotle had been known in Europe only through Latin translations, often badly and incompetently made from the Arabic and Hebrew. The emigration of learned Greeks from the empire of the East under the pressure of Turkish invasion, and finally the fall of Constantinople in 1453, led to the distribution of the originals of Aristotle over Italy, and the spread of the Greek language in Western Europe. With the knowledge thus acquired at first hand, Pomponatius (1462-1524 or 1526) disputed the dogmas of the Aristotle of the Schools and the Church. Henceforward the Aristotelians were divided into two Schools,— the Averroists or traditional interpreters, and the followers of “the Commentator,” Alexander of Aphrodisias. Pomponatius was the head of the latter party. While still recognizing his authority as the highest, Pomponatius denied that the Aristotle which the Church accepted was the true one. The real Aristotle, according to his view, denied a divine providence, the immortality of the soul, and a beginning of the world; or, as he sometimes put it, Aristotle did not give adequate proof on those points. The philosopher and the Church were therefore in contradiction. This led to ardent discussion,— the opening of men's minds to the deepest questions,— the beginning, in a word, of free thought. And there was also the practical result, that the fifteenth-century philosopher denied what he as a Churchman professed to believe, or rather did not dare to disavow. It was obvious that the course of thinking could not rest here. It must pass beyond this, urged alike by the demands of reason and the interests of conscience.
But the inner spirit of scholasticism had pretty well worked itself out. It was a body of thought remarkable for its order and symmetry, well knit and squared, solid and massive, like a mediaeval fortress. But it was inadequate as a representation and expression of the free life that was working in the literature, and even in the outside nascent philosophy, of the time. It was formed for conservation and defense, not for progress. New weapons were being forged which must inevitably prevail against it, just as the discovery of gunpowder had been quietly superseding the heavy panoply of the knight. Several thoughtful men were already dissatisfied alike with the Aristotle of the schoolmen and the manuscripts. Opportunely enough, the circumstances which led to the discovery of the original Aristotle led also to the revelation of the original Plato. Some thinkers fell back on the earlier philsopher, stimulated to enthusiasm by the elevation of his transcendent dialectic. Notably among these were Pletho (born about 1390, and died about 1490); his pupil, Bessarion (1395 or 1389–1472); Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (the nephew of Francisco, born 1463, died 1494); Ficino, tutor to Lorenzo de Medici (1433–1499); Patrizi (1529–1597). Influenced a good deal by the spirit of mediaeval mysticism, these thinkers for the most part clothed their Plato in the garb of Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists. Others were led to the still earlier Greek philosophers. The newly-awakened spirit of experience in Telesio (1508–1588) and in Berigard (1578–1667) found fitting nourishment in the Ionian physicists; and, later in the same line, Gassendi (1592–1655) revived Epicurus. All this implied the individual right of selecting the authority entitled to credence, and was a protest against scholasticism, and a step toward free inquiry.
The men of letters also helped to swell the tide rising strong against scholasticism. The abstract and often barbarous language of the schools appeared tasteless and repulsive alongside the rhythmic diction of Cicero, and the polished antitheses of Seneca. The spirit of imagination and literary grace had been repressed to the utmost in the schools. It now asserted itself with the intensity peculiar to a strong reaction. And in the knowledge and study of the forms of the classical languages, the mind is far beyond the sphere of mere deduction. It is but one remove from the activity of thought itself.
Mysticism, always operative in the middle ages, and indeed involved in the Neo-Platonism already spoken of, came to its height in the period of the Renaissance — especially under Paracelsus, (1493–1541) and Cardan (1501–1576) — and then under Boehm (1575–1624) and the Van Helmonts (father, 1577–1644, and son, 1618–1699). The principle of transcendent vision by intuition was in direct antagonism with the reasoned authority of scholasticism. Boehm's philosophy on its speculative side was an absolutism which anticipated Schelling, and Hegel himself. The self-diremption of consciousness is Boehm's favorite and fundamental point. The superstition which lay at the heart of the mysticism of the time, and which showed itself practically in alchemy, led men by the way of experiment to natural science, especially chemistry.
At length in the sixteenth century, and, as if to show the extreme force of reaction, in Italy itself before the throne of the Pope and the power of the Inquisition, there arose in succession Bruno (b. about 1550, d. 1600), Vanini (1581 or 85–1619), and Campanella (1568–1639) — all deeply inspired by the spirit of revolt against authority, and a freedom of thought that reached even a fantastic license. Bruno in the spirit of the Eleatics and Plotinus, proclaimed the absolute unity of all things in the indeterminable substance, which is God; Vanini carried empiricism to atheism and materialism; and Campanella united the extremes of high churchman and sensationalist, mystical metaphysician and astrologist.
The thoughts of this period, from the fifteenth to well on in the sixteenth century, have been described as “the upturnings of a volcano.” The time was indeed the volcanic epoch in European thought. The principal figures we can discern in it seem to move amid smoke and turmoil, and to pass away in flame. The tragic fate of Bruno in the fire at Rome, and that of Vanini in the fire at Toulouse — both done to death at the instance of the vulgar unintelligence of the Catholicism of the time — form two of the darkest and coarsest crimes ever perpetrated in the name of a Church. The Church, which claims to represent the truth of God, dare not touch with a violent hand speculative opinion. It is then false to itself.
In France, and in the university of Paris, the stronghold of Peripateticism, Ramus (1515–1572) attacked Aristotle in the most violent manner. In Ramus was concentred the spirit of philosophical and literary antagonism to the schoolmen. It was wholly unmodified by judgment or discrimination, and it did not proceed on a thorough or even adequate acquaintance with the object of its assault. Ramus is remarkable chiefly for the extreme freedom which he asserted in oratorically denouncing what he considered to be the principles of Aristotle; but he made no real advance either in the principles of logical method which he professed, or in philosophy itself. At the same time, the rude intensity and the passionate earnestness of his life were not unworthily sealed by his bloody death on the Eve of St. Bartholomew. The death of Ramus, though attributed directly to personal enmity, was really a blow struck alike at Protestantism and the freedom of modern thought.
Bruno, Vanini, Campanella, and Ramus foreshadowed Descartes and the modern spirit, only in the emphatic assertion of the freedom, individuality, and supremacy of thought. What in thought is firm, assured, and universal, they have not pointed out. They were actuated mainly by an implicit sense of inadequacy in the current principles and doctrines of the time. It was not given to any of them to find a new and strong foundation whereon to build with clear, consistent, and reasonable evidence. Campanella said of himself not inaptly: “ I am but the bell (campanella) which sounds the hour of a new dawn.”
Alongside of those more purely speculative tendencies, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Bacon represented the new spirit and theory of observation applied to nature. The formalism of the Schools had abstracted almost entirely from the natural world. It was a “dreamland of intellectualism.” And now there came an intense reaction, out of which has arisen modern science. Bacon had given to the world the Novum Organum in 1620, seventeen years before the Method of Descartes, but his precept was as yet only slightly felt, and he had but little in common with Descartes, except an appeal to reality on a different side from that of the Continental philosopher. Descartes had not seen the Organum previously to his thinking out the Method. He makes but three or four references to Bacon in all his writings.
If to these influences we add the spirit of religious reformation, the debates regarding the relative authority of the Scriptures and the Church, and mainly as a consequence of the chaos and conflict of thought in the age, the course of philosophical scepticism initiated by Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535), and made fashionable especially by Montaigne (1533–1592), and continued by Charron (1541–1603), with its self-satisfied worldliness and its low and conventional ethic, we shall understand the age in which the youth of Descartes was passed, and the influences under which he was led to speculation. We shall be able especially to see how he, a man of penetrating and comprehensive intelligence, yet with a strong conservative instinct for what was elevating in morals and theology, was led to seek for an ultimate ground of certainty, if that were possible, not in tradition or dogma of philosopher or churchman, but in what commended itself to him as self-verifying and therefore ultimate in knowledge—in other words, a limit to doubt, a criterion of certainty, and a point of departure for a constructive philosophy.
The Cogito Ergo Sum — Its NatureandMeaning.
The man in modern times, or indeed in any time, who first based philosophy on consciousness, and sketched a philosophical method within the limits of consciousness, was Descartes; and since his time, during these two hundred and fifty years, no one has shown a more accurate view of the ultimate problem of philosophy, or of the conditions under which it must be dealt with. The question with him is — Is there an ultimate in knowledge which can guarantee itself to me as true and certain? and, consequently upon this, can I obtain as it were from this — supposing it found — a criterion of truth and certainty?
In the settlement of these questions, the organon of Descartes is doubt. This with him means an examination by reflection of the facts and possibilities of consciousness. Of what and how far can I doubt. I can doubt, Descartes would say, whether it be true, as my senses testify, or seem to testify, that a material world really exists. I am not here by any necessity of thought shut within belief. I can doubt, he even says, of mathematical truths — at least when the evidence is not directly present to my mind. At what point then do I find that a reflective doubt sets limits to itself? This limit he finds in self-consciousness, implying or being self-existence. It will be found that this method makes the least possible postulate or assumption. It starts simply from the fact of a conscious questioning; it proceeds to exhaust the sphere of the doubtable; and it reaches that truth or principle which is its own guarantee. If we cannot find a principle or principles of this sort in knowledge, within the limits of consciousness, we shall not be able to find either ultimate truth or principle at all. Philosophy is impossible.
But the process must be accurately observed. There is the consciousness — that is, this or that act or state of consciousness — even when I doubt. This cannot be sublated, except by another act of consciousness. To doubt whether there is consciousness at a given moment, is to be conscious of the doubt in that given moment; to believe that the testimony of consciousness at a given time is false, is still to be conscious — conscious of the belief. This, therefore, a definite act of consciousness, is the necessary implicate of any act of knowledge. The impossibility of the sublation of the act of consciousness, consistently with the reality of knowledge at all, is the first and fundamental point of Descartes. This it is very important to note, for every other point in his philosophy that is at all legitimately established depends on this: and particularly the fact of the “I” or self of consciousness. The reality of the “I” or “Ego” of Descartes is inseparably bound up with the fact of the definite act of consciousness. But, be it observed, he does not prove or deduce the “ Ego” from the act of consciousness; he finds it or realizes it as a matter of fact in and along with this act. The act and the Ego are the two inseparable factors of the same fact or experience in a definite time. But as the consciousness is absolutely superior to sublation, so is that which is its essential element or cofactor —in other words, the whole fact of experience — the conscious act and the conscious “ I” or actor are placed on the same level of the absolutely indubitable.
By “ I think” or by “ thinking” Descartes thus does not mean thought or consciousness in the abstract. It is not cogitatio ergo ens, or entitas, but cogito ergo sum; that is, the concrete fact of me thinking. That this is so, can be established from numerous statements. “Under thought I embrace all that which is in us, so that we are immediately conscious of it.” “A thing which thinks is a thing which doubts, understands [conceives], affirms, denies, which wills, refuses, imagines also, and perceives.” Here thinking is as wide as consciousness; but it is not consciousness in the abstract; it is consciousness viewed in each of its actual or definite forms. From this it follows that the principle does not tell us what consciousness is; it knows nothing of an abstract consciousness, far less of a point above consciousness; but it is the knowledge and assertion of consciousness in one or other of its modes—or rather it is an expression of consciousness only as I have experience of it—in this or that definite form.
Arnauld and Mersenne in their criticism of Descartes were the first to point out the resemblance of the cogito ergo sum. to statements of St. Augustin. Descartes himself had not previously been aware of these. The truth is, he belonged to the school of the non-reading philosophers. He cared very little for what had been thought or said before him. The passage from Augustin which has been referred to as closest to the statement of Descartes is from the De Civitate Dei, 1. xi., c. 26. It closes as follows: “ Sine ulla phantasarium vel phantasmatum imaginatione ludificatoria, mihi esse me, idque nosse et amare certissimum est. Nulla in his veris Academicorum argumenta, formido dicentium: Quid, si falleris? Si enim fallor, sum. Nam qui non est, utique nec falli potest: ac per hoc sum, si fallor. Quia ergo sum, qui fallor, quomodo esse me fallor, quando certum est me esse si fallor ? On this passage Descartes himself very properly remarks, that while the principle may be identical with his own, the consequences which he deduces from it, and its position as the ground of a philosophical system, make the characteristic difference between Augustin and himself. The specialty of Descartes is that he reached this principle of self-consciousness as the last limit of doubt and made it then the starting-point of his system. There is all the difference in his case, between the man who by chance stumbles on a fact, and leaves it isolated as he found it, and the man who reaches it by method—and, with a full consciousness of its importance, develops it through the ramifications of a philosophical system. To him the fact when found is a significant truth as the limit of restless thought; it is not less significant and impulsive as a new point of departure in the line of higher truth.
But what precisely is the relation between the cogito and the sum? Is it, first of all, a syllogistic or an immediate inference? Is the cogito ergo sum an enthymeme or a proposition?
There can be no doubt that Descartes himself regarded it as a form of proposition, an intuition, not a syllogism. In reply to Gassendi, who objected that cogito ergo sum implies qui cogitat, est,— a pre-judgment,— Descartes says: “The term pre-judgment is here abused. Pre-judgment there is none, when the cogito ergo sum is duly considered, because it then appears so evident to the mind that it cannot keep itself from believing it, the moment even it begins to think of it. But the principal mistake here is this, that the objector supposes that the cognition of particular propositions is always deduced from universals, according to the order of the syllogisms of logic. He thus shows that he is ignorant of the way in which truth is to be sought. For it is settled among philosophers, that in order to find it a beginning must always be made from particular notions, that afterward the universal may be reached; although also reciprocally, universals being found, other particulars may thence be deduced.” Again he says: “When we apprehend that we are thinking things, this is a first notion which is not drawn from any syllogism; and when some one says, I think, hence i am, or i exist, he does not conclude his existence from his thought as by force of some syllogism, but as a thing known of itself; he sees it by a simple intuition of the mind, as appears from this, that if he deduced it from a syllogism, he must beforehand have known this major, all that which thinks is or exists. Whereas, on the contrary, this is rather taught him, from the fact that he experiences in himself that it cannot be that he thinks if he does not exist. For it is the property of our mind to form general propositions from the knowledge of particulars.” This is a clear statement of the non-syllogistic nature of the principle, and a distinct assertion of its intuitive character. It also points to the guarantee of the principle — the experiment of not being able to suppose consciousness apart from existence — or unless as implying it. This and other passages might have saved both Reid and Kant from the mistake of supposing that Descartes inferred self-existence from self-consciousness syllogistically or through a major.
It is said that in the Principles Descartes represents the cogito ergo sum as the conclusion of a reasoning; the major premise being that “to nothing no affections or qualities belong.” “Accordingly where we observe certain affections, there a thing or substance to which these pertain, is necessarily found.” Again, “substance cannot be first discovered merely from its being a thing which exists independently, for existence by itself is not observed by us. We easily, however, discover substance itself from any attribute of it, by this common notion, that of nothing there are no attributes, properties or qualities.” It seems to me that there is nothing in these statements, when carefully considered, to justify this assertion. In fact, the second statement that substance or being is not cognizable per se, disposes of any apparent ground for the syllogistic character of the inference. For this implies that the so-called major, as by itself incognizable, is not a major at all. What Descartes points to here, and very properly, is the original synthesis of the relation of quality and substance. “The common notion” is the reflective way of stating what is involved in the original primitive intuition; and is as much based on this intuition, as this intuition implies it. He here approximates very nearly to a distinct statement of the important doctrine that in regard to fundamental principles of knowing, the particular and the universal are from the first implicitly given, and only wait philosophical analysis to bring them to light.
But misrepresentation of the true nature of the cogito ergo sum still continues to be made.
“The ‘therefore,’” says Professor Huxley, “has no business there. The ‘I am’ is assumed in the ‘I think,’ which is simply another way of saying ‘I am thinking.’ And, in the second place, ‘I think,’ is not one simple proposition, but three distinct assertions rolled into one. The first of these is ‘something called I exists,’ the second is ‘something called thought exists,’ and the third is ‘the thought is the result of the action of the I.’ The only one of these propositions which can stand the Cartesian test of certainty is the second. It cannot be doubted, for the very doubt is an existent thought. But the first and third, whether true or not, may be doubted, and have been doubted; for the asserter may be asked, how do you know that thought is not self-existent, or that a given thought is not the effect of its antecedent thought or of some external power?”
The “therefore” has business there, as seems to me, until it is shown that immediate inference is no inference. The “I am” is not assumed in the “I think,” but implied in it, and explicitly evolved from it. Then the “I think,” though capable of being evolved into a variety of expressions, even different statements of fact, is not dependent on them for its reality or meaning, but they are dependent upon it. There are not three distinct assertions first, which have been rolled into one. On the contrary, the meaning and possibility of any assertion whatever are supplied by the “I think” itself. “Something called I exists,” is not known to me before I am conscious, but only as I am conscious. It is not a distinct proposition.” Something called thought exists,” is not any more a distinct proposition, for the thought which exists is inseparably my thought, and my thought is more than the mere abstraction “thought.” “The thought is the result of the action of the I” is not a fair statement of the relation between the “I” and thought, for there is no “I” known, first or distinct from thought, to whose action I can ascribe thought. The thought is me thinking. And the existence of thought could never be absolutely indubitable to me, unless it were my thought, for if it be but thought, this is an abstraction with which “I” have and can have no relation. “How do you know that thought is not self-existent?” that is, divorced from a me or thinker; for this reason simply, that such a thought could never be mine, or aught to me, or my knowledge. Thought, divorced from me or a thinker, would be not so much an absurdity as a nullity. “How do you know that a given thought is not the effect of its antecedent thought or of some external power?” Because as yet I have no knowledge of any antecedent thought, and if I had, I must know the thought and its antecedent thought through the identity of my consciousness; and thus relate both to the “I,” conscious, existing, and identical. And as to some external power, I must wait for the proof of it, and if I ever get it, it must be because I am there to think the proof, and distinguish it from myself as an external power. And further, this external power can only be known, in so far as I am conscious of it. Its known existence depends on my consciousness, as one factor in it, and therefore my consciousness could never be absolutely caused by it.
The cogito ergo sum is thus properly regarded by Descartes as a propostion. It is in fact, what we should now call a proposition of immediate inference,—such that the predicate is necessarily implied in the subject. The requirements of the case preclude it from being advanced as a syllogism or mediate inference. For in that case it would not be the first principle of knowledge, or the first stage of certainty after doubt. The first principle would be the major—all that thinks is, or thinking is existing. To begin with, this is to reverse the true order of knowledge; to suppose that the universal is known before the particular. It is to suppose also, erroneously, a purely abstract beginning; for if I am able to say, I am conscious that all thinking is existing, the guarantee even of this major or universal is the particular affirmation of my being conscious of its truth in a given time; if I am not able to say this, then I cannot assert that all or any thinking is existing, or indeed assert anything at all. In other words, I can connect no truth with my being conscious. I cannot know at all.
But what precisely is the character of the immediate implication? What is implied? There are four possible meanings of the phrase.
- 1.My being or existence is the effect or product of my being conscious. My being conscious creates or produces my being. Here my consciousness is first in order of existence.
- 2.My being conscious implies that I am and was, before and in order to be conscious.
- 3.My being conscious is the means of my knowing what my existence is, or what it means. Here my consciousness is identical with my existence. My consciousness and my being are convertible phrases.
- 4.My being conscious informs me that I exist, or through my being conscious I know for the first time that I exist. Here my being conscious is first in order of knowledge.
With regard to the first of these interpretations, it is obviously not in accordance with the formula. Implication is not production or creation. But, further, it does not interpret the sum in consistency with the cogito. If I am first of all supposed to be conscious, I am supposed to be and to exercise a function or to be modified in a particular form. It could hardly, consistently with this, be said that “ I conscious “ produce or create myself, seeing that I am already in being, and doing. This interpretation may be taken as a forecast of the absolute ego of Fichte, out of which come the ego and the non-ego of consciousness. There is no appearance of this having been the meaning of Descartes himself. And, indeed, it is not vindicable on any ground either of experience or reason.
With regard to the second interpretation, nothing could be further from the meaning of Descartes. I am conscious; therefore, I must be before I am conscious, or I must conceive myself to be before I am conscious. The inference in this case would be to my existence from my present or actual consciousness, as its ground and pre-rcquisite, as either before the consciousness in time, or to be necessarily conceived by me as grounding the consciousness. There are passages which seem to countenance this interpretation — e. g., “ In order to think, it is necessary to exist.” But in another passage he says, that all that thinks exists can only be known by experimenting in oneself and finding it impossible that one should be conscious unless he exist. This rather points to the view that the I am of the formula is simply another aspect of the I am conscious — not really independently preceding it in time or in thought, but found inseparable from it in reality, though distinguishable in thought. That my existence preceded my consciousness, Descartes would be the last to maintain; that I was before I was conscious, he would have scouted as an absurdity. That another Ego — viz, Deity — might have been, even was, he makes a matter of inference from my being, revealed to me even by my being. But existence in the abstract, or existence per se as preceding me in any real sense, either as a power of creation or self-determination — whether in time and thought, or in thought only—he would have probably looked on as the simple vagary of speculation. He was opposed to the absolute ego as a beginning— the starting-point of Fichte—which as above consciousness is above meaning. He was opposed equally to abstract or quality-less existence as a starting-point, which is that of the Logic of Hegel, whatever attempts may be made to substitute for it a more concrete basis — viz, consciousness. But for the intuitional knowledge of myself revealed in a definite act, it is obviously the doctrine of Descartes, and of truth, that I could not even propose to myself the question as to whether there is either knowledge or being; and any universal in knowledge is as yet to me simply meaningless.
With regard to the third interpretation, it seems to me not to be adequate to the meaning of Descartes, or the requirements of the case. It either does not say so much as Descartes means, or it says more than it professes to say. If it be intended to say my consciousness means my existence in the proper sense of these words,—i. e., in a purely explicative or logical sense — we have advanced not one step in the way of asserting my existence. We have but compared two expressions, and said that the one is convertible with the other. But we may do this whether the expressions denote objects of experience or not. This is a mere comparison of notions; and Descartes certainly intended not to find a simple relation of convertibility between two notions but to reach certainty as to a matter of experience or fact — viz, the reality of my existence. This interpretation, therefore, does not say so much as Descartes intends. But further, if instead of a statement of identity or convertibility between two notions it says that the one notion — viz, my being conscious—is found or realized as a fact, this is to go beyond the mere conception of relationship between it and another notion or element, and to allege the reality of my being conscious in the first instance, and secondly, its convertibility with my being. But in that case the formula of Descartes does not simply say my consciousness means my being. This interpretation might be stated in the form of a hypothetical proposition. If I am conscious, I am existing. But Descartes certainly went further than this. He made a direct categorical assertion of my existence. The decision of the question as to what my existence is may be involved in the assertion that it is, but this is secondary, and, it may be, immediately inferential, but still inferential.
We are thus shut up to the fourth interpretation which, with certain qualifications, is, it seems to me, the true one.
My being conscious is the means of revealing myself as existing. In the order of knowledge, my being conscious is first; it is the beginning of knowledge, in time and logically. But it is not a single-sided fact: it is twofold at least. No sooner is the my being conscious realized than the my being is realized. In so far at least as I am conscious, I am. This is an immediate implication. But it should be observed that this does not imply either the absolute identity of my existence with my momentary consciousness, or the convertibility of my existence with that consciousness. For the “ I conscious” or my being conscious, is realized by me only in a definite moment of time; and thus if my being were precisely identical and convertible with my being conscious in a single moment of time, the permanency of my being through the conscious moments would be impossible. “should simply be as a gleam of light, which no sooner appeared than it passed away, and as various as the play of sunshine on the landscape. All, therefore, that can be said, or need be inferred, is that my existence, or the me I know myself to be, is revealed in the consciousness of a definite moment; but I am not entitled to say from that alone that the being of me is restricted to that moment, or identified absolutely with the content of that moment. Nay, I may find that the identity and continuity of the momentary ego are actually implied in the fact that this experience of its existence is not possible except as part of a series of moments or successive states. In this case, there would be added to the mere existence of the ego its identity or continued existence through variety or succession in time. Thus understood, the cogito ergo sum. of Descartes is the true basis of all knowledge and all philosophy. It is a real basis, the basis of ultimate fact; it provides for the reality of my conscious life as something more than a disconnected series of consciousnesses or a play of words; it opens up to me infinite possibilities of knowledge; the reality of man and God can now be grasped by me in the form of the permanency of self-consciousness.
Cogito Ergo Sum — Objectionsto thePrinciple.
Ithas been objected to the formula of Descartes, that it does not say what the sum or existo means; and further, that existence per se is a vague, even meaningless expression, and that to become a notion at all, existence must be cognized in, or translated into, some particular attribute, to which the term existence adds no further meaning than the attribute already possesses. This twofold objection seems to me to be unfounded.
When it is said I am, it is not meant that I am indefinitely anything, but that I am this or that, at a given time. In consciously asserting that I am, I am consciously energizing in this or that mode. I am knowing, or I am feeling and knowing, or I am knowing and willing. This is a positive form of being. I am not called upon to vindicate the reality of existence as an abstract notion or notion per se, or even in its full extension. I merely affirm that in being conscious, I am revealed or appear as an existence or being,— a perfectly definite reality, but not all reality,—all possible or imaginable reality, though participating in a being which is or may be wider than my being.
Nor are the attempts that have been made to find the express form of existence, which Descartes is held necessarily to mean, more successful than the general criticism. “I exist is meaningless” it is said, “unless it be convertible with, or translated into some positive attribute.” “I think, therefore I live”—this would be intelligible. But Descartes's answer to this would be very much what he said in reply to Gassendi, who, following precisely the same line of thought, suggested ambulo ergo sum. Unless the living or the walking be a fact of my consciousness, it is nothing to me, and is no part of my existence or being. Life is wider than consciousness,— at least if it is to be in any form identical with my being, it must be conscious life, just as it must be conscious walking.
But the second suggested interpretation is still worse. “I think, therefore, I am something” (i. e., either subject or object, I do not know which). Nothing could be further from the meaning of Descartes than this, as is indeed admitted, or from the truth of the matter. I am not something, that is, a wholly indefinite. I am as I think myself to be, as I am conscious in this or that definite mode, as I feel, apprehend, desire, or will. Being thus definitely conscious, I am not a mere indeterminate something. I am something simply because in the first place I know myself to be definitely this thing — myself. And as I know myself to be cognizant, I know myself to be definitely the knower, or, if you will, the subject. But the only object necessary to my knowledge in this case is a subject-object, or one of my own passing states. I require nothing further in the form of a not-self, in order to limit and render clear my self-knowledge. A mere sensation or state of feeling apprehended by me as mine is enough to constitute me a definite something.
Besides the alleged vagueness or emptiness of the term sum in the formula, there is a twofold objection,— one that it is not a real inference; the other that it is not a real proposition. It seems odd that it can be supposed possible for the same person to object to it on both of these grounds. It may be criticised as a syllogism, and it may be criticised as a proposition; but surely it cannot be held to admit of both these characters. If it can be proved to be not a real proposition to begin with, it is superfluous to seek to prove it an unreal inference. First, it is interpreted thus: “I think, therefore I am mind,— I am not the opposite of mind, I am a definite or precise something.” It is alleged there is no real inference here, for “the meaning of think contains the meaning of mind.” “I think” only contains “mind” if it be interpreted as meaning consciousness and all its contents— If it means all the acts of consciousness and the ego of consciousness. In this case the “I think, I am mind” would be no syllogistic or mediate inference. But the statement would neither be tautological nor useless: it would be a proposition of immediate certainty, in which the subject explicated involved a definite being as another aspect of itself. And this meets the objection to the formula as a proposition. It is said to be not a real proposition, seeing that the predicate adds nothing to the subject. This, in the first place, is not the test of a real proposition, or of what is essential to a proposition. A proposition may be simply analytic, and yet truly a proposition. All that is necessary to constitute a proposition is that it should imply inclusion or exclusion, attribution or non-attribution. When I explicate four into the equivalent of i i i i, I have not added to the meaning of the subject, but I have identified a whole and its parts by a true prepositional form. I have analyzed no doubt merely, but truly and necessarily, and the result appears in a valid proposition. So starting from “thinking” in the sense of consciousness, I analyze it also into act and me, and permanent me, and I thus do a very proper and necessary work. But I do more, for I assert definitude of being in the thinking or consciousness,— and this, though inseparable from it in reality, is at least distinguishable in thought. This constitutes a real predicate, and a very important predicate, which excludes on the one hand a mere act or state, mere “ thinking” as apart from a self or me, and an absolute me or self, apart from an act of thought. It excludes, in fact, Hume on the one hand and Fichte on the other.
But waving this, it is alleged that to say “I think,” is mere redundancy, seeing that “I” already means “thinking,” which is a function, among others, of man. The proposition is therefore merely verbal or analytic. But how do I know that “I” already means “thinking,” or that thinking is implied in “I”? By some test or other—by some form of experience. And what can this be but by the “ I” being conscious of itself as thinking? And what is this but falling back upon the principle of the cogito ergo sum as the ultimate in knowledge?
It seems further to be imagined that a real inference could be got if the formula of Descartes were interpreted as meaning “I think, therefore I feel, and also will,” for experience shows that these facts are associated. This would give the formula importance and validity. Surely there is a misconception here of what Descartes aimed at, or ought to have aimed at. Before I can associate experience, “I feel” and “I will” with “I think,” I must have the “I think” in some definite form. This must guarantee itself to me in some way; that is the question which must be settled first; that is the question regarding the condition of the knowledge alike of feeling and willing. It was nothing to the aim of Descartes what was associated in experience; he sought the ultimate form, or fact, if you choose, in experience itself, and his principle must be met, not by saying that it only gives certain real inferences through subsequent association and experience, but by a direct challenge of the guarantee of the principle itself—a challenge which indeed is incompatible with its being the basis of any real inference.
To the cogito ergo sum of Descartes it was readily and early objected, that if it identified my being and my consciousness, then I must either always be conscious, or, if consciousness ceases, I must cease to be. Descartes chose the former alternative, and maintained a continuity of consciousness through waking and sleeping. As a thinking substance, the soul is always conscious. Through feebleness of cerebral impression, it does not always remember. What wonder is it, he asks, that we do not always remember the thoughts of our sleep or lethargy, when we often do not remember the thoughts of our waking hours? Traces on the brain are needed, to which the soul may turn, and it is not wonderful that they are awanting in the brain of a child or in sleep. that the soul always thinks, was his thesis; and it was to this point that the polemic of Locke was directed. Whether consciousness be absolutely continuous or not — whether suspension of consciousness in time be merely apparent, — is a mixed psychological and physiological question. But it is hardly necessary to consider it in this connection; and Descartes probably went too far in his affirmative statement, and certainly in allowing it as the only counter-alternative. For consciousness must not be interpreted in the narrow sense of the conscious act merely, or of all conscious acts put together. That would be an abstract and artificial interpretation of consciousness. That is but one side of it; and we must take into account the other element through which this conscious act is possible, and which is distinguishable but inseparable from it. This is the “I” or “Ego” itself. When we seek to analyze my being, or my being conscious, we must keep in mind the coequal reality or necessary implication of self and the conscious act, and keep hold of all that is embodied in the assertion of the self by itself. This we shall find to be existence in time in this or that definite act or mode, and a continuous and identical existence through all the varying and successive modes of consciousness in time. The variation and succession of the modes of consciousness do not affect this identical reality, and no more need the suspension do, even though the suspension of the mode were proved to be absolute, and not simply such a reduction of degree as merely to be below memory.
In our experience we find that after at least an apparent absolute suspension of consciousness, the I, or self, on the recovery of consciousness, asserts itself to be identical with the I, or self, of the consciousness that preceded the suspension. There is more than a logical or generic identity. It is not that there is an “ I” in consciousness before the suspension and an “I” also after it; but these are held by us to be one and the same. The temporary state of unconsciousness is even attributed to this identical “I.” It is supposed to have passed through it. It is quite clear, accordingly, that the being of the “I,” or self, is somehow not obliterated by the state of unconsciousness through which it passes.
It is here that psychology and physiology touch. The bodily organism, living and sentient, is the condition and instrument of consciousness. The temporary manifestation of consciousness is dependent on physical conditions. Consciousness may be said to animate the body; and the body may be said to permit the manifestation of consciousness. But there is the deeper element of the Ego or self which is the ground of the whole manifestations, however conditioned Through a non-fulfilment of the physical requirements, these manifestations may be absolutely suspended, or at least they may sink so low in degree, as to appear to be so; they may subside to such an extent as not to be the matter of subsequent memory; but the Ego may still survive, potentially if not actually existent; capable of again manifesting similar acts of consciousness, continuous and powerful enough to assert its existence and individuality, in varying even conflicting conscious states, and to triumph over the suspension of consciousness itself.
The deductive solution which has been given of this question does not meet the point at issue. It is said that though I am not always conscious of any special act or state, I am yet always conscious: for, except in consciousness, there is no Ego or self, and where there is consciousness there is always an Ego. This self, therefore, exists only as it thinks, and it thinks always. To say that the Ego does not exist except in consciousness, and to say that it exists always, is to say either that consciousness always exists, or to say that when consciousness does not exist, the Ego yet exists, which is a simple contradiction, or to say that consciousness being nonexistent, the Ego neither exists nor does not exist, which is equally incompatible with its existing always. In fact, the two statements are irreconcilable. If the Ego does not exist except in consciousness, it can only exist when consciousness exists; and unless the continued existence of consciousness is guaranteed to us somehow, the Ego cannot be said to exist always. If the statement is meant as a definition of an Ego, the conclusion from it is tolerably evident: in fact, it thus becomes an identical proposition, An Ego means a conscious Ego; therefore there is no Ego except a conscious one. Still, it does not follow that there is always a conscious Ego, or that an Ego always exists. The existence of the Ego in time at all is still purely hypothetical, much more its continuous existence. Such a definition no more guarantees the reality of the Ego, than the definition of a triangle calls it into actual existence.
But what is the warrant of this definition? Is it a description of the actual Ego of my consciousness? Or is it a formula simply imposed upon actual consciousness? It cannot be accepted as the former, for the reason that it is a mere begging of the question raised by reflection regarding the character of the actual Ego of consciousness. The question is — Is it true or not, as a matter of fact, that the Ego which I am and know now or at a given time survives a suspension of consciousness? It seems at least to do so, and not to be merely an Ego which reappears after the suspension. To define the actual Ego as only a conscious Ego is to beg and foreclose the conclusion to be discussed. The definition thus assumes the character of a formula imposed, and arbitrarily imposed, upon our actual consciousness.
Let it be further observed that this doctrine does not even guarantee the continuous identity of the Ego, through varying successive states of consciousness. It cannot tell me that the Ego of a given act of consciousness is the one identical me of a succeeding act of consciousness. All that it truly implies is that in terms of the definition an Ego is correlative with a consciousness; but it does not guarantee to me that the Ego of this definite time is the Ego of the second definite time. It might be construed as saying no to this, and implying that logical identity is really all. But it does not, in fact, touch the reality of time at all. This is an abstract definition of an Ego, and a hypothetical one. The Ego of our actual consciousness may possess an identity of a totally different sort from that contemplated in this definition; and therefore, as applied to consciousness in time, it either settles nothing, or it begs the point at issue.
In fact, it is impossible to dispense with the intuitions of self-existence and continuous self-existence in time, whatever formula we state. Our existence is greatly wider than conciousness, or than phenomenal reality; we are and we persist amid the varieties, suspensions, and depressions of consciousness — a mysterious power of selfhood and unity, which, while it does not transcend itself, transcends at least its own states of being.
The Guaranteeof thePrinciple.
Now, the question arises, What precisely is the guarantee of this position,— the cogito ergo sum? It may be said simply individual reflection, individual test, trial, or experiment, on the processes of knowledge — analytic reflection carried to its utmost limit. But it may be urged this is wholly an individual experience, and it cannot ground a general rule or law for all human knowledge, far less for knowledge in general. It is true that this experiment of Descartes is an individual effort, and all true philosophy is such. This is essential to speculation in any form. The individual thinker must realize each truth as his own and by his own effort. But it is possible for the individual proceeding by single effort to find, and to unite himself with, universal truth. Thus only, indeed, can he so unite himself. It is the quickened intellect in living quest which makes the conquest. Doctrine held in any other way, even when it is truth, is a sapless verbalism. Now, what is the law or ground of the conviction that my being conscious is impossible unless as I am? Simply the principles of identity and non-contradiction, evidencing themselves in a definite form and application — asserting their strength, but as yet to Descartes only in a hidden way — implicitly, not explicitly. my being conscious is my being—my being for the moment. If I try to think my being conscious without also thinking my being, I cannot. And as these are thus in the moment of time identical, it would be a contradiction to suppose me being conscious without me being. Thus is my momentary existence secured or preserved for thought.
Whether I can go beyond this and predicate the identity of my being or of me as being all through successive moments, is of course not at once settled by this position. But it is not foreclosed by it, and it is open to adduce the proper proof of the continuous identity, if this can be found.
This, as seems to me, is what is implied as the guarantee of the first principle of Descartes. He has not himself, however, developed it in this way, for the reason chiefly that he did not recognize the principle of Non-Contradiction as regulating immediate inference. There is a little noticed but significant passage in which he touches on this law, in. a letter to Clerselier. Referring to that which we ought to take for the first principle, he says: “The word principle may be taken in diverse senses, and it is one thing to seek a common notion which is so clear and so general that it may serve as a principle to prove the existence of all beings, the entia which one will afterward know; and it is another thing to seek a being, the existence of which is more known to ns than that of any others, so that it may serve us as principle for knowing them. In the first sense it may be said that it is impossible for the same thing at once to be and not to be is a principle, and that it may serve generally, not properly to make known the existence of anything, but only to cause that when one knows it one confirms the truth of it by such a reasoning,—It is impossible that what is should not be; but i know that such a thing is; hence i knowthat it is impossible it should not be. This is of little importance, and does not make us wiser. In the other sense, the first principle is that our soul exists, because there is nothing the existence of which is more known to us. I add also that it is not a condition which we ought to require of the first principle, that of being such that all other propositions may be reduced to and proved by it; it is enough that it serve to discover several of them, and that there is no other upon which it depends, or which we can find before it. For it may be that there is not any principle in the world to which alone all things can be reduced; and the way in which people reduce other propositions to this, — impossibile est idem simul esse et non esse, —is superfluous and of no use; whereas it is with very great utility that one commences to be assured of the existence ofGod, and afterward of that of all creatures, by the consideration of his own proper existence.”
This shows, on the whole, that Descartes had not fully thought out his own position. He had most certainly well appreciated the true scope of the principle of noncontradiction, as incapable of yielding a single fact or new notion. In this he showed himself greatly in advance of many nineteenth-century philosophers. And he showed also his thorough apprehension of the fact that the true principle of a constructive philosophy lies not in mere identity, or in the preservation of the consistency of a thought with itself, but in its affording the ground of new truths. His view is, that ere the principle of non-contradiction can come into exercise at all, something must be known. And any one who really puts meaning into words cannot suppose for a moment anything else. All this should be fully and generously recognized as evidence of a thoroughly far-seeing philosophical vision. At the same time, he does not see the negative or preservative value of the principle — and the need of it as a guard for the fact of self-consciousness as being self-existence for the moment, which he finds in experience. It is this principle alone which, supervening on the intuition, makes it definite or limited — a positive — shut out from the very possibility of being identified with any opposite or negative, although this may be implied in its very conception.
The first truth of Descartes — being conscious, I am — is thus not properly described as, in the first instance, a universal in knowledge. It is a definite particular or individual fact, guaranteed by its necessity, by the impossibility of transcending definite limits, and in this necessity, or through the consciousness of it, is the universality connected with the fact revealed. But for the conscious necessity, I could never either know the universality, or guarantee to myself this universality, for I have as yet but knowledge of one actual case, whatever extension my conception may assume in and through it; and but for the necessity, I could never assert the universality — being conscious, i am; being conscious, each is.
Descartes expressly anticipated this misapprehension, and strove to correct it. Nothing can be more explicit than his view that the necessity is first, and that this is, as it can only be, the guarantee of the universality. If a universal, it must be a mere abstract universal to begin with, in which case it can be applied neither to my existence nor to my existence at a given time. It must be a universal too, surreptitiously obtained, for it is a universal of thought and being which I have never known or consciously realized in any individual case. And if I have not done this, I cannot know it to be applicable to any case, far less to all cases. It is thus an empty and illegitimate abstraction, which can tell me nothing, because it wholly transcends any consciousness.
Further, the conviction which we get of the necessary connection between self-consciousness and self-existence is not due to the knowledge of the general formulæ of identity and non-contradiction—viz, A is A, and A = not-A = O. But, on the other hand, the necessity of those formulæ is realized by us in the definite instance itself. This is as true and certain to us as is the general formula or law which it exemplifies. Nay, we can only in the instance find for ourselves or test the necessity of the formula itself. We do not thus add to the certainty of our conviction of the truth in the particular instance by stating the general formula; we only draw out, as it were, of the particular case, and then describe that most general form on which reflection shows us this already perfect conviction rests. It is, therefore, idle to talk of evolving the particular truth from the universal formula; for the latter is nothing to us until it is found exemplified in the particular instance. Nor is it of any greater relevancy to say that self-consciousness is deduced from consciousness in general or the idea of consciousness; for, on exactly the same principle, we know nothing of such a general consciousness unless as exemplified in this primary self-consciousness. This is as early in thought and in time as the idea of consciousness in general, or of the Ego in general, or an infinite self-consciousness, whatever such an ambiguous phrase may, according to the requirements of an argument, be twisted to mean.
And this consideration should be fatal to the view or representation that there is here a “determination” by the thinker, or by “ thought” which, by the way, seems capable of dispensing with a thinker altogether. “To determine “ is a very definite logical phrase, which has and can have but one clear meaning. The mind determines an object when it classifies the materials of sense and inward experience; and when, descending from higher genera, it evolves species and individuals, through knowledge of differences extraneous to the genera themselves. Whatever be implied in these processes, it is clear at least that “determination” is a thoroughly conscious process; and it is further a secondary or reflective process. When we refer any given object to a class, and thus fix or determine it for what it is, we suppose the possession by us of a prior knowledge — knowledge of a class constituted and represented by objects — and knowledge too, of this or that object of thought, which we now refer to the class. In this sense it is quite clear that Descartes could not be supposed “ to determine” his experience, either as to the conscious act, or as to the limits under which it was conceivable by him, for his procedure was initiative, and he is not gratuitously to be supposed in conscious possession of knowledge before the single conscious act in which knowledge is for the first time realized. Besides, determination implies a consciousness of generality — in this case even universality — of law and limit of which he could not possibly be conscious, until he became aware of them in the very act of his experimental reflection. Even the most general form of determination—that of regarding an object as such — can arise into consciousness only reflectively through the first experience of this or that object in which the notion of object is at once revealed and emphasized. Nay, if, according to a possible but disputable interpretation of Kant, perception being “blind” and conception “empty,” the former is not a species of knowledge at all, and has no separate object: and if conception be equally void of object, and yet always needed to make even an object of knowledge, determination is an absurdity; for the understanding or mind as exercising this function must in this case be supposed able to determine or clothe in category that which is as yet not an object of consciousness at all. It must be able to act, though it is assumed as entirely empty and incapable of filling itself with content. There are but two alternatives here — either the so-called “manifold of sensation” is not matter of consciousness, or it is. If the former, then the empty and uninformed understanding can make an object of what is not in any way supplied to it—it can combine into unity what is beyond consciousness itself; or if this “manifold” be in consciousness by itself, it can be so without being known, — consciousness of the manifold may exist without knowledge of the manifold — that is, without knowledge of its object. We have thus a complexus of absurdity. The understanding can make a synthesis of a “manifold” which is never within its ken; and it can be conscious of a universal which, as the cofactor of the unconstituted object, is not yet in knowledge. Nothing need be said of the absurdity of describing “ the manifold” of perception when perception has no distinctive object at all, but receives its object from conception. And the “manifold” of perception, while it supposes always a unity and a series of points at least, is about the most inapplicable expression which it is possible to apply to the sensations of taste, odor, sound, and tactual feeling. In these, as sensations, there is no manifold; each is an indivisible attribute or unity. These may, no doubt, constitute a manifold through time and succession; but they can do so only on condition of being separately apprehended in time as objects or points. The manifold of sense even cannot be a manifold of non-entities or unconscious elements. But the problem of analyzing object or thing is an impossible one from the first. Of what is ultimately an object for consciousness, we cannot state the elements, without being conscious of each element as an object. If we are not conscious of each element as an object by itself, as distinguished from each other element which enters into the object, we cannot know what the elements are which make up any object of consciousness. We have not even consciousness or knowledge at all. We cannot specify either the mutual relations or the mutual functions of the elements. If we are conscious of each element by itself and of its functions, we have an object of knowledge, prior to the constitution of the object of knowledge — the only object supposed possible. “Thing” or “object” or “being” is ultimately unanalyzable by us, seeing that our instrument of analysis is itself only possible by cognizing thing or being in some form, — by bringing it to the analysis. what things are we can tell, — what sorts of things as they stand in different relations to each other, and to us; but the ground of the possibility of this is thing or object itself, given in inseparable correlation with the act of consciousness.
The truth is that this theory of determination proceeds on the confusion of two kinds of judgments which are wholly distinct in character, the logical and psychological. The logical judgment always supposes two ideas of objects known by us. It comes into play only after apprehension of qualities, and is simply an application of classification or attribution. The subject of the judgment is thus determined as belonging to a class, or as possessing an attribute; but subject, class, and attribute are already in the mind or consciousness; only they are as yet neither joined nor disjoined. This kind of judgment is a secondary and derivative process, and has nothing to do with the primitive acts of knowledge. The psychological or metaphysical judgment, if the name be retained, with which knowledge begins, and without which the logical judgment is impossible — does not suppose a previous knowledge of the terms to be united. It is manifested in self-consciousness and in perception. In it knowledge and affirmation of the present and momentary reality are identical. As I am conscious of feeling, so I am affirming the reality of my consciousness or existence. As I touch extension, so I affirm the reality of the object touched. In no other way can I reach the reality either of self or not-self. To suppose that I reach it by comparing the notions of self and existence, or of extension and existence — is to suppose an absolutely abstract or general knowledge of me and being, in the first instance, that I may know, in the second instance, whether I can join them together, and they therefore exist. But this supposes that I can have this abstract knowledge by itself, apart from individual realization. It supposes also that I can have this before I know its embodiment in the concrete at all, and finally it fails to give me the knowledge I seek—for it only, at the utmost, could tell me that the ideas of me and existence are not incongruous or contradictory — whereas what I wish to know is whether I actually am. On such a doctrine my existing must mean merely an ideal compatibility.
In a word, determination of things by thought, as it is called, supposes a system of thought or consciousness. It supposes the thinker to be in possession of notions and principles, and to be consciously in possession of them. Otherwise it is a blind and unconscious determination done for the thinker, and not by him, and the thinker does not know at all. But if the thinker is already in possession of such a knowledge, we have not explained the origin of knowledge or experience; we have only referred it to a pre-existing system of knowledge in consciousness. If, therefore, we are to show how knowledge rises up for the first time, we must look to what is before even this system. But before the general or generalized — as an abstraction—we have only the concrete individual instance,—the act of consciousness in this or that case. Either, therefore, we beg a system of knowledge, or we do not know at all, or we know the individual as embodying the general or universal for the first time.
The intuition of self and its modes no doubt involves a great many elements or notions, not obvious at first sight. It involves unity, individuality, substance, relation; it involves identity, and difference or discrimination of subject and object, of self and state. These notions or elements analytical reflection will explicitly evolve from the fact, as its essential factors. Some are disposed to call these presuppositions. I have no desire to quarrel with the word. They are presuppositions in the sense of logical concomitance, or correlation. The fact or reality embodies them; they are realized in the fact. The fact is, if you choose, reason realized. But they are not presuppositions, in the sense of grounds of evolution of the fact in which we find them. They are in it, and elements of it; but the fact is as necessary to their realization and known existence as they are to it. You cannot take these by themselves, abstract them, set them apart, and evolve this or that individuality out of them. You cannot deduce the reality or individuality of an Ego from them — the Ego I find in experience or consciousness—because this very reality is necessary to their realization or being in thought at all. There is no relation or subordination here. It is co-ordination, or better, the correlation of fact and form,—of being and law of being.
We can thus also detect how much, or rather how little, truth there is in current Hegelian representations of the first principle and position of Descartes in philosophy, when we are told that “ Descartes is the founder of a new epoch in philosophy because he enunciated the postulate of an entire removal of presupposition. This absolute protest maintained by Descartes against the acceptance of anything for true, because it is so given to us, or so found by us, and not something determined and established by thought, becomes thenceforward the fundamental principle of the moderns.” “An entire removal of presupposition,” if by that be meant of postulate, is not possible on any system of philosophy. No presuppositionless system can be stated in this sense, without glaring inconsistency. It is ab initio suicidal. I must be there to think, that is, I must be conscious where there is the possibility of either truth or error; and the intelligible system developed must have an undeduced basis in my consciousness, guaranteed by that consciousness. And in regard to the Hegelian or most pretentious attempt of this sort, it could readily be shown that the method or dialectic is in no way contained in the basis,— or is even the native law of the deduction. As such it is borrowed, not deduced. Definite thought is always necessarily postulated; otherwise there is neither affirmation nor negation. This Descartes accepted; and on this necessary assumption, in no way arbitrary, but self-guaranteeing, his philosophy was based.
As to the phrase, “something determined and established by thought,” this is as inappropriate an expression as could well be imagined. What is the “thought” which determines or establishes things for us? Is it “thought” divorced from any consciousness? Is it thought realized by me in and through my consciousness? It is apparently not what is found or given, but what determines or establishes. But is this a thing by itself, this thought,—is it a power in the universe working alone and by itself? Apparently so. If thought determines and establishes things it is a very definite and practical power. But then do I, or can I, know this thought which is obviously superior to me and the first act of self-consciousness? How can I speak of thought at all as a determining power for me, when as yet I am neither conscious nor existent? If there were a system of knowledge above knowledge, known to me — or a system of thought above my thought, thought by me — or a consciousness above my consciousness, of which, or in which, I was conscious before my consciousness,—then I could accept the determination by thought of all truth for me. But as it is, until I can reconcile to the ordinary conditions of intelligibility this fallacy of doubling thought or knowledge, I must give up the experiment as a violation of good sense and reason. Determination by thought either means that I am already in conscious possession of knowledge (in which case I presuppose knowledge to account for knowledge), or it means that something called thought, which is not yet either me or my consciousness, or even consciousness at all, determines me and my consciousness, in which case I cannot know anything of this process of determination, for ex hypothesi I neither am nor am conscious until I am determined to be so. To know or be consciously determined by this thought, I must be in it actually and consciously from the first, in which case I know before I know, and I am before I am, or I must be in it potentially from the first—that is, unconsciously, in which case I am able to keep up all through the process of determination a continuity of being between unconsciousness and consciousness, and to retain a memory of that which I never consciously knew. To connect myself and my consciousness in this way with such a determining thought, or something, is a simple impossibility.
The fallacy in all this lies in the suggestion of the phrase “to determine.” This is ambiguous, or rather it has a connotation which is fallacious, or helps fallacious thought. To determine is ultimately to conceive, or limit by conception— i. e., to attach a predicate to a subject. But to determine may easily be taken to mean fixing as existent— not merely as a possible object of experience, but as a real or actual object. And in this sense it is constantly used — especially at a pinch when it is necessary to identify the ideal possibility of an object of thought with its reality. To assert existence of a subject, and to inclose it in a predicate, are totally different operations. As to object — we can ideally construct an object of knowledge with all the determinations and relations necessary. We can think it in time and space, and under category — as quality, or effect,—but this does not give us existence. This, considered in relation to the notion, is a synthetic attribute; and the so-called constitution of the object; all its necessary conditions being fulfilled in thought, gives us no more than a purely ideal object. Existence we get and can get only through intuition. The subject is some thing — some being—ere we determine it by predicates. If it is ever to be real, it is already real. No subsequent predication can make it so. The truth is, that being is not a proper predicate at all. It is but the subject—perceived or conceived — and is thus, as real or ideal, the prerequisite of all predication. The Schoolmen were right in making being transcendent — that is, something not included in the predicaments at all, but the condition of predication itself. This, too, is virtually the view of Kant, as shown in his dealing with the Ontological argument.
To say that I determine knowledge by means of forms of intuition,— as space and time,— and by category, or by both, is thus to reverse the order of knowledge. Besides, it is utterly impossible logically to defend this doctrine without maintaining that category, or the universal in thought, or thought per se, is truly knowledge,—a doctrine which in words is denied by the upholders of a priori determination, but in reality constantly proceeded upon by them. But the spontaneous and intuitive act of knowledge necessarily precedes the reflective and formulating. Direct apprehension is the ground of self-evidence; testing by reflection proves space, time, and category to be necessary; and, if necessary, universal in our knowledge.
Self-evidencing reality, guarded by the principles of identity and non-contradiction, is thus the ultimate result of the Cartesian method, and the starting-point of speculative philosophy. The basis proved a narrow one; and the deductive system of propositions which he grounded on it did not attain throughout even a logical consistency, far less a real truth. But this does not affect the value of his method, which is twofold—the intuition of the reality of self as given in consciousness, and the limit set to doubt by the principle of non-contradiction.
The most essential and perhaps the most valuable feature in the philosophy of Descartes is thus seen to be the affirmation involved in the cogito ergo sum of the spontaneity of the primary act of knowledge. I am conscious is to me the first — the beginning alike of knowledge and being; and I can go no higher, in the way of primary direct act. Whatever I may subsequently know depends on this—the world, other conscious beings, or God himself. This is to me the revelation of being, and the ground of knowledge. This was to found knowledge on its true basis—conscious experience, and conscious experience as in this or that definite form—of feeling, perceiving, imagining, willing. Even though Descartes had gone no further than this, he inaugurated a method, an organon of philosophy, which, if it be abandoned by the speculative thinker, must leave him open to the vagaries of abstraction, to the mythical creation of “pure thought,”—i, e., of reasoning divorced from experience. The least evil of this process is that it is a travesty of reasoning itself—that conclusions are attached to premises, and not drawn from them—and the whole process is an illegitimate personification of abstractions. Descartes properly laid down the principle that knowledge springs out of a definite act of a conscious being, self revealed in the conscious act. He did not stop to analyze the whole elements of this act, or to set forth the conditions of its possibility, or to analyze the conditions of the thing or “object” of which the self-conscious being takes cognizance, or to consider how the conscious act has arisen, — whether out of the indeterminate, or out of determinate conditions. He had neither full analysis nor hypothesis on these points; and as to the last, he was right, for he saw clearly that conscious experience in a given mode must be, ere any of these questions can even be conceived or determined. And had some of those who have since followed out these lines of inquiry, fully appreciated and truly kept in view the Cartesian position of a positive experiential act as the necessary basis of all knowledge by us, they would have kept their analysis of its conditions closer to the facts, and they would have seen also that no starting-point in a so-called “ universal,” or in thought above this conscious experience, is at all possible; that knowledge by “determination” is a mere dream and an illegitimate doubling of knowledge or consciousness; that at the utmost, in this respect, knowledge never can rise beyond mere correlation of particular and universal; and that, both in philosophy and in science, knowledge grows and is consolidated, not through “rethinking” or “reasoning out” of experience, but through a patient study of the conditions of experience itself, in succession and coexistence — a study in which the individuality of human life and effort matches itself in but a feeble, yet not unsuccessful way, against the infinity of time and space. This, too, would have prevented the mistake of supposing that the only critical, analytic, and reflective, in a word, philosophical, thought is that which accepts or finds a formula, within which our experience must be compressed or discarded as unreal, with the risk, actually incurred, of sacrificing what is most vital in that experience.
Descartes sought to evolve a criterion of truth from the first indubitable position. This was the clearness and distinctness of knowledge. He has defined this test in the following words: “I call that clear which is present and manifest to the mind giving attention to it, just as we are said clearly to see objects when, being present to the eye looking on, they stimulate it with sufficient force, and it is disposed to regard them; but the distinct is that which is so precise and different from all other objects as to comprehend in itself only what is clear.”
This test is evidently derived from reflection on intuitional knowledge. It is involved in his first truth, but it is not the sole guarantee of that truth; for this, as we have seen, is ultimately non-contradiction. His first truth could hardly be taken as affording the strict conditions of all truth, for in this case truth would need to be both direct and necessary. Certain principles might be so, but even in respect of them, it would exclude the idea of derivation and subordination, and lead to the idea of independent reality and guarantee. And the test would exclude all derivative knowledge, even when it was hypothetically necessary. Further, if it were set up as the absolute standard of truth, contingent or probable truth would be altogether excluded from the name. Descartes thus contented himself with the general statement of clearness and distinctness; and his first truth is accepted in its fullness as simply the basis of deduction — as the ground whence he may proceed to build up a philosophy of God and the material non-Ego.
The criterion is, however, ambiguous in its applications. When it is said that whatever we clearly and distinctly conceive is true, we may mean that it is possible — i. e., an ideal possibility; or we may mean that it is real — i. e., a matter of fact or existence. And Descartes has not always carefully distinguished those senses of the word true — as, for example, in his proof of the being of Deity from the notion. If we take the formula in the latter sense, we are led to identify truth with notional reality and its relations — thought with being.
The best criticism of the Cartesian criterion is unquestionably that given by Leibnitz in his famous paper— “Meditationes de Cognitione, Veritate, et Ideis.” He indicates with singular felicity the various grades of our conceptual knowledge. Cognition is obscure, when the object is not distinguished from other objects or the objects around it. Here the object is a mere something—not nothing; but what it precisely is, either in its own class of things or as contrasted with other things, we do not apprehend. Cognition, again, is clear, when we are able definitely to comprehend the object as in contradistinction from others. Clear cognition is further divided into Confused and Distinct. It is confused when we are unable to enumerate the marks or characters by which the object is discriminated from other objects, while it yet possesses such marks. Thus we can distinguish colors, odors, tastes, from each other; yet we cannot specify the marks by which we do so. At the same time such marks must exist, seeing the objects are resolvable into their respective causes. Our knowledge, again, is distinct when we can specify the discriminating marks, as the assayers in dealing with gold; and as we can do in the case of number, magnitude, figure. But distinct knowledge may still further be Inadequate or Adequate. It is inadequate when the discriminating marks are not analyzed or resolved into more elementary notions, being sometimes clearly and sometimes confusedly thought — as for example, the weight and color of gold. Knowledge, again, is adequate when the marks in our distinct cognition are themselves distinctly thought — that is, carried back by analysis to an end or termination. Whether any perfect example of this exists is, in the view of Leibnitz, doubtful. Number is the nearest approach to it. Then there is the distinction of the Blind or Symbolical and the Intuitive in cognition — the former being the potentiality of conception which lies in terms; the latter being the clear and distinct or individual picture of each mark so lying undeveloped. When cognition is at once adequate and intuitive, it is Perfect. But Leibnitz here at least hesitates to say whether such can be realized. To distinct cognition there attaches Nominal Definition. This is simply the evolution of the distinct knowledge, the drawing out of the marks which enable us to distinguish an object from other objects. But deeper than this lies Real Definition. This makes it manifest that the thing conceived or alleged to be conceived is possible. This test of the possible is the absence of contradiction in the object thought; the proof of the impossible is its presence. Possibility is either a priori or a posteriori—the former, when we resolve a notion into other notions of known possibility; the latter, when we have experience of the actual existence of the object; for what actually exists is possible. Adequate knowledge involves cognition through means of a priori possibility. It involves analysis carried through to its end. But Leibnitz hesitates to say that adequate cognition is within our reach. “Whether such a perfect analysis of notions can ever be accomplished by man — whether he can lead back his thoughts to first possibles (prima possibilia) and irresolvable notions, or, what comes to the same thing, to the absolute attributes of God themselves, viz, the first causes,— I do not now dare to determine.”
Leibnitz properly applies his distinction of nominal and real definition to the Cartesian proof of the reality of Deity from the notion of the most perfect being. This he says is defective as a proof in the hands of Descartes. It would be correct to say that God necessarily exists, if only he is first of all posited as possible. So long as this is not done, the argument for his existence does not amount to more than a presumption. But Descartes has either relied on a fallacious proof of the possibility of the divine existence, or he has endeavored to evade the necessity of proving it. That this proof can be supplied Leibnitz believes, and with this preliminary requisite fulfilled, he accepts the Cartesian argument.
It is obvious that the proper position of the criterion of Leibnitz as given in the real definition is at the very beginning of a system of knowledge. Possibility, or the absence of contradiction, underlies, in fact, clearness and distinctness. It is essential to the unity of any object of thought. The furthest point in abstraction to which we can go back is some being or some object, — something as opposed to nothing or non-being. But even this something must be at least definitely thought or distinguished from its contradictory opposite non-being or nothing. If it were not, the knowledge would be impossible. Its reality as a positive notion depends on this. Nay, even the negation, non-being or nothing, depends for any meaning it possesses on the positive being an object of knowledge The correlation here is not between two definite elements; one known as positive, the other as negative; there is correlation, but there is no correality. The negative side is satisfied by mere negation, as in the parallel case of one and none. And no reconciling medium is conceivable—none is possible to thought. If so, let it be named. To galvanize the negative into a positive in such a case, and call it synthetic thought, is simply to baptize the absurd. This solid advance on Descartes is virtually due to the acute and accurate mind of Leibnitz. It is our main safeguard against fantastic speculation.
The most liberal, and probably the fairest interpretation of the criterion of Descartes is, that it is the assertion of the need of evidence, whatever be its kind, as the ground of the acceptance of a statement or proposition. As such, it is the expression of the spirit of the philosophy of Descartes, and of the spirit also of modern research. As evidence must make its appeal to the individual mind, it may be supposed that this principle leads to individualism in opinion. This is certainly a possible result, but it is not essential to the principle. Evidence may be, nay, is at once individual and universal. The individual consciousness may realize for itself what is common to all; and indeed has not reached ultimate evidence until it has done so. And, however important may be the place of history, language, and social institutions in the way of a true and complete knowledge of mind or man, even these must appeal in the last resort to the conscious laws and processes of evidence, as embodied in the individual mind.
From his virtually making truth lie in a definite and high degree of conscious activity, Descartes was naturally led to regard error as more or less a negation, or rather privation. This idea he connects with Deity. Error is a mere negation, in respect of the Divine action; it is a privation in respect of my own action, inasmuch as I deprive myself by it of something which I ought to have and might have.
He thus develops his doctrine of Error.
- 1.When I doubt, I am conscious of myself as an incomplete and dependent being; along with this consciousness, or, as we would now say, correlatively with it, I have the idea of a complete and independent Being—that is, God. This idea being in my consciousness, and I existing, the object of it—God — exists.
- 2.The faculty of judging, which I possess as the gift of a perfect being, cannot lead me into error, if I use it aright. Yet it is true that I frequently err, or am deceived. How is this consistent with my faculty of judging being the gift of a perfect God?
- 3.“I have in my consciousness not only a real and positive idea of God, but a certain negative idea of nothing-—in other words, of that which is at an infinite distance from every sort of perfection; and a conception that I am, as it were, a mean between God and nothing, or placed in such a way between absolute existence and non-existence, that there is in truth nothing in me to lead me into error, in so far as an absolute being is my creator. On the other hand, as I thus likewise participate in some degree of nothing or of non-being—in other words, as I am not myself the Supreme Being, and as I am wanting in every perfection, it is not surprising I should fall into error. And I hence discern that error, so far as error, is not something real, which depends for its existence on God, but is simply defect. . . . Yet “error is not a pure negation [in other words, it is not the simple deficiency or want of some knowledge which is not due] but the privation and want of what it would seem I ought to possess. . . . Assuredly God could have created me such that I should never be deceived. ... Is it better then, that I should be capable of being deceived than that I should not?”
- 4.The answer to this is twofold. First, I, as finite, am incapable of comprehending always the reasons of the Divine action; and, secondly, what appears to be imperfection in a creature regarded as alone in the world, may not really be so, if the creature be considered as occupying “ a place in the relation of a part to the great whole of His creatures.” What precisely that relation is, Descartes does not undertake to specify. This solution, of the difficulty is, therefore, only problematical.
- 5.As a matter of observation, error depends on the concurrence of two causes, to wit — Knowledge and Will. By the Understanding alone, I neither affirm nor deny; but merely apprehend or conceive ideas. It is Judgment which affirms or denies. And here we must distinguish between non-possession and privation. There may be, and are, innumerable objects in the universe of which I possess no ideas. But this is simple non-possession; it arises from my finitude. It is not privation, for it cannot be shown to be the keeping or taking away from me of what I ought to have. The form or essence of error lies not in non-possession, but in privation. So far as Deity is concerned, this non-possession on my part of certain ideas is properly negation, not privation; for it is not properly a thing or existence. It is merely that Deity, in determining my knowledge, has allowed that knowledge a definite sphere of possibility, and restricted it from objects beyond. But as I never had, or can be shown to have had, any a priori right to more than I have actually got, there never was in respect of me any privation.
- 6.Again, there are objects which are not clearly and distinctly apprehended by the Understanding. This may be a mere temporary state of mind, which is capable of being removed by clear and distinct knowledge. These two facts, then, that in some quarters there is no knowledge, and that knowledge is in some cases not clear or distinct, render error possible. For the power of will, which is wider than the understanding — in fact, absolutely unlimited, unlike the other faculties—may force on a judgment either in the absence of knowledge, or with imperfect knowledge. Hence error; and hence also, in the case of good and evil, sin; for error and sin are both ultimately products of free will. Descartes holds very strongly and definitely in regard to will that it is a faculty “ which I experience to be so great, that I am unable to conceive the idea of another that shall be more ample and extended; so that it is chiefly my will which leads me to discern that I bear a certain image and similitude of Deity.” The will consists only of a single and indivisible element; hence nothing can be taken from it without destroying it. Its power lies in this, that we are able to do or not to do the same thing; or rather, that in affirming or denying, pursuing or shunning, what is proposed to us by the understanding, we so act that we are not conscious of being determined to a particular action by any external force. Its essence is not, however, in indifference in respect to the same thing; this is the lowest grade of liberty. On the contrary, the greater degree of knowledge the mind possesses as to one of the alternatives, and the consequently greater inclination of the will to adopt that alternative, the more freedom there is; freedom consisting ultimately in a. consciousness of not being determined to a particular action by any external force. It is, in a word, great clearness of the understanding, followed by strong inclination in the will. As, however, we do not always wait for this condition, but determine affirmatively or negatively, or pursue and shun, without it, we fall into error or sin.
Error is thus no direct consequence of finitude; only the possibility of it is so. It is properly to be regarded as the result of privation, and this is my own wilful act. It should, however, be observed here, that Descartes's positions regarding the will do not appear to be consistent. The two definitions of liberty which he gives are exclusive of each other. We cannot be conceived absolutely free in respect of two given alternatives, and yet free when the inclination of the will follows the greater clearness of the Understanding. The former is the liberty of indifference; the latter is simply that of spontaneity,— the spontaneity being relative to a previous or conditioning state of the consciousness.
It is further clear from the statements now quoted, that Descartes did not regard the Ego of consciousness as either a negation, non-entity, or illusion, as is represented, but a very definite and real positive — a mean, as he puts it, between absolute existence on the one side, and non-existence on the other. He certainly did not hold that the finite consciousness, so far as finite is either an error or an illusion. On the contrary, it is with him the basis of the very possibility of knowledge, and the type and warrant of a higher consciousness. And what other ground is possible? If the finite by itself be regarded as an illusion, and the infinite by itself be regarded as the same, it is curious to find that the two together make up reality. In this case, the relation between infinite and finite may be assumed as the true reality. So long as we hold the relation in consciousness, infinite and finite are known, and therefore real. But ere we can make this out, we must vindicate the possibility of a conscious relation between two terms, in themselves incognizable, non-existent, or illusory. Being must thus mean a groundless relation suspended in vacuo.
Nor is there anything special to his doctrine of Error which logically compels him to hold those conclusions. Principles of inference entirely foreign to his system and habit of thought may be assumed, and conclusions of this sort thus forced on his premises. It may, for example, be said, with Spinoza, that “determination is negation,” and that the finite, as finite, is a mere negation or nonentity; because it is a negation of the absolute substance, or of an Infinite Ego, or Infinite Self-consciousness — whatever ambiguity such phrases may be supposed to cover. But this may be said of any doctrine whatever which recognizes the Ego of consciousness as simply a fact or reality. And the principle of every determination being a negation is neither unambiguous nor self-evident; in several senses, it is rather self-condemned. It stands in need, at least, of thorough and precise vindication ere it is of use in any process of inference. In this application, at any rate, it will be hard to show its consistency. We must have the proof, in the first instance, of the Absolute Substance or Infinite Ego which the being of the finite Ego negates. Is it said that the Infinite Ego is the necessary correlate of the finite Ego? What, then? Does this correlation imply that the correlate or Infinite Ego is real in the sense in which the Ego of consciousness is real? Or rather even, as it seems to be inferred, does it necessarily imply that the Ego of consciousness discovers itself not to be what it at first is conscious that it is, and is really only a mode of this truly existing Infinite Ego? These are points in the logic of the process which ought not to be passed over without notice or vindication. And even if we get somehow the length or the height of the so-called Infinite, we must then ask whether the Infinite Ego means merely the abstract notion of an Ego, or whether it means a self-conscious Ego that actually pervades all being. If the former, the so-called determination is but an instance of the contemporary realization of the individual fact and the general notion. If the latter, it is impossible that there can be a finite Ego at all. It is not possible even in correlation. But, secondly, the result is not either possible or consistent. If the definite Ego of consciousness loses hold of its determination or limitation, it loses hold of itself—it no longer is; if it retains its limit or determination, it is not the Infinite Ego; if it commits the absurdity of losing hold of it and yet retaining it, it loses bold of itself, but does not become the Infinite Ego; in plain words, the “I” of our consciousness cannot be both man and God. That the finite consciousness is the infinite or divine consciousness is asserted on such a principle; it is as far from proof as ever it was.
The Egoand theMaterial World.
Onthis point the doctrine of Descartes may be summarily stated.
We have, in the first place an assured world of consciousness with the Ego as its centre,—the centre of thoughts and ideas. But Descartes recognizes, as he must, the knowledge of extension or an extended object,— of a thing filling space. This knowledge is in the consciousness. How is it got? From the senses somehow. But what precisely is the knowledge the senses give us of the material non-Ego? Have we as direct a knowledge of it as we have of consciousness and its modes? In the view of Decartes certainly not. The extended does not guarantee its own existence, as the consciousness does. We are not at once involved in self-contradiction, in denying its reality, as we are in the case of our consciousness. The extended is known through idea or representation; and it is the problem of Cartesianism to vindicate the reality on the ground of the idea, to show that outside of consciousness, as it were, there is an object corresponding to idea in the circle of consciousness itself.
Herein lies the so-called dualism of Descartes; but, in point of fact, it is but one form of his dualism, for there is with him the contrast between the finite Ego and God, and this is as much a dualism as the contrast between consciousness and extension. But the position of Descartes in relation to mind and matter is that, on the one hand, there is consciousness; on the other, there is extension, implying or rendering possible figure and motion. Accepting these as the only possible qualities of matter, Descartes sought to show how all the phenomena of the material universe might be produced, and according to the notional method of his philosophy at once inferred that they actually were so produced. This of course resulted in a mere ignoring alike of facts and laws, especially of the great Newtonian principle of gravitation, which could have no place in such a physical philosophy as that of Descartes.
But consciousness being set on one side, and extension or body on the other, the question arose in the mind of Descartes as to whether, or rather how, there could possibly be between these the relation of knowledge. If he had simply asked whether there was such a relation, the problem was not of difficult solution; but when he asked how such a relation was possible, he raised a totally different and probably illegitimate question. But be this as it may, Descartes held that there could be no immediate consciousness of extension or an extended object on the part of the mind. The process of Perception, according to Descartes, may be stated as follows: There is the occurrence of organic impressions on organ, nerve, and brain. The last of these reaches the central point of the nervous organization, — by him regarded as the pineal gland, — these organic movements are not in consciousness at all; even the last of them is not apprehended or known in the process of our sensitive consciousness. Yet the apprehension of the extra-organic object is impossible without these as conditions of our knowledge. On occasion of the last of the organic movements an idea of the extra-organic object is generated in the consciousness. This is the single object of consciousness. It is representative of the outward object, — of the external or extra-organic object. Through and on the ground of this representative idea we know and believe in a world of outward objects. Descartes uses idea both for those organic movements, — the traces on the brain, and for the conscious representation; but nothing can be clearer than that he held the former to lie wholly beyond consciousness during the time of their occurrence, and to be merely the occasions on which the mental idea rose into consciousness. Here he virtually supposes supernatural action to excite the idea; and he makes an appeal to the veracity of Deity to guarantee the inference of outward reality from it.
Descartes's treatment of this point cannot be said to be satisfactory. Indeed no satisfactory dealing with the problem is possible, as its terms were put by Descartes. His position in substance is, that as God is veracious, we may trust that the idea really and adequately represents the material non-Ego. But of course there is the prior question as to how the idea came into the conciousness, and then as to the right we have to suppose it representative. The veracity of Deity, even if adequately and logically vindicated for the system, would guarantee nothing to us beyond what our consciousness or idea might actually testify. And if the idea be not properly got, be not a real idea, and if the conditions under which it is supposed to be got render its representative character logically impossible, the veracity of Deity could not help us to give an untrue reality or character to the idea. We should then be merely calling in the veracity of Deity to enable us to assert as real and true what was simply a matter of our own fancy and fiction; to give to a thing, a reality and character which it had not, and not merely to obviate objections or satisfy doubt regarding the reality and the character which it proclaimed itself to have. God's veracity can never be pledged for anything more than the facts of consciousness are, or the deliverance of consciousness declares. And to ascertain this in the first place is the task of philosophical method and reflective analysis.
With respect to the first question, as to how we know the extended reality in which we believe, whether by intuition or indirectly, there are passages in Descartes which point to the acknowledgment of direct or intuitive knowledge. But he gives this up, and, through force of old presumption, restricts perception to ideas or states of consciousness.
Obviously, if intuition cannot be made out in some form or other, a material non-Ego, must be given up; and certainly the hypothesis of the representative idea, as is now well acknowledged, will not help us. To think out the notion of a material non-Ego, from the requisites of mere self-consciousness, is impossible. Nothing can be weaker than Kant's vacillating attempts at the proof of a world in space and time from self-consciousness. This could be done only as the requisite of the difference of the self from the not-self; but this is satisfied by the mere modes of consciousness themselves varying in time. Self, apart from these, is unknowable and unthinkable, but not apart from a material non-Ego. Again, a representative idea is impossible apart from repeated intuitive acts. The points and details must be successively apprehended ere they can be cognized in representation. And we must apprehend these as the condition of our recognition of the correct representation.
But Descartes seems to have had difficulties, as is usual, as to the possibility of direct knowledge by consciousness of extension. These were part of the general alleged difficulties as to how two things so different in nature as consciousness and extension could have communion or intercourse — how mind could know matter, or influence it in anything—how matter could act upon or affect mind. As to the general fact of the intuition of extension, or any material quality, he did not see that in so dealing with the question he was illogically putting the question of possibility before the question of fact. This order could only be fairly followed on a system which professed to demonstrate a priori, or by pure thought, the possibility of knowledge, and through this possibility to determine the facts, or at least to make the conception of the facts square with the ideal possibility. This need not at present be discussed; for although Descartes was in a sense demonstrative, this was not the kind of demonstration he contemplated; and it is one which, as might be anticipated, is exceedingly likely to mutilate the integrity alike of truth and philosophy. But Descartes had no idea of demonstrating either the possibility of knowledge or the contents of knowledge. His demonstration was so far a legitimate one. He sought or assumed facts of experience or consciousness, and endeavored to show their logical connections and relations. The method when carried out in its integrity, is primarily one of observation and reflective analysis. And in order to the faithful application of it, we must scrutinize carefully and fully every form of our conscious life, and every, even apparent, deliverance of our intelligence. This at least is the first thing to be done, whatever theory we may afterward form of the origin or genesis of those forms of our conscious life, or even, if that be possible, of our consciousness itself. Of all things the most unwarrantable, is to adopt, whether on so-catted grounds of reason or on tradition, which comes to very much the same thing, certain general assumptions regarding what is possible or impossible in knowledge, and by means of these assumptions to override, mutilate, or reject the positive deliverances of our intelligence — especially on the side of intuition. But this is precisely what Descartes seems to have done; it is what has been done repeatedly since his time; it is done now; and until philosophical method is freed from this unfaithfulness, philosophy can make no real progress, and will continue to fall short of the breadth of experience and reality.
So far as the knowledge of a material non-Ego is concerned, the question is simply one of analysis of our consciousness. We cannot beforehand say, it is impossible I can know aught of extension or resistance, or any other form of reality, because I can know only my own states of consciousness, or because I cannot know anything distinct from myself. This is to suppose that you have a philosophy ere you set about seeking it. Where has this superior philosophy been got, and what is its guarantee? Only in that consciousness the fullness of whose deliverances it is adduced to discredit. For a consciousness to me above my consciousness is an absurdity and contradiction in terms.
If we look for a moment at some of the supposed difficulties alleged against the intuition of a material non-Ego, we shall see both how assumptive and how trifling they are.
It seems that the mind or consciousness, in order to apprehend extension, or in apprehending extension, must become extended—that is, must cease to be mind. Or the mind being indivisible, if it apprehends extension, must become divisible—and so on. Why must this be? Simply from an abuse of words and a false analogy. Extension apprehended is said to be within consciousness; consciousness is therefore necessarily extended; it has parts beyond parts like extension. A sufficient answer to this would be—when I am conscious of extension, as a series of coexisting points, I do not cease to be conscious of mind — I do not become extended or divisible—nay, I should not know what extension or divisibility meant at all, if I had not in myself the co-apprehension of the non-extended and indivisible. I know or apprehend only through contrast and correlation; and if all in knowledge be one, say the extended, I do not know the extended at all. It is really nothing for me or my knowledge. Consciousness as I experience it, and as I can conceive it, is an antithesis — a varying contrast—through an identity, of acts or states and me, of objects of these acts and me, of the successive and the one, of the divisible and the indivisible, the extended and the non-extended: and because I am or am supposed to be percipient of an object made up of parts beyond parts, I no more become such, or cease to be the one indivisible knower, than I cease to be one because I am conscious in succession of various thoughts or feelings. The expression, within consciousness, indicates simply a false analogy based on the previous assumption that consciousness is an extended thing, which, like the object perceived, is capable of a within and a without — that is, it is a mere begging of the point at issue.
The truth is, that so far as this point is concerned, so far from knowledge implying an identity between the subject knowing and the object known, it rather postulates a difference; for we always and must always distinguish subject and object in the act. But it should be kept in mind that in order to constitute this difference we do not require an object such as extension or resistance; we require only a mode of consciousness whatever that may be, feeling or desire. This enables us to discriminate self and mode, or self and object, as well as extension or resistance. The extended, and to us insentient, is the true test, not of self and its modes, but of self and its modes on the one hand, and the material non-Ego on the other. Self might be realized in the fullness of its being through the moments of time; its conception of reality is amplified by the apprehension of the points of space; but this does not make it to be or to know more truly what it is. The living spirit knows itself to be in the very movements which reveal its life. If this be so, the material non-Ego is not the necessary diverse correlate of the Ego; the Ego is not subverted by its subversion, but the field is left open, apart from all a priori assumption as to its powers of apprehension and compass; and a basis is laid for the requirements of a faithful and sound psychology. The whole, too, of the speculation subsequent to Descartes regarding Occasional Causes, Vision in Deity, and Pre-established Harmony, originating in the groundless difficulty which he felt about the knowledge of the material non-Ego, is superseded as being devised merely to overcome an imaginary difficulty.
But the whole of the current doctrine of subjectivity is based on an assumption or an imperfect analysis of the matter of fact. The phrases, “state of consciousness,” and “our knowledge being confined to states of consciousness,” are about as ambiguous as can well be imagined. They confound the knowledge by the conscious self of its modes with the knowledge by the conscious self of qualities of a wholly different order. The first is a self-guaranteeing knowledge, as we have seen; the other is a knowledge, but it is not self-guaranteeing, at least on the principle of non-contradiction. I am conscious of purely subjective states; I am further conscious of a sentient extended organism, which I call my body, and at the same time I am conscious of an extension, which is no part of my sentient organism, corresponding to the surface of contact. This is as clear and distinct a deliverance of consciousness as can be found in experience. Even supposing it to be shown that we have no consciousness of external qualities until the sensorium is reached by the ordinary organic impressions, this by no means proves that the perceptive faculty, as conscious, does not reach the utmost bound of the bodily organism, the moment the stimulus is completed. None of these preceding organic impressions is an object of consciousness at all; and what we may perceive, though following upon these, is by no means limited by them. The scope of consciousness must, in a word, be tested by what consciousness actually declares. The sentiency we experience and feel is all through the bodily organism; for, as Mr. Lewes has shown, the brain is not exclusively the organ of sensation. But there is a limit to this sentiency—beyond which it cannot go, and which it does not transcend. This is found at the point of contact between the bodily surface and what we are thus entitled to call the external object. As this quality or object is not felt or known by us to be sentient or part of our sentiency as our bodily organism is, we regard it as a non-Ego, or as not identical with any mode of our consciousness. This is for us the material or truly external non-Ego. The outward material world is for us the insentient, extended, and resisting. Our test of this as an independent existence, as something more than a mere state of sentiency or consciousness is, that it is not necessary to the existence or to the fact of our consciousness. I am conscious does not imply an outward material non-Ego; it implies merely a distinction in the consciousness itself between the Ego and the mode, and between the Ego and the successive modes. Withdraw either of those, and my consciousness perishes. But it is not so with the qualities of extension and resistance correlative to my living and moving organism. Consciousness is not subverted by taking those away; and the conclusion, therefore, is irresistible that I am, whether they subsist or not— that they are not identical with my being — that, in a word, there is a mutual independence and correality between me, the conscious subject, and those qualities or objects of consciousness, at least during the act of perception. This, as appears to me, is the last point in the analysis of perception which we can reach. It is for us an ultimate and irreconcilable antithesis of being. It is given us, too, by that consciousness which, in its ultimate and fully analyzed primary data, is the supreme source of knowledge for us. That there is some transcendent ultimate unity, from which both the Ego and the non-Ego flow, is a plausible hypothesis: but it is only a hypothesis — one more or less probable, but incapable by us of absolute proof. Any process of the development of the Ego and non-Ego from an absolute, yet given by speculative philosophy, turns out, on examination, to be a mere piece of verbalism — a formula of abstraction which leaves out the differences, and thus eviscerates the problem to be solved, or which, confounding affirmation and negation, abolishes knowledge. And as for a scientific solution of the problem, we may say this at least with safety, that none has as yet been given.
Even the lower position of a mechanical equivalent of each state of consciousness is not likely to fare better, if we may judge from a recent attempt at a statement of the question made by a physicist of note. It is, first of all, broadly laid down that all we can know of the universe is a state of consciousness. Applying this particularly to what we speak of as the material universe, the phenomena of nature are simply states of consciousness. At the same time, it is maintained that there is, and will ultimately be found, “a mechanical equivalent” of each state of consciousness. There is “a correlation of all the phenomena of the universe with matter and motion.” This language obviously points to a dualism. What precisely is “the mechanical equivalent of consciousness “ here referred to? It is something in correlation with the state of consciousness; it is its mechanical equivalent, as there is a mechanical equivalent of heat. But in the same breath we are told that our knowledge is entirely restricted to states of consciousness. Is this mechanical equivalent known to us? In that case, it can be but a state of consciousness. Indeed we are expressly told that “matter” and “force,” so far as known to us, and, in other words, so far as they are anything” to us, are simply states of consciousness. Then what sort of mechanical equivalent or correlation have we here? Not two things at all—not the mechanical force and the state of consciousness, but simply two states of consciousness, the one which we call, viz, feeling,— the other which we name its mechanical equivalent— perhaps a pound weight falling through a foot. We have not, therefore, explained the state of consciousness, or resolved it into anything different from itself. We have simply said that one state of consciousness, which we call a mechanical equivalent, is followed by another, which we call feeling or volition. This is not to explain the state of consciousness by anything in mere correlation with it; it is merely to say that there is a certain or regulated succession in the states of consciousness themselves. But each state is as far from being resolved into a correlative mechanical equivalent as ever it was; nay, more, we have given tip the whole hypothesis of dualism, while we retain its language, and think we have effected a reconciliation of materialism and spiritualism. In saying that all we know or can know is a state of consciousness, we preclude ourselves from asserting, anything that is not a state of consciousness—and any mere hypothetical matter or force or motion which we postulate as in correlation, is illegitimately assumed as a fact — nay, illegitimately even conceived as an idea.
The predicate “innate” has been a source of great debate in connection with the philosophy of Descartes. But any one who intelligently apprehends its first principles, will readily see both what it means and what is the extent of its application in his philosophy. It will be found to amount to this, that there is no mental modification whatever in our consciousness, which, according to Descartes, is not innate. But it is innate not in the sense of being actually developed, or an actual modification of consciousness; innate only in the sense of being a potentiality capable of development into a form of consciousness, yet waiting certain conditions ere this takes place. In this sense, every idea of perception, and every state of sensation is innate. The supposed outward world and the organic impressions which precede perception and sensation lie wholly beyond consciousness. Yet, but for their action in the view of Descartes, neither perception nor sensation would occur. At the same time, their influence ceases at the threshold of consciousness; and when their action is completed, there originate in the mind out of its own nature the conscious idea of extension, and the conscious sensation of color or sound. These ideas and sensations are wholly innate, in the sense that they are evolutions of the consciousness alone; that they are not transmitted to the mind by the action of outward objects or by the organic impressions. They are the forms of a new and independent power, which arise simply on occasion of external stimuli, but which these stimuli serve in no way to create. Perceptions are innate,— due to the independency of the mind, on the theory of Descartes, hardly less than they are innate on the doctrine of the spontaneous monadic development of Leibnitz.
But there is another class of mental modifications with Descartes. These are not perceptions or sensations. They are “truths,” or “common notions,” or universal principles,—such as the law of substance and quality and of non-contradiction. These too are innate,—especially innate. They are innate potentialities, over and above mere perceptions or sensations. They too become actual in experience — but, unlike sensation, they are not immediately preceded by organic impressions. The moment the doctrine of Descartes is thus correctly apprehended, the whole polemic of Locke against “Innate Ideas” is seen to be irrelevant. If the doctrine is to be validly assailed, it must be on wholly other grounds than those stated by Locke.
Inaccordance with the usual Hegelian formula as applied to history, an attempt is made to show that the system of Descartes is part of the evolution of what is called “thought.” It is assumed, accordingly, that there is but a single conception at the root of the philosophy of Descartes,— that this runs all through his thinking,— and that it is carried to its necessary development by the force of “the immanent dialectic,” through Malebranche and Spinoza. One of the worst features of the Hegelian mode of looking at the history of speculation comes out here. Assuming that speculative thought develops necessarily through a series of specified moments, it must either find the single moment in a given system or reject the system as unspeculative. The result of this method is, on the one hand, an attempt to make a system express one of the moments; or, on the other, arrogantly to pass by the system as of no account. We have thus frequently instead of “pure thought” pure phantasy in dealing with a system of philosophy, and a willful blindness to the facts of history and experience. In the case of Descartes the Hegelian mistake is twofold. It is wrongly assumed that the philosophy of Descartes represents a single thought, or a single moment of thought, and it either incorrectly or inadequately describes the main thought which animates his philosophy.
With Descartes, according to Hegel, we have to renounce every prejudgment in order to gain a pure beginning. The spirit of the philosophy of Descartes is consciousness as the unity of thought and being. The “I” in the philosophy of Descartes has the meaning of thought, not the individuality (Einzelnheit) of self-consciousness. Descartes appeals to consciousness for his first principle; but he only naively gets at the consequences of it, or at least at the propositions of philosophy. He does not at first properly state the principle out of which the whole content (Inhalt) of philosophy is to be derived. The identity of being and thought,—altogether the most interesting idea of modern times,— Descartes has not farther proved, but for it has singly and alone appealed to consciousness, and provisionally placed it in the front. For with Descartes the necessity is not in any way present to develop difference out of the “I think.” Fichte first proceeded to this, and out of this point of absolute certainty to derive all determinations. Then of course we must expect to find that Descartes takes being in its wholly positive sense, and has no conception that it is the negative of self-consciousness. Then there is constant talk of the pure consciousness contained in the concrete “I.” And Descartes is criticised in respect that the certainty of self-consciousness does not properly pass over to truth, or the determined. This passing over is done “externally” and reflectively only. Consciousness does not determine itself.
In plain language, the whole basis and method of Descartes are criticised from an assumption that human knowledge is possible from a mere universal or abstract something called pure thought, or the pure consciousness of the “I,”—above altogether, in the first place at least, ordinary consciousness or knowledge. This system is not only unvindicable in itself and its principles, but it has really no connection, logical or historical, with the true system of Descartes. Nothing, for example, can be more out of place historically than to connect Descartes with Fichte, or to suppose that the system of the latter is any way a fair logical evolution from that of the former. It is even ludicrous to set up this so-called Hegelian development of “reason,” and by virtue of the gathered power of a word, whose connotation is altogether different from the Hegelian, to ask us to renounce the experiential method of Descartes and nearly the whole of subsequent modern philosophy. It is a complete mistake historically to assume that the moment of Cartesianism is consciousness,—spoken of in the vague generality with which Hegel deals with it. The consciousness of Descartes is a self-guaranteeing principle,— which is a great deal more than Hegel has vindicated or can vindicate for his Pure Being. In truth, the first principle of Descartes is not consciousness properly speaking, but self-consciousness,—tested experimentally and found self-guaranteeing. Self-consciousness was never more truly or fully appreciated than in the system of Descartes. It is, if anything is, his most vitalizing thought. And if the system of Descartes be one thoroughly of self-consciousness, neither that of Kant nor that of Fichte can be so described. The basis of Fichte's system is an absolute Ego, of which the Ego of consciousness is at best phenomenal; and the real Ego of Kant is wholly noumenal, not in phenomenal consciousness at all, while his phenomenal Ego has but a generic or logical identity.
Nor do later attempts to find the one thought of Descartes fare better. To say absolutely that Descartes stated a thought which was legitimately developed by Malebranche and Spinoza is thoroughly misleading. There are points in, Descartes which were fairly enough developed by these later thinkers; there are others which were not. There are important points in the philosophy of Descartes which were not touched by either. Descartes thought was manifold; and so must be its developments.
The aim of Descartes was, no doubt, to find absolutely ultimate truth and certainty, as guaranteed by the reflective analysis of consciousness—to obtain therein a criterion of truth and falsehood—and, if possible, to develop by demonstration from the single ultimate fact, the truth about the world and God,—and thus to subordinate and correlate the truths of philosophy. But the peculiarity of Descartes was not, as we have seen, so much this aim — which is the common one of speculative systems — as his method of seeking it, in an examination of consciousness, and finding it in the principle of limit to conscious thought. It is this point of limit which, in a speculative view, is the peculiarity of Cartesianism; and it is this exactly which, in the so-called evolution of his thought, Malebranche partially and unconsciously, and Spinoza wholly and consciously, sought to reverse. If the reversal of a position, and, I should add, the illegitimate reversal, is a development, we have the highest reach of Cartesianism in Spinoza. Spinoza developed Descartes by amending the formula cogito ergo sum, into cogito ergo non sum.
The truth is, that both Malebranche and Spinoza seized on those subordinate points in the philosophy of Descartes which tended to lower human activity and personality, and in different ways sought to ascribe all real efficacy or casuality to a Power above and outside of man. Malebranche certainly kept up the conception of a Personal Deity as the Supreme Cause, though inconsistently with his conception of Deity as mere indeterminate or unrestricted being. Spinoza held by an Indeterminate Substance. It is doubtful, however, whether Malebranche, in virtually annihilating human personality in experience, had any right thereafter to speak of a Divine Personality; and certainly Spinoza precluded himself even from the conception of a Finite Personality by placing at the source of the universe of Being mere Indeterminate Substance. There would be an inconsistency on the doctrine of either in making this Divine or Substantial Power all, and at the same time holding Man to be something—either a spontaneous agent, a responsible power, or even a being in any way resembling the living reality of human consciousness.
On one cardinal point of Descartes—the knowledge of mind in consciousness, and the corollary that the soul is better and more clearly known than the body—Malebranche entirely differs from him. Malebranche maintains that we have no idea of the mind, and therefore no clear knowledge of it. We know it only through internal sentiment — that is, consciousness; but we have no proper idea of it. Our knowledge of body or extension, on the other hand, is by means of idea; and hence it is a clearer knowledge than that of the soul. As if, forsooth, in the consciousness of extension, the extension or object were clearer than the conscious act of apprehension. We know, however, by this inner feeling or consciousness, that the soul is; but we do not know what it is. His practical test of the superior clearness of our knowledge of extension is, that extension being in idea, we can evolve or deduce from the idea of it alone all its numerous properties and relations: whereas from the so-called idea of the soul we can deduce none of its properties — either pleasure, pain, or any other. Malebranche thus, instead of advancing on Descartes in a legitimate and necessary manner, simply deviated wholly from the spirit and procedure of the method. He regarded a method of deduction and demonstration as the only truly philosophical. He was wholly misled by the analogy of mathematics, as Descartes himself partly was, and sought to deal with the range of knowledge, as a geometer may deal with the properties of space which he borrows and defines. But there is no true analogy. Given space, we can evolve its properties, for we need not proceed beyond itself, save by way of limit, and limit of space is itself space. Given an abstract Ego, it must always remain such. Given a conscious Ego, it is me-conscious, and conscious in one definite way. And let this be knowledge of an object, we cannot proceed merely from this to evolve either desire or volition, or any property specifically distinct from knowledge. We must wait the development of consciousness itself, for our knowledge, even conception, of those new modes. We can no more do this than the physical philosopher can, from the sight of a definite kind and quantity of motion, predict its passage into light or heat, before he has any experience of such a transition. The light or heat are sensations of a specifically different kind from the modes of motion regarded as objects of vision. And these, therefore, it is impossible a priori to predict—impossible even a priori to conceive. Malebranche shows himself distinctly aware of this in relation to mind. “The soul knows not that it is capable of this or that sensation by any view it takes of itself, but by experience; on the other hand, it knows that extension is capable of an infinite number of figures by the idea representative of extension. . . . We cannot give a definition which shall explain the modifications of the soul. . . . It is evident that if a man had never seen color nor felt heat, he could not be made to understand those sensations by any definition.” But while thus speaking, Malebranche discredited entirely the philosophical method,— the spirit of reflection and the analysis of consciousness on which Descartes relied for the foundations of his philosophy, and which were destined to bring men face to face with the real facts of mental life. Malebranche, in so doing, left himself no basis for his own deduction, and no guaranteed law or method of deduction.
The alleged advance on Descartes, or carrying out of Cartesian principles by Malebranche, is simple, and in many respects irrelevant enough. Descartes' dualism of thought and extension was his preliminary difficulty and puzzle. How can these disparate substances be connected in knowledge? Instead of recognizing the artificial nature of the difficulty, he admitted it as real, and sought to solve it The soul can but perceive that which is immediately united with it. Things that are corporeal cannot be immediately perceived. Everybody, it seems, admits this. And what is the solution? Sense and imagination give us one set of modes of consciousness or thoughts about this extended world. These are sentiments— in a word, sensations — such as light, color, heat, pleasure, and pain. These are not in body; they tell us nothing of its nature; they are relative simply to our bodily organization. They have a reality only in us, yet we do not produce them. They are caused in us by God himself; he is the only and the efficient cause of our sensations. Because, according to the view of Malebranche, God is the only real and efficient cause in the universe.
De la Forge, Cordemoy, and Geulincx, had more or less anticipated the doctrine of Occasional Causes. They all felt, as Malebranche himself did, that invariable sequence or correspondence is no true causality. It is a proof simply that causality is in operation; but it is not the causality itself. They had applied this doctrine to the connection between mind and body. It was reserved for Malebranche to apply it universally to the relations of all created things or phenomena of the universe. No finite being, according to Malebranche, be it mind or body or extra-organic object, can act on any other with a true efficiency. There is harmony or correspondence in their manifestations, but that is all. God alone is the efficient cause at work in the world. Things are occasions; their manifestations are subject to definite laws or decrees; the Divine Power is the only sufficient agency in the world,— whether it relate to the production of perceptions, or the realization of volitions. Mind is purely passive, whether there be organic change in the body, or whether even there be resolution. The nervous action, on which the realization of volition depends, is wholly unknown to us. We have thus no power over it; no more power than we have over the organic impressions which are the occasion of sensation. God is all in all,— operating efficiently in and through all. A bad psychology, or rather an unwarrantable deduction, had thus destroyed the activity of knowledge and the reality of freedom and the force of personality.
But we have more than sensations; we have ideas. These are in the sphere of the Pure Understanding. They are the immediate objects of the act of perception; and they are distinct from bodies. Extension, figure, motion — these are not sensations; they are ideas. “ In perceiving anything of a sensible nature, two things occur in our perception—Sensation and Pure Idea. The sensation is a modification of our soul, and God causes it in us. ... The idea, which is joined to the sensation, is in God; and we see it, because it pleases him to reveal it to us. God connects the sensation with the idea, when the objects are present.” But whence come ideas? Malebranche exhausts the possibilities of their origin by a comprehensive statement. The possible explanations are as follow: (1.) Ideas come from bodies, (2.) The soul has the power of producing them. (3.) God produces them in the soul at its creation. (4.) God produces them whenever we think an object. (5.) The soul has or sees in itself all the perfections of bodies. (6.) The soul is united to an all-perfect being who embraces the ideas or perfections of created things. He concludes by adopting the last solution that the soul is united to a supremely Perfect Being, who contains the ideas of all created beings. It therefore sees all ideas in God. The finite is in the bosom of the infinite. He is the place of spirits, as space is the place of bodies; and we are immediately conscious of the ideas of the qualities of body in God himself.
Yet we have a higher assurance of the reality of the idea than of the quality or body which the idea represents. The idea is external to us, yet it is surely known in God; but the world of material reality which the ideas represent is only a probable inference from the reality of the ideas themselves. “ It is not necessary that there should be anything without like to the idea.” The only reality which is the object of perception—that is, of which we are immediately cognizant and certain — is the idea itself. And we must not suppose that these ideas are identical with the Divine substance or essence; they express only certain of his relations to his creatures. The consciousness, accordingly, of me, the finite, in apprehending those ideas, would be inaccurately described as identical with the Divine consciousness. In knowing those ideas, I am as far from the real inner essence of the Divine consciousness, as I am from the reality of the thing represented. He says, “it is not properly to see God, to see the creatures in him. It is not to see his essence to see the essence of creatures in his substance.” All that can be alleged is, that I the percipient and Deity have a common object of knowledge in the idea.
So far we can attach a meaning to this system. But the question arises, what does this vision of all things in God precisely mean? Does it refer to the perception of the qualities of body, however numerous, passing, contingent these may be in time and space? Are the ideas perceived in God as numerous as the actual qualities or things of experience? Then, what becomes of the unity and indivisibility of Deity? What is he in this case but another name for the sum of our experience? What is he but peopled space and time? Or does the vision in Deity refer merely to the laws and types of things under which perception and thought are possibles? Malebranche vacillates on this point. But he was finally driven to the latter conception. His idea in God came to mean the essence or type of the thing; and he names it intelligible extension. It is this idea which is in God, and which we see in God. Along with it God determines in us certain passing sensations — such as color, sound, heat or cold. These are in our consciousness, though confused: the idea is in God. It is the permanent essence. But what is this intelligible extension? Is it extension — that is, space, without limit or figure — conceived as infinite? Is this identical with the ideas of our perception? If so, how? Is this the world we are supposed to perceive in the representative idea? The idea of the figure, definite, limited? Again, what is the connection between this ideal and the real extension? Between space conceived as empty, and space perceived as filled with matter? The truth is, that such a position cannot be vindicated consistently with the facts of the intuitional consciousness. It means simply abstract or void space, and this is as far from the reality of the world, as possibility is from actuality, or absolute monotony from the variety of experience.
As to the nature of our knowledge of God, Malebranche differed in one important respect from Descartes; though whether it was an advance or the reverse is matter of question. Descartes distinguished the idea from the reality of the supremely perfect, and made the reality an inference from the idea. But just as Malebranche held that the soul is not known through idea, he held that Deity, or the Being of Beings, the supremely Perfect, is not known by us through idea. It is not conceivable that anything created can represent the infinite; that being without restriction, the immense being, can be perceived by an idea, that is, by a particular being and a being different from the universal and infinite being. One might suppose that in this case our knowledge of the supremely Perfect would be obscure, like our knowledge of the soul itself. But no. The soul is immediately united with the substance of God himself; we thus know him as he is in himself. On occasion of every apprehension of sensation even, or of bodily movement, we know the infinite. “If I think the infinite, the infinite is.” This is the sole demonstration of Malebranche. Yet even while he seems to unite the finite consciousness to the divine substance in order that, as more than finite, it may know this substance or itself, it turns out that it does not wholly know the substance; our apprehension is not infinite; we are therefore, less than the infinite is.
This, then, is another and higher vision in God. The soul is now immediately cognizant of God in his essence; and, though only in a limited way, we thus see the infinite perfection of Deity and their relations. We see ideas, principles eternal and immutable; we perceive also truths — that is, the relations of those ideas. This is Reason — which is absolutely impersonal — common to all intelligences, human and divine. It is manifested in the form of speculative or metaphysical laws, and in that of practical or moral laws. The former are modifications of the idea of quantity, subsisting between ideas of the same nature; the latter of perfection or graduated order among beings of different natures.
Malebranche here made an advance beyond Descartes. The latter had founded the distinctions of true and false, right and wrong, beautiful and deformed, on the mere will of God. Malebranche very properly departed from this position, and founded those distinctions on the intelligence of Deity itself. The one supreme thing in the universe is the sovereignty of the Reason. It bends to the will neither of man nor of God. But there is nothing to show that he connects the doctrine of the Impersonal Reason with the hypothesis — the identity of the human consciousness with the divine substance or consciousness. This is not at all necessary to his doctrine, and it is not legitimately involved in it. On the contrary, our knowledge of the infinite is with him never coextensive with the reality. The fair issue of the doctrine of Malebranche regarding the infinite, which, to be intelligible, means the principle of universal truths, is that there is a common knowledge between man and God. But to say that the consciousness I am and experience, is the consciousness of God, or God's consciousness of himself, is to assume this convertibility, and it is either to abolish me altogether, or to abolish God; for it gives me a God convertible with all the conditions and limitations in essence and in time of a temporal consciousness.
The utmost identity predicable in such a case is a merely logical or generic identity. The human and the divine possess common laws of knowledge. This no more proves the identity of the human and divine intelligence, as existences, than the community of the laws of knowledge among human intelligents destroys the individuality and variety of the self-hood of each. The whole question as to the relation of me, the being in time, to an Eternal Being, stands just where it was.
Spinoza (1632-1677) — RelationstoDescartes.
Leibnitz, speaking of the philosophy of Descartes, said it was the antechamber of the truth. At another time, he tells us that Spinozism is an exaggerated Cartesianism (le Spinozisme est un Cartésianisme outré). Again, he says, “ Spinoza has cultivated only certain seeds of the philosophy of Descartes.” There can, I think, be no doubt that Spinoza was stimulated to speculation by Descartes; and also that he found in Descartes' writings certain points which, when exclusively considered, tended to suggest his own doctrines as a complement or development. But that he truly interpreted the main and characteristic features of the philosophy of Descartes, or carried out its proper tendency, or logically added to it certain results, I emphatically deny.
In the first place, Descartes' philosophy is by method distinctly one of intuition and experience. No one can read the Method without feeling that the writer is seeking relief from scholasticism, and that you have done with the Schoolmen — with their abstractions and their deductions. The healthy branch of modern experimental thought is there. You feel it in the cogito ergo sum— in the criterion of clearness and distinctness of ideas— and particularly in his first proof of the existence of God, founded on the fact of the personal existence and yet imperfection of being revealed in human consciousness. But Spinoza absolutely disdains experience and observation. To him a conviction or fact of consciousness, however deeply or thoroughly tested, by analytic reflection is nothing. He no doubt speaks of his philosophical method as reason founded on immediate intuition; but when we come to examine his intuition, it turns out to be merely definition — and arbitrary definition. There is no analysis of consciousness whatever — no founding on intuition or fact. It is the method of Pure Reason, all through — a return, disguise it as you may, to the method of scholastic abstraction and deduction. Spinoza professes to deduce the facts of consciousness, and consciousness itself, from the infinite substance and its attributes. And he holds, with Malebranche, that knowledge through consciousness and of the facts of consciousness is obscure and confused. Descartes no doubt aimed at deduction, but it was a deduction professedly founded on facts of consciousness as the clearest sphere of human knowledge. At the same time, he exaggerated the importance and the use of it; and there is an obvious tendency, especially in the Principles, to supersede his original or intuitive method by the demonstrative or deductive, — to fall away, in fact, from the investigation of the real unto the shadowy sphere of the abstract. At the same time, the order of the Principles may fairly enough be regarded as merely a synthetic way of putting the results of a foregone analysis. If Spinozism be regarded as in method a development of Descartes, it was not of his original and fruitful method, but of his later unfaithfulness in the use of that method.
Descartes' alienation from his original method of conscious verification arose mainly from his assuming that whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived in the idea of an object may be predicated as really true of that object. This, with all its obvious fallacy and confusion, was adopted by Spinoza, and carried to exaggeration by him, with a thorough indifference to the psychological method of Descartes, the only means of giving the idea truth, or relevancy to fact. With such a postulate, it is easy to see how Spinoza proceeded. We have only to get the preliminary idea of all things as clear and distinct, and then from this we can readily evolve all subsequent ideas or conceptions. The universe will then be comprehended by us not in its parts merely, but as a whole. The beginning of all will be grasped, and each part of the whole will be apprehended in its relation to the preceding part, and thus to the first of things. It will, accordingly, be known truly for what it is, because it will be known in all its actual relations to preceding facts, and in all its possible relations to succeeding developments. This is, no doubt, a very fine conception of the aim of human knowledge. Whether it is merely a dream or a reality is, of course, a matter of argument. If we could reach a knowledge of the absolute totality of being, or of the universe at any given point in its development, we should gain a knowledge which is absolutely convertible with all possible knowledge in each given stage; and if we could thus follow the evolutions we should make our knowledge convertible with, or representative of, the whole of actual and possible being. But such an ideal of knowledge is impossible, unless on the assumption that the totality of being can be first grasped by definition, as figure in mathematics, and its various possible combinations therefrom evolved. And this is merely to assume in method or premises what requires to be proved in result or conclusion. What would be our test of the completeness or adequacy of our definition? What, then, would be the guarantee of the totality of our knowledge in any given stage? The assumption of a casual relation between the stages does not help us, for we have to ascertain in the first stage the totality of the cause. And here, even on Spinoza's own admission, the doctrine must be held to break down. For while the first substance possesses an infinity of attributes, of these we knew only two — extension and thought. It is thus utterly impossible for us, through the grasp of these partial forms of being, to conceive all being, and follow the evolutions of its totality. This would be merely an illogical identification of the part with the whole,—reasoning, in fact, from the finitude of our knowledge to the infinitude of things.
Of course, Spinoza grandly distinguishes this demonstrative method of knowledge from that of vulgar opinion and belief. This is partial and abstract, and worth nothing. It does not see the connections of things, and thus fails of their truth. It proceeds without examination or reflection. It accepts common opinions. Spinoza's whole writing of this sort has been relegated long ago to the limbo of misconception, and should have been left there. It has been stated over and over again by the opponents of a demonstrative system of philosophy, that the alternative alone conceived by Spinoza, and alone contemplated by those who virtually accept his method, is a simple caricature of the method which they follow. It has been shown repeatedly that the common opinions of mankind (or the common sense of mankind, as it is called), form simply the materials of philosophical analysis and criticism. Hamilton, for example, tells us most explicitly that philosophy is not to be constituted by “an appeal to the undeveloped beliefs of the irreflective many,” but “ through a critical analysis of those beliefs.” We may therefore set aside as utterly beside the point, as, in fact, due either to ignorance or perversion, the misrepresentations of the method of the psychological school constantly made by followers of Spinoza and Hegel. The question as to whether we can grasp the universe as a whole of development cannot even be fairly approached, until the upholders of the affirmative position show that they understand the nature of the psychological method.
What gives a somewhat ludicrous aspect to this misrepresentation of the psychological method, is the fact that when we come to examine closely certain points in the deductive systems, we find that, while despising psychology, they have really nothing to give us except this very common sense of mankind which they so haughtily reject. Spinoza, for example, the ideal of the man who had a contempt for common sense and all its accessories, is found after all to be dependent on it for his selection of the fundamental notions of his system. It appears that in his review of the notions current among mankind there are some which are inadequate and confused; others which are clear and distinct. Among the former class are Being, Something, Freedom, Final Cause; while among the clear and distinct are Cause, Substance, God, or the Infinite Substance. When we seek for some sort of test of this apparently arbitrary selection, we find that the former are relegated to unreality and untruthfulness, because they are notiones universales merely — meaning, possibly, generalizations. But the others, such as Substance and Cause, are held to be clear and true, because they are notiones communes; and when we ask what the meaning of this is, we find that they are something common to all minds and all things. What is this but an appeal to the common-sense of mankind, and in its unscientific and irreflective form? If, moreover, we apply the test of community in the things to the relegated notions of Being or Something, it will certainly occur to us that the distinction is one rather of caprice and petulance than of logical or consistent thought. Freedom and Final Cause stood rather in the way of his deduction; by all means, therefore, let them be set aside as obscure and confused. The truth is, that any deductive system is nothing more than a mere hypothesis, or has no basis higher than unsifted data, so long as it is not grounded on direct and complete pyschological analysis of the facts.
But even this misrepresentation is comparatively of little moment when we look on the deductive systems — such as that of Spinoza — in relation to the full contents of the human consciousness. It is here the principle of their method reduces itself to an absolute contradiction. The data which the method assumes, and from which it proceeds to develop the universe of being, have no higher guarantee than those very facts of human consciousness relating to Personality, Freedom, and Morality, which they undoubtedly subvert. It is here that the common experience of mankind, when psychologically tested as fact, comes into collision with the conclusions of the deductive system; and ere the facts of common experience are swept away, it must be shown that the so-called ideas of Substance and Cause have any higher or other guarantee in our consciousness than these other ideas, and are entitled to override them. What guarantee can any philosophy give for the idea of Substance for example, or even Pure Being or Pure Thought, which cannot be equally, even more, given for Personality and Freedom? I do not mean the Spinozistic or Hegelian caricatures of those ideas, but the conceptions of them actually given or implied in consciousness. A deductive system which sweeps away these conceptions must, in its spirit of superior wisdom, show how mankind, in their whole history and highest purposes and actions, have been deluded into believing themselves as more than the mere necessitarian movements with consciousness which Spinoza and Hegel allow them to be. But even if it can show this, it must do it at the expense of allowing the principles of moral action and of true speculative thought, to be, as a matter of fact, in diametrical contradiction. When the contest takes this form, we know which side must speedily go to the wall.
But take the method of Spinoza as a whole. What is the assumption on which it proceeds? Entirely the geometric method of conception, borrowed no doubt from things both latent and expressed in the writings of Descartes. This means postulates, definitions, and axioms. The geometrical definitions refer to one uniform idea, manifesting itself in various forms, but never transcending itself. This conception is the idea of extension, coexistent points or magnitude. It begins with the elementary perception of point, or the minimum visibile; it goes on to the generation of line and then of surface, or what we know ordinarily as extension. Now we need not consider either the source of the conceptions of point, line, and surface, or the guarantee of them. It is sufficient for our purpose at present to note that these are capable of definition, and that the knowledge which admits of being deduced from them, or the notion at the root of them, never passes beyond the initial conception. It is extension of line and surface at first; it is this and its relations all through. In fact, we are here dealing with abstractions. The definitions are abstractions, or, if you choose, constructions from data,— elementary data of sense. These data are unchangeable, irreversible by us, and hence they and their relations may be said to be necessary. Given certain definitions, we may, by means of postulate and axiom, work out the consequent truths or deductions to their utmost result as ideal combinations. This is the geometrical method. But is such a method at all possible either in Physics or Metaphysics? Here, confessedly, we deal with the real or concrete. We have to look at the contents of experience — of space and time; at what we call the phenomenal world; and we have to consider the relations or the parts of this world to the preceding parts, and to each other, as it were, all around. We have to look at it in time and space. This is the physical point of view. Metaphysically, we must still keep in view this concrete world. But the metaphysical questions relate to the nature of its reality, its origin, order, development. What it is, whence it is, how it has become, whither it is tending,— these questions cannot be discussed without dealing in the same way with the world of consciousness — with the nature, origin, and destiny of the Self or Ego in consciousness — as far as this may be competent and consistent with the conditions of intelligibility. Without doubt those contents are in time, or in time and space. They are the materials which we have to examine — if possible, to deduce in their order. We have to show, in fact, on such a method, the causal relations of the whole terms of reality; we have to show also the necessary connection of every idea — certainly of every universal idea, be it form of perception or of thought proper — in the human consciousness. We must, in a word, deduce from some primary conception — some primary possibility, clearly and distinctly conceived, the typical idea, at least in every physical generalization, the universal law or condition which is in every act of human cognition.
Now the question is, Is the method of Spinoza—is, in fact, any deductive method whatever — able to do this? Let us look at the physical problem as undertaken by the deductive method. “ Real and physical things,” Spinoza tells us, “cannot be understood so long as their essence is unknown. If we leave essences out of view, the necessary connection of ideas which should reproduce the necessary connection of objects is destroyed.”
Now we shall not ask the method to condescend to the contingent facts of time and space — to the passing individuals of the moment. We shall test it simply by general ideas. We shall ask it to show that one form of concrete being can be the ground of the anticipation or prediction of another, which we have not yet experienced as following from it, or in connection with it. Would the clear and distinct knowledge of the constituent elements of a body enable us in any case beforehand to predict its sensible effect, provided this effect is specifically different in its appearance to the senses from the original body or cause? In the case, for example, of two given chemical elements, could any analysis of these enable us even to conceive or to anticipate, far less determine necessarily — apart from experience of the actual sequence — the character of the new resultant body? Even suppose there were the most perfect mathematical knowledge of the proportions of the elements, would it be possible to pass from this numerical knowledge to the new object — say from two gases to the fluid we call water? No scientific inquirer would maintain such a position, and he would be wholly right.
But the case is much stronger when we have a sensible body appreciable by one sense the effect of which is an impression or quality apprehensible only by another sense. Suppose we have a complete apprehension of the particular molecular motion which precedes the sensation of heat, should we be able simply from this knowledge to predict, even conceive, the wholly new sensation absolutely apart from any given sequence in which it occurred? The thing is impossible. Motion is an object of one sense, heat of another. In other words, there must be an appeal to a new form of organic susceptibility. The same is true of the vibration preceding sound; of the molecular motion issuing in light or color; of the pain or pleasure we feel from sensational stimuli; of every effect, of food, or poison, on the human organization; indeed, of the whole sphere of physical causality. The truth is, that if this method of deduction were possible in a single instance, there would be no logical barrier to our deduction of the whole ideas embodied in the laws of the physical universe out of the primordial atoms. And if the impossibility of anticipation hold in one case, it will hold in all. Hence the conclusion is obvious, that even if we knew the actual state of the totality of phenomena in the world at any given time, we should be utterly unable to predict through this its actual state in the subsequent moment. But an absolutely demonstrative physics is about the vainest of dreams. Physical sequences cannot even be anticipated after this fashion; far less can they be necessarily determined.
But does this method fare any better in Metaphysics in the hands of Spinoza?
- 1.Its first requirement is clear and distinct ideas of what are assumed as ultimate metaphysical conceptions, — the prima possibilia of Leibnitz. This knowledge is given in the form of definitions,— eight in number. We have definitions among others, of Cause (self-cause), Substance, Attribute, Mode, God, Eternity. Of these the primary idea, as shown in the propositions which follow, is Substance. God is defined “as the being absolutely infinite — i.e., the substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses an infinite and eternal essence.” And we are told that “ that which is absolutely infinite includes in its essence everything which implies essence and involves no negation.”
- 2.It is assumed that what is involved in these definitions, and capable of being evolved out of them, according to a process of reasoning or manipulation of the terms, constitutes our knowledge of the whole called the Universe of Being.
- 3.It is assumed, further, that we can gain by this process new and explicit conceptions of the variety of the contents of the Universe: can, in fact, determine what they are, can only be, and must be. This knowledge comprises both material and spiritual reality; both the spheres of extension and thought or consciousness.
Now, first, looking at these definitions, will it be said that we have anything like a clear and distinct knowledge of the meaning even implied in the terms in which they are couched? Take, for example, the definition of substance, which is really at the root of the whole matter. Spinoza tells us that by substance he understands “that which exists in itself and is conceived per se; ” in other words, “ that the conception of which can be formed without need of the conception of anything else.” As thus stated, there can of course be but one substance. Have we even any such conception as this? Is this expression more than a mere form of words? Is there anything in experience or consciousness into which these terms can be translated? Consciousness, which is all-embracing, implies discrimination of thinker and thought or object,— a relation between knower and known. Can an object corresponding to the terms of a substance existing in itself, and conceived per se, appear or be in my consciousness? There can be nothing before it; there can be nothing else along with it; it must be at once thinker and thought. It must be the simple indifference of subject and object, absolutely beyond every form of predication. Is the realization of such an object in our consciousness compatible with the conditions of intelligibility or meaning? Yet it is of this we are said to have a clear and distinct idea:—and it is from this that we are able to deduce the Universe of Being.
Now, let us compare this conception of Substance with the same notion in the system of Descartes. “By Substance we can conceive nothing else than a thing which exists in such a way as to stand in need of nothing beyond itself in order to its existence. And in truth there can be conceived but one Substance which is absolutely independent, and that is God. We perceive that all other things can exist only by help of the concourse of God. And accordingly, the term substance does not apply to God and the creatures univocally.” Again, he says: “By the name God, I understand a Substance which is infinite [eternal, immutable], all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and everything that exists, if any such there be, was created.” He tells us that “Substance cannot be first discovered merely from its being a thing which exists independently, for existence by itself is not apprehended by us. We easily, however, discover substance itself from any attribute of it, by this common notion, that of nothing there can be no attributes, properties, or qualities; for, from perceiving that some attribute is present, we infer that some existing thing or substance to which it may be attributed is also of necessity present.” This is obviously a totally different conception from that of Spinoza. Descartes denies entirely the apprehension or conception of being per se. Even his infinite Substance implies predication and relation. And the notion Substance implies experience to begin with, and a relation involved in experience. Here, at least, the conditions of intelligibility are not violated. We can put a meaning into the words without intellectual felo de se. And yet we are told that Spinoza simply carried out the principles of Descartes. If to reverse the principles of a system as a starting-point is to carry them out to their logical results, Spinoza has that merit. What he did really was to take one element of a complete experience, or implicate of experience, and to set up, as a first or starting-point, the abstraction which he illegitimately severed from the intelligible conditions recognized by Descartes.
But what of the relation of those ideas to experience or reality? Are they adequate conceptions of what is? They are conceptions or definitions, no doubt, framed by the mind; and by help of postulates and axioms all their implied relations can be evolved out of them. But what then? Do they or their relations touch experience at all? Supposing we get the primary conception of all things, the question arises, What is the relation of the conceptions following this and flowing from it to the order of things? Now here we have the gross incongruity of the Spinozistic method. One might have expected that, if clear and distinct conceptions are to be set at the head of reality, clear and distinct conceptions following them in necessary order would have been all that is necessary, or at least all that we could legitimately get from such a hypothesis. But no. It seems that those ideas are essentially representative of things. The definitions or hypotheses set at the head of the system express the essence, the inner nature of things — otherwise they are useless. There is a dualism, therefore; there is an order of things as well as of thoughts; and there is a complete correspondence, or, as he expresses it, identity between the order of ideas and the order of things. And thus id quod in intellectu objective continetur debet necessario in natura dari. Here we are back again at subjective and objective. There is the subjective idea — the clear and distinct idea corresponding to the objective reality. But what guarantee have we, on the system, of an objective reality or order of things at all? How do we pass from clear and distinct idea of Substance or Cause to what lies entirely beyond the order of ideas? What legitimate deduction can be made from clear and distinct idea, except only another clear and distinct idea? And can this be regarded as representing something called nature, which, in the first instance, it never directly knew? From the primary, clear, and distinct idea, if you can get it, you may also get its sequences; but these will only be ideas following on ideas. The conception that they are representative of an order of things beyond them, or that there is such an order at all, is a mere hypothesis, and one wholly illegitimate.
But Spinoza grounds the notion that there is a correspondence between thought and extension, so strict that the former is the mirror of the latter, on their supersensible identity in the same substance. He says that mind and body are “unum et idem individuum, quod jam sub cogitationis sub extensionis attribute concipitur.” Extension and Thought are thus said to be two fundamental attributes of the same substance, therefore really the same, differing only in appearance or phenomenally. Bodies are modes of the former; finite thought or souls are modes of the latter. Hence the representative order of ideas corresponds to the formal order of nature. As an expositor has expressed it, “ Soul and body are the same thing, but expressed in the one case only as conscious thought, in the other as material existence. They differ only in form, so far as the nature and life of the body — so far, that is, as the various corporeal impressions, movements, functions, which obey wholly and solely the laws of the material organism, spontaneously coalesce in the soul to the unity of consciousness, conception, and thought.” It is needless to criticise language of this sort, though commonly enough to be met with. It has neither coherency nor intelligibility. It slurs over the real difficulty of the whole problem, as to whether the unconscious nerve-action can pass or be transmuted into any form of consciousness: it does not even touch the question of proof, but takes refuge in mere assumptive verbalism. Nor is it of the slightest moment to the argument to say that extension and thought are related as common attributes to the one substance. This, even if established, means simply that they are supersensibly one; whereas the question before us is as to their correspondence or identity in our experience.
But is this conception of Substance, or God, truly convertible with the Reality? Can we at any one time, in any one act, or in any one category of thought, embrace Being in its all-comprehending totality? This is the real pretension of Spinozism. We can have a thought — viz, that of Substance within which lies the whole content of Being, only waiting development. The assumption here is that Notional Reality, called sometimes Thought, is identical with Being, and that in its evolutions and relations we find the true Universe. But such a conception is an impossibility from the first. Bare, or mere being, mere is or isness, is all which such a conception contains. Extensively this embraces everything actual and possible; but it is not, in the first instance, even conceivable perse, any more than the isolated singular of sensation is; and, in the second place, it has of itself no comprehension or content. It is incapable of passing into anything beyond itself. Hegel would object to Spinoza's position here, by saying that while he was on the right line he made his substance “a pure affirmation,” incapable thus of development. When Spinoza made it that, he made it too much,— more than the indeterminate or unconditioned was entitled to. And when it is sought to be added that “pure affirmation” must be held to imply “negation,” we are simply glossing over the difficulty by applying to so-called notions of what is above experience, conceptions and laws which have a meaning only in the sphere of objects in definite consciousness. Moreover, a notion which issues necessarily in negation, which goes “out of itself,” in the metaphorical fashion of the dialectic, and so returns enriched — with its negation absorbed— is quite entitled to be relegated to the sphere of the very “purest Reason.”
Spinoza's demonstration is, in short, the grossest form of petitory assumption. It is not even attempted to be proved that the definitions of substance and attribute and mode, with which he starts, have objects corresponding to them in experience. All that is alleged as a ground of this is the clearness and distinctness of the ideas. Nay, it is the boast of the system that objects are deduced from them, and set in their necessary relations. But the definitions are merely postulates. All that can be claimed for them is this character: Let the term substance stand for so-and-so; let the terms attribute and mode do the same,— and here are the necessary consequences. But this cannot give more than a hypothetical system of formal abstractions; and what is more, it can yield only petitory conclusions. Before the system becomes real and typical of experience, it must be shown that the definitions correspond to objects of experience. This, however, cannot be done; in fact, they are assumptions, which transcend experience from the first; and if it could be done, it would be fatal to the system as one of pure reason. Nay, it cannot even be shown that the method has a right to the use of the terms Substance, Attribute, and Mode at all. These are simply stolen from the language of experience. And as to the definition of substance itself, it is essentially empty; for, as has been remarked, the substance defined is neither clearly conceived as the subject of inherence nor as the cause of dependence.
The contrast is not the less if we look at the results of the two methods. The analytic observation of Descartes yields a personal conscious being—and a personal conscious Deity, with definite attributes given to him on the analogy of our experience. The deduction of Spinoza, starting from a purely indeterminate abstraction called substance, gives us. as the only reality of the Ego, a mode of thought, or a collection of the modes of thought. Thought and Extension are the two attributes of this indeterminate substance, which, as such, is neither, and yet both. Of these attributes, again, there are modes; and the modes of thought are ideas, and the soul is one of those ideas, or rather an assemblage of them. This is man,— it is simply an anticipation of David Hume's “bundle of impressions.” This we may substitute for the personal Ego of Descartes.
If we look a little more closely into the matter, we shall find that the vaunted idealism of Spinoza is really, when brought to the test, the merest vulgar empiricism. Something he calls idea is the root or ground of the human soul. But we are immediately told that idea means nothing apart from object or ideatum. But what is the ideatum? It turns out to be body. The body makes the idea adequate or complete. We have constant asseveration of this point. The whole system of Spinoza is a roundabout way of coming to say that finite thought is an act dependent on object for its reality, and this object is body. Now we may here fairly set aside the big talk of the system about substances and conceptions. It turns out that the only thought we really know is dependent on body or organization. We had substance to begin with,— the pure idea; yet when we come to our own consciousness, this does not come down in the line of thought from the infinite substance. This is dependent as with Hobbes or Gassendi, on a bodily organization, begged in knowledge for the sake of giving reality to finite thought! What, when tested in experience does all this come to, except the most vulgar form of empiricism? If idea — the movement of finite thought — be impossible unless as cognizant of bodily object, and object be essential to its reality,— what is it but a reflex of organization? Of course I may be told that extension is an attribute of Deity, and that, in knowing it, I know God. But I am afraid that if every act of knowledge even in sense is constituted by the object or ideatum called body, I must be limited to that object and its sphere. And as any hypothesis about substance and its attributes must be regarded by me as a mere form of doubtful imagining, Spinoza is merely the precursor of those specious high forms of idealism, which in their essence coincide actually with the lowest forms of empiricism and negation. Like empirical systems, they really abolish difference, and thus may be expressed equally in the language of the lowest sensationalism and the highest idealism.
But what adds to the marvel of the whole matter is that this idea, which we venture to call self or self-consciousness, is really the reflex of certain bodily movements. These are forms of extension, no doubt; yet their reflection is what we must take for the unity of mind. In other words, the sum of movements in the body, becoming object of the idea, gives rise to the conception of the unity of self. The idea has nothing except what it gets from the ideatum. This is a series or assemblage of bodily movements; and these, mysteriously reflected, form in consciousness the hallucination of self and self-identity. Should we not be thankful for demonstration in metaphysics!
We have seen what kind of Deity Descartes found and represented. What is the Deity of Spinoza? It is this Substance, if you choose. But taken in itself, it is wholly indeterminate; it has no attribute. Yet it necessarily clothes itself in two Attributes, which we chance to know — viz, Thought and Extension. But Divine or Infinite thought is not conscious of itself, is not consciousness at all. It knows neither itself nor its end; yet it works out through all the fullness of space and time. It is the blind unconscious immanent in all things,— in what we call souls, and in what we call bodies—in consciousness and extension. Deity in himself thus, as natura naturans, is utterly void of intelligence: he is at the best a possibility of development into attributes and modes; though how he is so much, being wholly indeterminate to begin with, it is hard to see. Such a Deity is incapable of purpose or conscious end. He is an order of necessary development without foresight; he knows not what he is about to do; it is doubtful whether he even knows or cares for what he has done. He has neither intelligence to conceive, nor will to realize a final cause. He is impersonal, heartless, remorseless. Submit to him you may; nay, must. Love him you cannot. His perfection is the sum simply of what is, and must be. Call it good or evil, it is really neither, but the neutrum of fate. This Deity of Spinoza was neither identical with the Deity of Descartes, nor is it a logical development of his principles. It is a Deity simply at once pantheistic and fatal. And this is not a necessary or logical conception following from the free and intelligent creator of Cartesianism. It is in the end but another name for the sum and the laws of things; and throwing out intelligence from the substance at starting, it illogically credits it with ideas in the shape of modes in the end. The Deity of Descartes was an expansion of a personal consciousness; not, as this is, and is necessarily; a simple negation alike of intelligence and morality.
The lowering, almost effacing, of individuality in the system of Descartes, is no doubt the great blot, and that which most readily led to Spinozism. When me conscious as a fact is resolved into thought as the essence of my being — and when the external world is stripped of every quality save extension, and is thus reduced to absolute passivity,— we are wholly in the line of abstract thought. We are now dealing with notions idealized, not realities, or notions realized. The res cogitans and the res extensa are essentially abstractions. The life we feel in consciousness, the living forms we know in nature, are no more. We are on the way to the modes of Spinoza, but we are by no means called upon to accept either his identification of those entities,— thought or extension — or to embrace the incoherent verbalism of the indeterminate substance and its attributes.
The indistinctness with which Descartes lays down the position of the conservation of the finite is a point which no doubt suggested a kind of Spinozistic solution. He makes conservation as much a divine act as creation. There is nothing, he holds, in the creature itself, or in the moments of its duration, which accounts for its continued existence. Divine power is as much needed through time for this continuity of life, as divine creation was needed at the first. This doctrine might conceivably be regarded as implying that the actual power or being of the creature is at each moment a direct effect from God, or, as a pantheist would put it, a manifestation of the substance immanent in all things. This latter was of course the Spinozistic solution of the problem. But the idea of dynamic force of Leibnitz,—the self-contained and self-developing power of the monad — going back to the one primitive unity, or original monad of all, and yet preserving a certain temporal individuality, — was a more logical solution and supplement than the immanent substance of Spinoza. God acted once and for all. He delegated his power to finite substances. Though these could not act on each other, they could spontaneously act. The true disciple of Descartes is thus not driven necessarily to the Spinozistic solution, even if we throw out of account Geulincx's doctrine of Occasional Causes. The logical successor of Descartes was certainly Leibnitz, not Spinoza. It was Leibnitz who caught the true spirit and the essential features of the system, and in many ways carried it on to a broader and fuller development. Spinoza's was a retrograde movement into the antiquated verbalistic thought.
Not satisfied, apparently, with contradicting the consciousness of man in personal experience and in history regarding himself and his nature, Spinoza ends by contradicting his own speculative system, in setting up a theory of morals. First of all, man, the subject of moral obligation is a temporary necessary mode of the infinite attribute,—unconscious thought; and all his poor thoughts and volitions, are equally necessary developments. Yet he is to be held as capable of moral action and subject to moral law. Surely such a conception should in proper Spinozistic fashion be rigorously put down as a mere illusion, on the part of the mode of consciousness which conceits itself to be, and to be free, when the only reality is the Infinite, and there is nothing in time or space which is but as it must be, or rather nothing save necessary appearance.
Spinoza was logically right when he said that there is no good or bad with God; that repentance is a weakness unworthy of a man of true knowledge. But an ethic after that is an impossibility.
But it may be said, and it is attempted to be made out, that the finite or differenced reality is a necessary part of the Infinite—is developed from it as a part of moment,— that this is a manifestation of the Infinite — that it is as necessary to the Infinite as the Infinite is to it. Without meanwhile questioning the assumptions here involved, I have to ask, How far does such a doctrine lead us? The finite or thing differenced from the Infinite has various forms. What reality can there be in finite knowledge? Difference and distinction are merely in appearance. The yes and the no, the true and the false, the good and the bad, the veracious and the unveracious, are merely in seeming and appearance. Each is an abstract view: the real behind all this show is the identity of their difference; it is the Infinite out of which they come, and into which they are to be withdrawn. This Infinite is an identity of all thoughts and things. In this case, is not the whole of finite knowledge and belief a simple illusion — a deceit played out upon me the conscious thinker? In fact, it subsists by difference —yes and no are finite determinations, and they are differences. Are these equally manifestations of the Infinite in every given notion? In that case everything I assert as true is also false, and the false is just as much a manifestation of the Infinite as the true is. I oppose justice and injustice — veracity and non-veracity: these are different—opposite. Their very reality consists in the difference between them being and being permanent. But if each is a manifestation, and a necessary manifestation, of the same transcendent being or infinite, if this infinite is in them equally, and they in it equally, then they are really the same; and as the Infinite goes on developing itself, we may well expect their final absorption or identification. This doctrine of a necessary manifestation of the Infinite in every finite form of thought, in every general idea, is, if possible, worse as a moral and theological theory than even the vague indefinite of Spinoza. But such an Infinite is really empty phraseology. It is the mere abstraction of being, without difference or distinction, subsisting equally in all that is. To say that it is the ultimate truth of all is merely to say that all the differenced is; hence all the differenced is the same.
A philosophy whose logical result is the abolition of the distinction between good and evil, or the representation of it as only a temporal delusion,—which scorn repentance and humility, and the love of God to his creatures, as irrational weaknesses,— may be fairly questioned in its first principles. It may call itself the highest form of reason, if it chooses, but it is certain to be repudiated, and properly so, by the common consciousness of mankind. It is an instance, also, of the injury to moral interests which is inseparable from the assumption involved in a purely deductive or reasoned-out system of philosophy, that knowledge must be evolved from a single principle,—possibly a purely intellectual one,— whereas the body of our knowledge, speculative and ethical, reposes on a series of co-ordinate principles, which are mutually limitative, yet harmonious.
It is claimed for Spinoza as a superlative philosophical virtue, that he was entirely free from superstition,—had a hearty and proper abhorrence of what is called common-sense,— held ordinary opinion as misleading, being abstract and imaginative. He was thus the proper medium for the passage of the immanent dialectic, a proper recipient of the rays of the “pure reason.” This enabled him to see things in their true relations,—their relations to each other, and the whole which they constitute,— and to see also that things are not to be judged by the relation which they may appear to have to man. The truth on this point is, that he was a man of extreme narrowness, and incapable from his constitution of appreciating the power and the breadth of reality, and shut out nearly from the whole circle of true and wholesome human feeling. His freedom from superstition as seen in the light of his critical exegesis, means a total ignoring of the supernatural or divine element in revelation. Miracle is in his eyes impossible, to begin with, and prophecy is only an ecstatic imagination. His contempt for common-sense and common opinion is so extravagant, that he wholly misses the germ of fact which gives life and force to these, and which a careful analyst of human nature cannot afford to despise. From this bias he failed entirely to appreciate psychological facts, and properly to analyze them. This analysis, carried as far back as you choose, shows that personality, free-will, responsibility, are immediate internal convictions which lie at the very root of our moral life. But these, however well guaranteed by consciousness, are to be mutilated or wholly set aside in the interest of a narrow deduction. The conviction of free-will is a delusion. We have only forgot the necessary determinations. Will and intelligence, two of the most obviously and most vitally distinct factors in our mental life, are submitted to no proper analysis. They are simply identified. Spinoza was wholly destitute of imagination; he decries it; and it is deemed sufficient to put it aside from philosophy as subject to no other conditions than those of space and time. But imagination, of its appropriate kind, is as necessary to the philosopher as to the historian or the poet. It is the means of keeping his abstract thought vital,— of helping to realize its true meaning, individualizing it and saving it from verbalism. In a philosophy which professes to represent the universe in its absolute totality, why should the function of imagination be mutilated or ignored? This leanness of spirit in Spinoza is not atoned for by the force of his reasoning. It only becomes painfully apparent in the series of statements said to be demonstrated, and in the arrogant spirit with which he treats both Aristotle and Bacon. The truth is, that his demonstration has no true coherency. It is faulty in its most vital point,— the connection between the indeterminate or Substance, and the attributes of Thought and Extension, or indeed any attribute whatever. It was an attempt to reduce the universe to a necessary order of development. But this necessary order is wholly incompatible with an indeterminate basis. Such a necessity of development is itself a determination or attribute, and one that begs the whole possibility of anything flowing from such a basis. The attribute of Thought, moreover, given to Substance,— i. e., Divine or Infinite Thought,—is wholly void even of consciousness; and yet this is ultimately to develop into the modes of consciousness known as human souls. This involves the absurdity of supposing that the unintelligent Substance as virtually a cause or ground, ultimately issues in intelligence. A demonstration of this sort is the merest incoherent verbalism.
Development of Cartesianism in the Line of
Spinoza—Omnis Determinatio Est Negatio.
According to Spinoza's interpretation of Descartes, the latter is represented as holding the finite — whether self-consciousness or extension — to be mere negation. The real is the infinite substance which grounds these. Even if this interpretation of Descartes were shown to be erroneous, which it is, Spinoza would yet force this meaning on the principles of Descartes—especially by means of the principle, or at least the assumption, involved in it—Omnis determinatio est negatio. This principle, though only incidentally stated by Spinoza, is, we are told, the whole of him. It certainly has been most profusely used by those who have followed him in the same line, and it is accepted by Hegel as virtually the principle of his own dialectic. It is necessary, therefore, somewhat fully to examine it in itself and its bearings. A precise analysis of its real meaning should help to settle the validity of a good many important applications of it. The Spinozistic line in relation to Descartes is mainly this,— that self-consciousness and extension as definite or positive attributes — as, in fact, implying limit — are necessarily negative of what is above and beyond themselves. In fact, they do not imply the presence of the real by being positive or definitely self-consciousness and extension. They, in this respect, rather imply the absence of the real. And it is only when limit or definiteness is removed from them that they become truly real. The true real is the infinite substance — rather, perhaps, the indeterminate. Accordingly, neither the self-conscious Ego nor the reality extension have any proper existence as individual substances or things. Whatever reality they may have is only a mode of that which has absolutely no limit, or more correctly, of that to which no limit has been assigned—the indeterminate.
1. The principle expressed in the phrase, Omnis determinatio est negatio is, as employed by Spinoza, identical with that of abstraction from limit. For the limit of the individual requires to be removed at each step of progress to the only true reality, the indeterminate substance. But before I examine this meaning of the phrase, it is necessary to consider it in its general signification, and to see especially how, since Hegel gave it its full development, it has been accepted by him and by writers of his school.
This principle of determination is explicitly stated in the Logic of Hegel (I quote from the Logic of the Encyclopædie), as far on as § 91, where, under Quality, he tells us that “the foundation of all determinateness is negation (as Spinoza says), Omnis determinatio est negatio.” Hegel has got by this time to Quality,— There and Then Being—as a stage in the deduction from Pure Being. It is necessary, therefore, to look back for a moment at the previous stages of the dialectical process, and to see how this principle is now stated for the first time. We have previously the pre-suppositionless stage of Pure Being, with its necessary implicate Naught or Non-Being, and the resumption of the two moments in Becoming. We have the whole pretension of the dialectic laid bare. We have the pre-suppositionless Pure Being; we have its necessary self-movement into its opposite, and the inter-connection of the moments summed up in Becoming; the pretension that those self-evolved determinations are the predicates of Being. Out of Becoming, as a fresh starting-point, we have the moment of Quality (Daseyn), determinate Being in Space, and Time,— Something (Etwas). This may be regarded as the first step of the dialectic in the region of definite cognizable reality. I do not at present propose to discuss those positions fully. If I did, the first question I should ask would be whether there is here an absolute pre-suppositionless beginning. I should certainly challenge the statement that pure Being as a thought is pre-suppositionless. Such a thought or concept is only intelligible in my consciousness; and the process, at least, must take place there as the abstraction from, and therefore the correlative of the concrete being which I already know, from a source different from pure thought. Hegel's pure Being is just as much a shot out of a pistol as Schelling's intuition of the absolute, which he so characterizes. The truth is, that pure being as a simple abstraction from the conditions of apprehended Being supposes an abstractor—an Ego, or thinker, whose thought also is a correlative condition of its possibility, and who, therefore, is at the beginning as much as the pure Being is. Take the basis of the system as pure Being, or as a concrete Some-being of consciousness, how is either of these guaranteed to us? We have seen what is the guarantee of Descartes. It is intuition regulated by non-contradiction. But what is the guarantee of Hegel's basis? Mere is, or being, is an abstraction from immediate consciousness. What guarantees this consciousness? What grasps this abstraction? Nothing whatever in his system. There is nothing to give the one; there is nothing to guarantee the other. He has thrown away the possibility of even holding the pure being as an abstraction: for it is an abstraction from subject and attribute — from self-consciousness and its act. The isness of pure Being is ex hypothesi, not deduced; it is as little guaranteed. It is the merest meaningless abstraction. On the other hand, reinstate self-consciousness and its act of abstraction: this act is a process of consciousness, as much as the act of doubt is; and the basis now is not mere Being, or pure thought; it is the very definite one of a self-conscious thinker, who is the ground of the abstraction and of the whole process of development, instead of being a stage or moment merely in the development. This self-consciousness is not deduced at least; and no guarantee can be found for it save intuition and non-contradiction.
2. I should deny, further, the thought of pure Being per se, as a beginning; or a point from which any movement of thought is possible. How can pure Being be supposed capable of movement, or of passing into Nothing, and thence gathering itself up into the unity called Becoming? Can the abstraction pure Being or mere Being as conceived by my intelligence, pass into anything to be otherwise named, or worthy of being so named, because of a difference between the two? This notion can pass into another notion, ex hypothesi, only from itself,—of its own power of motion. We are told that it does so pass, and it must so pass. How? Because it has in itself an inherent negation, it must negate itself,— place against itself its simple opposite or contradiction. It is not meanwhile explicitly said which of the two. Now I say in reply that the concept of pure Being — mere qualityless, indeterminate Being, is utterly inconsistent with the concept of any inherent necessity of negation or movement whatever. Movement and necessity of movement are determinations — qualities or predicates which are wholly incompatible with a purely indeterminate concept as a beginning. Pure Being is the mere Dead Sea of thought, and once in it there is no possibility from anything it contains of anything whatever different from itself, or worthy of being named as different, being evolved out of it. And if it is said that the mere concept of pure Being involves the concept of its opposite, non-Being, I say, in reply, in that case, the beginning was not from pure Being, but from the correlation of Being and non-Being, and there never was any movement or dialectical passage in the matter. When thus it is said, for example, that “pure thought” must issue in a world of space and time,— that it cannot rest in itself,— we have a virtual confession of the impossibility of conceiving “ pure thought “ per se, and therefore, of any progress or movement from it as a starting-point. The world of time, at least the singular or concrete, is necessary even to its existence as a consciousness at all from the very first. It means, in fact, that the universal side of knowledge cannot be realized or conceived per se, and as such cannot be the ground of any evolution. To tell us that “pure thought” is synthetic, is simply a form of words which covers the begging of the two points at issue,— first, whether there is pure thought to begin with, and whether pure thought can be qualified as synthetic or anything else. The real meaning of synthetic here is, that it expresses a relation already assumed between the universal and particular, while it is meant to suggest evolution or development of the latter out of the former.
3. Besides, to say this — that these two contradictories are involved in a concept — is to give up the professed problem of deducing the one from the other — that is, of solving the contradiction; it is to assume simply that the contradiction already exists, and that the concept embodying it is thinkable. The truth is, that so far as pure thought or pure Being is concerned, there is and can be no movement. The Becoming which is conjured up to express its completion is not a product of pure thought at all; and it might further be readily shown that this concept which is said to unite the opposites does not really do so. It has no unity for absolute Being and absolute non-Being. Nothing must always be less than Being. Becoming, moreover, is a concept which has meaning in relation to a definite experience, where a determinate germ or form of being rises to its own completeness or totality, as the seed to the tree. But it is wholly inapplicable as a notion to the abstractions Being and Not-Being — the falling of one abstraction into another, or the stating the same qualityless abstraction in different words, and deluding oneself that one has got different concepts even as moments.
4. But the pretension of the dialectic is, that there is here from the first an application of the movement of negation. Negation is the impulse of the whole dialectic; it is the means by which pure thought moves from its mere in-itselfness to the successive assertions or determinations of thought and being, to quality, quantity, substance, and so on. Now I challenge the dialectic in the first place with a double use, and an abuse, of the principle of negation. It is applied equally to the indeterminate and the determinate. It is, first of all, applied to the mere pure qualityless abstract of being. This is not even something, not an Etwas, it is not in this or that space of time — it is, to begin with, above relation and category of any sort, it is not compassable by the intuition of experience, or by the concept of the understanding. The question is, Can you apply to this the laws of identity and non-contradiction? Can you have either affirmation or negation in any proper meaning of those words? Can it be said that the mere indeterminate, call it Being or Thought, is identical with itself or different from another? Or can an opposite of any sort be put against it? The laws of identity and non-contradiction are well known as to their nature and essence. The nature of opposition, especially contradictory opposition, in any form, implies a definite or determinate to begin with. something is at least cognized; nay, besides quality in general, even definite attribute or class, ere the negation can have a definite application or real meaning at all. But how can the laws of identity and non-contradiction apply, when the alleged starting-point is wholly indeterminate, not even fixed as this or that? There is only the mere abstract is or isness; but this is in everything that is. It is thus impossible to negate except by the mere abstract is-not. And as the former is not yet applied to anything definite or determinate, not even to something, there is only a possible negation, or rather an abstract terminal formula, which we know cannot be applied to two definite concepts at once, but which is as yet applied to neither. This is a purely hypothetical formula; there is as yet no actual negation, for there is as yet not even this or that to which such a formula can be applied. The purely indeterminate cannot be actually negated, for the reason that the negation is as much the indeterminate as the so-called positive is; and, therefore, there is nothing to oppose it either as contrary or contradictory.
The delusion thus propagated by the Hegelian logic is, that this vague notion of being,— this mere indefinitude — In fact, even mere qualityless being,— has in itself a power of development. It has really nothing of the sort. We rise out of it through a definite and accumulating experience — not through a logical or rational development. This indefinite is mere extension — mere generalized empty width, — and unless experience of differences or differenced things come to our aid, it will remain the same vague indefinite for ever to us. The facts or details of our experience or knowledge cannot be filled up by any deduction from mere is or isness,— even from knowing that something is. It is predicable of those different facts or details; but they cannot be evolved from it. In other words, the things or kinds of things in the universe must be known quite otherwise than by mere inference from our first knowledge. This source of knowledge is simply a successive and varying experience, having nothing in common with the is or isness of the starting-point, except that such an element is involved in each new experience. And even though is gave the thought of difference, — the is-not,— this would imply no real being or possibility of advance. This is but a mere ideal negation, which a bad logic galvanizes into a positive or reality.
5. But it may be supposed that the dialectic reaches stronger ground when it comes down to Quality or Determinate Being. Here it is emphatically proclaimed that Omnis determinatio est negatio,—that every determination not only implies but is literally negation.
Let us hear how Hegel himself states the point:— “Quality, as existing determinateness in contrast to the negation which is contained in it, but is distinguished from it, is Reality. Negation, which is no longer an abstract nothing, but a There Being and Something, is only form in this; it is other Being. Quality, since this other Being is its proper determination, yet, in the first instance, distinct from it, is Being for another,— a width of Determinate Being, of Somewhat. The Being of Quality as such, contrasted with this reference connecting it with another, is Being-in-itself.” “The foundation,” he adds, “of all determinateness is negation (as Spinoza says Omnis determinatio est negatio).”
Again: “Being firmly held as distinct from determinateness, the In-itself Being, were only the empty abstraction of Being. In There-Being, determinateness is one with its Being, which at the same time, posited as negation, is bound, limit. Accordingly Other-being is not an equal or fellow external to being, but is its own proper moment. Something is, through its quality, first finite, second alterable, so that finitude and alterableness belong to its being.”
6. Now we know two kinds of negation, and if Hegelianism knows a third, let it vindicate it articulately. In the first case, we have pure or simple logical negation. We can deny what a concept holds or affirms absolutely or merely, without putting anything whatever in its place. We can negate A by not-A,— one by none,— some by none,— and the result is zero. We can negate, on the other hand, by a positive concept which yet is opposed to the positive concept with which we start, and which we place in negative relation to it. We can negate pleasure by pain,— green by red,— and so on. This is real as compared with formal negation. Now, which is used by the Hegelian dialectic? Obviously not the former, — not the purely logical negation; and therefore the progress of the dialectic is not of pure thought at all in even a subordinate sense of that term. Absolute logical negation leaves nothing in its place. The Something—the Etwas,—being negated, leaves no positive in the shape of Other. It leaves merely the ideal concept not anything — or nothing, if you chose. The something is thus a positive against a mere negation; but by a trick of language it is sought to contrast this is or something, with an other or positive being. This is unwarrantable. other or another is not the proper negative of Something or Somewhat; this negative is none, or not-any. This is mere negation, not position at all. That the opposite of Somewhat is more than a mere negation is simply an assumption of the point at issue. “ Limit in so far as negation of something is not abstract non-being in general, but a non-being which is, or that which we call other.” The questions for the dialectic here are the possibility of movement from Some to Other, and the nature of the Other as compared with the Some or Something. This passage is operated wholly by negation,— by the negation of the immanent, ever pressing on movement of the conditioning thought or concept passing into negation. And every determination is negation. But the is-not is no development of is; there is no motion or progress from the one to the other; there is simple paralysis of all motion; and there is as little possibility of any medium either between or above them. As David Hume pointed out, this is the true or absolute contradiction. The dialectic at the earliest stage, and especially later in the case of Quality, assumes what it ought to prove,— nay, what is unprovable,— that the negation of a positive is always and necessarily itself a positive. Thought is thus baptized synthetic: and this is deemed a sufficient basis for the construction of the universe.
But let us take the other form of negation,— that of mere opposition or contrariety. This we know well. Here we negate one affirmative concept by another affirmative concept. We negate the Somewhat by Some Other. We negate red by green,—black by white,— square by round, — and so on. Now we have got beyond the formalism of the something and the opposite,— the position and the mere negation. We are now dealing with definite concepts of some thing and other thing. But how do we get the some other, or positive, which in this relation we set in opposition to our original positive? Can we get it by pure negation? This has been shown to be impossible. All that negation implies is the relative assertion of nonexistence or non-reality. This implies nothing positive. If, therefore, we set positive against positive as in real or contrary opposition, we oppose one concept to the first, which does not flow from that first by negation. In fact, we are now dealing with species under a genus,— with the results of intuition, experience, and classification,— results only possible, in the first instance, through the negative regulation of the logical laws of identity and non-contradiction; and we are setting positive concept against positive concept, of which pure thought knows nothing and can say nothing. We are now really in the sphere of space and time. Here if we negate one member of the constituted class by another equally positive we know both members independently. But we can negate even under contraries when we are ignorant of the precise positive opposite. It is enough if the positive concept be opposed to some one of its possible opposites, for I may quite well say, the thing spoken of is not this particular species under the genus; it is some one of them, yet I do not know which. The sum is either 10, or 12, or 15, or 20. I know it is not lower than the first, nor higher than the last; which I cannot say. A definite opposite goes quite beyond pure negation; it is a simple matter of experience, and experience alone. So that, strictly considered, even real or contrary opposition does not of itself imply a definite contrary concept; the negation of a positive concept, when already subsumed under a class, implies only the possibility of its being found in some concept or other under the sphere of that class.
From this we may gather the following as the rules of determination:—
- a.Determination is the condition of negation; there is no actual negation unless in relation to actual determination. Negation, therefore, as a moment of progress or movement, cannot follow the purely indeterminate. The formula is and is-not, here, is but a terminal abstract, and indicates only the possible or hypothetical application of the relation to content not yet supplied. The so-called movement on the principle of negation of Pure Being into Pure Nothing is meaningless.
- b.A determination does not imply a greater negation than is requisite to preserve its reality as an affirmation. This applies both to contradictories and to contraries — e. g., Contradictory, as one and none; contrary, as veracity and untruthfulness, or the ideal exclusion of the violation of the law of truth-speaking. This obviously holds in relation to contraries, where there is a limitation to certain possible members of a class. Hence it is erroneous to maintain that every (indeed any) negation is necessarily as positive as the affirmation or determination.
7. The doctrine thus maintained by Hegel, under the category of quality, that every determinate being or object of thought leads directly to that which is the other, or negation of itself, is erroneous. But it is not less a mistake to maintain that every determinate object of experience is what it is, only because it is not something else. This doctrine is not correct because a determinate object of space and time — say hardness or resistance — is not what it is mainly or only because it is not its opposite, contradictory or contrary. On the contrary, the opposite, whether contradictory or contrary, is merely a limitative concept in respect of its positive reality, and lies necessarily in a different sphere, or one negatively related to it. The reality of the object does not depend on its not being in the other sphere; but the existence of this sphere is relative to the previously determinate character of the object. This determinate character it has obtained as the definite effect of a definite cause. Otherwise, we should have the absurdity that the whole contents of space and time could be determined, not by science or inductive research, but by the negation successively of determinate objects; and as in the case of real opposition, this negation might be many and various, we might have the most conflicting results vaunted as equally the results of necessary deduction. Nay, in every case the determinate would be explained by what is the very opposite of its nature, as resistance by non-resistance, and sentiency by insentiency. The fallacy here consists in assuming that mutually exclusive concepts are, as correlative, identical, whereas they are simply limitative. This fallacy pervades nearly the whole logic of Hegel. It comes out transparently in his doctrine of Essence, and in the deduction of Difference from Identity.
It is, further, assumed in this doctrine that a concept, as possessed of definite qualities, is not an object even of thought or meaning, unless in so far as the concept of the negation of those qualities gives them reality in thought; whereas the reverse is true,—the negative conception is conditioned by the positive, and has itself no meaning unless in relation to that positive. The negation subsists through the positive; not the positive through it. In the case particularly of contrary opposition, while the positive concept is one and definite, there may be many negations of it,— e. g., green may be equally negated by red, black, or blue. But its reality as a concept does not depend on our knowledge of which of these is its counterposed negative.
8. Closely connected with this is another sense of the principle Omnis determinatio est negatio. And it is this sense in which it is brought especially to bear on the first principle of Descartes. It is assumed as the character of determination itself that it is a negation,— a negation of something or some concept preceding it, really or logically. This meaning of the principle seems to be common alike to Spinoza and Hegel; and it is necessary to enable them to force on Descartes the meaning which it is averred his system truly bears — viz, that the real is not to be found in the determinate of our experience, but in that higher sphere of which it is simply a negation. Spinoza illustrates the principle by reference to Body. But the results can hardly be said to justify us in carrying it further. To know matter as it really is, we must abstract from any limit which it possesses. It is figured, for example; but Spinoza tells us that this is a mere negation. It must therefore be got rid of. Matter viewed infinitely or indefinitely can have no limit; limit belongs only to finite or determinate bodies—that is, they are defective in possessing limit at all. They are not truly matter. Matter is the non-figured. The fallacy here is not far to seek. Matter in space is seen by me only as it exists, a colored and extended surface, limited by coadjacent color and extension. Difference of color is necessary to our apprehension of figure in material bodies, and of difference of figures. If I could suppose that there is no color in bodies, there would of course be no difference of color, so therefore no difference of figure. But with the absence of figure, would matter remain matter to our vision? or with the entire absence of extended limit, or limit to touch, would matter remain matter to touch? Does the taking away of the limit or amount of extension which a body possesses, leave or render that body indefinite or infinite in extension? Does the taking away this limit in succession from all the bodies of my experience leave or render these indefinitely or infinitely extended? There cannot be greater misconception than in supposing this. The true residuum in such a case is not body infinitely extended, it is simply the non-extended; for with the extinction of the limit to the extension of the body—say a red line with beginning and end — there is extinction absolutely of the extension which I perceive or can know in the circumstances; that is, there is the extinction in every case of the given body altogether. The residuum is a mere blank indeterminate for thought.
But take this principle generally. Let us see its issue. We have to abstract from the limits of the finite, and the residuum is the real—the infinite. It is indeed the only reality; the finite is only apparent or illusory. Now, what is the residuum on such a process? The mere vague indeterminate of thought, and nothing more or else — the so-called substance, in fact, of Spinoza. Let the finite thing be my self-consciousness. I am conscious of an act of volition, at a given time. To know the reality, I have to abstract from the limits of this act. Volition is a limit; so is self, and so equally is consciousness; so also is my being at a given time: all these must be discarded, and what remains? No object of thought whatever. There is, if you choose, the vague possibility of thought. Because I cannot actually deprive myself of consciousness, but must always be supposed conscious of some process of thought even in abstracting from the limits of thought itself, this vague possibility of determination remains to me. But nothing actually is as an object of thought; for if all limits be supposed taken away, nothing can be predicated. I cannot now even say that the residuum is, for that would be a limit. I have now reached an absolutely vague form of the suspense of thought and knowledge itself. This may be called the infinite — it is simply the absence of thought and predication. It may be called reality, and the only reality— it would be better to call it nonsense.
9. To the Hegelian the substance of Spinoza is a pure indeterminate. The negation of the finite or of finite determination is held to be allowable and just, and with it the abolition of the distinctive character of the mind and body of our experience. But Spinoza's defect is, that he does not reach a proper first or whole. With him it is the absence of quality rather than the presence of Spirit. It is pure affirmation without negation; whereas it should be affirmation that necessarily negates itself by affirming the finite. It is a simple indeterminate or absence of determination; it ought to be that which is self-determining, the living individual whole or spirit, which manifests itself in all that is. But I maintain that this absolutely indeterminate is the true and logical residuum of the abstraction from all limit. This process will not yield a positive in any form. Finite self and consciousness being abstracted from, there can remain no infinite self and consciousness. For we are not here saying that the degree of the quality is increased, — as when we say that there is intelligence higher than our intelligence; but we are seeking to throw off limit and quality altogether. The very limit is a negation, —a negation of the unlimited. The void indeterminate cannot be filled up by the Infinite Spirit. Nor can we properly be said to have reached the knowledge of a whole which includes our self-consciousness as a part — whatever that may mean. This were simply to take up the discarded limits, the definite predicates of self and consciousness — and baptize them infinite self and consciousness. The abstraction must be done in good faith. Self, without or apart from limit, is to me no-self; and consciousness, unless as a definite consciousness, as a conscious act at a given time, is no consciousness. Self and consciousness may indeed be regarded as logical concepts. self and consciousness are capable of being thought by me as notions or as names for classes of things. But as such they have their limits or attributes; they are what they are, though determination and attribution, like other notions; and they are realizable by me only in connection with individual instances of them. This is a totally different position from the abstraction from their limits; in fact, it is impossible under such an abstraction. The residuum, accordingly, of this abstraction is not an infinite self or self-consciousness; it is simply a vague indeterminate, which is neither thought nor being, and which is possible at all or conceivable only because while abstracting from all limits I surreptitiously retain the limits of self-consciousness and thought. To call this a whole in which I am included as a part, is to apply an illegitimate analogy. Whole and part imply limitation as much as finite self-consciousness does; and we are not entitled to seek to express the absolute abstraction from all limits by correlation or limitation.
It may, of course, be said that abstraction from the limits of the Ego of consciousness gives us the notion of an Ego in general. The Ego of my consciousness is an individual embodiment of the notion of a universal Ego. By abstracting from limits — that is, considering me as but an Ego — or one of the Egos, I get to the universal notion — Ego, the Ego. “I” is predicable of me; it is predicable of others, it is predicable of God. But what then becomes of the individuality which is attributed to the infinite Ego, or infinite self-consciousness? How can “I,” the individual, be in any sense a part or manifestation of this infinite Ego, if “I” and “He” are but exemplifications of a common notion?
10. There is a sense, no doubt, in which we must suppose that finite self-consciousness is related to something beyond itself. As a reality in time, it has relations to other points of being in time; and we must go back to a ground of it, either in or above temporal conditions. But the question at present is not whether this be so or not; or whether we can reach a solution of this problem; but whether in the way indicated we do or can connect or identify our finite self-consciousness with what is here called an, or the, Infinite self-consciousness.
The main objection to this view has been anticipated in the criticism of the principle of determination involving negation. If in affirming my self-consciousness, I necessarily and knowingly negate an infinite self-consciousness by imposing a limit upon it, I must be first of all conscious of this infinite self-conscious being. He is necessarily first in the order of my knowledge. Negation means previous, at least conditioning, affirmation. Conscious limitation means a previous consciousness of the absence of limit. I can only consciously impose limit on that which had no limit, by knowing first of all the unlimited.
Now this reduces the whole process to absurdity and self-contradiction. If I know this infinite self-consciousness which I negate in asserting myself, I must know both before I know and before I am. My knowledge no longer begins with me being conscious, but with me being conscious not of, but as, an infinite self-consciousness, and that when as yet I am not distinguished from it as either existent or conscious. Or do I distinguish myself from this infinite self-consciousness when I know it? Then what becomes of its infinity? And how then am I a mere negation of it or a moment of it? Am I identified with the primary consciousness of it? Then what becomes of me and my knowledge? And how can I be said to negate this infinite self-consciousness which I am in order that I may be?
But the truth is, that if every determination is a negation of a previous determination, there never was any determination at all to begin with. Knowledge or determination never could have a beginning; for as any given determination is only a negation of another determination, and dependent on this other, every determination is a negation. But the negation at the same time, needs a determination as a condition of its existence — that is, it needs what, by the very conditions of the probblem, is impossible. Such a statement implies not only the non-commencement of knowledge—it implies the very subversion of the conception of knowledge; for it ends in identifying affirmation and negation—. i. e., in pure non-determination.
II. But what, it may be asked, is the moral bearing of such a doctrine? In order to get the truly real, the first limit that must disappear here is our own individuality; we are no longer truly one; we are not really distinguished from the infinite substance as individuals; we have no independent existence or reality. But take away the notion with which we delude ourselves that we have an existence in any way distinct from the substance of all, and a good deal else must go. Good and evil, freedom, responsibility, all these must disappear with our personality. It is because we think ourselves as distinct from the substance which is identified with God, that we are conscious of doing the right or the wrong, have merit or demerit. But we may give up these thoughts altogether; they have no reality; we need not trouble ourselves either about good or evil, pity or repentance, pride or humility. They are all the same in reality. Personality as a limitation is a mere negation, is unreal; the only true reality is the unlimited substance. To it all personality is indifferent; to it also necessarily is all good and evil; these are mere temporary limitations of its development. Regarded from the finite point of view, good and evil are delusively distinguished; but these seeming differences disappear the moment they are contemplated from the point of view of the infinite substance. All that is, is alike to it; all is equally what it is; there is really ultimately no difference of right or wrong in the one — that is, in the universe.
As for the abolition of the temporal distinction of good and evil, and their identification in the absolute one or substance, all that need be said is, that whatever be the ultimate solution of the mystery of good and evil—whether absorption or sublimation, or elevation of moral will in the universe — this Spinozistic solution is obviously none. It is the mere audacity of reckless assertion to say that there is neither good nor evil in time — that neither temporally is real; it is a misconception, moreover, to suppose that abstraction of the differences between good and evil really identifies them; the result is not identification, but the destruction of each in thought; for the difference being abstracted, neither remains to be identified with the other. And that they are the same in or to the eternal substance, is only vindicable on the supposition that this substance is neither intelligent nor moral, but a name for the suspension of both functions.
II. But ft may be worth while, in closing this section, to look for a moment at the correction and supplement of Spinoza, as put by Hegel himself. “Germany,” as Trendelenburg tells us, “knows the formula by heart that Hegel's great merit is that he defines God as a subject, in contradistinction to Spinozism, which defines him as a substance.” “Substance,” says Hegel, “is the principle of the philosophy of Spinoza. But this principle is incomplete. Substance is doubtless an essential moment of the development of the idea; but it is nevertheless not the idea itself; it is the idea under the limited form of necessity. God is without doubt necessity or the absolute thing, but he is also a person, and to this Spinoza has not risen. Spinoza was a Jew, and he placed himself at the oriental point of view, according to which all that which is finite only appears as transitory and passing. The defect of his system is the absence of the Western principle of individuality which first appeared in a philosophical form, contemporaneously with Spinoza, in the monadology of Leibnitz.”
The points of the deduction are these:—
- 1.The tie which connects things, which causes a thing to enter into actuality as soon as its conditions are fulfilled, is Necessity.
- 2.This Necessity, considered in itself, is Substance — the point of view of Spinoza.
- 3.But substance, as absolute power, is determined in relation to Accident. It thus operates—becomes Causality.
- 4.Substance is thus cause, inasmuch as, passing into accident, it is reflected upon itself, and thus becomes the original thing (ursprüngliche Sache—i.e., thing presupposed in the effect).
- 5.The effect is distinguished from the cause; but this distinction, as immediate or posited, is to be abolished. Because the cause operates, there is another substance— the effect — upon which the action happens. This, as substance, acts in opposition, or reacts on the first substance. There is action and reaction. Causality passes into the relation of Reciprocity of action.
- 6.The self-dependence of the substance thus issues in several self-dependents, and thus the generated, like the generating, is substance; and because causes and effects act and react, these are self-balancing. Effects are causes. The substance thus remains in this change-relation, identical with itself. And herein lies the truth,— the conciliation of Necessity and Freedom.
In other words, substance regarded simply in relation to its attributes or accidents is a necessary or fatal relation; regarded as cause operating effect, it is free or attains to freedom, because what it produces necessarily is from itself and identical with itself, is itself cause, and thus remains “with itself.” Substance in relation to accidents is out of itself, or in relation to what is out of itself; but substance as cause in relation to its effect is as thus cause identical with itself, and yet combines self-identity with development.
There is hardly a statement in this series, or a link of connection, which might not be properly challenged. What does the whole amount to but an identification of the relation of substance and accident with that of cause and effect? But apart from this, what is the identity introduced? Simply the identity or rather proportional energy of substance as cause with effect as determined result. Is this identity of substantial cause with itself? Will any one maintain that this is so in relation to physical transmutation, or in relation to mental manifestation? Is it so in any act of volition? Then what is the sense, if there is any coherent meaning at all, in the position that accident or effect is cause in respect of the substance or cause by which it is produced? Does the reflection or so-called reaction of an effect on its cause constitute it a cause in respect of its own cause? Substances may generate other substances, and causes other causes; but these are so not in respect of their own substances or causes, but in respect of the accidents or effects which in their turn follow from them. This is simply a specimen of the common Hegelian fallacy that correlatives, as mutually reflecting upon or implying each other, are identical. This, though really the vital point of the whole Logic, referring as it does to the development of Spirit, is about the worst and weakest specimen of so-called deduction in the system.
This process is brought forward as the true generative or creative process of the universe of God and Man. The theory has advanced on Spinoza; it has introduced negation, superseded his pure affirmation, and solved the problems of the infinite and finite,—of Liberty and Necessity. Substance has now become subject or spirit; it is on the eve of passing into, or rather has in it the power of, the Concept (Begriff), which posits in itself differences which return to unity with itself.
The process, moreover, is not only the way in which we may best think of God, but it is God — God passing before us in the creation of himself and the universe. He is thus far on his way to his true being, in the complete realization of the process, in which, starting from the primeval nothing, he creates himself and the universe by a series of nots by which he is sustained and enriched.
He is Substance developed into Cause, and thus into Concept and so regarded as conscious subject or spirit. He operates, and in the operation remains identical with himself. But how is either consciousness, freedom, or purpose provided for here? Substance is under a necessity of passing into cause, and cause again into effect, which is counter-cause. What is there here beyond fatal evolution? If substance merely produces substance and cause cause, what provision is there here for consciousness or purpose? Have we yet come to subject or spirit? Have we yet come to, or made the least approach to, a unity of self-consciousness which is identical with itself, or have we the slightest provision for conscious end or purpose in the development? What sort of freedom, moreover, is that which is compatible with fatal emanation, provided only the spring or source of that emanation be either substance or cause itself, and the process of emanation necessary? Is this the highest kind of freedom, or the freedom which we are to attribute to Deity? It is infinitely short of the notion of freedom in our own experience. “ In necessary emanation all is virtually predetermined, and freedom, though proclaimed the essence of spirit, is necessity for the individual.” It is the freedom of which the material mass would be conscious, if it were conscious at all, when let loose from the tie which bound it to the height it descended to the earth. Or, as Trendelenburg has well put it: “Freedom, a grand word, has thus in this relation no other content than this comfort of the substance, that the upspringing are still substances, and the effects as working against are again causes. This relation is the most abstract reflection everywhere applicable, where anything moves. Who ever called it Freedom? Then were necessity even freedom, if the master strikes the slave; for therein are they identical that both are substances; and the slave who gives up his back is operating in this opposite action, as the master in the first cause.”
Hegelian Criticism — The Ego and the Infinite.
The attempt to Hegelianize Descartes seeks to correct him in what he said, and to bring out what he meant to say, or at least ought to have said. It refers, of course, particularly in the first instance, to his Cogito ergo sum. That has to get a new meaning, or at least aspect, before it can be accepted as final or sufficient. Let us see how the thing is to be managed. The scope, sense, and guarantee of the first principle have already been explained. What is the Hegelian view?
We are told, in Hegelian language, that the Cogito ergo sum is not a sufficiently deep or primary basis of philosophy. A mere certainty is not enough. The certainty must be primary, nothing actually, but all things potentially. The certainty which it gives does not lie at the root of things. It implies a dualism of thought and being; we must therefore go beyond it to something more fundamental. Philosophy “must penetrate to a stage where thought and being are one — to the absolute unity of both, which precedes their disruption into the several worlds of Nature and Mind. It must show us the very beginning of thought, before it has come to the full consciousness of itself.”
Now whence is this must, this necessity of penetration to an absolute unity, whatever that may mean? How is that, when we are supposed to be seeking a beginning of philosophy, we are able dogmatically to lay down its prerequisites in this fashion? Have we already a philosophy of what a philosophy ought to be? In that case, how can we be supposed to be seeking the beginning of any philosophy? Surely it is more in accordance with all rules of sound scientific and philosophical procedure to see whether we can go backward or upward to this unity, after we have studied the facts and the conceptions which they involve, than to assume that there must be such an absolute unity for philosophy; and further, that we must be able to know it, and to demonstrate all forms of reality from it as a common basis. What is this but to assume, at the outset, a particular solution of the great problem of philosophy, while a more modest and circumspect method would expect such a solution, whatever its nature might be only at the end, and after careful inquiry?
1. One is anxious to know precisely the points of the proof for this Hegelian representation of the imperfection of Descartes' doctrine and the necessity of its own. There seem to be two main grounds of proof. These are two statements or principles, which are given in a somewhat dogmatic fashion, as apparently self-evident. For it is a characteristic of this pre-suppositionless philosophy that it more than any other makes assumptions without proffering either proof or warrant of them. The one alleged principle is that, “to be conscious of a limit is to transcend it.” Or, more particularly, we are to identify “the consciousness of self as thinking with transcending the limits of its own particular being, and so with the consciousness or idea of God.” “Self-consciousness has a negative element in it,— that is, something definite, and therefore limited.” This is a statement of the principle, and also a hint of its immediate application. The other principle is the well-known Spinozistic aphorism that determination is negation,— Omnis determinatio est negatio.
The two principles now mentioned very closely coincide. The negation refers to the qualities of individual objects; the abstractions from limits refers to things as in space and time, or to things as bounded. As quality is itself a determination, it is a limit. In order to get at what is truly real, we have to abstract from the actual limits of individuals,—nay, we have ultimately to abstract from all limit whatever and we shall find the only true reality in what is then called the Infinite. Hegel is credited with bringing out explicitly the principles which governed the thought of Spinzoa.
2. The so-called principle Omnis determinatio est negatio has already been sufficiently exposed. Let us look now at the other generality which is vaunted as a principle, and, the ground of advanced philosophy. It is thus Hegel himself states the principle:—
“The knowledge which we have of a limit, shows that we already overleap the limit; it shows our infinity. The things of nature are finite by this even, that limit does not exist for them, but only for us who compare them with each other. We are finite when we receive a contrary into consciousness. But we overleap this limit in the knowledge even which we have of that contrary (other). It is only the unconscious being (der Unwissende) that is finite, for it is ignorant of its limit. On the other hand, every being which knows limit knows the limit as not a limit of its knowledge, but as an element of which it has consciousness, as an element that belongs to the sphere of its knowledge. It is only the being unknown (or of which there is no consciousness) that could constitute a limit of knowledge; while that known limit is by no means a limit of knowing. Consequently, to know one's own limit is to know one's own illimitability. Meanwhile, when we conceive spirit as unlimited, as truly infinite, we ought not to conclude that the limit is in no way in the spirit, but rather to recognize that spirit ought to determine itself, and therefore to limit itself and place itself in the sphere of the finite. Only the understanding is deceived when it considers this finitude as insurmountable, and the difference of limit and infinity as absolutely irreconcilable, and when, conformably to this conception, it pretends that spirit is finite or infinite. Finitude, seized in its reality is, as we have just said, in infinity. The limit is in the unlimited; and consequently spirit is not infinite or finite, but as well the one as the other. The spirit remains infinite in its finitude, for it suppresses its finitude. In it nothing has an existence fixed and isolated, but all is found idealized, all passes and is absorbed in its unity. It is thus that God, because he is Spirit, must determine himself, posit in him finitude (otherwise he would be only a void and dead abstraction); but as the reality which he gives himself in determining himself is a reality which is completely adequate to him, God, in determining himself, becomes in no way a finite Being. Limit is not then in God and in the Spirit, but it is placed (posited) by the Spirit in order that it may be suppressed. It is only as moment that finitude can appear in the Spirit and remain there; for by its ideal nature the Spirit raises itself above it, and knows that limit is in no way a limit insuperable for it. This is why it overpasses it, and frees itself from it. And this deliverance is not as the understanding represents it, a deliverance that is never accomplished, an indefinite effort toward the infinite, but a deliverance in which the spirit frees itself from this indefinite progress, completely effaces its limit or its contrary, and raises itself to its absolute individuality and its true infinity.”
Again; “To be annulled by and in its contrary there is the dialectic which makes the finitude of preceding spheres. But it is the Spirit, the notion, the eternal in itself which effaces this image (simulacrum) of existence, in order to accomplish within itself the annihilation of the appearance.”
We find the principle of this passage repeated in Hegelian literature as apparently not requiring proof. We are told that “to know a limit as such is to be in some sense beyond it;” “the consciousness of a limit implies the consciousness of something beyond it;” and as applied to reality, it is said to follow that “the dualism of mind and matter is not absolute, and thought transcends the distinction while it recognizes it.” We find it asserted that “if the individual is to find in his self-consciousness the principle of all knowledge, there must be something in it which transcends the distinction of self and not-self, which carries him beyond the limit of his own individuality.” Subjective consciousness passes into objective in the consciousness of God. “ It is because we find God in our own minds that we find anything else.” Finally, the result of the doctrine of the transcending of limit is that “our consciousness of God is but a part of God's consciousness of himself, our consciousness of self and other things is but God's consciousness of them, and there is no existence either of ourselves or other beings except in this consciousness.”
3. As applied to the Cartesian position, the correction it yields may be summed up as follows: —
The being conscious, or the finite, is an illusion or pure negation, if me-being or me-conscious is viewed as a being or reality in itself, and having an existence distinct from, or even in opposition to, a non-self in the form either of God or Matter — extension. I conscious do not exist apart from my being consciously God himself— an infinite self-consciousness—or at least a part of him, or an individual included under him as a part of his consciousness in which I partake. It does not seem to be affirmed that I, the individual conscious Being, am really God, in the sense of being convertible absolutely with his Being or consciousness. He passes in me and over me, if he does not trample me out. I am affirmed, however, to be a part or a moment in his consciousness, whatever that may mean; so that I cannot be conscious of myself without being conscious that, so far as I am conscious, I am God, or his consciousness is my consciousness, or my consciousness is his; only my being conscious does not exhaust his consciousness. The moment, however, that I conceit myself as anything but an indissoluble part of the consciousness of God, I deceive myself, raise illusion to the rank of reality. The only reality is the Infinite; and I am in his development. That is all I can lay claim to. This is true also of all the individual consciousnesses of the universe; they are not really individual consciousness in the sense of being consciousnesses separate from the Divine consciousness; they are simply moments in his consciousness: his consciousness is theirs, and theirs is his. The Divine wave of consciousness flows through all humanity—indeed through all the universe; for the different ascending stages of being are but moments in the Divine consciousness as it moves upward and onward from its dim unconscious potentiality to self-consciousness in man, and to the transcending of things in the absolute Spirit, which, in knowing itself to be all, is all.
Several questions thus at once arise. The first of these is the historical one as to whether it is the doctrine of Descartes. This comes very much to inquiring as to whether his statements, collateral with his main principle, give reasonable hints of it.
I. There can, I think, be little doubt that this identification of finite self-consciousness and an infinite self-consciousness, or consciousness of Deity, is a totally different conception from that of Descartes. He no doubt holds, that alongside the finite self-consciousness there is an idea of the Infinite—an idea which is positive, which possesses more reality than the idea of the finite. This idea is suggested to us, or it arises into actual consciousness, through the conception of our own finitude, limitation, or imperfection. It is, in fact, the correlate of the intuition of self and its limitations; but it is not, in Descartes' view, an intuition of being, as our self-consciousness is; it is not, properly speaking, a consciousness of being at all; it is not, as it has been improperly regarded, the consciousness of God on the same level with the consciousness of self — it is simply an objective or representative idea in the consciousness of the finite being. The idea and the reality of God are so far from being identical, that the principle of Casuality is called in by Descartes to infer the Being from the Idea. There is no identification here of the finite self-consciousness as an intuition with the idea even, far less with that which is totally separate from the idea — the Being or consciousness of Deity. We could not properly, on the Cartesian doctrine, even speak of the consciousness of God, as we can of the consciousness of ourself; for, in the latter case, we are the reality — in the former we are not even face to face with it.
1. But Descartes makes a further statement on this point. He tells us that the idea of the Infinite is not only positive, but “in some sense prior” to the consciousness of the finite — to my self-consciousness. This, of course, would be contradictory to his main doctrine, that self-consciousness is the first principle of knowledge, if we did not remember that the priority “in some sense” of which he here speaks, is the priority, not of actual consciousness, but of latency. He is giving, in fact, an instance of his doctrine of Innate Ideas. These, according to him, mean not ideas actually elicited into consciousness, but ideas somehow prior to and conditioning our actual consciousness, while appearing in it. And the idea of the Infinite had, according to Descartes, a special claim to be regarded as innate, because, unlike the ideas of sense, it was not dependent for its actuality on physical conditions. This was not, however, a priority of knowledge, but of potentiality or latency. This statement cannot, therefore, be relevantly adduced as proving actual knowledge before finite or self-conscious knowledge.
2. We fortunately have a perfectly precise explanation of the matter by Descartes himself: “I say,” he tells us in explanation, “that the notion which I have of the infinite is in me before that of the finite; for this reason, that from this alone, that I conceive being or that which is, without thinking whether it is finite or infinite, it is infinite being which I conceive; but in order that I may be able to conceive a finite being, it is necessary that I retrench something from this general notion of being, which consequently ought to precede.”
Two things are clear from this: a. That Descartes confused the mere indeterminate of thought, what is as yet not laid down as either infinite or finite, with the true conception of infinity, b. That he cannot be cited as having consequently countenanced the doctrine that the finite is a mere negation of the infinite; for the simple reason that he was not speaking of the true infinite, or of what he in other places described as such. The finite might, as a determinate notion, be a step further than the mere state of non-predication; but it cannot be represented as in any proper sense of the term a negation, far less a negation of the infinite. And certainly it is ludicrous to say, in such a case, that the so-called infinite or indeterminate has more reality than the finite or determinate. It is truly void of any attribute or predicate whatever.
3. But if we look at the matter closely, we shall see that there is no true contradiction in the two positions of Descartes, that knowledge begins with the Cogito ergo sum, and that in a sense the idea of God is in us prior to the intuition of the Ego cogitans. For he quite distinctly regards the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God as of two different orders. In the one case we have an intuition,— the reality is in consciousness, in a sense the reality is the consciousness. The knowing and the known are for the time convertible. In the other case, we are distinct from the reality; we know it only representatively or by idea; the existence of the object is not the idea of it, the idea even is not commensurate with the reality. And whatever be the mode in which we may reach a guarantee of the reality itself, this is not by direct knowledge or intuition of it, as in the case of the Ego cogitans. The direct knowledge of the conscious ego is actually the first.
4. It ought to be observed that while Descartes holds the idea of the infinite to be true, real or positive, and to be “clear and distinct,” he does not hold it to be adequate or commensurate with the reality. He holds, in fact, along with these positions, that the infinite is incomprehensible by us. Nothing can be more explicit than his statement on this point: —
“The idea of a being supremely perfect and infinite is in the highest degree true; for although, perhaps, we may imagine that such a being does not exist, we cannot, nevertheless, suppose that his idea represents nothing real, as I have already said of the idea of cold. It is likewise clear and distinct in the highest degree, since, whatever the mind clearly and distinctly conceives as real and true, and as implying any perfection, is contained entire in this idea. And this is true, nevertheless, although I do not comprehend the infinite, and although there may be in God an infinity of things which I cannot comprehend, nor perhaps even compass by thought in any way, for it is of the nature of the infinite that it should not be comprehended by the finite; and it is enough that I rightly understand this, and judge that all which I clearly perceive, and in which I know there is some perfection, and perhaps also an infinity of properties of which I am ignorant, are formally or eminently in God, in order that the idea I have of him may become the most true, clear, and distinct of all the ideas in my mind.”
Our knowledge thus is so far from being identical with the being of God or the Infinite that it is not even adequate to the reality of that being. The being of the Infinite may be a consciousness, but it is not our consciousness, nor is ours related to it as the part to the whole, or in any way necessary to it. God is to Descartes “ a substance infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, by which I myself, and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created.” But our knowledge of him is not adequate to his actual infinity or reality; it is, in fact, but an analogical knowledge, which does not contain all that he is or may be, and which can at the best grasp his perfections not formally but eminently.
So far, then, as the doctrine of Descartes itself is concerned, there is no proof that he in any way identified the finite and infinite consciousness. At the very time that he says there is greater reality in the idea of the Infinite than in that of the Finite, and that the former is in some sense prior to the latter, he distinctly infers an actual Infinite, who is the cause of the Idea in the finite, and thus makes as complete a dualism as if he had laid down the material non-ego as an object of direct perception. The true dualism of Descartes is that between the finite and infinite, the imperfect and the perfect; and this is as repugnant to Hegelianism as a dualism between thought and extension.
II. But the question arises — Can such a doctrine as this be made self-consistent? Is it coherent, or even intelligible?
1. Being is consciousness — these are convertible. My consciousness is, and it is not. It is not while I think it as mine; but when I conceive it as also the consciousness, infinite consciousness, of God, it is. The infinite consciousness or consciousness of God is, and it is not. It is not apart from my consciousness; it is when I am conscious. Infinite consciousness and finite consciousness thus exist only as they exist in each other. They are not co-factors — for neither is real by itself; but each is real in relation to the other. In fact, reality is in neither of the co-factors; each taken by itself is an illusion; but let the infinite go out into the finite, or let the finite rise to the infinite, and both become real. There is just one slight difficulty about this doctrine, and it is this — that it gives up too much, and can get too little for its requirements. If the infinite consciousness is by itself an illusion, and the finite consciousness is by itself an illusion—a mere non-entity—how does the illusory infinite consciousness pass into or add on to itself the finite? and how does the illusory finite consciousness rise to the infinite? We must either suppose that the co-factors— the infinite and finite consciousness — had each an independent existence before they became one,—in which case their reality does not lie in their unity; or we must suppose that what was simply unreal and illusory had the power of becoming what is both real and true: or we must hold that there was something beyond them which constrained them to unite, or rather created them in union — in which case, however, there was being beyond consciousness.
2. Infinite self-consciousness is not (does not conceive itself to be), unless it is (or conceives itself to be) finite self-consciousness; finite self-consciousness is not, unless it is (or conceives itself to be) infinite self-consciousness. In bare formula, A is not, unless it is not-A (or B); not-A (or B) is not, unless it is A. Strictly taken, neither the one nor the other is; only if either is, the other is: if one is conceived, the other is conceived. Neither is by itself; both are, if they are at all. Up to this point, no statement is made except that of a hypothetically necessary relationship. Exception even might be taken to the validity of the alleged necessary relation. But waiving this meanwhile, the question now is — Can this hypothetical relationship be realized or fulfilled? Do the terms of it not preclude the possibility of its absolute assertion? I hold that they do, and that the problem as put is ab initio null. We have merely a hypothetical see-saw. The one term—viz, finite self-consciousness—is not, unless it is the other term, infinite self-consciousness. There is, therefore, no starting-point for determination. If the one is not, until or unless it is the other, I can never say that either the one or the other is, or that they both are. If I had before me two exclusive alternatives, or even correlates, equally coexistent, I could absolutely say, This is, therefore the other is not; or, This is, therefore that is also. If it had been said infinite self-consciousness and finite self-consciousness are necessary correlatives, I could have concluded that, when I got the one I had the other. But if I say, as this formula does, the one is not unless it is the other, I can determine nothing. For my finite self-consciousness is not, until that infinite self-consciousness which is said to be inseparably it, is also; and so the infinite self-consciousness is not, until my finite self-consciousness which is inseparably it, is also. I must, therefore, always beg the very thing which I am called upon absolutely to establish, before I can assert or infer it. I shut myself up in an absolute petitio principii.
I do not exist only in the consciousness of God; and God does not exist only in my consciousness, and in the consciousness of other minds. I have not merely a universal existence; and God has not merely a distributive existence. At least these are propositions I am never able to affirm, for the reason that I can never ex hypothesi, even be until I am not myself, but God; and God can never be until he is not himself, but me. Or I can never be conscious until I am conscious as God; and God can never be conscious until he is conscious as me. I therefore can never know God's consciousness; and he can never know mine. As consciousness and being are identical, for the same reason neither God nor I can ever be.
3. But what precisely is the extent of the statement that my consciousness is God's consciousness, and God's consciousness is mine? Is this the human consciousness in all its modes or moods, thoughts, feelings, desires, volitions—in all their limitations and imperfections — in all their purity and impurity, their foulness and their fairness? Is this God's consciousness, at least temporally? Is it his consciousness passing through man? Then what sort of Divine consciousness is this? What of injustice, falsehood, and slander? Is this the Divine consciousness in man? At any rate, we need not deal much with its ethical results. These are tolerably apparent. Had we not better take refuge in Dualism? Or is it only that my consciousness is God's consciousness in the sense of logical or generic identity?—in the sense, that is, of the two consciousnesses being the same in essential character and feature? So that we know at least, as Ferrier put it, what God is, if we do not know that he is. In this case, we have no real identity or identity except in thought. We have the same identity which we have in any classification. But this implies a duality of perception or intuition. And we have not yet reduced all consciousness— i. e., all being—to one.
4. Although Hegelianism seeks to make the principle of non-contradiction of very little effect in its system of doctrine, we are at least, in the first instance, entitled to try any doctrine it advances by this principle. For I presume even Hegelianism, in establishing its own positions by proof, must in the first place assume these positions to be what they are alleged to be, and distinguish them from their contradictory opposites. Self-consistency, accordingly, must be postulated for any series of doctrines which even it may lay down. Otherwise perfectly opposite conclusions might be drawn from the same principle, and thus all reasoning and all consistency of thought be abolished. Now, applying this test merely, we have the me-being conscious, or the individual self-consciousness which we suppose we find by reflection in our experience pronounced to be ultimately only an illusion. It seems to us to be real. There is self with an attribute or series of attributes, which is distinguished by us from any infinite self-consciousness which we may chance to apprehend or know in any way, as it is distinguished from other individual self-consciousness, which we may find or conceive. If it be only individual or independent in appearance or seeming to itself, how can this seemingly illusory entity afford a process of proof or ground of reason for detecting the true reality, which it, considered as independent, is not? If my consciousness be in the first instance illusory, fortified as it is by the law of non-contradiction, regarding the nature and reality of my own being,—how can it be trustworthy, in the second place, regarding the true or ultimate reality of my own being and of this infinite self-consciousness? Let it be observed, consciousness is the only reality; there are not both consciousness and being in separation. These are one and the same. Well, the only consciousness I as yet know is my own; it asserts itself as such, and it is impossible for me to doubt it. It asserts, as is admitted, its own independent individuality, as opposed alike to the Infinite self-consciousness, to other individual finite self-consciousnesses; but in doing so, it deceives itself. Can it any longer, after that, be accepted as a reasonable trustworthy ground for determining the true reality? Can the illusory consciousness be trusted to rise to the true infinite abiding self-consciousness? Such a deceitful consciousness is obviously too rotten a foundation on which to build either philosophy or theology.
5. But it may be said the Idea here comes to our aid, the idea in the march of “the immanent dialectic.” This comes in to correct the ordinary consciousness, which is irreflective and superficial. It seems clear that the consciousness of individuality, of which we here speak, though common, has been dealt with by Descartes and others in neither an irreflective nor a superficial way. It has been tested and analyzed as far back as analysis within the limits of human intelligence will go. It has been found to assert itself under pain of self-annihilation, of the annihilation of thought or consciousness itself. I suspect no other philosophy can give another or at least a deeper guarantee for its first principle. At least one would like to see it produced. But this immanent dialectic of the idea, wherein does it appear? How does it make itself known or felt? I presume in consciousness, and within my consciousness, within some individual consciousness; otherwise it is not and cannot be anything to me or to any one conscious. But then my consciousness, my individual consciousness, is pronounced and confessed to be illusory. It is deceitful in its very root; in holding itself to be what it most intimately believes itself to be, in what it is absolutely constrained to think itself. How, then, does the immanent dialectic of the idea, as at least in the first instance, and as in knowledge, a form of consciousness, escape the taint of this illusory consciousness in which it appears? How can I trust it when I cannot trust the deliverance of the same consciousness regarding my own individuality? This dialectic may be called necessary, a necessary evolution of the idea, and looked up to as the march of omnipotence. But not less necessary and indisputable is the self-assertion of consciousness, and yet it is but illusion. Why may the necessity of the immanent dialectic not be an illusion of the same consciousness? How, in fact, on such a principle, can we think it to be anything else? If the spring of knowledge be poisoned at its fountain, what can purify its waters? Or if our intelligence be a faulty and illusory prism, how can we expect it to transmit or reflect the pure light of truth?.
III. After what has been said of the inherent inconsistency of the theory, it is hardly necessary to inquire whether such a doctrine can be admitted as the necessary and logical supplement of the view of Descartes. But it may be well to examine the alleged ground of its proof. This touches on a question regarding the nature of consciousness, which has important general bearings.
We have, in the passage quoted from Hegel, one statement which is tangible enough to be grasped and examined, and it is the principle of the whole. It seems that the consciousness of a limit overleaps or transcends the limit,—in plain words, that when conscious of a limit, say an opposite, contrary or contradictory, I necessarily transcend that limit, and apparently take it up into myself as a part of me — abolish it by absorption. The reason of this which is given seems to be that, as an object of consciousness, it is within my knowledge or consciousness; and whatever is so, ceases to be a limit or contrary to me. It is fused with me in the unity of knowledge, and loses its character as an opposite or contrary. I, the conscious thinker, become both myself and the limit which restricts me to myself-being.
- 1.The first thing to be said about this principle is that, if simply because a limit known is in consciousness, it is necessarily transcended or abolished — then there never can be a limit at all. For it is useless and nonsensical to say that it is only the being of which there is no consciousness, or which is unknown, that could constitute a limit of knowledge. What is unknown is for us undetermined to any alternative, or in respect of any predicate — either as this or that; and so long as it is unknown, could be neither limit nor the reverse to us. If, therefore, limit be to us at all, it must be a conscious limit, or a limit known in consciousness; but how can it even be known as such if, the moment I am conscious of it, it disappears? The very possibility of the existence of limit is first of all taken away by saying that a conscious limit is not a limit at all; and yet it is immediately asserted that there is a limit in consciousness to be taken away.
- 2.But let us look at this principle in its main application, and we shall see how very vague the statement is, and how thoroughly misleading it frequently is.Hegel speaks of consciousness; but it is truly the conscious act which must transcend the limit, if it be transcended at all. We cannot deal with consciousness in general, for we know it as a reality only in this or that special act. Now let us look at the main classes of those acts, and test the alleged principle. Let us take Sense — Perception. I apprehend, for example, a certain amount, and therefore limit of space — say, as far as the horizon. I am conscious at the same time that there is space beyond what I actually see. I can imagine space beyond the visible space, and I can go on doing this indefinitely. Here I transcend the limit of vision. But have I in any way abolished the visible limit? In no sense whatever. The bounds within which my vision is exercised remain to me as much bounds as ever,—as definite and unimpassable by vision as before. I cannot see beyond the horizon. All that I have done is, that I have ideally added to the amount of space lying within the limits of vision. In so doing I in no way affect the limit of my original perception. I transcend it in imagination; but I neither abolish it, nor do I absorb it in the consciousness which I have of it, or of the imaginative ideal which I join to it. And what is more, if I place the act of imagination on the same level with the act of vision, because both are in consciousness, I make an assumption which I have not attempted to vindicate, and which is not vindicable. For the act of vision is primary and intuitive, and conversant with an object of a totally different character from the secondary and ideal object of imagination.
- 3.Let us try the principle by reference to the limit experienced in Desire, a favorite Hegelian illustration. To transcend the limit here, obviously means in thought. When we are conscious of desiring a particular object, we are conscious of the object desired, that we have it not in possession, and we can conceive ourselves as possessing it That is “transcending” the “limit” implied in the desire. Nobody need dispute this. It is stating the fact of desire and what is essential to it in explicit words. But what then? Is it transcending the limit in any real or positive sense? Does this conception of what I seek put me, the seeker, in possession of the object? In other words, is my consciousness of what I am or have added to by the conception merely of what I want? In that case, to desire must mean that we have the thing desired. The transcending the limit in the sense of being conscious of what the limit is, and reaching the limit in consciousness, are so wholly different things, that only a man inspired with the belief that his consciousness even of a possibility is the only actuality can accept such a conclusion. Nothing could more clearly show that we are here dealing with a new notionalism, related to reality merely as the shadow to the thing.
- 4.But let us take logical limit. Here, if anywhere, the doctrine ought to hold good, that the consciousness of a limit transcends the limit.In the constitution of a notion we have limit; limit is essential to the existence of a notion. In one point of view a notion is an attribute or set of attributes named; in another, it is the (ideal) sum of objects in which the attribute or attributes are embodied. Here distinction, difference, therefore limit is essential. The attribute of life, e. g., marks off the thing possessing it from others which do not. organization does the same; and but for the distinction, and therefore limit, implied in the notions, there would be no conception, knowledge, or thought at all. It may be said that because I am conscious of the attribute life, and therefore of its opposite or negative, I have transcended the particular attribute, If to know what a thing is not, is to transcend the knowledge of what it is, I have. This can hardly seriously be regarded as either a novel or important discovery. But this is not all that is meant or implied in the transcending, and we must inquire whether there is abolition of the limit here, or absorption of it in the mere consciousness of it. There is neither such abolition nor absorption. If the limit be abolished by my being conscious of it, there never was a limit to begin with, for there was no limit of which I was not conscious. And if the limit be abolished at all, then the attribute itself is abolished, its very reality as an object of thought is subverted, and there is the blank of knowledge. As to absorption in a third notion which embraces or is identical alike with life and its contradictory opposite — or even contrary opposite—we must wait until this third is produced. It is a mere confusion of thought to suppose that because I know opposites in one and the same act—grasp them in a unity of knowledge — the opposites themselves are necessarily identified or absorbed. Both are in consciousness; and in this way the contrary may be said to be “the other” of the given attribute, but their real difference subsists all the same — subsists in the consciousness itself, on pain of the very abolition of knowledge. Correlation even excludes identity; and the moment correlatives are identified the correlation ceases.
- 5.Let us look at the principle in its application to the Dualism of Mind and Matter.Because we are conscious of mind and matter as two realities, we know (are conscious) of something beyond the dualism or limit.Thought is conscious, and conscious not only of itself but of extension. It transcends, therefore, the absolute distinction between itself and the other attributes.What is this transcendent something now known?
- a.Is it a unity in which the dualism disappears? Of this, what proof is there? Are we actually conscious of any such unity — conscious as we are of the dualism?
- b.Is the something the idea or conception of the possibility of such a unity? How does this destroy the dualism or limit? If we are conscious, or rather think, of such a possibility, must we not always, to make this even intelligible, confront it with the dualism or limit of which we are actually conscious?In this case, the consciousness of something beyond is a harmless hypothesis, waiting proof of its reality. And the statement of it is simply a confusion of consciousness as intuition, and consciousness as embracing the possibilities of thought. The ideal conception of a limit transcended is not the actual transcending of the limit; and it ought not to be put on the same level with an act of intuitional consciousness. This is to put possibility against fact or reality — the conception of the conditions under which a thing is possible against actual definite thought.
- c.But let the object of knowledge gained in this transcendent act be supposed to be actually either the indifference or the identity of the subject and object of consciousness. In either case the relation of contrast or opposition between the two disappears. We have a knowledge above relation and difference, and, therefore, above consciousness. This statement is a simple contradiction in terms. The words knowledge and conciousness cease to apply to these barren formulæ. The absolute identity of subject and object in any form of consciousness we can reach, is no more to us than a square circle. And to rest the assertion of such knowledge or consciousness on the simple statement that consciousness, in apprehending a dualism, transcends itself, is to leave out the only point demanding attention and proof.
- 6.But the statement may be looked at in its highest generality as referring, not to this or that definite act of consciousness, but to consciousness in general—consciousness regarded as aware of limit in general in knowledge. It may be said — nay, must be said — logically, consciousness ultimately transcends itself—it passes into something beyond itself. What is the meaning of this? The ultimate limit of consciousness is that which separates it from unconsciousness. When it passes into something beyond itself, does it pass into this opposite— the unconscious? In this case, transcending itself is simply ceasing to be or to know. Our consciousness seems to be under the necessity of a logical suicide.
- 7.We have a good deal of talk in these days of limit in thought as self-imposed, and therefore superable, such as we not only may but must overpass. In what sense is any limit in thought self-imposed? Is thought, then, complete — totus, teres, atque rotundus—and does it thus impose a limit on itself—a limit, say, of identity and non-contradiction? This is absurd; for if thought already be, it is independent of anything — be it limit or other — which it may impose on itself; it is thought complete. It need not be guilty of anything so foolish and arbitrary as this. But self-imposed limit is really an absurdity. The limit in thought, or of thought, is the limit in or as which thought exists — under which it is possible. We think an object; in doing so, we think it as identical with itself, that is one limit: we think it as contradistinguished from what is not itself, that is another limit; and our thought as thought, as existing or real, is a consciousness of those limits. It does not impose them, for the simple reason that it is not in existence before them, is in and through them, and cannot exist apart from them. The truth is, that consciousness itself is impossible apart from limit — apart from the consciousness of self and not self, the affirmation of this and that. And if consciousness always and necessarily transcends the limit, it always and necessarily transcends its own reality, which, in plain English, means, it ceases to be. But the whole point lies in this, that while each opposite or contradictory is in consciousness, each is an opposite or contradictory still, notwithstanding that they possess the common element of being in consciousness. The fallacy lies in making the common element of consciousness in each convertible with the difference of the opposites of which there is consciousness. There is, in fact, the usual Hegelian disregard of difference, because of a common element.
- 8.Those who seem to hold this doctrine talk constantly of the doctrine to which it is opposed as implying that knowledge is represented as limiting, and that all beyond this is the vague unlimited, or unqualified. Now I certainly deny that this is a fair statement of the position. Knowledge is not to be described as merely a limit — that would be to define it by negation. Knowledge, relative, or under limit, is a positive thing, the only positive thing we can have, and it is distinction or distinctiveness which guards it as such for us. It is the content of our knowledge which makes it real for us, not the bare limit. The limit or law enables us to hold the content definitely and distinctively; and if there be no fixity in that, there is simply chaos for us. It is in the content, too, of our knowledge, that its variety lies, and its possibility of increase or development. It is in this, too, that change is possible, transmutation becoming development; but this itself is impossible if every form of consciousness is superable. For what would be the course of human life and human knowledge if this were so? If everything must pass over into its contrary,—if we can never hold anything as fixed or won for thought,—then the aim of thought and life is not to reach the perfection of a type, as we generally imagine, but it is to go on in endless unrest. Mere mutation, whether in an endless line or in the Hegelian circle, is a low aim; it is not true freedom, it is fate, and it is not worth living for. There must be an ultimate type to which life and thought aspire; and such a conception is utterly incompatible with the doctrine that the content and the form of thought are equally unfixed.
- 9.One would expect cogent proof of such a theory as the foregoing. But really such is far to seek.Finite self-consciousness, it is said, implies infinite self-consciousness, as finite spaces presuppose infinite space. Is there any true analogy here? Is finite self-consciousness related to any infinite self-consciousness, as the known points of space are to the imagined, whether indefinite and infinite? In the case of space we repeat similars, coexisting similars; we have as clear an idea of space from the smallest portion of it as from the greatest imaginable. It is at its full extent but a repetition of points. Is this the case with regard to the relation between finite self-consciousness and infinite self-consciousness? Is the infinite self-consciousness simply the endless repetition of finite self-consciousnesses? In this case, we should have an infinite series of finites, but this would not make one infinite self-consciousness. We are as far — nay, farther — from unity than when we started. Is the infinite self-consciousness presupposed a self-consciousness which is entirely above limit and predication of any sort, except the general statement that it is a self-consciousness absolutely without limit? This statement is really suicidal, if not positively meaningless. The term self cannot be applied under such conditions; and no more can the term consciousness. At any rate, such a self is not the self of consciousness which we know, and has no more logical or other connection with it than it has with non-entity, or the blank of indefiniteness.
- 10.The infinite self-consciousness and the finite self-consciousness are two phrases which are bandied about as if they were equally grasped by us, and this infinite self-consciousness were as patent to our knowledge as our own self-consciousness is. But the truth is, that while we have a perfectly definite knowledge of our own self-consciousness, personality, and individuality, as a matter of fact or fact in time, we have no such knowledge of an infinite conscious personality. We may be led to infer it from our own consciousness or from other facts of our experience, or we may try to conceive it. This even we shall find an exceedingly difficult task, for a conscious personality above time and limit, yet divided into an infinity of personalities in time — a me that is every me, and yet itself above every me — is a conception the elements of which are by us positively irreconcilable. At any rate, this we do not find or apprehend, as we do our own self-conscious reality. And to speak of the consciousness of God as on the same level of apprehension and evidence as our own self-consciousness, without even offering explicit proof, is as bad a presupposition as can well be imagined.
We might ask a question as to what an infinite self-consciousness really means. It is an exceedingly ambiguous phrase, a phrase into which it is hardly possible to put a consistent meaning. The only rational analogy through which we can conceive any meaning in it is that of extending our self-consciousness to the universe. We know that we are conscious all through the bodily organism until we meet with a limit to the sphere of our sentiency. This is the true and ultimate distinction between the finite Ego and the material non-Ego. We may carry this analogy with us, and suppose that there is an Ego who is conscious of himself all through the universe of being, as we are conscious all through our sentient bodily organism. But this is as yet to us nothing more than a conception or ideal. We have no warrant, simply because we are self-conscious within a certain sphere or limit, to suppose that there is an all-pervading consciousness which appropriates to itself as its own sphere of sentiency both all finite minds and all matter. Yet what else does an infinite self-consciousness properly mean? And will it be maintained that we have an equal intuition of a being of this character with that of our own individual existence within the sphere of sentiency? Is it not the height of unreason to maintain further that we can make this conception reconcilable with the individuality of finite minds? or that in this case the so-called reality of finite minds can be construed by us as anything but a mere dream? The self-conscious being who conceits himself as real, is merely a thing to which the infinite all-pervading consciousness permits a passing moment of self-illusion.
But what are the terms in which the Infinite or infinite being, is represented? It appears that we conceive of the Infinite Being by the very fact that we conceive of being without thinking whether it be finite or no. We may take this as an explicit statement of what is meant when there is talk of the infinite being. But what truly does this mean? Would any one acquainted with the discussions on this point accept such a statement as a correct description of what we suppose we mean when we speak of the infinite being? To be conscious of being, without thinking whether it be finite or no — this is thinking being infinite. Then, in that case, simply because We reach the indeterminate in thought — neither finite nor the reverse, we have got the infinite! We do not predicate of the notion being, therefore our notion of it is infinite! The cessation of predication is the infinite! Well, such an infinite is not worth the paper it is written on. But is this consistent with other statements that the infinite is an infinite self-consciousness — that it is spirit, and so on? Certainly not. This so-called infinite is the mere vague indeterminate of thought. It is worse as a terminal description of the infinite than even the indefinite of Mill. The true infinite, if there be a positive infinite at all, in knowledge, is that of being in one or other of its forms — that is, intelligible being raised to such a height of conception that we are able on grounds of evidence to say that it is an entity absolutely without bounds. This abstinence from thinking the object as either finite or not, is not a conception or statement, even in terms, of infinity or the infinite; it is a mere indeterminate possibility of thought.
IV. But let us look for a moment at the bearings of this doctrine on Finite Reality, especially the Personality and Individuality of man. What is its fair logical consequence? Is it consistent with the facts of our experience?
1. Individual realities, if the expression be allowable, are the most vain and passing things in the world. They have no true reality; they are, but they are only as passing forms of the outpour of the infinite substance. They are as raindrops to vapor; the partial manifestations of the ultimate reality — again, perhaps, to return to vapor. All that can be said is, that this infinite substance individualizes itself only again to take the individual, perhaps, up into itself, or to let it pass into other individuals; but the idea of anything more than some necessary individualization need not be admitted. The whole sphere, therefore, of human individuality and personality, is swept away, so far as any distinctiveness or permanency is concerned. Each individual is I, Thou, He, at a particular point of time; but these Egos, or Selves, or Personalities have little or no meaning or concern in the Universe. These are simply forms in which the infinite substance must individualize itself. But that is all. Any other ego or self besides me and thee and him will do equally well, provided simply it is an ego. We pass away from time, and other egos come in our place — equally emanations of the infinite substance — and thus the evolution or issue of this infinite substance is fulfilled. As to why and how I am here, except that the infinite necessarily evolves itself, I know not and need not care. As to where I am going, and whether I am going anywhere, this is equally left unaccounted for, except that probably I shall return into that infinite or indefinite being—that neutrum of Personality and Impersonality from which I came. It might seem necessary here even to call in the common experience or consciousness of mankind, and to ask whether this is an adequate representation of reality as we find it in experience, or as we find it suggested in experience. A philosophy of this sort does not meet, it shirks essentially the questions of highest and most pressing interest to human life. Some development in things, a development even of a particular sort, and according to particular laws — it being indifferent all the while what are, whence are, and whither go the individualities, the conscious personal existences of the universe — except as accidentally filling up the scheme of things which alone subsists in the Eternal Substance or Reason, this is a system which can satisfy only when faith and hope have fled from the breasts of men, and they are convinced that existence blossoms and comes to highest fruit only in the passing aggregate of human self-consciousnesses.
2. But consciousness by a man of his being merely a relative in the correlation of finite and infinite, really makes him to be — constitutes his being. No man, therefore, who does not attain to this consciousness, ever is. Who among men in the past have attained to this consciousness? Who of the actors, the speakers, even the thinkers, of the world? Who in history have really ever realized this within their own consciousness? I say none — not one — none until Hegel himself, if he did this — in formulating certain phraseology. It follows, therefore, that all men before his time, believing, as they did, in their independent individuality, have really never existed. They were not; they were a mere illusion to themselves. They never rose to the speculative consciousness; they never, therefore, rose to mere being. Their lives are to be set aside as merely side-waters, having nothing to do with the main stream of life. They cannot even be said to be moments of the eternal being; for they were never conscious of their true relationship to it, and therefore never existed even as moments of it. Hegel could thus quite consistently, yet inhumanly, say that justice and virtue, injustice, violence, and vice, talents and their deeds, passions small and great, guilt and innocence, the grandeur of individual and of national life, the independence and the fortunes of states and individuals, have their meaning in the sphere of conscious reality, but that with these the universal or world-history has no concern. It looks only to the necessary moment of the idea of the world-spirit.
3. To represent the world of human thought, feeling, and volition as in itself a mere negation; to do the same regarding the world of extension, resistance, color, sound, and all the manifold variety of sensible experience; to hold all this as a negation of an infinite something, which has never itself truly come within our consciousness at all, is not to elevate but to degrade our view both of man and the world. These are the most positive objects we know; and if aught else be positive or real, it is because these are positive and real, and we know them to be such. So far from there being an infinite which is the only reality, there can be no infinite which is a reality at all, if these be not in themselves, as we experience them, what our consciousness testifies they are, distinctive existences. Man's spirit, so far, as it is a negation, is a negation of the non-existent and the unconscious; and the world, so far as it is a negation, is a negation of infinite vacuity in time and space. These are the notions negated, if we are to talk of man and the world as negatives. The negation is of the previous absence of being, by the position of being — of consciousness and material reality. The true correlation is between the definite of time and space and the indefinite of both or either. But this is an unequal correlation; it is not the subordination of man and the world to a higher reality; it is not the negation of a higher reality; it is not the evolution of these from it: it is simply the statement of the real as opposed to the unreal, which must be the limit and condition to us of any conception of reality at all.
4. Hegel himself no doubt imagines that he harmonizes the reality of the finite with the infinite, as he thinks that he conciliates realism and idealism. The ordinary view of the reality of God and man is, according to him this: “God is, and we are also.” “This,” he says, is a bad synthetic combination. It is the way of the Representation that each side is as substantial as the other. God has worship and is on this side, but so also finite things have being (Seyn). Reason, however, cannot allow this equipollence to stand. The philosophical need is therefore to grasp the unity of this difference, so that the difference is not lost, but proceeds eternally out of the substance, without becoming petrified in dualism.” Again: “Phenomenon is a continual manifestation of substance by form. Reality is neither essence or the thing: in itself, nor phenomenon; it is neither the ideal world nor the phenomenal world, it is their unity, their identity, the unity of force and its manifestation, essence, and existence.”
The conciliation of infinite and finite thus given is simply to substitute for both a process, an ongoing or outcoming of the infinite, or indeterminate, called at a certain stage substance and spirit. Reality is thus simply movement — movement in the phenomenal world. This phenomenal movement, for there is here really no phenomenal world, is all that is either of the material world or of finite spirit. It is represented as an eternal process of creation and absorption. It is a creation which creates only that it may destroy; a creation which simulates a dualism which never really is at any point of time or space. A dualism which never exists in time is no dualism; a dualism which exists in thought only to be abolished or trampled out by that in which it exists, is a mere passing illusion. This is not a conciliation of realism and idealism; it is the annihilation of everything corresponding to reality, either in the material or the mental world. It is the resolution of both into a shadowy pageantry of a process in which nothing proceeds. There is not the slightest ground for representing dualism as an absolute opposition; and not the slightest approach is made to a conciliation of the finite and infinite by fusing both into a process or relation between terms the distinctive reality of each of which is denied. The pantheism which openly identifies God with the sum of all phenomena may be false; it is not an absolute or inherent violation of the laws of intelligibility.
5. But why speak of the phenomenal or of actual reality at all on such a system? The finite mind is simply in -the process; it is the process. In that case to what or -whom is there a phenomenal, an apparent? How has it any meaning unless there be a distinct finite intelligence who apprehends it? Again, is it phenomenal to the Infinite Spirit? This, however, is as much in the process, or the process itself, as the finite spirit is. And if it were phenomenal to an infinite spirit, how is the phenomenal to it known to be identical with the phenomenal of experience? The truth is, that the Hegelian reality may perfectly fairly be translated by the serial impressions of Hume, which, having substratum neither in. God nor in man, are the merest passing illusion of reality.
6. The fallacy of the whole logic, and the main result of the system, in its bearing on reality, may be summed up in a few sentences: —
“Thought” is used in two diametrically opposite meanings— unconscious and conscious thought; while the former is so far spoken of in terms of the latter. First of all, it is thought without consciousness; and yet it is spoken of as in itself, i. e., it is credited with self-hood, and also with power of movement into what is called its opposite, and then with the power of gathering up itself and its opposite in a third, which is itself enriched. In other words, terms and phrases entirely without meaning, unless as found in conscious thought, are applied to this unconscious thought; it is made, in short, to act as if it were conscious thought.
Secondly, at a later stage of its begged development, it becomes conscious thought, a self-conscious ego, which goes through several stages, turnings, and windings, until it becomes a self-consciousness above the finite consciousness and all finite reality: for it is both infinite consciousness and finite consciousness; it is neither the one nor the other, but the fusing of both.
That the unconscious passes into consciousness is assumed, not proved: the way in which it does this is sought to be shown by clothing the unconscious in consciousness or its terms; and thus the disputed fact is established only by a petitio principii. The ground of the whole process is a form of vulgar realism which identifies the unconscious with being; and the result of the whole is a nihilism of contradiction in which both positive thought and positive being disappear. The so-called idealism is truly a veiled form of irreflective realism; the so-called concrete or positive result of the system is merely nihilism, or at the utmost phenomenalism.
V. Let us look for a moment at the Theological bearings of the doctrine. It is adduced as a corrective of prevailing views regarding the Divine Reality and Nature. There are some positions regarding Deity which this advanced thought thinks itself competent to interpret in its own way, and to correct. It is said, first, that if the world or the finite material universe be regarded as originating in the free-will of Deity, called arbitrary, its connection with him is to be regarded as “external,” “accidental,” and as having no proper or necessary relationship to him. It is said, secondly, that in order to give a reasonable character to this relationship, the finite world must be regarded as somehow emanating from him by a necessary connection, which stands clear out in the light of reason. This, when fully examined, is found to mean, not only that there is such a necessary connection, but that it is deducible from the very notion of Deity itself, regarded as the Infinite; and further, that this is deducible by us as a process of thought or consciousness.
- 1.Now, with regard to the first point, it is incorrect and unfair to represent origination or creation by freewill as an arbitrary act. It is to be regarded as an arbitrary act only in the sense in which any act of free resolution is an arbitrary act, this and nothing short of it. And we need not go into the question of free-will to know that will, the highest and best form of resolution conceivable by us, is that regulated by a conception of what is most fitting and best in the circumstances, or, if you choose to employ a vague phrase, by reason. To say that resolution is necessarily arbitrary, is itself a mere arbitrary statement. So far from creation which depends on an act of free-will, regulated by thought, evidencing only an external or accidental relationship, it is in fact analogous to the very closest, most intimate of all the relationships of our own consciousness. For the closest tie which we know in our inward experience is just that which subsists between me willing and the resolution which I form. I relate resolution to myself in a way in which I relate no other mode of consciousness, neither feeling, desire, nor thought itself. It is mine in the sense of being truly my own creation; and it is to me the most fitting of all analogies for the mysterious fact of Divine origination itself. The finite as thus related to the Infinite is truly the passage of the Divine power into actuality or realization. It is only a purely verbal logic, founding on verbal assumptions, which can regard it as “external” or “accidental.” If it is to be comprehended at all by us, it must be in some such way as this, and by some such analogy. Will, the expression of personality, both as originating resolutions, and as molding existing material into form, is the nearest approach in thought which we can make to Divine creation.
- 2.With regard to the second point, the so-called essential or necessary relationship of reason, the first thing to be noted is, that the finite material or mental world, which arises in this way, is and must be the only possible world. If the Infinite is under a necessity of development, he will develop in one definite way, and in no other; and if he has developed in time, that development is the one possible, and no other. Are we prepared to take this consequence? Do the facts of experience warrant it? Does the physical or moral quality of the world warrant it? Can we ascribe to the finite material world which we find in experience more than a purely hypothetical necessity? No one, I think, will venture rationally to do more than this. Mechanical and chemical laws depend ultimately on atomic existence, proportion, combination, and collocation. Organization and life are somehow also connected with those circumstances. But is it not conceivable that those ultimate material constituents of the universe might have been different in various points of constitution and adjustment? Will it be maintained that the actual order which we know has arisen is the only possible order—the single necessary and essential development of the Infinite Power at the root of things? Further, does not the element of evil in the world imply a contingency which is entirely incompatible with the supposition of a single possible best evolution from an absolutely perfect Infinite? At any rate, can we with our lights prove this to be the absolutely best even in the long-run?The theology resulting from these principles may be summed up, in these words of Leibnitz, in two propositions—“What does not happen is impossible; what happens is necessary.”
- 3.But let us first take this necessary development of the Infinite or Absolute. Is it speculatively self-consistent? The finite comes from it necessarily—nay, it is, as it originates the finite, material and spiritual. Its reality is, therefore, dependent on its necessary development and relation to the finite: the finite is as necessary to it as it is to the finite. Yet this prior term of a mere relation is an absolute — an infinite, self-sufficient, as such needing nothing but itself for its existence! The term absolute or infinite has no longer the slightest application. The prior term here is a relative — pure and simple, a mere relative, dependent for its meaning—nay, its reality — on a development which it can no more control than the body which gravitates can regulate or reverse its own movement. A god who is only as he must be, producing the contents of space and time — who is only a means to these contents, is about the lowest form of mechanical agency ever set up for man to worship. But further, if an infinite or absolute cause is necessarily at work, must not the effect be an infinite or absolute one? If the cause works necessarily, without let or control, must not its whole power pass into act in the single given operation or moment of action? Then, what have we here? Not a finite result, surely, but a result infinitely or absolutely great, and, therefore, coequal with the infinite or absolute power at work. But what an absurdity does this land us in? Either the absolute perishes in the act of necessary development, and we have a new absolute in its effect— Deity has perished in creation, or we have two absolutes — an absolute cause and an absolute effect—coexisting in the universe. This is an inherent absurdity; and further, what then becomes of our absolute monism?
- 4.But have we considered the full effect of the statement that the finite is as necessary to the infinite as the latter is to the former? I am quite willing to take the finite here spoken of as the finite in some form — not the actual finite of space and time. Let it be any finite form of being whatever. Deity, in order to be, must produce this actual finite. His reality is dependent on it. What kind of Deity is this? A Deity waiting for his reality on the finite thing which he cannot but produce? The cause dependent for its reality on the effect? We are accustomed to think of Deity as possessing existence in himself — necessary and self-sufficient; and if he have not this, he has no more or other reality than any finite thing which arises in the succession of causalty. But here, forsooth, he waits on necessary production for his reality ! Is this conception at all adequate or worthy of God? Is not the self-conscious I, with its free power of will, higher than this? a better and more elevating way of conceiving of God? Is it not a higher perfection than this to be able to say I will, or I do not will—yet I retain my individuality: I am the center and the possessor of powers which I can use, or not use, as intelligence directs me, and as moral interests require? Is not this a higher grade of being than a something which depends on the necessary production of a given effect for its reality, and. which, further, must also depend for the continuance of its being on the continuance of the given effect? For this is the logical result of the doctrine, even granting it the most favorable terms. For unless the effect continues, which is not provided for by the theory, the producing power might quite well be supposed to pass away with its own necessary effort. And this is to be our advanced conception of Deity!
- 5.But, further, finite being as an evolution of infinite being is certainly variable as to content. We need not again point out the absurdities of the necessary development of infinite being. Is the finite being or development not variable in content at the will — the reasonable or righteous will, it may be—of the Infinite one? Then what becomes of his infinity? Can we conceive a Being as infinite who is restricted to a single development of finite being? But if he is not so restricted, but may evolve several forms of finitude, how can it be said that the finite as a given form is equally necessary to the infinite, as the infinite is to the finite? If a conscious personality is possessed of free will, how can it be said that a given resolution which he forms is as necessary to his power of free-determination as free-determination with all its possibilities is to it? Such a position can be maintained only on the suicidal basis that a given finite is as necessary to the infinite, as the infinite with all its inherent possibilities is to it.
- 6.Then, further, there is the point to be established that we have any conception, thought, or notion of the Infinite which is at all adequate or truly distinguishable from what is strictly an analogical notion,— whether, in fact, the Infinite, in any form, is so comprehensible by us as to be the basis of a necessary evolution of thought. For even although it be admitted that finite and infinite are as thoughts correlative, it has yet to be shown that they are of the same nature, positive content or reality. Unless this character can be vindicated to the Infinite as a notion, it cannot be made the basis of a necessary evolution in thought — of the actual finite, or anything with positive attribute.
- 7.Then this evolution, even if compassable by our thought, is but a process of thought. It would be the ideal mode in which the Divine Power was supposed to work; but it would fall far short of any actual realization of the ideal in time. It is, after all, but a process of reasoning, in which the Infinite is assumed as major notion, and in which, accordingly, we have but a hypothetical conclusion. But we have really no guarantee that the process either represents or is identical with anything in time, or that it is adequate to or convertible with the evolution of that finite world which we know in experience. The mode or ideal of Divine Power, however distinctly conceived, leaves us wholly in the dark as to whether the Power was ever exercised or not This can only be guaranteed on the assumption that the process of necessary consciousness through which we proceed is identical with Divine action—that, in fact, our thinking, sublimated to the impersonal form of thought, is God's act in Creation. This is but a part of the larger assumption that the real is the rational —or rather, that reality means certain so-called necessary processes in the human consciousness, call it reason or by what name you choose. This assumption, as unproved as it is unprovable, is contradicted by the fact that the whole concrete world of the sciences of nature and of mind is utterly untouched by it. It is incapable of yielding a single fact or general law of nature or of mind as manifested in consciousness. Hegel's “Philosophy of Nature” and his “Philosophy of Spirit” have been long ago generally given up as utter failures in point of consecutive thinking or fair evolution. They are the mere manipulations of a harlequin logic, which borrows in the premises under one guise of words what it brings out in the conclusion under another.
- 8.But what, on such a philosophy, is Deity? Or rather, where is the place of Deity at all? If we look at the first stage of the development, he is the most abstract conception possible, the Idea in itself, what may be identified with nothing, yet credited with the power of motion. This first moment is not even real. The Idea becomes real or actual only in the development, in the process. But this, again, is not absolute reality. We find this the highest stage only in the Idea when it becomes absolute Subject or Ego, and contemplates itself as everything that is. In other words, the unconscious abstraction called thought, not at first God, not God even in the process, becomes absolute self-consciousness in the end. He is dependent even for this consciousness, that is, for his reality, on retracing the steps which he has somehow taken into the realm of nature, where he was “out of himself,” and so in the end finding himself in his own supreme conscious identity. This result may be translated into intelligible language by saying that Deity is ultimately the highest point which human consciousness can reach in the way of evolution or development. He is the most which I can think him — nay, he is I when I have in consciousness transcended myself, and identified myself with him. Of course it will be said I, the individual ego of this or that conscious moment, am not God. But then I, the individual ego, am necessary to his existence, as he, the infinite ego, is necessary to mine. His reality lies in the conscious relation which I, the individual, think as connecting me and him. This relation is matter of my thought or consciousness. It is not, unless in the consciousness of some one. Deity, therefore, at the best or highest, is a process of my consciousness. As I think, God is; and what I think, God is. The step from this to the degradation of Deity to the actual sum or the generic conception of human consciousness is easily, and has been properly, taken. The Hegelian Deity is really man himself — regarded as the subject of a certain conscious relationship.
- 9.Deity, as standing in necessary relation to man, is dependent on man for his reality; man, as standing in necessary relation to Deity, is dependent on Deity for his reality. The reality in either case is equal: Deity has the reality which man has; man has the reality which Deity possesses. They are two terms of one relation, and they exist only in the relation. If the reality of Deity be interpreted as necessary existence, so must the reality of man; Deity has no advantage in this respect over man. If the reality of man be interpreted as a contingent reality, dependent on the constitution of a relation in consciousness, so must the reality of Deity be construed. Either thus existence, necessary and self-sufficient, applies equally to God and man, or existence, contingent and precarious, applies equally to man and God. In the former case, man is God — he is God developed; in the latter case, God is man — he is man developed. In a word, we have Pantheism on the one hand — we have what may be called Phenomenalism on the other. God sinks to the level of a manifestation of human consciousness, reaching reality only when the speculative reason chances, in the course of things, to develop into his notion.“A theory,” says Trendelenburg, “that the thinking human mind is what makes the hitherto unconscious god conscious of himself, could have arisen only under the influence of a logical view, according to which comprehensive thought conceives the content from itself, receives no rational ready-made content from without, but produces the determinations of being from itself. It could have arisen only under the influence of a logic, at whose foundation lies the entire presupposition that human thought, when man thinks purely, is as creative as divine thought, and in so far is the divine thought itself. Yet we do not, indeed, understand what the conception of God at all means, and what God signifies to man. since it is only man that makes him conscious of himself, and since God, though not like an idol, the work of hands, before which the same hands that made it are folded in adoration, is after all a product of thought, which can hardly be adored and worshiped by the same thought which woke it from its sleep, and enabled it to pass from blind inertness to consciousness.”
- 10.As to Christ, he is nothing more than any man in whom the speculative consciousness is developed. He can but be God, by being God consciously — as he can be man but by being man conscious of himself as God. This any man can be — for the speculative reason is, if not a universal property, at least a universal possibility; and consequently the incarnation has no special significance. Any man can be God incarnate; every man is God, if only he knew it. The complete abolition here not only of all theological, but of all moral distinctions between man and God need not be emphasized. Strauss and Feuerbach are the true consequent Hegelians.
VI. Hegel no doubt talks frequently of Religion, religious ideas, and Christianity. He professes indeed to comprise them in his system. His system is the essence, the true reality, of which religious and Christian ideas are merely the symbols. He has revealed the reality; all else is mere representation. The truth is, there is not a single term either in Natural Theology or in Christianity which is not perverted by Hegel from its proper sense. The whole burden of his effort is, so far as Christianity is concerned, to convert what is of moral import in Christian ideas into purely metaphysical relations,— and these of the most shadowy and unsubstantial kind.
1. The aspiration after moral union with God is at the root of all true ethical life, as it is of all religious life. This means the harmony of the will of the individual with the divine will. But the Hegelian conception of this relation has nothing moral in it at all. For a moral harmony he substitutes an identity of being or essence,— an identity of the human and the divine consciousness. The dualism implied in a God distinct from man and the world is with him a mere superstition. This metaphysical identity may be a solid doctrine, or it may be repugnant to every principle of reflective thought. It is certainly not a moral union; and it is not Christianity. It is a doctrine, moreover, incompatible with any proper conception either of Sin, of Righteousness, or of Worship. It is of a piece with the translation of the Atonement into a consciousness of identity with God, and the consequent freedom from fear and terror; and with the doctrine that in getting rid of our subjective individuality in Deity we get rid of the “old Adam.”
2. There were two points in particular on which, we are told, Hegel was always reticent in public — viz, the Personality of God and the Immortality of the Soul. In this he showed that good ordinary common-sense which he ignorantly mistook for the organon of philosophy professed by some; for he knew shrewdly enough the only view on these points possible on his philosophy. It is on these points especially, as well as the historic character of Christianity, on which the schisms of his followers or clientèle have taken place. We have three sections at least, all more or less holding by his method and phraseology. These have been called the Right, the Centre, and the Left. The Right retains but the phraseology of the master. We have the Centre party, represented, perhaps, best by Michelet of Berlin. This is the party of conciliation and compromise.
The most opposite dogmas on the ultimate questions of metaphysics and theology are held together. True to the principle of the identity of contradictories, we have pantheism and theism. The unconscious and impersonal Deity necessarily produces the world; and he becomes conscious in man. A common or collective immortality of man is necessary; because the Infinite must to eternity develop itself. But an immortality of each man or of the individual is by no means guaranteed; it is not necessary. As is has been put by Michelet, “ the soul is immortal in God only, and God is personal in man.” Christianity is true and perfect; yet its real truth is only in the Hegelian philosophy. Therein its true essence is to be found. We have seen what that essence is. How much of the essence of Christianity remains, we find in Feuerbach's formula, “Let the will of man be done!”
Contradictory dogmas held in this fashion must in the end prove too strong for the slender thread of identity with which they are sought to be bound. And so history has shown. Even the unconscious absurdity of the logic must ultimately lead men to choose one or other side; and we can readily see which alone is possible on the principles of the system. Hence there very soon arose a left party in the school, and an extreme left. As to Deity, the shadowy distinction between the Spinozistic and the Hegelian original of things — substance and subject—readily became obscured and obliterated.
“An absolute personality,” Strauss tells us, “is simply a piece of nonsense, an absurdity.” What of the Infinite Ego after this? And why? “Because personality is an Ego concentred in itself by opposition to another; the absolute, on the contrary, is the infinite which embraces and contains all, which excludes no thing.” So far he is quite right; we cannot literally conceive of an absolute personality, as our own is a personality. Such a conception is utterly incompatible with even one finite personality, to say nothing of the totality of finite personalities. But what then? Does his solution help us, or must we take it? “ God is not a person beside and above other persons; but he is the eternal movement of the universal making itself subject to itself; he only realizes himself and becomes objective in the subject. The personality of God ought not then to be conceived as individual; but as a total, universal personality, and instead of personifying the absolute, it is necessary to learn to conceive it as personifying itself to infinity.”
Now what really does this mean? God is the eternal movement of the universal making itself subject to itself! What may the universal be? one might ask. But apart from this, he or the universal is not a personality, to begin with; yet he becomes one and many personalities. He is a process, a movement; but what of its origin, law, progress, or term? What is this but a simple abstract statement that God means the on-going of things, and that the only personality he is or reaches is that in collective humanity? Can we properly retain the name of God after this? Are we to bow the knee to a juggle of words?
3. We speak of the attributes of God in ordinary language. We even believe in them. How do we now stand? Can an everlasting process have attributes? It is something working up to personality in finite beings. Has it attributes? The very name is meaningless. The groping process to have goodness, wisdom, and love! It has not yet even self-consciousness. Yet I am asked to call it God ! That I cannot do. The Ego which or in which the process becomes self-conscious is alone God. It never possessed an attribute till now; it was formerly simply a creature of necessary generation — though how it should be so much, nobody can tell.
4. Strauss, in the Leben Jesu (1835-6), had for his aim to exhibit the essence of Christianity, to deliver it from its external, accidental, and temporary forms. This was a true Hegelian conception. But it was clear that the historical character of the books and actors could not logically remain on the principles he assumed. Not only the historical character, but the distinctive doctrines, rapidly disappeared in the development of the school, in the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, and Arnold Ruge.
The movement was entirely in the line of diminishing, in fact abolishing the supernatural or divine, and equally the matter of fact or historical. The shadow of being in itself and pure thought to which the Divine had already been virtually reduced, naturally gave place to a deification of humanity — not merely an anthropomorphic god. Humanity itself having no true divine substratum, lost both the knowledge of its origin and the hope of immortality. The movement which began on the height of the loftiest idealism thus issued, as might have been anticipated, in a hopeless naturalism,—in the simple identification of all things with God and ethically in an intellectual arrogance which conceits itself as the depository of the secret of the universe, while it is too narrow to know even the facts.
VII. The representation of the doctrine of Dualism made by Hegel and his followers is thoroughly incorrect. Dualism is, of course, the great bugbear, whether it relate to the finite realities of consciousness and extension, or to the contrast of the finite and infinite realities. The predicates in these cases are said to be held as fixed and insuperable by the ordinary doctrine of dualism, whereas Hegelianism introduces identity, even the identity of contradictories. In particular it is insisted on (1), that on the ordinary dualistic presupposition, as it is called, there is an absolute opposition between the infinite and the finite; and (2), that this is unphilosophical, for the finite in this case must be regarded either as something independent of the infinite — and this involves an obvious contradiction—or it must be regarded as absolutely a nonentity. Statements of this sort abound in Hegelian writings.
One preliminary point to be noted here is, that the doctrine of the absolute opposition of finite and infinite is to be set down as unphilosophical, because it would involve a transparent contradiction. As contradiction is a legitimate moment in the Hegelian dialectic, the opposition must so far be right enough; and even if the opposition be absolute, the absurdity is not greater than the alleged identity of the two terms, by which it is sought to solve it. The consistent coexistence in thought of finite and infinite is certainly not a greater absurdity than a supposed concept in which the two become identical. Contradiction, according to criticism of this sort, must be absurd when it is regarded as fixed, and rational when it is regarded as superable. In the latter case, the only mistake is that there was no contradiction to begin with. But is this a true representation of the position of a dualistic philosophy in the matter? Is a dualist shut up to hold either the absolute independence of the finite or its nonentity? Why what is the opposition between the infinite and finite which the dualist really alleges? It is not an absolute opposition in the nature of things. It is an opposition merely in the act of knowledge. And the dualist is entitled to say this with a view to vindicate the position, until it is proved that all the opposition we think is identical with all the opposition which exists, or that these are convertible. For the Hegelian to assume this is to miss the whole point at issue between him and the dualist. The dualist does not accept the convertibility of knowledge and existence, and it is only on this assumption that he can be shut up, and then only on his own principles of logic, to the alternative of a contradiction between finite and infinite, or of the nonentity of the former, or for that matter, of the latter also. But no reasonably intelligent upholder of dualism, or, which is the same thing, the relativity of knowledge, would allow that the opposition which he finds in consciousness between finite and infinite is an absolute opposition, or one implying a fixity or absoluteness in the nature of things. In fact, the very phrases, limit of knowledge or relativity of knowledge, imply that the fixity or invariableness of the limit is in the thought or consciousness. When we speak of a limit to the understanding, we speak of the extent of our power of conceiving things; but we do not necessarily imply that the things conceived are really permanently and invariably fixed or determined by, or as is the capacity of, our thought. It is said for example, the thought of finite existence, say myself,— renders it impossible for us to think or conceive as coexisting with it an infinite self or being. For the sphere of being the finite self occupies, the sum of our being, is excluded from that sphere or sum possessed by the infinite self whom we attempt to conceive, and he is thus conceived as limited. But in doing so we do not affirm that a conciliation of this inconceivable is impossible, or that in the nature of things, the finite and infinite reality which we vainly attempt to conceive together are really incompatible. It is, therefore, nothing to the point to talk of the predicates of the understanding being regarded as fixed, permanent, or invariable, in the doctrine of the limitation of knowledge; for this is, after all, but a subjective limitation which is maintained, and is in no way inconsistent with the possibility of being, transcending conception. We say merely that we cannot conceive the compatibility of an infinite being with our own finite existence. We do not say or allow that what we conceive is necessarily convertible with what is, or with the possibilities of being. We are not, therefore, shut up to maintain the absolute opposition, and consequently the absolute contradiction in reality, of infinite and finite. Nor are we therefore compelled to regard the finite as a nonentity in the interest of the infinite, nor the infinite as a nonentity in the interest of the finite. For despite the limitation of our knowledge, in some way unknown to us as to process or ground, the co-reality of finite and infinite is, after all, compatible. Nay, in a transcendent sense, all being may be one. It is not even necessarily maintained on the doctrine of limitation that the finite is more than temporally distinct from the infinite. Evidence to decide those points must be sought for outside the theory of limitation. The real question at issue between absolutism and the theory of limitation is not as to the possibility of being out of and beyond limit, or being that surmounts limit — for the former is constantly loudly proclaiming this, and proclaiming it even as the only real being, but as to the possibility of our knowing such being, and connecting it conceivably and rationally with the being we know in consciousness. Relativist as well as absolutist maintains being above limit; they differ simply as to whether this can come within consciousness, in a sense in which it is to be regarded as truly and properly knowledge, and as to whether we can so relate the definite knowledge and being we have in consciousness with this transcendent something called knowledge and being. If what has been already said be at all well founded, we can rise above the temporal contrast of finite and infinite in thought only by sacrificing knowledge, by becoming the absolute identity of the two we are supposed to know. In this region we may expatiate at will among the “domos vacuas et inania regna” of verbalism; but we shall not gather from it either what is fitted to increase the reverence of the heart, or what may help us to read more intelligently the lessons of the past, or guide us better in the conduct of life.
All that the doctrine of limitation requires to make it consistent and valuable is, that whatever happens in the future of the universe, nothing shall occur in absolute contradiction of what we now rationally know and believe. Our present consciousness may be, probably will be, modified—in some sense, perhaps, transcended. But it must not be contradicted. Our analogical knowledge of God, even if raised to the stage of intuition, will receive greater compass, directness, and certainty; but this will not be at the expense or the reversal of a single thoroughly-tested intellectual or moral conviction.