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John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IX - An Examination of William Hamilton’s Philosophy [1865]

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John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IX - An Examination of William Hamilton’s Philosophy and of The Principal Philosophical Questions Discussed in his Writings, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alan Ryan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).

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About this Title:

Vol. 9 of the 33 vol. Collected Works contains Mill’s book on William Hamilton’s philosophy.

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The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.

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Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
volume ix
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

The Collected Edition of the works of John Stuart Mill has been planned and is being directed by an editorial committee appointed from the Faculty of Arts and Science of the University of Toronto, and from the University of Toronto Press. The primary aim of the edition is to present fully collated texts of those works which exist in a number of versions, both printed and manuscript, and to provide accurate texts of works previously unpublished or which have become relatively inaccessible.

Editorial Committee

j. m. robson, General Editor

v. w. bladen, alexander brady, j. c. cairns,

j. b. conacher, d. p. dryer, s. hollander,

r. f. mcrae, f. e. l. priestley, marsh jeanneret,

francess halpenny, jean houston

Edition: current; Page: [iii]
An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy
and of The Principal Philosophical Questions Discussed in his Writings
Editor of the Text
J. M. ROBSON Professor of English, Victoria College, University of Toronto
Introduction by ALAN RYAN New College, Oxford University
Edition: current; Page: [iv]

© University of Toronto Press 1979

Toronto and Buffalo

Printed in Canada

ISBN 0-8020-2329-0

LC 63-25976

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

ISBN 0 7100 0178 9

This volume has been published with the assistance of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Edition: current; Page: [v]


  • Introduction, by A. Ryan vii
  • Textual Introduction, by J. M. Robson lxix
  • Preface to the Third Edition ciii
  • chapter i. Introductory Remarks 1
  • chapter ii. The Relativity of Human Knowledge 4
  • chapter iii. The Doctrine of the Relativity of Human Knowledge, as Held by Sir William Hamilton 13
  • chapter iv. In What Respect Sir William Hamilton Really Differs from the Philosophers of the Absolute 34
  • chapter v. What is Rejected as Knowledge by Sir William Hamilton, Brought Back Under the Name of Belief 60
  • chapter vi. The Philosophy of the Conditioned 66
  • chapter vii. The Philosophy of the Conditioned, as Applied by Mr. Mansel to the Limits of Religious Thought 89
  • chapter viii. Of Consciousness, as Understood by Sir William Hamilton 109
  • chapter ix. Of the Interpretation of Consciousness 125
  • chapter x. Sir William Hamilton’s View of the Different Theories Respecting the Belief in an External World 149
  • chapter xi. The Psychological Theory of the Belief in an External World 177
  • chapter xii. The Psychological Theory of the Belief in Matter, How Far Applicable to Mind. Appendix to the Two Preceding Chapters 188
  • chapter xiii. The Psychological Theory of the Primary Qualities of Matter 210
  • chapter xiv. How Sir William Hamilton and Mr. Mansel Dispose of the Law of Inseparable Association 250
  • chapter xv. Sir William Hamilton’s Doctrine of Unconscious Mental Modifications 272 Edition: current; Page: [vi]
  • chapter xvi. Sir William Hamilton’s Theory of Causation 286
  • chapter xvii. The Doctrine of Concepts, or General Notions 301
  • chapter xviii. Of Judgment 324
  • chapter xix. Of Reasoning 342
  • chapter xx. On Sir William Hamilton’s Conception of Logic as a Science. Is Logic the Science of the Laws, or Forms, of Thought? 348
  • chapter xxi. The Fundamental Laws of Thought According to Sir William Hamilton 372
  • chapter xxii. Of Sir William Hamilton’s Supposed Improvements in Formal Logic 385
  • chapter xxiii. Of Some Minor Peculiarities of Doctrine in Sir William Hamilton’s View of Formal Logic 404
  • chapter xxiv. Of Some Natural Prejudices Countenanced by Sir William Hamilton, and Some Fallacies Which He Considers Insoluble 417
  • chapter xxv. Sir William Hamilton’s Theory of Pleasure and Pain 430
  • chapter xxvi. On the Freedom of the Will 437
  • chapter xxvii. Sir William Hamilton’s Opinions on the Study of Mathematics 470
  • chapter xxviii. Concluding Remarks 490
  • Appendices
    • appendix a. Manuscript Fragments 507
    • appendix b. Textual Emendations 513
    • appendix c. Corrected References 518
    • appendix d. Bibliographic Index of Persons and Works Cited in the Examination, with Variants and Notes 521
  • index 597
Edition: current; Page: [vii]



an examination of sir william hamilton’s philosophy is not a widely read work; nor is it very highly regarded, even by those who are most attracted to Mill’s writings on philosophy. It contains some instructive set-pieces, which have preserved a sort of exemplary interest: Mill’s analysis of Matter in terms of “permanent possibilities of sensation,” his confessedly abortive analysis of personal identity in similarly phenomenalist terms, his analysis of free-will and responsibility, and his ringing declaration that he would not bow his knee to worship a God whose moral worth he was required to take on trust—all these still find their place in contemporary discussions of empiricism. Mill’s analysis of the nature of judgment and belief perhaps engages the interest of those who hope to explore the problems raised by A System of Logic in a secondary source. But it is doubtful whether many readers who leave the Logic wondering quite what Mill really thought about the epistemological status of arithmetic and geometry find themselves helped by reading the Examination; nor does it add much to Mill’s earlier account of causation, beyond the effective demonstration that whatever rivals there were to Mill’s account, Hamilton’s was not one.

In part, the fallen position of the Examination is the result of the obscurity into which its target has fallen. If the Examination is not much read, then Hamilton’s edition of Reid’s Works1 is certainly not read now, as it was in Mill’s day, for Hamilton’s elaborate “Dissertations on Reid.” The most recent discussion of Reid’s philosophy, for example, treats Hamilton as a late and somewhat eccentric contributor to the philosophy of common sense.2 Hamilton’s Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic,3 of whose repetitive Edition: current; Page: [viii] and elementary character Mill was severely critical, were something of an embarrassment to their editors when they appeared after Hamilton’s death. Now they are simply unreadable. The one accessible source for Hamilton’s opinions is the volume of collected essays, Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, Education and University Reform,4 in which he reprinted his contributions to the Edinburgh Review. Even those essays now attract the educational historian rather more than the philosopher; Hamilton’s attack on the corruption and incompetence of early nineteenth-century Oxford excites more interest than his critique of Cousin’s views on the Absolute.

To the destruction of Hamilton’s philosophical reputation, Mill’s Examination contributed a good deal. Mark Pattison, reviewing the Examination in The Reader, exclaimed:

The effect of Mr Mill’s review is the absolute annihilation of all Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrines, opinions, of all he has written or taught. Nor of himself only, but all his followers, pupils, copyists, are involved in the common ruin. The whole fabric of the Hamiltonian philosophy is not only demolished, but its very stones are ground to powder. Where once stood Sebastopol bidding proud defiance to rival systems is now

  • a coast barren and blue
  • Sandheaps behind and sandhills before.5

The enthusiasm with which Pattison contemplated the ruin of Sir William’s followers may have had rather more to do with the academic politics of Oxford, in which Pattison and Hamilton’s disciple H. L. Mansel were fiercely opposed to one another, than to any very exact appreciation of just which of Hamilton’s doctrines had suffered just what damage. But, although Hamilton’s friends and followers ignored Pattison’s advice that they “had better erect a monument to him, and say nothing about Mr Mill’s book,”6 they could not restore Hamilton’s status. Mill might not have shown that the intuitive school of metaphysics was inevitably doomed to obscurity and muddle, but it was generally held that he had shown Hamilton himself to be at best obscure, at worst simply incompetent.

Whether Hamilton was worth the expenditure of Mill’s powder and shot is another question. W. G. Ward, writing some years after in the Dublin Review,7 thought that Mill had done well to take on one representative figure of the anti-empiricist school and pursue him steadily through all the cruces of the argument between associationism and its opponents. But Edition: current; Page: [ix] Mark Pattison thought that the cracking of dead nuts just to make sure they were empty was a task which wearied both those who undertook it and those who watched them do it. It is, at the very least, doubtful whether Mill was wise to devote quite so much attention to Hamilton, for the Examination falls awkwardly between the twin tasks of providing a complete critical exposition of Hamilton’s philosophy on the one hand and of providing an equally comprehensive defence of associationism on the other. In effect, Mill’s defence of associationism is spread over the notes he supplied to James Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind,8 and over his reviews, as well as through the Examination. Whatever else may be said for this defence, its organization impedes the reader of the Examination, who is likely to resent having to recover Mill’s views on perception, say, from an argument conducted at several removes from the issues, in which Mill complains of the injustice of Hamilton’s attacking Thomas Brown for supposed misrepresentation of the views of Thomas Reid.9 It also does something to account for the fact that the criticisms of Mill were criticisms of his positive claims on behalf of associationism more frequently than they were positive defences of Hamilton. Perhaps Mill should have ignored Hamilton altogether, and stuck to the positive task; he certainly left a great many openings for his critics, and might have been better advised to stop them up rather than triumph over Hamilton.

There are more serious problems than these in the way of the reader of the Examination. Mill’s critique of Hamilton and Mansel was one engagement in the battle between empiricism and rationalism. But it was an engagement in which the combatants employed intellectual weapons which we find difficult to use. The argument between Mill and Hamilton is, in their terms, an argument about the nature and contents of “consciousness”; it is in some sense an argument about psychological issues. But whereas we now tend to draw a sharp distinction between the empirical inquiry into the mind and its powers which we call psychology, and the non-empirical inquiry into the possibility of knowledge or into the intelligibility of knowledge-claims which we now call philosophy, no such distinction appears in the Examination. Where we are tolerably sure that philosophical claims about the nature of space and time, or about the nature of perception, ought to be immune from empirical confirmation and disconfirmation, Mill and Hamilton were not. This difference does not make for difficulties with Mill alone; it means that the views of all other philosophers are “read” rather differently by Mill and Hamilton from the way it is natural to us to read Edition: current; Page: [x] them. Thus, Kant’s contribution to philosophy is treated as a contribution to psychology. Where, for instance, we might interpret Kant’s account of the synthetic a priori as entailing that it is a sort of nonsense, though not strictly a grammatical or syntactical sort of nonsense, to suggest that there might be regions of space and time in which the laws of geometry or arithmetic do not apply, Hamilton plainly took the claim to be one about the incapacity of the mind to conceive non-Euclidean space or things which were not countable; and Mill was equally ready to understand Kant in this way, differing over the issue of whether our incapacity to conceive such a space or such objects was part of the original constitution of the mind or the result of experience. To some extent, therefore, readers of the Examination have to engage in a process of translation in order to feel at home with Mill’s argument. Sometimes there are cases which seem to defy the process. Mill’s discussion of how we might come to have the concept of space, for instance, is, as we shall see, very awkward if it is read as an empirical hypothesis about how the furniture of the mind might have been built; and it is more awkward still if it is read as what we now call philosophy.

Against such a background, the proper task of a critic is a matter for debate. Even if we can decently evade any obligation to show that the Examination is a neglected masterpiece, there is a good deal left to do. The task is partly historical and partly philosophical, and it is perhaps an instance of those cases where the history is unintelligible without the philosophy, as well as the other way about. Firstly, something has to be said about why Mill should have decided to write the Examination at all, and about the reasons for its immediate succès both d’estime and de scandale. Then, something must be said about the life and career of Sir William Hamilton, and at least a little about the role of Mill’s other main antagonist, H. L. Mansel. Once the appropriate background in Mill’s career has been filled in, and the main characters have been identified, I shall go on to provide a substitute for the extended analytical table of contents which was once (though it was not part of the Examination) such a useful feature of scholarly works. My account will be both expository and critical, and some at least of the distinctive philosophical views of Hamilton and Mansel will be there explored.


why should mill in particular have devoted himself to writing such a book as the Examination?10 From his reading of the Discussions shortly Edition: current; Page: [xi] after its appearance, Mill had inferred that Hamilton occupied a sort of halfway house, subscribing neither to his own enthusiasm for the principle of the association of ideas nor to the excesses of post-Kantian Continental philosophy, in which, as Mill saw it, we were supposed to know intuitively all sorts of implausible things. Mill explains in his Autobiography, however, that his reading of Hamilton’s posthumously published Lectures during 1861 alerted him to the fact (a fact confirmed by his subsequent study of the “Dissertations on Reid”) that Hamilton was a much more committed and unrestrained intuitionist than he had previously supposed.11

As readers of the Autobiography will recall, Mill was very insistent that the struggle between the intuitionists and the school of “Experience and Association” was much more than an academic argument over the first principles of the moral sciences. In explaining why he had written the System of Logic, Mill had said that “it is hardly possible to exaggerate the mischiefs”12 caused by a false philosophy of mind. The doctrine that we have intuitive and infallible knowledge of the principles governing either our own selves or the outside world seemed to him

the great intellectual support of false doctrines and bad institutions. By the aid of this theory, every inveterate belief and every intense feeling, of which the origin is not remembered, is enabled to dispense with the obligation of justifying itself by reason, and is erected into its own all-sufficient voucher and justification. There never was such an instrument devised for consecrating all deep seated prejudices.13

The System of Logic was in quite large part directed at William Whewell, and, up to a point, Mill was right to see Whewell as the defender of conservative and Anglican institutions—he was Master of Trinity, and Mill had refused to attend Trinity as a youth for obvious anti-clerical reasons.14 The Examination is described in terms which suggest that Mill thought it necessary to return to the attack on the same front. The difference between the intuitionists and the associationists, he says,

is not a mere matter of abstract speculation; it is full of practical consequences, and lies at the foundation of all the greatest differences of practical opinion in an age of progress. The practical reformer has continually to demand that changes be made in things which are supported by powerful and widely spread feelings, or to question the apparent necessity and indefeasibleness of established facts; and it is often an indispensable part of his argument to shew, how those powerful feelings had their origin, and how those facts came to seem necessary and indefeasible.15

One might doubt whether there was any very close practical connection Edition: current; Page: [xii] between, say, a Kantian view of knowledge and conservatism on the one hand, and a Humean view and liberalism on the other. Certainly it is hard to imagine Hume welcoming the French Revolution, had he lived to see it, and it is not very difficult to construct radical political philosophies of a broadly intuitionist kind. Kant at least welcomed the French Revolution, even if he trembled before the execution of Louis XVI.16

But Mill had no doubt that some such connection did hold.

I have long felt that the prevailing tendency to regard all the marked distinctions of human character as innate, and in the main indelible, and to ignore the irresistible proofs that by far the greater part of those differences, whether between individuals, races, or sexes, are such as not only might but naturally would be produced by differences in circumstances, is one of the chief hindrances to the rational treatment of great social questions, and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to human improvement.17

He therefore decided that it was right to produce something more combative and controversial than a treatise on the associationist philosophy of mind. It was necessary to attack the chief exponent of the opposite view—hence what some readers will surely think of as the grindingly negative tone of a good deal of the Examination. Mill, in many ways, was ill-fitted to assault Hamilton in this fashion; he was too fair-minded to let Hamilton’s case take its chances, and therefore encumbered his attack with enormous and tedious quantities of quotation from Hamilton. Yet at the same time he was so entirely unsympathetic to Hamilton that he rarely paused to wonder if some rational and useful case might be extracted from the confused jumble, which was all that Hamilton’s writings eventually seemed to him to amount to. In a way, he could neither do his worst to Hamilton, nor could he do his best for him.

Yet the attack was a sort of duty, especially in view of the use made of Hamilton’s philosophy of the conditioned by his pupil Mansel. H. L. Mansel’s Bampton Lectures had aroused a good deal of indignation from the time of their delivery in 1858, and they went into several editions, with replies to critics appended to new editions. Mansel’s aim had been something like Kant’s—to limit the pretensions of reason to make room for faith. Accordingly, he had argued that we were obliged as a matter of faith to believe that God was everything that was good, although “good,” as applied to the Almighty, was a term which was at best related only by analogy to “good” applied to a human being. Mill thought that this conclusion amounted to using Hamilton’s doctrine to justify a “view of religion which I hold to be profoundly immoral—that it is our duty to bow down in worship Edition: current; Page: [xiii] before a Being whose moral attributes are affirmed to be unknowable by us, and to be perhaps extremely different from those which, when we are speaking of our fellow-creatures, we call by the same names.”18

The implausibility of Mill’s attempt to line up the progressives behind the doctrine of association and the reactionaries behind the doctrine of intuitive knowledge is neatly illustrated by his conjoining Hamilton and Mansel in this fashion. Their political allegiances were practically as far apart as it was possible to get. Mansel was politically a Tory, and was conservative in educational matters too. He was one of the most powerful defenders of the old tutorial arrangements that characterized teaching at Oxford and distinguished it from the Scottish and German universities. Hamilton, on the other hand, was a liberal in politics, thought the tutorial system beneath contempt, thought Oxford colleges entirely corrupt, and, had he been able, would have swept away the whole system in favour of something modelled on the Scottish system.

Mill’s intention of provoking a combat à outrance was wholly successful. The Examination attracted much more attention than the System of Logic had done.19 Mansel’s long review of it, The Philosophy of the Conditioned—which only covered the first few chapters on the principle of the relativity of knowledge and the attack on his Bampton Lectures—came out within months. James McCosh produced a volume, In Defence of Fundamental Truth, intended to defend those parts of Hamilton’s philosophy which were most characteristic of the Scottish philosophy of common sense. Within two years Mill was preparing a third edition of the Examination in which these and several other extended attacks were answered; the furore continued in the years before Mill’s death, with the appearance in 1869 of John Veitch’s Memoir of Sir William Hamilton Bart., a pious defence of the opinions as well as the life of his old teacher, and W. G. Ward’s further assault on associationism in the Dublin Review in 1871. The balance of the comments was undoubtedly hostile to Mill, less because of a widespread enthusiasm for the doctrines of Sir William Hamilton than because of a widespread fear that their rejection must lead to what McCosh almost invariably conjoined as “Humeanism and Comtism”—a mixture of atheism and dubious French politics. In this sense Mill’s belief that he was fighting the pious and the conservative was absolutely right, for it was they—with the exception of some support from Herbert Spencer on the one topic of self-evidence—who were his hostile reviewers. Even then, some of the supposedly pious and the conservative were more in sympathy Edition: current; Page: [xiv] with Mill than with Hamilton. Two notable adherents were William Whewell, who, for all that he was Mill’s victim on many occasions, had no doubt that Hamilton was an intellectual disaster who had set the course of speculation back by twenty years, and F. D. Maurice, who had been a harsh and persistent critic of Mansel for years.

It is difficult to know when this interest in the argument between Mill and Hamilton died.20 From what evidence there is, it looks as though an interest in the Examination lasted so long as the System of Logic was still doing its good work in changing the philosophical syllabus in Oxford and Cambridge. But during the 1870s a new and in many ways more professional generation of philosophers became prominent, who had in one sense absorbed as much as they needed of Mill’s work and, in another, were determined to clear away his intellectual influence. In Oxford at any rate, it was T. H. Green and F. H. Bradley who set the pace; and they were not inclined to defend Hamilton for the sake of refuting Mill, especially when their epistemological allegiances were Hegelian rather than patchily Kantian. So Bradley’s Ethical Studies contains an extremely effective analysis of Mill’s account of personal identity, but does not bother with the rest of the contest between the transcendental and empiricist analysis of the relations between mind and matter. And Green, though he applies to Mill the criticisms he develops against Hume, does not treat the Examination as the locus classicus of Mill’s views. Thereafter, it seems that anyone much interested in Mill’s philosophy would look into the Examination only for the range of topics mentioned at the beginning of this Introduction.


ALTHOUGH THE NAME OF HAMILTON is scarcely mentioned now, except in connection with his doctrine of the quantification of the predicate, it seems a proper estimate of his eminence in the first half of the nineteenth century to say that he and Mill were the two people in Britain whose names might occur to a philosophically educated foreigner who was asked to name a British thinker of any distinction. Sorley’s History of English Philosophy, for instance, links the two names together in precisely this sense.21 And it seems that if one had asked teachers in American universities during the middle years of the century what contemporary influences they felt from Edition: current; Page: [xv] Britain, they would have talked of Hamilton and Mill—though a little later the influence of Spencer would no doubt have been, if anything, stronger.

Hamilton was born in Glasgow on 8 March, 1788, in one of the houses in Professors’ Court, for his father was Professor of Botany and Anatomy. His father died when William was only two years old, but there is no evidence that the family suffered any financial difficulties in consequence, and Mrs. Hamilton’s character was quite strong enough to ensure that the absence of the father’s hand was not much felt.

After attending both Scottish and English schools and Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, Hamilton began in 1807 a distinguished academic career at Balliol College, Oxford. In spite of his exceptional erudition and an epic performance in the final examination in Classics, as a Scot he received no offer of a fellowship, and returned to study law at Edinburgh, being admitted to the bar in 1813. His legal career was distinguished solely by a successful application (heard by the sheriff of Edinburgh in 1816) to be recognized as the heir to the Baronetcy of Preston and Fingalton.

If his nationality cost him the first opportunity of academic preferment, it was his Whig sympathies that scotched the second when, in 1820, he failed to succeed Thomas Brown in the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh. The following year he obtained an underpaid and undemanding Chair in Civil History, but he made no mark in intellectual circles until 1829, when he began to contribute to the Edinburgh Review.

His first article, on Cousin, was an editor’s nightmare, being late in arrival, much too long, and completely beyond the grasp of most of the readers of the Review.22 But it was a great success with Cousin himself, and it served notice on the outside world that someone in the British Isles was abreast of European philosophy. It was for the Edinburgh that Hamilton wrote the most readable of his work: the two essays on “The Philosophy of the Conditioned” and on “Perception,” his essay on “Logic” which contains (at least on Hamilton’s reading of it) the first statement of the doctrine of the quantification of the predicate, and his condemnation of the intellectual and legal condition of the University of Oxford. It cannot be said that they were thought, even at the time, to be uniformly readable; Napier, the editor, was frequently reduced to complaining of the excessive length, the overabundant quotations, and the archaic forms of speech which Hamilton indulged in.23 But, as Mill’s account would lead one to expect, it is these essays, reprinted in his Discussions, which show Hamilton at his best and most accessible. Even then, there are longueurs attributable less to the mania for quotation that to the combative manner of the author. The essay Edition: current; Page: [xvi] on perception, for instance, is so grindingly critical of Thomas Brown that the reader loses patience with the argument.

In 1836, however, academic justice was at last done. The Chair of Logic and Metaphysics in Edinburgh fell vacant, and this time the City Council elected him, by eighteen votes to fourteen. The composition of lectures for the courses he was now obliged to give followed very much the same pattern as his literary exploits—everything was done too late and too elaborately; so in his first year Hamilton not infrequently worked until dawn the night before delivering his lectures, and then took what rest he could while his wife got the day’s lecture into shape for delivery. Shortly after the election, he embarked on his edition of the Works of Reid. This was a characteristically acrimonious business, in which Hamilton started work at the suggestion of Tait, the Edinburgh bookseller, then took offence at the financial arrangements proposed by Tait (who seems to have expected a volume of Reid’s writings with a short preface, rather than something with as much of Hamilton’s erudition as Reid’s thinking in it, and who was not willing to pay for labours he had no wish to see anyone undertake), and published the edition at his own expense in 1846.24

Hamilton’s active career was relatively brief. In 1844 he suffered a stroke, which did not impair his general intellectual grasp, but left him lame in the right side and increasingly enfeebled. He had to have his lectures read for him much of the time, although he managed to keep up a reasonably active role in the discussion of them. He was, however, well enough to see the republication of his earlier essays and to carry on a violent controversy with Augustus De Morgan, both about their relative priority in the discovery of the principle of the quantification of the predicate, and about its merits. De Morgan was vastly entertained by the violence of Hamilton’s attacks, both because he enjoyed the resulting publicity it conferred on his own work and, so far as one can see, because he liked having an argument with someone so uninhibited in his aggression as was Hamilton.25 Others were less sure: Boole, thanking Hamilton for the gift of a copy of the Discussions, took the opportunity to say: “I think you are unjustifiably severe upon my friend Mr De Morgan. He is, I believe, a man as much imbued with the love of truth as can anywhere be found. When such men err, a calm and simple statement of the ground of their error answers every purpose which the interests either of learning or of justice can require.”26 The effort was wasted twice over, seeing that Hamilton was unlikely to become more moderate, and De Morgan was perfectly happy to be abused.

Edition: current; Page: [xvii]

Hamilton’s health became worse after a fall during 1853, and he became less mentally active in the last two or three years of his life. Retirement, however, was impossible, since he could not live without the £500 a year that the Chair gave him.27 Despite these outward difficulties, and the acerbity of his writings, all was not gloom and grimness. Hamilton’s domestic life was strikingly happy; when he died on 6 May, 1856, he left behind a devoted family, loyal pupils, and a good many friends as well.

A matter of much more difficulty than establishing the outward conditions of his life is working out how Hamilton came to exercise such a considerable influence on the philosophical life of the country. He created enthusiastic students, of whom Thomas S. Baynes became the most professionally and professorially successful, but otherwise it seems to have been the weight of learning of a half-traditional kind which backed up the reception of his views. His innovations in logic, for instance, were produced in articles which were largely devoted to a minute chronicle of the fate of deductive logic in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. His views on perception, or on the relativity of knowledge, are always placed in the framework of an historical analysis of the sort which the higher education of the time encouraged. How much it assisted his, or anyone’s, understanding of Kant to yoke him with Plato for the purposes of comparison and contrast is debatable, but the weight it added to his arguments looked to some of his audience very much like intellectual power rather than mere weight. He was more or less an intellectual fossil thirty years after his death, however. Sir Leslie Stephen’s account of Hamilton in the Dictionary of National Biography presents him as an eccentric and pedantic leftover from the Scottish school of common sense. And Stephen’s marginal comments in his copy of the Discussions display the exasperation Hamilton is likely to induce; at the end of “Philosophy of the Conditioned,” the pencilled comment reads: “A good deal of this seems to be very paltry logomachy. His amazing way of quoting ‘authorities’ (eg Sir K. Digby, Walpole & Mme de Stael) to prove an obvious commonplace is of the genuine pedant. And yet he had a very sound argument—only rather spoilt.”28

Henry Longueville Mansel was Hamilton’s chief disciple in Oxford.29 Born in 1820 he shone as a pupil first at Merchant Taylor’s School and then at St. John’s College, Oxford; and in 1843, with a double First in Mathematics and Classics, he settled down with great pleasure to the task of tutoring Edition: current; Page: [xviii] clever undergraduates; he was regarded throughout the university as its best tutor. He held the first appointment as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy, and therefore counts R. G. Collingwood, Gilbert Ryle, and Sir Peter Strawson among his intellectual progeny. With his interest in Kant and his German successors, and his astringent, largely destructive approach to the subject he professed, he might almost be said to have set the boundaries of the subsequent style.

Mansel was a productive writer: his Prolegomena Logica appeared in 1851; his Metaphysics, which was an expansion of a substantial essay for the Encyclopædia Britannica, in 1860. He was most widely known as the author of The Limits of Religious Thought, the Bampton Lectures for 1858. This work was reprinted several times, and aroused a great deal of controversy, in which F. D. Maurice played an especially acrimonious role. Philosophically, Mansel was greatly indebted to Kant, but he was very hostile to Kant’s theology and to Kant’s moral philosophy alike. The Limits of Religious Thought was described by Mansel himself as

an attempt to pursue, in relation to Theology, the inquiry instituted by Kant in relation to Metaphysics; namely, How are synthetical judgments à priori possible? In other words: Does there exist in the human mind any direct faculty of religious knowledge, by which, in its speculative exercise, we are enabled to decide, independently of all external Revelation, what is the true nature of God, and the manner in which He must manifest Himself to the world . . . ?30

The answer he gave was that there was no such faculty of religious knowledge, and that natural theology was quite unable to set limits to the nature and attributes of God. Moreover, he shared none of Kant’s certainty that our moral faculty allowed us to judge supposed revelations by their consistency with divine goodness. What goodness is in the divinity is not a matter on which human reason is fit to pronounce.

Mansel was not only a productive writer; he wrote elegantly and lucidly. There are many reasons for wishing that it had been Mansel’s Metaphysics which Mill had examined, rather than Hamilton’s Lectures, and the clarity of Mansel’s prose is not the least. Even in the pious context of the Bampton Lectures he is witty—replying to a critic who complains that Mansel’s attack on rationalism in theology is an attempt to limit the use of reason, he says that it is only the improper use of reason he is rejecting: “All Dogmatic Theology is not Dogmatism, nor all use of Reason, Rationalism, any more than all drinking is drunkenness.”31 It was not surprising that progress Edition: current; Page: [xix] came quickly. In 1855 he was elected to the Readership in Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, and in 1859 to the Waynflete Professorship. Mansel’s wit and exuberance were, however, not matched by physical strength. His acceptance of the Chair of Ecclesiastical History in 1866 was a partial recognition of the need to conserve his energy, and a move to London as Dean of St. Paul’s in 1868 more explicit recognition. Besides, by the mid-1860s he was finding the moderately reformed Oxford increasingly uncongenial to his conservative tastes. In 1871 he died suddenly in his sleep.

The contrasts between Mansel and Hamilton are so complete that it is difficult to know why Mansel was so devoted a follower of “the Edinburgh metaphysician”—for his devotion did indeed extend to employing Hamilton’s logical innovations in rather unlikely contexts, and even to defending them against De Morgan.32 What is evident so far is that Mansel required nothing much more than an ally against the pretensions of Absolute Idealism; but that judgment plainly understates the strength of his conviction. It is obviously preposterous to think of Mansel and Hamilton as sharing any political commitment which would account for such a degree of conviction. It is more reasonable to suppose that they shared something which one can only gesture towards by calling it a matter of religious psychology. Mansel genuinely seems to have thought that an acknowledgement of the limitations of human reason was a more reverent attitude towards the unknowable God than any attempt to look further into His nature, and he seems to have been impressed by a similar outlook in Hamilton:

True, therefore, are the declarations of a pious philosophy:—“A God understood would be no God at all;”—“To think that God is, as we can think him to be, is blasphemy.”—The Divinity, in a certain sense, is revealed; in a certain sense is concealed: He is at once known and unknown. But the last and highest consecration of all true religion, must be an altar—Ἀγνώστῳ Θεῳ̑—“To the unknown and unknowable God.33

Hamilton’s insistence that his doubts about Absolute knowledge are not only compatible with, but in some sense required by, Christian revelation is practically the theme of Mansel’s Bampton Lectures. Between them and Mill there was a gulf, therefore, but one less political than Mill’s Autobiography Edition: current; Page: [xx] suggests. It was the gulf between Mill’s utterly secular, this-worldly temperament and their sense of the final mysteriousness of the world. The harshness of Mansel’s attack on the Examination in The Philosophy of the Conditioned reflects his resentment of this matter-of-fact approach to the world, a resentment which cannot have been soothed by the fact that in Oxford, as elsewhere, the staples of a Christian philosophy, such as Butler’s Analogy, were losing ground to such textbooks as the System of Logic.34


the opening shots of Mill’s campaign against Hamilton’s philosophy are directed against “the philosophy of the conditioned.” The burden of Mill’s complaint against Hamilton is that his attachment to what he and Mill term “the relativity of knowledge” is intermittent, half-hearted, explained in incoherent and self-contradictory ways. He accuses Hamilton of both asserting and denying that we can have knowledge of Things in themselves, and of giving wholly feeble reasons for supposing that we cannot conceive of, particularly, the nature of space and time as they are intrinsically, but can nevertheless believe that they are genuinely and in themselves infinite. It is this part of Hamilton’s philosophy that Mansel’s essay on The Philosophy of the Conditioned had to endeavour to rescue; his Bampton Lectures on The Limits of Religious Thought hung on the negative claim that the human mind could not conceive of the nature of the Deity, so that He remained inaccessible to philosophical speculation, and on the positive claim that there was still room for belief in such an inconceivable Deity. Mansel’s version of the philosophy of the conditioned was intended to repel the pretensions of philosophy in the sphere of religion. “Pantheist” philosophers of the Absolute, such as Hegel and Schelling, were unable to provide knowledge of an Absolute that might replace, or be recognized as the philosophically reputable surrogate of, the God of Christianity; less ambitious philosophers were shown to be unable to restrict the attributes of a Deity by the categories of human reason. As this account suggests, the Kantian overtones in Mansel’s work are very marked, and, as we shall see, The Philosophy of the Conditioned gives a very Kantian interpretation of Hamilton.

Yet the oddity, or perhaps we should only say the distinctive feature, of Hamilton’s philosophy on its metaphysical front was the combination of the critical philosophy of Kant with Reid’s philosophy of common sense. Edition: current; Page: [xxi] Hamilton’s position seems at first to be exactly that of Reid. He sided with Reid and common sense in holding that “the way of ideas” is suicidal, that any theory which presents the external world as a logical construction from the immediate objects of perception (construed as “ideas”) simply fails to account for the world’s true externality. In particular, he held, with Reid, that what we perceive are things themselves, not a representation of them, or an intermediary idea. Moreover, some of the properties which we perceive things to possess really are properties of the objects themselves, and not contributions of the percipient mind. The secondary qualities he was willing to recognize as not existing in the object itself, but primary qualities were wholly objective, not observer dependent. The knowledge we have of things, however, still remains in some sense relative or conditioned. The question is, in what sense?

It is at this point that the invocation of Kant’s criticalism causes difficulties, for Hamilton could afford to take only a few details from Kant if he was not to run headlong against Reid. Above all, he wanted to side with Kant against Kant’s successors, and to deny that we can know anything of the Absolute or the Unconditioned. He wanted, that is, to deny the possibility of a positive pre- or post-critical metaphysics, in which it was supposed to be demonstrated that Space and Time were in themselves infinite—or not. But he did not want to follow Kant in his “Copernican revolution”; or, rather, he could not have intended to do anything of the sort. For Hamilton did not think that the contribution of the percipient mind to what is perceived is anything like as extensive as Kant claimed. The implication for metaphysics of the “relative” or “conditioned” nature of human knowledge he certainly took to be what Kant claimed it to be:

The result of his examination was the abolition of the metaphysical sciences,—of Rational Psychology, Ontology, Speculative Theology, &c., as founded on mere petitiones principiorum. . . . “Things in themselves,” Matter, Mind, God,—all, in short, that is not finite, relative, and phænomenal, as bearing no analogy to our faculties, is beyond the verge of our knowledge. Philosophy was thus restricted to the observation and analysis of the phænomena of consciousness; and what is not explicitly or implicitly given in a fact of consciousness, is condemned, as transcending the sphere of a legitimate speculation. A knowledge of the Unconditioned is declared impossible; either immediately, as an intuition, or mediately, as an inference.35

But he refused to draw Kant’s conclusions about the subjectivity of space and time, and denied that the antinomies showed that they were only forms of intuition:

The Conditioned is the mean between two extremes,—two inconditionates, exclusive of each other, neither of which can be conceived as possible, but of Edition: current; Page: [xxii] which, on the principles of contradiction and excluded middle, one must be admitted as necessary. On this opinion, therefore, our faculties are shown to be weak, but not deceitful. The mind is not represented as conceiving two propositions subversive of each other, as equally possible; but only, as unable to understand as possible, either of two extremes; one of which, however, on the ground of their mutual repugnance, it is compelled to recognise as true.36

In effect, Hamilton’s view seems to have been that Reid and common sense were right in holding that what we perceive are real, material objects, located in an objective space and time, objectively possessed of (some of) the properties we ascribe to them, but that Kant was right in holding that those properties which we can ascribe to them must be adapted to our faculties, “relative” in the sense of being related to our cognitive capacities.

The question of the sense in which all our knowledge is thus of the relative or the conditioned is not quite here answered, however. For there remains a considerable ambiguity about the nature of this relativism, or relatedness. The simplest reading turns the doctrine of relativity into a truism. It amounts to saying that what we can know depends in part upon our perceptive capacities, and that beings with different perceptual arrangements from our own would perceive the world differently. In that sense, it is no doubt true that what we perceive of the world is only an aspect of the whole of what is there to be perceived. More philosophically interesting is an exploration of why we seem able to agree that we might in principle perceive the world quite otherwise than we do, but find it impossible to say much about how we might do so. Mill, however, pursues that topic no further than to its familiar sources in the questions asked by Locke—whether a man born blind could conceive of space, for instance (222ff.). Mill’s chief complaint is that Hamilton confuses several senses of relativity together, when talking of the relativity of knowledge, and that the only sense he consistently adheres to is this truistic sense. In any real sense, says Mill, Hamilton was not a relativist:

Sir W. Hamilton did not hold any opinion in virtue of which it could rationally be asserted that all human knowledge is relative; but did hold, as one of the main elements of his philosophical creed, the opposite doctrine, of the cognoscibility of external Things, in certain of their aspects, as they are in themselves, absolutely


When Hamilton attempts to reconcile this objectivist account with the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, flat contradiction is only averted by retreat into banality:

He affirms without reservation, that certain attributes (extension, figures, &c.) are known to us as they really exist out of ourselves; and also that all our knowledge of Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] them is relative to us. And these two assertions are only reconcileable, if relativity to us is understood in the altogether trivial sense, that we know them only so far as our faculties permit.


Mill was not the severest critic of Hamilton on this score. J. H. Stirling’s critique of Hamilton’s account of perception treats Hamilton’s views with complete contempt. The contradiction between the objectivist account and the relativist account of our knowledge of the outside world is so blatant that Hamilton cannot have failed to notice it. Where Mill suspects Hamilton of mere confusion, Stirling accuses him of disingenuousness. Mill demurely declines to press any such charge (cv). He did not even suggest that Reid and Kant made awkward allies in principle. In an earlier article on “Bain’s Psychology” he had indeed yoked Reid and Kant together as members of the a priori school of psychological analysis. But he went on to point out that the question of the connection between our faculties and the nature of the external reality was an issue of ontology rather than psychology; and here Reid was “decidedly of opinion that Matter—not the set of phenomena so called, but the actual Thing, of which these are effects and manifestations—is congnizable by us as a reality in the universe.”37 This comment suggests that Mill thought of Hamilton as discussing metaphysics in a wide sense—both “the science of being” and psychology; Reid, Kant, and Hamilton were allies in so far as they belonged to the same camp in psychology, but they made an ill-assorted trio in matters of ontology. Here Kant and Reid belonged to different camps and no one could tell where Hamilton stood. Mansel’s reply to Mill was to insist that everything in Reid, and everything in Hamilton which expressed an allegiance to Reid, should be as it were put in Kantian brackets. We might perceive things themselves, but the “thing itself” which we perceive is not the “thing-in-itself,” but only the phenomenally objective thing. The thing known in perception was the appearance to us of a noumenon of which nothing whatever could be known.38

There is something to be said for Mansel’s claims. Reid at times writes as if knowledge is doubly relative: in the knower, it is a state of an ego of which we only know the states, though convinced that it exists as a continuing substance; and, in the known, what we know is states of things external to us, though again we are irresistibly convinced of their continued substantial existence. But we cannot safely go far along this path. Reid did not like to talk of substances, and certainly did not wish to introduce them as mysterious substrates; to the extent that Mansel rescues Hamilton by claiming that Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] external things are known “relatively” as phenomena related to imperceptible noumena, he goes against the evident thrust of Reid’s views. The further one presses Hamilton’s attachment to Kant beyond his avowed enthusiasm for the destructive attack on positive metaphysics, the harder it is to get any textual backing for the case. It is doubtless true that a sophisticated Kantian would have been untroubled by Mill’s attack, but it is quite implausible to suggest that that is what Sir William Hamilton was.

At all events, Mill’s approach to Hamilton is initially entirely negative. Mill does not put forward any view of his own on the relativity of knowledge. The reason is a good one so far as it goes. Mill’s distinction between the a priori and a posteriori schools of psychology is one which only partially overlaps his main theme. For in the Examination, just as in the Logic, Mill’s hostility is directed against those who attempt to infer the nature of the world from the contents and capacities of our minds. In principle, there is no reason why there should be any overlap between a priorism in psychology and the view that mental capacities and incapacities reflect real possibilities and impossibilities in the world. A priorism, as Mill describes it, is a psychological approach which refers our most important beliefs about the world, and our moral principles, too, to instincts or to innate capacities or dispositions. The sense in which these are a priori is not very easy to characterize, although the fact that many of the instinctive beliefs described by the a priori psychologists of Mill’s account coincide with the judgments described by Kant as synthetic a priori suggests most of the appropriate connotations. Thus the perception that objects occupy a space described by Euclidean geometry embodies the instinctive judgment that bodies must occupy space, and the necessity ascribed to the truths of geometry reflects the instinctive judgment that, for instance, two straight lines cannot enclose a space, and so on. Such judgments, says Mill, purport to be a priori in the sense that they have to be presumed true before experience is possible, or at any rate characterizable. Whether they are held to be temporally prior to experience is, he recognizes, not essential: there is no need to deny that children have to learn arithmetic in order to deny that its truths reflect the teachings of experience. Mill sees that it is quite arguable that the capacity to recognize necessities of thought is one which matures in the child, and requires experience to set it to work. Indeed, at times, he seems to suggest that the dispute between a priori and a posteriori psychologists is an empirical dispute in which there need not be only two opposing sides. For if the issue is one of how much of an adult’s understanding of the world we can account for as the result of individual learning, there will be a continuum between psychologists who stress the extent to which such an understanding is as it were preprogrammed into the human organism and those who stress how much of it can be accounted for Edition: current; Page: [xxv] by trial-and-error learning from the organism’s environment. In like manner, with reference to the area of moral and prudential reasoning, there would be a similar continuum between those who see us as relatively plastic and malleable organisms and those who claim to see some moral and prudential attachments more or less genetically built in.

Now, in so far as the argument proceeds in these terms, it will still follow a pattern which is visible in Mill’s own approach. That is, the environmentalist must attempt to show some way in which the capacity, whose acquisition he is trying to explain, could have been built up through experience; the innatist will respond by showing that there are features of such a capacity which are simply omitted or more subtly misrepresented by such an account. The question of how much of what we perceive of the world is to be credited to the programme by which the percipient organism organizes its physical interaction with the world, and how much is to be set down to learning, is then an empirical question, or rather a whole series of empirical questions. This was the point at which Mill and Herbert Spencer came close to agreement. Spencer’s long discussion of the nature of intuitive knowledge in the Fortnightly Review is a protest against being assigned to the rationalist camp by Mill, in which Spencer’s central point is that when we refer our sensations to external objects as their causes this is, as it were, a hypothesis proferred by the organism, a hypothesis which we cannot consciously shake, and one on which we cannot help acting. Nonetheless, it is only a hypothesis; it is, however, one which seems to have been programmed into us by evolution, and one whose reliability is most readily accounted for by the theory that the external world is, indeed, much as we perceive it is.39 The doctrine is not one which would perturb Mill; he ascribed something very like it to Reid.40

This assertion, however, does imply that Mill’s own interest in the relativity of knowledge as a central issue in epistemology rather than psychology, would necessarily be slight. That the organic constitution of human beings sets limits to what they could hope to know about the world was an uninteresting empirical truth; interesting truths about the ways in which we were prone to illusions in some areas, or about the ways in which we estimated the size, shape, movement, or whatever of external bodies, would emerge piecemeal. Mill never quite propounded a version of the verification principle, and therefore never went to the lengths of suggesting that what one might call transcendental relativism or transcendental idealism was simply meaningless, because its truth or falsity could make no observational difference. But he came very close.

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He came particularly close when he turned from Hamilton’s views on the positive relativity of knowledge to Hamilton’s negative case, as set out in his critique of Cousin. In his attack on Cousin, Hamilton had denied that we can ever attain to positive knowledge of “the Infinite” and “the Absolute”; Mill dismantles Hamilton’s various arguments to this effect, distinguishing Kantian arguments to show that we can know nothing of noumena from arguments against the possibility of an “infinite being.” They are, he points out, directed at very different targets. That our knowledge is phenomenal, not noumenal, “is true of the finite as well as of the infinite, of the imperfect as well as of the completed or absolute” (58-9). The “Unconditioned,” in so far as it is to be identified with the noumenal, is certainly not an object of knowledge for us. But “the Absolute” and “the Infinite” are in considerably worse shape than the merely noumenal. These, though Hamilton never meant to go so far, are shown up as a tissue of contradictory attributes: “he has established, more thoroughly perhaps than he intended, the futility of all speculation respecting those meaningless abstractions ‘The Infinite’ and ‘The Absolute,’ notions contradictory in themselves, and to which no corresponding realities do or can exist” (58). To Mansel’s reply that Hamilton had not tried to argue that they were meaningless abstractions, Mill had a ready retort:

I never pretended that he did; the gist of my complaint against him is, that he did not perceive them to be unmeaning. “Hamilton,” says Mr Mansel, “maintains that the terms absolute and infinite are perfectly intelligible as abstractions, as much so as relative and finite.” Quis dubitavit? It is not the terms absolute and infinite that are unmeaning; it is “The Infinite” and “The Absolute.” Infinite and Absolute are real attributes, abstracted from concrete objects of thought, if not of experience, which are at least believed to possess those attributes. “The Infinite” and “The Absolute” are illegitimate abstractions of what never were, nor could without self-contradiction be supposed to be, attributes of any concrete.


Mill’s harassment of Hamilton on the Absolute and the Infinite has few lessons of great moment. It is interesting that Mill does not adopt, as he might have done, Hobbes’s method of dealing with the question of infinity. Where Hobbes had said that “infinite” characterizes not the attribute itself, but our incapacity to set a limit to whatever attribute is in question, Mill treats it as an attribute, that of being greater than any completed attribute of the appropriate sort—a line of infinite length is thus longer than any completed line. Some attributes could be characterized as absolutely present, but not infinitely so, others as infinitely but not absolutely present. The purity of water has an absolute limit, viz., when all impurities are absent, but there is no sense to be given to the notion of infinitely pure water. Concerning this issue, Mill changed his mind on minor points from one edition to another. He began by claiming that power could be infinite, Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] but knowledge only absolute, because absolute knowledge meant knowing everything there is to be known; but under pressure from Mansel and other critics, he agreed that a being of infinite power would know everything he could think or create, so that his knowledge would be infinite also (37-8). But he is casual about such concessions, quite rightly seeing them as having little bearing on the main question, whether there is any sense at all to be attached to such notions as “the Absolute.”

It is surprising that Mill does not press his opponents harder on the meaninglessness of propositions about beings with infinite attributes and the rest. Mansel in particular, but Hamilton also, was very vulnerable to the charge that in showing God or the Unconditioned to be beyond our conceiving, they had also shown them to be beyond our believing. Both Hamilton and Mansel were utterly committed to the principle that what was not a possible object of knowledge was nevertheless a proper object of belief. Mansel stated his position with characteristic lucidity in the Preface to his Bampton Lectures:

“the terms conceive, conception, &c., as they are employed in the following Lectures, always imply an apprehension of the manner in which certain attributes can coexist with each other, so as to form a whole or complex notion. . . . Thus when it is said that the nature of God as an absolute and infinite being is inconceivable, it is not meant that the terms absolute and infinite have no meaning—as mere terms they are as intelligible as the opposite terms relative and finite—but that we cannot apprehend how the attributes of absoluteness and infinity coexist with the personal attributes of God, though we may believe that, in some manner unknown to us, they do coexist. In like manner, we cannot conceive how a purely spiritual being sees and hears without the bodily organs of sight and hearing; yet we may believe that He does so in some manner. Belief is possible in the mere fact (τὸ ὅτι). Conception must include the manner (τὸ πω̑ς).41

The obvious question invited is, what is the mere fact believed in? If we cannot form any conception of the state of affairs which is said to be the object of our belief, it is not clear that we can be said to know what we believe at all. Mill’s attack on the discussion of “the Infinite” and “the Absolute” concentrates, as we have just seen, on the claim that they cannot be talked about because they are literal self-contradictions; Mansel does not quite go to the length of saying that self-contradictory propositions might be true, though we cannot imagine how, and Mill does not press on him the obvious dilemma that he must either say that, or admit that the terms he is using no longer bear their usual meaning, and perhaps bear no clear meaning at all.

What Mill does argue against Hamilton is that no sooner has Hamilton Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] routed those of his opponents who believe that we have direct knowledge of the unconditioned, or perhaps an indirect and implicit knowledge only, than he joins forces with them by letting what they describe as “knowledge” back into his system under the label of “belief.” If one were looking for the weak points in Mill’s account of Hamilton, this brief attack would surely be one place to seek them in. In essence, Mill’s complaint is that whatever Hamilton had maintained about the relativity of knowledge, and whatever scepticism he had evinced about the Unconditioned, everything would have been

reduced to naught, or to a mere verbal controversy, by his admission of a second kind of intellectual conviction called Belief; which is anterior to knowledge, is the foundation of it, and is not subject to its limitations; and through the medium of which we may have, and are justified in having, a full assurance of all the things which he has pronounced unknowable to us; and this not exclusively by revelation, that is, on the supposed testimony of a Being whom we have ground for trusting as veracious, but by our natural faculties


Mill’s outrage is intelligible enough. If one supposes that philosophical first principles are supposed to furnish a set of premises from which we can deduce the general reliability of our knowledge, then some such method as that of Descartes is the obvious one to pursue, and it would seem that first principles must be better known than anything that hangs upon them. At least it would seem scandalous to any Cartesian to suppose that we merely believed in our own existence and yet knew that bodies could not interpenetrate or that the sun would rise again in the morning. Yet it is doubtful whether this is how Mill ought to have understood Hamilton. Spencer, who tackled the issue more sympathetically, suggested a more plausible interpretation, and one which does more justice than Mill’s to the difference between a Cartesian and a Kantian view of first principles. Mill, who treats the difference between belief and knowledge very much as twentieth century empiricism was to do—that is, regarding knowledge as justified true belief (65n)—cannot allow for a difference in the ways of treating particular knowledge claims and claims about the whole of our knowledge. But Spencer does just that. When we claim to know something, we assume that we can set our belief against external evidence; but we cannot peel off the whole of our knowledge of the world from the hidden world of which it is knowledge and claim that we now know that it is knowledge.42 All we can do is believe that it really is knowledge. More than one twentieth-century philosopher of science has similarly claimed that we can only make sense of the sciences’ claim to supply us with knowledge of the world if we believe in an occult, underlying, objective order in the world, which is beyond experience but accounts for its possibility.

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It is only when Mill comes to sum up the successes and failures of the philosophy of the conditioned that he supplies the reader with what is most required—an explanation of what Mill himself understands by inconceivability, and how he explains it, in opposition to the intuitionists and innatists. The explanation occupies a considerable space, but it is worth noticing two main points. The first is Mill’s claim that the majority of cases of inconceivability can be explained by our experience of inseparable associations between attributes, and the other his claim that most of the things that Hamilton claims to be inconceivable are not difficult, let alone impossible, to conceive. What is most likely to scandalize twentieth-century readers is the way Mill treats it as an empirical psychological law that we cannot conjoin contradictory attributes, and therefore cannot conceive things with contradictory attributes. The source of the scandal is obvious: we are inclined to hold that it is a matter of logic that a thing cannot have inconsistent attributes, not because of any property of things or our minds, but because a proposition is logically equivalent to the negation of its negation, and to ascribe a property and its contradictory to an object is simply to say nothing. The assertion negates and is negated by the denial of it. The law of non-contradiction, on this view, cannot be interpreted psychologically, without putting the cart before the horse: that a man cannot be both alive and not alive is not the consequence of our de facto inability to put the ideas of life and death together.

Mill, however, suggests something like a gradation, from flat contradiction through decreasingly well-attested repugnances of attributes:

We cannot represent anything to ourselves as at once being something, and not being it; as at once having, and not having, a given attribute. The following are other examples. We cannot represent to ourselves time or space as having an end. We cannot represent to ourselves two and two as making five; nor two straight lines as enclosing a space. We cannot represent to ourselves a round square; nor a body all black, and at the same time all white.


But he goes on to make something nearer a sharp break between flat contradiction and everything else:

A distinction may be made, which, I think, will be found pertinent to the question. That the same thing should at once be and not be—that identically the same statement should be both true and false—is not only inconceivable to us, but we cannot imagine that it could be made conceivable. We cannot attach sufficient meaning to the proposition, to be able to represent to ourselves the supposition of a different experience on this matter. We cannot therefore even entertain the question, whether the incompatibility is in the original structure of our minds, or is only put there by our experience. The case is otherwise in all the other examples of inconceivability.


These, Mill begins by saying, are only the result of inseparable association; but he rather confusingly qualifies this by suggesting that even there the Edition: current; Page: [xxx] inconceivability somehow involves the contradictoriness of what is said to be inconceivable: “all inconceivabilities may be reduced to inseparable association, combined with the original inconceivability of a direct contradiction” (70). The point he is making is, evidently, the following. We cannot conceive of a state of affairs characterized as A and not-A, because the conception corresponding to A is just the negative of the conception of not-A. In other cases, there is no direct contradiction; it is A and B we are asked to conceive jointly, and if we are unable to do so it is because in our experience B is always associated with not-A. Hence the attempt to conceive A and B turns out to be special case of trying to conceive A and not-A, and the real point at issue between Mill and the opposition is the nature of our certainty that in these proposed instances B really does imply not-A. Mill thinks it is an empirical conviction, implanted by experience, reflecting the way the world actually is, but telling us nothing about how it has to be. The opposition have no common doctrine; the Kantian members of it think that the conviction reflects how the world has to be, but only in the sense that since “the world” is a phenomenal product of our minds working upon unknown and unknowable data it must obey the laws of our own minds; Catholic transcendentalists like W. G. Ward claimed to be objectivists and realists on this issue, where the Kantians were subjectivists and phenomenalists; they held that real inconceivabilities in our minds reflect the necessity of a certain rational structure to the universe, a structure that is not a matter of choice even for Omnipotence itself. So, in attacking Mill’s attempt to explain the truths of mathematics in experiential terms, Ward says:

I have never even once experienced the equality of 2+9 to 3+8, and yet am convinced that not even Omnipotence could overthrow that equality. I have most habitually experienced the warmth-giving property of fire, and yet see no reason for doubting that Omnipotence (if it exist) can at any time suspend or remove that property.43

Mill himself makes something like a concession to the Kantian mode of analysis, though it is a physiological rather than a psychological version of transcendental idealism that he perhaps offers. In the body of the text he claims that “a round square” is in principle no more inconceivable than a heavy square or a hard square; to suppose that one might exist is no more than to suppose that we might simultaneously have those sensations which we call seeing something round and those which we call seeing something square:

we should probably be as well able to conceive a round square as a hard square, or a heavy square, if it were not that, in our uniform experience, at the instant when Edition: current; Page: [xxxi] a thing begins to be round it ceases to be square, so that the beginning of the one impression is inseparably associated with the departure or cessation of the other


But in a later footnote he drew back:

It has been remarked to me by a correspondent, that a round square differs from a hard square or a heavy square in this respect, that the two sensations or sets of sensations supposed to be joined in the first-named combination are affections of the same nerves, and therefore, being different affections, are mutually incompatible by our organic constitution, and could not be made compatible by any change in the arrangements of external nature. This is probably true, and may be the physical reason why when a thing begins to be perceived as round it ceases to be perceived as square; but it is not the less true that this mere fact suffices, under the laws of association, to account for the inconceivability of the combination. I am willing, however, to admit, as suggested by my correspondent, that “if the imagination employs the organism in its representations,” which it probably does, “what is originally unperceivable in consequence of organic laws” may also be “originally unimaginable.”


The note nicely illustrates the difficulty of seeing quite what Mill’s case was. Even here he seems determined to appeal to the laws of association, and yet the case he is partially conceding is that there are structural constraints on what things can be perceived and therefore come to be associated. Evidently the one thing he is determined not to concede is that the laws of the Macrocosm can be inferred from the laws of the Microcosm; but as he says, he is here at one with Hamilton and Mansel.

Yet it is this view which Mill mostly writes to defend, and perhaps in a form which does set him apart from Hamilton and Mansel. For Mill plainly treats the question of what we can and cannot conceive as a flatly factual one, and so, in turn, he treats the laws of number or the findings of geometry as flatly factual too. Indeed, he goes so far as to claim that even with our present mental and physical constitution we could envisage alternative geometries and different arithmetical laws. “That the reverse of the most familiar principles of arithmetic and geometry might have been made conceivable, even to our present mental faculties, if those faculties had coexisted with a totally different constitution of external nature, is,” says Mill, “ingeniously shown in the concluding paper of a recent volume, anonymous, but of known authorship, ‘Essays, by a Barrister’ [i.e., Fitzjames Stephen]” (71n), and he quotes the paper at length. The gist of it is that we can perfectly well imagine a world in which 2+2=5; for all we need imagine is a world in which “whenever two pairs of things are either placed in proximity or are contemplated together, a fifth thing is immediately created and brought within the contemplation of the mind engaged in putting two and two together” (71n). Mill does not suggest, what is surely rather plausible, that such a statement of the case is self-destructive, Edition: current; Page: [xxxii] in that it presupposes that what we should say under such conditions is not that 2+2=5, but, as he does say, that associating pairs creates a fifth object. The supposition, of course, is much more complicated in any case than Mill allows. As Frege later argued, things are only countable under a common concept—a cow and a sheep are not a pair of cows nor a pair of sheep, but they are a pair of animals, mammals, familiar English objects, and so on. Are we to suppose that they spontaneously generate a fifth something or other when conceptualized one way but not another? Can we stop the process by thinking of four things, not as two pairs but as a trio and an individual? Are addition and subtraction supposed to cease to be isomorphic, so that 5-2=3, even though 2+2=5? Nor is it clear what the notion of contemplating pairs is going to embrace. If I read a word of six letters, do I read a word of three pairs of letters, and if so, is it not a word of at least seven letters? Or will it stay one word of only six letters so long as I read it as one word only—in which case how will anyone ever learn to read? There is, no doubt, something contingent about the fact that our system of geometry and arithmetic apply in the world, but it is hardly so flatly contingent as this account suggests.

Mill is much more persuasive when he sets out to deny Hamilton’s claims about the limitations from which our thinking necessarily suffers. Mill distinguishes three kinds of inconceivability, which, he says, Hamilton habitually confuses. The first is what we have been examining until now, the supposed impossibility of picturing the states of affairs at stake, either directly or indirectly as the result of its making contradictory demands on the imagination. The second is the apparent incredibility of what is perfectly visualizable. Mill’s example is the existence of the Antipodes; we could model a globe in clay and recognize that there need be no absolute “up” or “down,” but still fail to see how people could remain on the surface of the globe at what we were sure to think of as its underside (74-5). Finally, there is a sense in which an event or state of affairs is inconceivable if it is impossible to see what might explain it: “The inconceivable in this third sense is simply the inexplicable.” Mill says, and quite rightly, that it merely invites confusion to employ “inconceivable” to cover mere inexplicability:

This use of the word inconceivable, being a complete perversion of it from its established meanings, I decline to recognise. If all the general truths which we are most certain of are to be called inconceivable, the word no longer serves any purpose. Inconceivable is not to be confounded with unprovable, or unanalysable. A truth which is not inconceivable in either of the received meanings of the term—a truth which is completely apprehended, and without difficulty believed, I cannot consent to call inconceivable merely because we cannot account for it, or deduce it from a higher truth.


Oddly enough, it was Mansel who got into the most serious muddle here, and for no very obvious reason. He denied that Hamilton had ever used the Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii] term “inconceivable” to cover more than the unimaginable, and yet, as we have seen already, employed the term himself in Mill’s third sense. We believe that the will is free, but we cannot explain how it is, and so, on Mansel’s view, we have here a believable inconceivability.44 Had he stuck simply to saying that we can conceive that something is the case where we cannot conceive how it is, there would be no problem—what is imaginable and credible is the bare fact, what is unimaginable is a mechanism which might account for it. The connection, as Mill is quick to see, between the narrower, proper senses of inconceivable, and the wider, improper sense, is that the offer of a hypothetical mechanism to account for a phenomenon makes it so much the easier both to visualize it and to believe in its existence. None of this, of course, is to deny that Mansel is quite right to suggest that the mind does indeed boggle at the task of explaining how the physical interaction of brain and world results in perceptions which are themselves not in any obvious sense physical phenomena at all; all it shows is that there is no point in muddying the waters by suggesting that the facts are inconceivable when what one means is that they are in certain respects inexplicable.

Having cleared up these terminological difficulties, Mill then embarks on the question of whether, as Hamilton claims, the philosophy of the conditioned shows that there are propositions about the world which are inconceivable and yet true. The examples Mill has in mind, as we have seen, are such propositions as that space is finite, or, conversely, that space is infinite. The language of conceivability causes a few more difficulties, even after Mill’s sanitizing operations, for between Mill and Mansel there remains a difference of opinion on the question of what it is to have a conception of any state of affairs. Mansel seems to require that there should be some kind of one-to-one relationship between the elements in our conception and that of which it is the conception. Mill does not entirely repudiate this view; it will serve as a criterion for having an adequate—or perhaps one had better say, a complete—conception of the phenomenon that one should be able to enumerate the elements in one’s conception and match them to the components of the thing conceived. But, says Mill, in one of his most felicitous moves, it is impossible to have a wholly adequate conception of anything whatever, since everything and anything can be envisaged in an infinite number of ways. The obsession with the infinite and absolute in Hamilton and Mansel is ill-defended by Mansel’s arguments about adequacy, since, says Mill, there is no suggestion that a number like 695,788 is inconceivable, and yet it is pretty clear that we do not enumerate its components when we think of it (84).

What, then, is it for us to conceive of space as infinite, or conversely, as Edition: current; Page: [xxxiv] finite? On Mill’s view, we can conceive of an infinite space by simply conceiving of what we call space and believing that it is of greater extent than any bounded space.

We realize it as space. We realize it as greater than any given space. We even realize it as endless, in an intelligible manner, that is, we clearly represent to ourselves that however much of space has been already explored, and however much more of it we may imagine ourselves to traverse, we are no nearer to the end of it than we were at first. . . .


The same confidence applies to conceiving of space as finite. Mill supposes that all we need to imagine is that at some point or other an impression of a wholly novel kind would announce to us that we were indeed at the end of space. The extent to which neither Mill nor Hamilton, nor Mansel for that matter, takes the full measure of Kant is somewhat surprising. There is no suggestion that drawing the boundaries of space is conceptual nonsense because boundaries are something one draws in space, so that if space is finite it must be finite but unbounded. There is no attempt to explore further what could lead us to recognize an experience as, say, the experience of reaching the end of time or the end of space.

For, as we have seen, Mill does not do more than skirt round the suggestion that “infinite” may have something odd about it, if it is treated as an ordinary first-order predicate, or that “Space” may be the name of an object to which it is only dubiously proper to apply a predicate like “finite.” Mill does not extend the notion of “meaninglessness” beyond its most literal applications. He thinks that it is impossible to conceive what is meant by a literally meaningless utterance, or one to which we can attach no meaning, but that this is not a philosophically interesting sort of inconceivability:

If any one says to me, Humpty Dumpty is an Abracadabra, I neither knowing what is meant by an Abracadabra, nor what is meant by Humpty Dumpty, I may, if I have confidence in my informant, believe that he means something, and that the something which he means is probably true: but I do not believe the very thing which he means, since I am entirely ignorant what it is. Propositions of this kind, the unmeaningness of which lies in the subject or predicate, are not those generally described as inconceivable.


For Mill, then, in so far as the states of affairs described by Hamilton as inconceivable are picked out by intelligible propositions, it becomes a question of fact, even if one which there is no hope of deciding, which branch of the antinomies proposed by Hamiton is true. In that case, what of the philosophy of the conditioned? The answer, says Mill, is that there is in it a good deal less than meets the eye. Hamilton’s claim that “Thought is only of the conditioned,” and that the “Conditioned is the mean between two extremes—two inconditionates, exclusive of each other, neither of Edition: current; Page: [xxxv] which can be conceived as possible, but of which, on the principles of contradiction and excluded middle, one must be admitted as necessary,45 turns out to be nothing better than noise. It “must be placed in that numerous class of metaphysical doctrines, which have a magnificent sound, but are empty of the smallest substance” (88).


with hamilton thus routed, Mill turns to meet Mansel’s application of the philosophy of the conditioned to religious thought. Neither Mill’s attack nor Mansel’s response stands out as a model of dispassionate and impersonal inquiry. Mill all but accuses the clergy of being under a professional obligation to talk nonsense (104), and Mansel replies in kind.46 Mill opens his assault by paying Mansel a backhanded compliment: “Clearness and explicitness of statement being in the number of Mr. Mansel’s merits, it is easier to perceive the flaws in his arguments than in those of his master, because he often leaves us less in doubt what he means by his words” (91). In fact, it is not always quite clear where Mansel does and where he does not rest on arguments borrowed from Hamilton; against Mill he tended to argue by complaining of Mill’s defective appreciation of the history of philosophy, a procedure which has the defect of turning the interesting question of where Mill and Mansel disagreed over the possible extent of a human knowledge of God’s nature into a much less interesting question, about the extent of Mill’s acquaintance with traditional natural theology. Mansel was probably right in his conjecture that in some sense Mill thought traditional metaphysics was pointless and nonsensical, but he was far too annoyed to tackle the question that he had really set for himself—namely, if traditional natural theology and traditional metaphysics were as essentially flawed as The Limits of Religious Thought maintained, was Mill not right? Why was not agnosticism the proper resting place?

Still, Mill hardly encouraged Mansel to adopt a conciliatory attitude. After a rapid summary of Mansel’s argument that we cannot form an adequate conception of God—since God as Absolute and Infinite is inconceivable by us—he comes to Mansel’s conclusion that we can only fall back on revelation. That the God thus revealed can or cannot have any particular characteristics, Mansel says it is not for reason to declare; the credibility of a revelation is a matter of historical probabilities, “and no argument grounded on the incredibility of the doctrine, as involving an intellectual Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi] absurdity, or on its moral badness as unworthy of a good or wise being, ought to have any weight, since of these things we are incompetent to judge” (90). It is not, says Mill, a new doctrine, but “it is simply the most morally pernicious doctrine now current . . . ” (90).

Readers who have begun to weary of the hunting of the Absolute will probably take it on trust that in so far as “the Absolute” means the unrelated-to-anything-in-our-experience it is no great achievement to show that we have no knowledge of the Absolute. But Mill presses Mansel rather harder than this, for he at last challenges him to make good on the claim that we are able and indeed obliged on the strength of revelation to believe in this unknowable entity. Mansel, says Mill, succeeds in showing that “the Absolute” and “the Infinite” as defined by himself are simply self-contradictory; but, on Mill’s view, this entails their being also unbelievable. “Believing God to be infinite and absolute must be believing something, and it must be possible to say what” (98). Mansel’s argument to the effect that “the Absolute” and “the Infinite” are involved in self-contradiction is altogether too devastating for his own good, for Mansel certainly does not want to say that the divine nature is really and inherently contradictory. Mansel, indeed, went out of his way to deny any such suggestion; credo quia impossibile he thought unworthy of any sane man.47 His reply to Mill, abusive though it is, shows how little he wished to get himself into such depths, for when Mill taunts him with not being able to say what the object of his belief is, he falls back on propositions which Mill readily admits to be intelligible, such as the proposition that God made the world, though we cannot tell how He did it. The explanation of the trouble is simple, though rather strange. Mansel thought it an aid to Christian belief to show that the sceptic could not attack its doctrines on rational grounds; but the way in which he rescued them from the sceptic was by making them too elusive to disbelieve. Inevitably the price he paid was making them too elusive to be believed either.

The single thing in the Examination that most heartened his allies and most outraged his opponents was Mill’s assault on what he took to be the immorality of Mansel’s doctrine of the unknowability of the moral attributes of God. To Mill the issue was simple enough. When the clergy talked of God’s power they generally meant what we would mean by talking of human power, for instance the divine ability to throw us into the inferno; only on God’s moral attributes did they equivocate and suggest that God’s goodness was not as mortal goodness.

Is it unfair to surmise that this is because those who speak in the name of God, have need of the human conception of his power, since an idea which can overawe and Edition: current; Page: [xxxvii] enforce obedience must address itself to real feelings; but are content that his goodness should be conceived only as something inconceivable, because they are so often required to teach doctrines respecting him which conflict irreconcilably with all goodness that we can conceive?


Whether it is or not, Mill’s case is that Mansel cannot hope to argue that God’s moral attributes are unlike their human analogues without thereby sacrificing the right to expect us to worship Him. There is, as any reader of Mansel’s Bampton Lectures can see, an awkwardness in Mansel’s case, analogous to the awkwardness of his epistemology. The case he presents is the familiar one: the Christian who believes in the infinite power and goodness of God is confronted with a world in which the just suffer and the wicked flourish. The austere Mansel does not argue in the Kantian manner that we are thereby licensed to expect a reconciliation of virtue and happiness in the life hereafter. What he does instead is suggest that the inscrutability of God extends to the inscrutable goodness He exhibits. It is not clear that Mansel intends to show that God’s goodness is not ours; mostly, he argues that how God is working out an overall plan for His universe, a plan which is good in the same sense as a human plan would be good, simply remains unknowable. The goodness of God’s agents particularly exercises Mansel: what would be cruelty or injustice if done otherwise than in obedience to God’s commands is, we must hope, not cruelty or injustice after all. But, once again, it is less a matter of the imperfect analogy between human and divine attributes (which is the object of Mill’s complaint) than of the imperfection of our knowledge of the Almighty’s programme, for the sake of which these orders were given. In this light one can understand why Mansel’s reply to Mill takes the form of a rather querulous complaint that surely Mill cannot deny that a son may recognize the goodness of his father’s actions without wholly understanding them—and Mill does not deny it.

Mill, however, surely gets the best of the dispute, with his famous outburst, for all that Mansel tries to dismiss it as “an extraordinary outburst of rhetoric.”48

If, instead of the “glad tidings” that there exists a Being in whom all the excellences which the highest human mind can conceive, exist in a degree inconceivable to us, I am informed that the world is ruled by a being whose attributes are infinite, but what they are we cannot learn, nor what are the principles of his government, except that “the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving” does not sanction them; convince me of it, and I will bear my fate as I may. But when I am told that I must believe this, and at the same time call this being by the names which express and affirm the highest human morality, I say in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power such a being may have over me, there is one thing which he shall not do: he Edition: current; Page: [xxxviii] shall not compel me to worship him. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.



as one might guess from the title of Mansel’s The Philosophy of the Conditioned, it was that doctrine which Mansel, like Mill, saw as Hamilton’s most distinctive contribution to philosophy (109). The rest of this Introduction will take its cue from the combatants, and confine itself to the piecemeal treatment of some major issues. The most interesting of these would seem to be the following: Mill’s phenomenalist analysis of matter and mind; his demolition of Hamilton’s account of causation, which is perhaps a major curiosity rather than a major issue; his account of conception, judgment, and inference, and his assessment of Hamilton’s contribution to logic; and, finally, his analysis of the freedom of the will.


Mill’s account of matter and mind begins with what amounts to a hostile review of Hamilton’s own hostile review of Thomas Brown’s Lectures on the Philosophy of the Mind. (Hamilton’s article appeared in the Edinburgh Review in October, 1830, and was reprinted in his Discussions.) Hamilton declared that it was a striking proof of the low state of intellectual life in Britain that Brown’s Lectures had not hitherto received their just deserts:

The radical inconsistencies which they involve, in every branch of their subject, remain undeveloped; their unacknowledged appropriations are still lauded as original; their endless mistakes, in the history of philosophy, stand yet uncorrected; and their frequent misrepresentations of other philosophers continue to mislead. In particular, nothing has more convinced us of the general neglect, in this country, of psychological science, than that Brown’s ignorant attack on Reid, and, through Reid, confessedly on Stewart, has not long since been repelled;—except, indeed, the general belief that it was triumphant.49

Hamilton claimed that Brown played fast and loose not only with the testimony of consciousness, a vice to which all philosophers are liable to succumb, but with the testimony of Reid. Brown was what Hamilton called a cosmothetic idealist, and Hamilton was at pains to insist that between the testimony of consciousness—which is all on behalf of “Natural Realism” or “Natural Dualism”—and the inferences of idealism there is a great opposition. Reid, on Hamilton’s view, was a realist and dualist, where Brown falsely makes him out to be an idealist of the same kind as himself.

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Mill devotes a chapter to showing not merely that Reid wavered in his convictions on the question, but that when he was plainly committed to any view, that view was cosmothetic idealism. Moreover, very few of Hamilton’s arguments against Brown hold water, and when Hamilton adduces, to attack Brown, general principles, such as the impossibility of representative perception, the result, on Mill’s account, is to leave Brown untouched and most of Hamilton’s own argument in ruins (164). Mill distinguishes, with Hamilton, three views about perception which have been held by those he lumps together as cosmothetic idealists: the first is the view that what is really perceived is not a state of the perceiver’s mind, but something else, whether a motion in the brain as in Hobbes or an Idea in the mind as in Berkeley; the second is the view that what is perceived is a state of mind, but that it and the perceiving of it are distinguishable. These two doctrines, says Mill, really are doctrines of mediate or representative perception, as Hamilton says they are. There is a something which is the direct object of perception and which represents the external object. The third view, however, and the view which Brown held, is not a theory of representative perception at all, for there is no tertium quid, no object of direct perception from which the existence of some other object is inferred. The object of perception here is “a state of mind identical with the act by which we are said to perceive it” (155). There is here no very clear distinction between a certain sort of phenomenalism on the one hand and outright realism on the other, indeed—a point which Mill does not make, but which some current versions of a “sense data” theory of perception do.50

Brown’s account of the perception of external objects is invulnerable to the objection that there is no way of knowing whether the object of perception resembles, or truly or faithfully represents, the external object itself. For Brown does not claim that it bears any such relationship to anything external. The relation is causal, not pictorial. In effect, to perceive something in the outside world just is to be in a certain sensory state and to conclude non-inferentially that the cause of this state lies in something external to oneself. And this, says Mill happily, is the only rational interpretation to be placed on the views of Reid as well. Indeed,

if Brown’s theory is not a theory of mediate perception, it loses all that essentially distinguishes it from Sir W. Hamilton’s own doctrine. For Brown, also, thinks that we have, on the occasion of certain sensations, an instantaneous and irresistible conviction of an outward object. And if this conviction is immediate, and necessitated by the constitution of our nature, in what does it differ from our author’s direct consciousness? Consciousness, immediate knowledge, and intuitive knowledge, are, Sir W. Hamilton tells us, convertible expressions; and if it be granted that whenever our senses are affected by a material object, we immediately and intuitively Edition: current; Page: [xl] recognise that object as existing and distinct from us, it requires a great deal of ingenuity to make out any substantial difference between this immediate intuition of an external world, and Sir W. Hamilton’s direct perception of it.


Brown, on Mill’s account, gets the better of Hamilton by consistently denying that some properties of things are known as they really are in the (unknowable) object and some not; Brown genuinely held the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge in an unconfused form (167). In this Brown was on the opposite side to both Reid and Hamilton, but it was an issue on which not even Hamilton was willing to suggest that Brown was unaware of the differences between his own views and those of Reid. Brown’s theory of perception explains all our knowledge of the attributes of matter in terms of the sensory promptings of an external cause, while Reid’s, like Hamilton’s, allows us “a direct intuition of the Primary Qualities of bodies” (176). Mill, of course, thinks that Brown’s view is the only one consistent with his premises; certainly, as Mill argues both earlier and later in the Examination, Hamilton can hardly hope to keep his half-way house. Either he must be a thoroughgoing vulgar realist and agree that what we see just are things, endowed with the attributes we see them to have, the plain man’s view; or else, if he is to allow himself such corrections of consciousness as are required when he says, for instance, that no two people see the same object, or indeed that each of us sees two “suns,” say, because we receive an image through each eye, and in so saying departs very widely from what any plain man believes, then he must adopt a much more wholesale subjectivism.

Mill’s own account of what we believe when we believe in the existence of the outside world is the best known part of the Examination. It is hard to know whether to be more surprised by the confidence with which he puts it forward or by the contrast between that confidence and the diffidence, so reminiscent of Hume, with which he confesses that it will not yield a plausible analysis of mind. Mill’s account of matter seeks to analyze it in terms of possible sensations. In effect, the requirements of something’s being a material thing, distinct from our sensations of it, are the following: it must be public in the sense that it can be perceived by many different people, whereas each of them alone can have his actual sensations; it must be “perdurable,” that is, it must exist unperceived, and must outlast the fleeting experiences of it which those who perceive it may have; and it must retain the same properties even if these make it “look different” in different circumstances.

We mean, that there is concerned in our perceptions something which exists when we are not thinking of it; which existed before we had ever thought of it, and would exist if we were annihilated; and further, that there exist things which we never saw, touched, or otherwise perceived, and things which never have been perceived by Edition: current; Page: [xli] man. This idea of something which is distinguished from our fleeting impressions by what, in Kantian language, is called Perdurability; something which is fixed and the same, while our impressions vary; something which exists whether we are aware of it or not, and which is always square (or of some other given figure) whether it appears to us square or round—constitutes altogether our idea of external substance. Whoever can assign an origin to this complex conception, has accounted for what we mean by the belief in matter.


The question is, of course, whether an appeal to “possible sensations” can account for all this. Perhaps the first thing that should be said is that Mill is oddly reticent about employing the fact that human beings are embodied consciousnesses in any of the argument; later, he employs the sensations of muscular effort and resistance as part of the primitive data which he suggests the mind works on in arriving at a conception of space. But it is on the face of it odd to begin arguing about the belief in an external world without raising any question about what external can mean unless “external to me,” and how it can mean that, unless we are spatially located from the beginning—and how, if we are so located, it can make any sense to begin to construct a world whose existence we seem to have to assume in order to talk about the constructive task in the first place. Mill can, of course, retort that he is not talking about spatial externality yet. What he is talking about initially is permanence; it is a second part of the case to show that a permanent object in sensation has to be construed—or is naturally to be construed—as a spatially external object. That is, so long as we do not insist on publicity, and do not have too many qualms about whether something could be round or square except in a spatially extended world, we could perhaps break up the belief in a material world into a belief in something permanent which holds together the objects of sense and into a second belief that it is located in space as well as in time. If we think of the percipient as a non-spatial ego in which subjective experiences inhere and which has a history as the history of one such being, we might think of the non-ego as the objective correlate of the percipient self. It is not at all clear that Mill had any such possibility in mind, and it is quite clear that we shall not get very much out of Mill’s account by pressing it; nonetheless, to the extent that Mill takes over the terminology of Hamilton, in which we are said to be conscious of an Ego and a non-Ego, the question whether the non-Ego is an external—that is spatially external—world is evidently an open one. The first step establishes a non-Ego as a deliverance of consciousness, if we side with Hamilton, and as an inference if we side with Mill; only subsequent steps can establish its nature.

Mill at any rate is eager to show that so long as the mind is credited with a capacity to form expectations, we can see how the mind would move from having had experiences in certain circumstances in the past, to believing in Edition: current; Page: [xlii] possible experiences realized by similar conditions in the future. These, Mill says, are not bare possibilities but conditional certainties—by which he merely means to insist that he does not suggest that, in the everyday sense, it is only “possible” that when we look at a chair we shall have the appropriate sensations. He means that we shall quite certainly have the appropriate sensations, but, of course, only in the appropriate conditions. The mind, then, faces the fact that its experiences occur in various determinate ways; it constructs the hypothesis that this orderliness will be found in all sorts of other areas, and finds it confirmed. The content of the hypothesis is that the world contains permanent possibilities of sensation, and the world turns out to do so. Mill is eager not to turn the Permanent Possibilities themselves into mental constructions; in a footnote replying to a critic who had complained that Mill had offered “no proofs that objects are external to us,” he says that he had never attempted any such proof:

I am accounting for our conceiving, or representing to ourselves, the Permanent Possibilities as real objects external to us. I do not believe that the real externality to us of anything, except other minds, is capable of proof. But the Permanent Possibilities are external to us in the only sense we need care about; they are not constructed by the mind itself, but merely recognised by it; in Kantian language, they are given to us, and to other beings in common with us.


It is their givenness which explains the sense in which they are objective rather than subjective; whether this makes them external in a sense which would satisfy the plain man as well as the philosopher remains to be seen.

That there is an external world is a sort of hypothesis, then. It is formed entirely unconsciously, of course, but the awkwardness is not its genesis but its meaning. Mill seems unworried by this, and given the remark quoted immediately above, it is easy to see why. He could share Brown’s view of what the belief in an external world amounted to—namely belief in an underlying cause of our sensory experience—since his interest lay not in disputing the adequacy of the analysis, but in accounting for the fact thus analyzed without invoking anything like an original conviction of the existence of an external world. Not for nothing did Mill call his account the psychological theory of the belief in an external world; he thought that Hamilton, Reid, and for that matter Brown, too, had erred by adopting the “introspective” method of analysis, by which he meant that they were too ready to infer from the present existence of a belief in their own minds that it was part of the mind’s native constitution. The psychological theory was in principle no more than a genetic hypothesis, a hypothesis about how the belief could have grown up. As such, it seems to be a rather difficult one to bring to empirical test, although such a test seems appropriate for it; the difficulties are too obvious to be worth dwelling on, but they make one wonder why Mill did not make more of the question whether there was any Edition: current; Page: [xliii] way of averting them. Would he have regarded infantile efforts at focussing on remote objects as evidence one way or the other? Would a new-born baby’s recoil from what looks like a sheer drop be evidence about how original a sense of spatial location might be? In the absence of more discussion in Mill’s work, speculation is fruitless.

Whether Mill’s analysis of matter would satisfy the plain man’s notions about matter is a question to which he does devote some attention. He has two rather different stances. The first is that the belief in matter goes beyond the belief in the permanent possibility of sensation: we move from believing that we shall have certain sensations under certain conditions to believing that the whole series of possible sensations has an underlying cause. Now, on this view, we are at any rate inclined to ask whether this belief in an underlying cause actually means anything—since it makes no observational difference whether or not there is such a cause, there is some difficulty in knowing what difference is made by its affirmation or denial. Believers in parsimony, Occam’s Razor, or other austerities of thought will perhaps incline to reject it on the grounds that we should believe as little as we must to account for the facts; Mill thinks that Hamilton’s “Law of Parsimony” should cause him an analogous embarrassment, but makes nothing of it in this context—he is concerned to reduce the number of our primary intuitions, rather than to purge the plain man’s ontology. This being his aim, he is quite content to argue that

Whatever relation we find to exist between any one of our sensations and something different from it, that same relation we have no difficulty in conceiving to exist between the sum of all our sensations and something different from them. . . . This familiarity with the idea of something different from each thing we know, makes it natural and easy to form the notion of something different from all things that we know, collectively as well as individually. It is true we can form no conception of what such a thing can be; our notion of it is merely negative; but the idea of a substance, apart from its relation to the impressions which we conceive it as making on our senses, is a merely negative one. There is thus no psychological obstacle to our forming the notion of a something which is neither a sensation nor a possibility of sensation, even if our consciousness does not testify to it; and nothing is more likely than that the Permanent Possibilities of sensation, to which our consciousness does testify, should be confounded in our minds with this imaginary conception. All experience attests the strength of the tendency to mistake mental abstractions, even negative ones, for substantive realities.


On the whole, this argument suggests that the generality of mankind hold mistaken views about matter, though its intention may only be to suggest that they hold unverifiable views. But Mill also suggests that he and the plain man may not be at odds.

Matter, then, may be defined, a Permanent Possibility of Sensation. If I am asked, whether I believe in matter, I ask whether the questioner accepts this definition of it. Edition: current; Page: [xliv] If he does, I believe in matter: and so do all Berkeleians. In any other sense than this, I do not. But I affirm with confidence, that this conception of Matter includes the whole meaning attached to it by the common world, apart from philosophical, and sometimes from theological, theories. The reliance of mankind on the real existence of visible and tangible objects, means reliance on the reality and permanence of Possibilities of visual and tactual sensations, when no such sensations are actually experienced.


This view, in contrast to the first one, suggests that the plain man qua plain man believes in Permanent Possibilities only; the belief in an unknowable underlying substance is either imposed on him by philosophers, or adopted by the plain man only qua amateur philosopher.

The argument between phenomenalists and their opponents has, of course, continued unabated ever since. It is not only the plain man who feels uneasily that Mill’s “permanent possibilities of sensation” moves awkwardly between an account of matter which stresses that it is permanently and objectively available to be sensed, and one which dissolves that objective existence into the fact that minds are permanently available to sense—but not necessarily to sense anything other than their own contents. It is at the very best difficult to feel that a possible, but non-actual sensation is more solid, more material, more firmly part of the furniture of the world than an actual sensation is.

Before turning to Mill’s attempt to provide a phenomenalist account of personal identity, therefore, we should look to Mill’s expansion of his analysis of matter in the shape of his account of our knowledge of its primary qualities. Mill’s analysis is devoted to several different tasks, of which the most important is to show that the “psychological theory” can deal with the generation of the idea of Extension, which

has long been considered as one of the principal stumbling blocks of the Psychological Theory. Reid and Stewart were willing to let the whole question of the intuitive character of our knowledge of Matter, depend on the inability of psychologists to assign any origin to the idea of Extension, or analyse it into any combination of sensations and reminiscences of sensation. Sir W. Hamilton follows their example in laying great stress on this point.


But Mill also wants to explain two other things, firstly, the difference between what we treat as subjective feelings as distinct from what we treat as perceptions of something in the object and, secondly, why we group the objective properties of bodies together as their primary qualities. These did not cause much controversy among Mill’s critics, but the attempts at generating the idea of extension along the lines laid down in Bain’s treatise on psychology did. The fundamental complaint was always the same, that all attempts to explain where we might have acquired the concept of extension presuppose that we have it already. As Mill says in the footnote in which he replies to them:

Edition: current; Page: [xlv]

A host of critics, headed by Dr. McCosh, Mr. Mahaffy, and the writer in Blackwood, have directed their shafts against this chapter. . . . The principal objection is the same which was made to the two preceding chapters [on the Psychological Theory of the belief in an external world, and its application to mind]: that the explanation given of Extension presupposes Extension: that the notion itself is surreptitiously introduced, to account for its own origin.


The distinction between sensations referred mostly to the subject of perception and those referred mostly to the object, Mill explains fairly casually. That we can refer the experience to an outer object is the major difference between sensation and other mental phenomena; so, the pleasure of a man eating a good meal can be said to inhere in the meal, but is more readily ascribed to the man than the meal, because pleasure and pain are part of a class of “sensations which are highly interesting to us on their own account, and on which we willingly dwell, or which by their intensity compel us to concentrate our attention on them.” The result is that in our consciousness of them “the reference to their Object does not play so conspicuous and predominant a part . . .” (212). Mill does not appeal to the way in which the pleasure and, to a lesser extent, the pain caused by a given object varies from one person to another as a reason for distinguishing the pleasure and pain from what causes them; nor does he suggest that there is anything problematic in treating secondary qualities like colour in the same way as pleasure and pain. The distinction he is interested in is really that which his opponents see as a distinction between the essence of matter, and all else. If we can imagine a thing losing its colour without ceasing to exist, and losing its capacity to give pain or pleasure without ceasing to exist, then colour and pleasure lie on the side of the secondary qualities; if we cannot imagine an object losing its extension or impenetrability without ceasing to exist, then these are its primary qualities. That we in fact agree in thinking of resistance, extension, and figure as the primary qualities of matter, indeed think of matter as consisting of these attributes “together with miscellaneous powers of exciting other sensations” (214), Mill readily admits. That we group these together he explains by the fact that sensations of smell, taste, and hearing do not cohere directly, but “through the connexion which they all have, by laws of coexistence or of causation, with the sensations which are referable to the sense of touch and to the muscles; those which answer to the terms Resistance, Extension, and Figure. These, therefore, become the leading and conspicuous elements. . . .” (213.)

So the question eventually comes to that of whether the associationist psychology can explain our conception of things as being spatially extended, with the implications that this property suggests, that they must have boundaries or figure, if we are to tell one thing from another, and that they must be less than wholly interpenetrable. Resistance, or relative impenetrability, Mill explains as an inference from the experience of Edition: current; Page: [xlvi] obstructed muscular movement when this is combined with appropriate sensations of touch. The combination assures us that the impediment to movement is not internal paralysis or something similar. Figure, Mill deals with rather casually as the conjoined information of sight and touch; he invokes a good deal of not very persuasive psychological evidence to suggest that a blind man either has a different conception of figure from that of a sighted man or no conception at all, and even toys with the less than obviously coherent claim that a blind man might think the external world was composed entirely of one object. But it is evidently the analysis of extension that is crucial to his case. He makes it at second hand by way of an extended quotation from Bain. The gist of the case is simple enough. We have certain sensations connected with the contraction of our voluntary muscles, and these are different according to the extent of such contraction, so that we can discriminate half, wholly, or very partially contracted muscles; these are associated with the sweep of a limb or other bodily movement. Now it would obviously be putting the cart before the horse if Mill and Bain were to employ the idea of a limb sweeping a certain amount of space in explaining the origins of our idea of space. Most of Mill’s critics, as we have seen, said that this was just what they had done. Whether the charge can be rebutted is very difficult to decide. In a sense, Mill is between the devil and the deep blue sea. Any notion of the sweep of a limb which is distinctively non-spatial looks inadequate to generate a conception of space at all, while any notion adequate to the generation of a concept of space seems to get there by starting with some notion of space already. If we make the sweep of a limb purely temporal—that is, if we say that the non-spatial notion is simply one of the length of time it takes for sensations to succeed each other—we escape the charge of paralogism, but we do not get very close to the usual idea of space. Mill does not make this admission; on his analysis, the blind man’s conception of space is temporal not spatial, and even the sighted majority have a conception which is basically temporal:

a person blind from birth must necessarily perceive the parts of extension—the parts of a line, of a surface, or of a solid—in conscious succession. He perceives them by passing his hand along them, if small, or by walking over them if great. The parts of extension which it is possible for him to perceive simultaneously, are only very small parts, almost the minima of extension. Hence, if the Psychological theory of the idea of extension is true, the blind metaphysician would feel very little of the difficulty which seeing metaphysicians feel, in admitting that the idea of Space is, at bottom, one of time—and that the notion of extension or distance, is that of a motion of the muscles continued for a longer or a shorter duration.


The temptation remains to say what is shown here is only that a man who has our conception of space can measure distances by the time it takes to Edition: current; Page: [xlvii] cover them; it does nothing to suggest that time alone can convey that conception of space to one who does not have it. Just as Mill’s analysis of the external world provides us with “possibilities of sensation” external to our actual sensations only in the same way that the number six is external to the series of numbers from one to four, so here he seems to offer us extension in one dimension when we want it in another.

The point at which Mill himself admitted to defeat was in the analysis of mind rather than matter. The general line that he saw himself obliged to pursue was what we should expect; if matter was a permanent possibility of being sensed, the “Ego” should be amenable to analysis as the permanent possibility of having sensations. Mill’s first concern is to show that there is nothing in such a phenomenalism to justify charges of atheism or all-embracing scepticism. If the mind is a series of mental states, there is no bar to immortality in that: a series can go on forever just as readily as a substance can. No doubt metaphysicians have been eager to argue that we must be immortal, on the grounds that the soul, being a substance, is indestructible, but such arguments, says Mill, are so feeble that philosophers have increasingly given them up. The existence of God is equally untouched: “Supposing me to believe that the Divine Mind is simply the series of the Divine thoughts and feelings prolonged through eternity, that would be, at any rate, believing God’s existence to be as real as my own” (192). And the existence of other minds is as well vouched for on phenomenalist as on substantialist premises. We know in our own cases that between bodily effects and their bodily causes there intervene mental events—sensations, motives, and so on—and we infer inductively that the same thing is true in other cases; we see bodies like our own and believe on excellent evidence that there are minds associated with them. “I conclude that other human beings have feelings like me, because, first, they have bodies like me, which I know, in my own case, to be the antecedent condition of feeling; and because, secondly, they exhibit the acts, and other outward signs, which in my own case I know by experience to be caused by feelings” (191). Mill thus concludes that Reid’s accusation, that the phenomenalist ends as a solipsist, fails.

But this is not to say that the phenomenalist position is freed of all difficulty. The pressure in favour of phenomenalism is the same in the case of mind as in the case of matter; we have no knowledge of mind as it is in itself, only of its phenomena. Just like Hume, Mill holds that what we perceive are the mind’s modifications, such as thoughts, sensations, desires, and aversions. What we have in the way of evidence is a stream of experience; is the mind or the self more than such a stream, therefore? Mill answers that it seems that it must be more. The reason lies in the nature of memory and expectation. In themselves memories and expectations are Edition: current; Page: [xlviii] simply part of the stream of consciousness, but their oddity is that they essentially involve beliefs, and beliefs of an awkward kind. When we expect a future experience, we expect something to happen to us, and when we remember a past experience, we remember that something happened to us.

Nor can the phænomena involved in these two states of consciousness be adequately expressed, without saying that the belief they include is, that I myself formerly had, or that I myself, and no other, shall hereafter have, the sensations remembered or expected. The fact believed is, that the sensations did actually form, or will hereafter form, part of the self-same series of states, or thread of consciousness, of which the remembrance or expectation of those sensations is the part now present. If, therefore, we speak of the Mind as a series of feelings, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series of feelings which is aware of itself as past and future; and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the Mind, or Ego, is something different from any series of feelings, or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox, that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series.


In essence, Mill’s problem is that if matter is a hypothesis that a mind formulates to account for the regularity of its experience, a unitary self must be presupposed to do the hypothesizing, and a unitary self that, furthermore, can view its experience as something regular enough to need explaining by such a hypothesis. But if my construction of my experienced world depends on a prior identification of the data of experience as my sensations and so on, there seems no hope of accounting for me in the same terms—for, out of what would I construct me? Mill insists in a long footnote that he merely intends to leave open the question of what the mind’s nature really is, neither, as some of his critics have alleged, adopting the “psychological theory” in spite of the objections, nor accepting the common view of the mind as a substance (204n-7n). Indeed, says Mill in the main text,

The truth is, that we are here face to face with that final inexplicability, at which, as Sir W. Hamilton observes, we inevitably arrive when we reach ultimate facts; and in general, one mode of stating it only appears more incomprehensible than another, because the whole of human language is accommodated to the one, and is so incongruous with the other, that it cannot be expressed in any terms which do not deny its truth


This abstemiousness about putting forward any explanation of the inexplicable did not save Mill from Bradley. In his Ethical Studies Bradley did his best to kill off the psychological theory with a famous joke: “Mr. Bain collects that the mind is a collection. Has he ever thought who collects Mr. Bain?”51 and went on to say of Mill that when he had “the same fact Edition: current; Page: [xlix] before him, which gave the lie to his whole psychological theory, he could not ignore it, he could not recognize it, he would not call it a fiction; so he put it aside as a ‘final inexplicability,’ and thought, I suppose, that by covering it with a phrase he got rid of its existence.”52 This judgment is transparently unjust, but there is something extremely unsatisfactory about Mill’s agnosticism all the same.

One cannot do the subject justice here, but we may at any rate agree that Mill could have done more. He could, for example, have explored the idea that the self can be a serial self, without needing a non-serial percipient self to give it unity, or that it is a logical construction which does not require a constructor; he could have pressed the “error theory” implicit in what he says about the way ordinary language favours one view of personal identity, and attempted to pull apart the implications of the language from the bare facts of the world. The fact remains that he did not.


Although there are grounds for treating Mill’s attack on Hamilton’s account of causation in conjunction with discussion of free-will—namely, that Mill discusses the “volitional” theory of causation while he is attacking Hamilton, and in the process commits himself to the view that we have no direct power over our own volitions (298-9)—there is more to be said for tackling it briefly and on its own. For on causation Mill adds nothing to his own account in the Logic, whereas on the subject of the freedom of the will he supplements what he says in the Logic, and in addition fills out the theory of punishment and the conception of justice that we find in Utilitarianism and On Liberty. His attack on Hamilton’s theory of causation is brief and dismissive. The issue was what we might expect: Hamilton appealed to the innate structure of the mind, and Mill thought the appeal quite illicit. On this topic Hamilton’s case was an odd one. For he did not appeal to a positive intuition of the connectedness of events, nor to anything like Kant’s synthetic a priori principle of the rule-governed succession of events. Rather, he appealed to an incapacity of the mind. The incapacity in question was the mind’s inability to conceive of what he called an “absolute commencement.” This incapacity, as Mill says, is on Hamilton’s account not entirely reliable as a guide to how things are, for acts of the free will are cases of just such an absolute commencement. It does seem at first, however, the sort of thing on which one might found a view of causation. That is, we cannot regard any event as an uncaused happening, because we cannot conceive of any such thing; we must, therefore, look for Edition: current; Page: [l] the cause of it. The difficulty lies in Hamilton’s explanation of the nature of the incapacity. Hamilton does not make any claim for its fundamental status. He explains it is a case of the general incapacity to imagine that there could be an increase or decrease in the quantum of existence in the world. This is, of course, a sort of relative of the principles of the conservation of energy or the conservation of matter; so read, Hamilton might be saying that the aim of causal explanation is to show how a fixed quantity of matter undergoes changes of form. The reason why he put the problem in this odd way was very probably his scholastic enthusiasm for the Aristotelian four causes, but Mill was surely right to say that the only one of the Aristotelian causes which corresponded to the modern conception of cause was the efficient cause. Hamilton went on to claim that the effect is the very same thing as the cause, presumably meaning only that effects must be made out of the same fixed quantum of matter. This was to ignore the efficient cause in favour of the material, and, in thus deciding to leave out of account the changeable element in causation, Hamilton simply left out causation. “Suppose the effect to be St. Paul’s: in assigning its causes, the will of the government, the mind of the architect, and the labour of the builders, are all cast out, for they are all transitory, and only the stones and mortar remain” (292). In any case, says Mill, it is plainly absurd to suppose that the law of the conservation of matter is an original endowment of the mind; until they are taught otherwise, men believe that when water evaporates, it is annihilated, and do not think that when wood is reduced to ashes, the missing wood must be somewhere in some shape or other, even if only as smoke. It therefore looks as if Hamilton’s interpretation of our incapacity to conceive an absolute commencement is suicidally ill-adapted to provide a theory of causation. Had he employed the principle in its most natural sense, as referring to the inconceivability of an uncaused event, it might have been bald, though it would have been addressed to the right topic; however, to employ it, not as a principle about the effects of events upon each other, but as a principle about the unchangeable quantity of existence in the world, made it simply irrelevant to the topic in hand.


Mill declines to provide a positive account of causation, on the entirely proper grounds that he has done more than enough in that line in the Logic. Instead he turns to Hamilton’s views on logic. Anyone who wearies of Mill’s hounding of Hamilton through the questions of how we form concepts, what it is to judge something to be the case, and so on, will wish that Mill had declined the chase on the grounds that here, too, he had done enough in the first two books of the Logic. The question, what is a concept, Edition: current; Page: [li] resolves itself for Mill into the familiar question whether there are any abstract ideas; he offers a thumbnail sketch of the three possible views on universals, declares that Realism is dead beyond hope of revival, and proceeds to set out the rival attractions of Nominalism and Conceptualism. The view of the nominalists was that “there is nothing general except names. A name, they said, is general, if it is applied in the same acceptation to a plurality of things; but every one of the things is individual” (302), and this is the view of the mediaeval nominalists’ successors such as Berkeley. The conceptualists, of whom Locke is representative, agree that “External objects indeed are all individual” but maintain nonetheless that “to every general name corresponds a General Notion, or Conception, called by Locke and others an Abstract Idea. General Names are the names of these Abstract Ideas.” (302.) Mill complains of Hamilton that he will not settle for one or other of these positions, but seems to swing between agreeing with Berkeley that we simply cannot form ideas of, for example, a triangle which is neither isosceles nor scalene nor equilateral—in which case he would be a nominalist—and a manner of talking about “Abstract General Notions” which is only consistent with conceptualism. Mill himself settles for nominalism, by explaining that we may have abstractions without having any abstract ideas.

General concepts, therefore, we have, properly speaking, none; we have only complex ideas of objects in the concrete: but we are able to attend exclusively to certain parts of the concrete idea: and by that exclusive attention, we enable those parts to determine exclusively the course of our thoughts as subsequently called up by association; and are in a condition to carry on a train of meditation or reasoning relating to those parts only, exactly as if we were able to conceive them separately from the rest


Attention is fixed by naming the respect in which we are to attend to whatever it is. Mill insists that words are therefore only signs, and there can be such things as natural signs; anything which will direct the attention in the appropriate way will form the basis of classification and conceptualization. “We may be tolerably certain that the things capable of satisfying hunger form a perfectly distinct class in the mind of any of the more intelligent animals; quite as much so as if they were able to use or understand the word food” (315).

Mill’s eventual aim is to vindicate against Hamilton the doctrine that there can be a logic of truth as well as a logic of consistency. In the process he sets out to criticize Hamilton’s account of what is involved in judgment and reasoning. The two basic complaints that Mill levels against Hamilton are that his account of judgment appears to make all true propositions analytic, and that his account of reasoning makes it impossible to see how one can ever find out something by reasoning. Here again we are in a Edition: current; Page: [lii] much-trodden field, and one where there has since Mill’s day been a continuous effort to disengage questions of logical implication from questions about the novelty to any particular reasoner of the conclusion he reaches by deductive inference. In the matter of judgment, Mill had an interest in insisting on the importance of belief, and thus of the idea of truth. In editing his father’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, he had remarked on the imperfections of the associationist analysis of belief in terms of the association of two ideas.53 To believe that the grass is green and to deny that the grass is green, we need to have the same propositional content in mind; it is the judgment we make of its being true to fact or false to fact that is different. In so far as associating ideas is supposed to be mentally analogous to depicting a state of affairs, it leaves out what is distinctive about judging that something is or is not the case; for a picture to become an assertion or a denial it needs to have something else added to it, namely the judgment that it is or is not how things are.

Mill takes up the theme against Hamilton with additions. Hamilton had rashly suggested that judgment was a process of seeing whether one concept was part of another, though he also claimed that in judgment we looked to see if two concepts were capable of coexistence or were mutually repugnant. But this argument he glossed in such a way as to suggest at any rate that such an inspection yielded what we should normally think of as a synthetic judgment. We put together such concepts as water, rusting, and iron, and if they are congruent, reach the judgment that “water rusts iron.” Mill comments pretty sharply on this fearful muddle. It confuses judgments about the compatibility of our concepts with judgments about the coexistence of attributes in the world, and in any event does not make the necessary move from contemplating a state of affairs as possible to asserting that it is actualized.

The discussion is complicated to some degree by the psychological overtones of any discussion of concepts. Hamilton at times seems to be wanting to say that an established truth is analytic, in that our concepts embody everything we associate with that of which they are the concept; so, only new truths would be synthetic, and they would make us revise our concepts in such a way that what had been synthetic now became analytic. This cannot be said to be an attractive doctrine in general, nor can Hamilton be said to have showed much sign of really wishing to articulate it; it would mean that a statement such as “all men are mortal” would be speaker-relative both in meaning and in epistemological status. For somebody whose concept “man” included “mortal” it would be analytic, and for somebody whose concept did not, it would be synthetic. Even then, in Edition: current; Page: [liii] Hamilton’s account, we are not much further forward, for if concepts are congruent when propositions are possibly true, and if they are related as part to whole when they are necessarily true, how are they related when something is said to be true only contingently? As Mill complains, the necessary reference to a belief about the world seems to have been omitted.

Take, for instance, Sir W. Hamilton’s own example of a judgment, “Water rusts iron:” and let us suppose this truth to be new to us. Is it not like a mockery to say with our author, that we know this truth by comparing “the thoughts, water, iron, and rusting?” Ought he not to have said the facts, water, iron, and rusting? and even then, is comparing the proper name for the mental operation? We do not examine whether three thoughts agree, but whether three outward facts coexist. If we lived till doomsday we should never find the proposition that water rusts iron in our concepts, if we had not first found it in the outward phænomena.


Mill’s chapter on reasoning is concerned with the problem which had haunted the Logic, that is, how can reasoning give us new knowledge? Mill requires a theory of reasoning which accounts for the way in which we can, by bringing judgments to bear on each other, learn what we could not know by inspecting them separately. The conventional complaint against Mill to the effect that he habitually confuses psychological and logical questions really does seem warranted here, for most of his objections to Hamilton boil down to the claim that if we move from “all men are mortal” via “Socrates is a man” to “Socrates is mortal” by seeing that a concept comprehended under a concept is comprehended under any concept that comprehends that second concept, then it is impossible to see how we could move from premises to conclusion. Did we once have the greater concept clear in our mind, subsequently forget part of it, and then recall it (343-5)? Mill produces what he takes to be a conclusive refutation of the “conceptualist” view that reasoning is eliciting the implications of concepts, when he offers geometrical reasoning as a plain case of achieving new knowledge of things rather than merely of concepts by a process of reasoning alone.

Here are two properties of circles. One is, that a circle is bounded by a line, every point of which is equally distant from a certain point within the circle. This attribute is connoted by the name, and is, on both theories [that is, Nominalism and Conceptualism], a part of the concept. Another property of the circle is, that the length of its circumference is to that of its diameter in the approximate ratio of 3.14159 to 1. This attribute was discovered, and is now known, as a result of reasoning. Now, is there any sense, consistent with the meaning of the terms, in which it can be said that this recondite property formed part of the concept circle, before it had been discovered by mathematicians? Even in Sir W. Hamilton’s meaning of concept, it is in nobody’s but a mathematician’s concept even now: and if we concede that mathematicians are to determine the normal concept of a circle for mankind at large, mathematicians themselves did not find the ratio of the diameter to the circumference in the concept, but put it there; and could not have done so until the Edition: current; Page: [liv] long train of difficult reasoning which culminated in the discovery was complete.


This discussion, of course, ties in with Mill’s account of geometry in the Logic, with its insistence that geometry was not about definitions but about the things picked out by the definitions.54

Mill goes on to criticize Hamilton’s account of logic in terms which the preceding discussion would lead us to expect. Hamilton intended, so far as one can see, to describe logic as a purely formal science, and to explain the domain of what we should now call philosophical logic as that of the analysis of the mental operations necessary for valid thinking and inference—concept formation, definition, and so on. But this is notoriously an area in which the absence of an adequate notation hindered all efforts at distinguishing clearly between formal and material considerations. Mill, moreover, was an unabashed primitivist in such matters. He complained in the Examination that Hamilton’s attempt to explicate the law of noncontradiction by such formulae as “A=not-A=0” or “A-A=0” was merely a “misapplication and perversion of algebraical symbols” (376), and his letters reveal that he had no inkling of the importance of the work of Boole.55 In the absence of an adequate notation, it is difficult to develop a coherent account of what is meant by restricting the notion of logic to formal considerations. Mill is wholly successful in showing that Hamilton made a fearful chaos of it. What everyone since has found less convincing is Mill’s positive account of a logic which should be wider than the logic of consistency. It is not that his fundamental position is incoherent, though it is loosely stated.

If any general theory of the sufficiency of Evidence and the legitimacy of Generalization be possible, this must be Logic κατ’ ἑξοχήν, and anything else called by the name can only be ancillary to it. For the Logic called Formal only aims at removing one of the obstacles to the attainment of truth, by preventing such mistakes as render our thoughts inconsistent with themselves or with one another: and it is of no importance whether we think consistently or not, if we think wrongly. It is only as a means to material truth, that the formal, or to speak more clearly, the conditional, validity of an operation of thought is of any value; and even that value is only negative: we have not made the smallest positive advance towards right thinking, by merely keeping ourselves consistent in what is, perhaps, systematic error.


Here, evidently, Mill divides general logic into what one might call the realm of inductive support on the one hand, and the realm of deductive Edition: current; Page: [lv] implication on the other. The general principle that deductive arguments are conclusive because there is no way to affirm their premises and deny their conclusions without self-contradiction is one which Mill seems to adopt for himself. The so-called principle of non-contradiction, says Mill, “is the principle of all Reasoning, so far as reasoning can be regarded apart from objective truth or falsehood. For, abstractedly from that consideration, the only meaning of validity in reasoning is that it neither involves a contradiction, nor infers anything the denial of which would not contradict the premises.” (378.) Yet Mill does not want to draw such a sharp line between inductive and deductive arguments as either his opponents at the time or his successors now would do. The suggestion, even in the quotation immediately above, is that where objective truth or falsehood is in question, there is a sense of “validity” other than that employed in deductive reasoning. And that in turn suggests another heretical doctrine, that Mill thinks of the relation between premises and conclusions as relations of evidential support; some evidential support is so good that when we see plainly what we are saying we see that we should contradict ourselves by simultaneously asserting the premises and denying the conclusion. But instead of concluding that induction and deduction are wholly different operations, Mill inclines to the view that there is no real inference in deductive arguments.

The twentieth-century reader’s unease at all this must be a good deal increased by two passages which betoken the same unwillingness to give any weight at all to the formal/material distinction. Mill seems at first to see that there is something odd about the so-called law of identity which, he agrees, lies at the basis of all reasoning, though it is not clear what it is that he dislikes. At one point he suggests that the law of identity amounts to saying that a statement true in one form of words remains true in another form of words bearing the same meaning. To elucidate the law, says Mill, we need very much more than a statement like “A is identical with A.” We need, indeed,

a long list of such principles as these: When one thing is before another, the other is after. When one thing is after another, the other is before. When one thing is along with another, the other is along with the first. When one thing is like, or unlike, another, the other is like (or unlike) the first: in short, as many fundamental principles as there are kinds of relation. For we have need of all these changes of expression in our processes of thought and reasoning.


If the law of identity is fundamental in reasoning, it must be a general licence “to assert the same meaning in any words which will, consistently with their signification, express it” (374). This suggests that Mill does not think that identity is a property of things, but wishes to gloss it in terms of the equivalence of propositions. But he ends by admitting to some Edition: current; Page: [lvi] uncertainty whether the fundamental laws of logic are really necessities of thought or merely habits which we have acquired by seeing that these laws apply to all phenomena. That they do apply to phenomena, Mill certainly says here. Speaking of the laws of identity, contradiction, and excluded middle, he says,

I readily admit that these three general propositions are universally true of all phænomena. I also admit that if there are any inherent necessities of thought, these are such. I express myself in this qualified manner, because whoever is aware how artificial, modifiable, the creatures of circumstances, and alterable by circumstances, most of the supposed necessities of thought are (though real necessities to a given person at a given time), will hesitate to affirm of any such necessities that they are an original part of our mental constitution. Whether the three so-called Fundamental Laws are laws of our thoughts by the native structure of the mind, or merely because we perceive them to be universally true of observed phænomena, I will not positively decide: but they are laws of our thoughts now, and invincibly so. They may or may not be capable of alteration by experience, but the conditions of our existence deny to us the experience which would be required to alter them.


Mill’s last encounter with Hamilton on the logical front concerns two doctrines on which Hamilton very much prided himself. These are the claim that we can and should distinguish between syllogisms taken in “extension” and taken in “comprehension,” and the doctrine of the quantification of the predicate. Mill is very fierce against the first, but mostly because he thinks Hamilton failed to see that the extension of a class is no clue to the meaning of a class name. Thus the meaning of “table” is explained by the attributes in virtue of which tables are such; anyone who knows what they are knows what “table” means and what a table is. The number of things which happen to be tables is neither here nor there; to know that they are tables requires that we know the attributes of tables already, and once we know that, we know all there is to be known about the meaning of the word “table.” Whether this view entails that there is no light to be cast on the syllogism by treating it in terms of the calculus of classes is debatable. Mill follows Hamilton into a fog of visual imagery. According to Hamilton, says Mill, we should think of “all oxen ruminate” as meaning “If all creatures that ruminate were collected in a vast plain, and I were required to search the world and point out all oxen, they would all be found among the crowd on that plain, and none anywhere else. Moreover, this would have been the case in all past time, and will at any future, while the present order of nature lasts.” (387.) Mill’s objection is not that this is not implicit in the proposition, but that such a claim is not what is present to the mind. What is present to the mind is that two attributes are conjoined.

Hamilton is now best remembered for his doctrine of the quantification of the predicate. This is not to say that he is kindly remembered for it; it is little more than a curiosity of the history of logic, and Hamilton’s own Edition: current; Page: [lvii] version of it has been described as presented with “quite fantastic incompetence.”56 The most that anyone now tries to do is rescue Hamilton from such charges. It is, however, hard to see quite what Hamilton was trying to add to the traditional theory of the syllogism, the more so because his later elucidations of the doctrine, produced in the heat of controversy with De Morgan, not only diminish the claims of the doctrine in respect of the number of new forms of proposition added to the traditional square of opposition, but, as De Morgan pointed out, render invalid syllogisms he had earlier claimed as valid. Mill does not tackle Hamilton on these technical issues. Rather, he challenges him on his claim that the quantification of the predicate is a principle of mental hygiene. Hamilton appeals to “the self-evident truth,—That we can only rationally deal with what we already understand, determines the simple logical postulate,—To state explicitly what is thought implicitly.57 The postulate is a fairly ludicrous piece of advice; conversation would be impossible if we said everything we thought.

The true place of the doctrine of the quantified predicate lies in the theory of the syllogism, and particularly in the area of Aristotle’s claims about the permissible and impermissible forms of proposition. Hamilton’s claim that we can quantify the predicate makes good sense in the case of affirmative propositions like “all x is y” or “some x is y,” where we can give clear meaning to “all x is some y” and “all x is all y,” and again to “some x is all y” and “some x is some y.” Even here there is trouble lurking, since “all x is all y” may be interpreted either as “every x is every y”—which is true if there is only one x, only one y and x is y—or as a class-proposition to the effect that everything in x is in y and vice versa. Hamilton plainly wanted to read it as a class proposition, and only so could it give the required meaning to what he called “parti-partial negatives” like “some x is not some y,” where he wanted to admit as possible propositions even “some A is not some A” as in “Some animal (say, rational) is not some animal (say, irrational).”58 Then when pressed by his critics, he added the doctrine that some meant, not some at least, but some only, and this move collapsed the particular affirmative and particular negative propositions of the traditional square of opposition into each other, so destroying the claim that with the quantified predicate we achieve eight distinct forms of proposition, which can be put into four pairs of contradictories in the usual way.

The whole subject of how to interpret the quantification of the predicate in the case of negative propositions is bedevilled by the awkwardness of the verbal formulae involved, and it is no wonder that Hamilton and De Morgan argued at cross-purposes for the better part of twenty years. Edition: current; Page: [lviii] However sympathetic to the quantification of the predicate one may feel, it seems clear that most of what Hamilton hoped to achieve is much more readily achieved by resorting to Euler circles. With the aid of these and the predicate calculus it is possible to spell out several versions of what is implied by Hamilton’s claims. No point which can readily be related to Hamilton’s thought is served by so doing, and, because syllogistic logic is of interest to most modern logicians for what it suggests about the capacity of mediaeval logicians to anticipate twentieth-century controversies, rather than for more directly instructive reasons, Hamilton’s muddles, late in the day, are unexciting stuff. One can say on Hamilton’s behalf that the theory of the quantification of the predicate opens up an interesting area of logic, which remained largely inaccessible until a more adequate notation was developed. The later history of the subject runs through De Morgan’s speculations about the “numerically definite” syllogism and on to twentieth-century work on “the logic of plurality.” But to all this Mill had no contribution to offer, and Hamilton rather a small one.

On the issues as he saw them Mill’s demolition of Hamilton’s claims for the doctrine is brief, lucid, and complete. He objects to Hamilton’s rewriting of some as “some only”; although Hamilton may be right that there is a sous entendu of conversation to the effect that if I have seen, and know that I have seen, all your children, I should not remark merely that I had seen some of them, this fact is no reason to clutter up the theory of the syllogism (400-1). “Some A is B” is a single judgment, says Mill, and the predicate calculus would no doubt be thought to be on his side in formalizing it as ∃x(Ax & Bx), but “some only of A is B” is a compound judgment, and here, too, the modern formula would give Mill comfort, for it would be ∃x(Ax & Bx) & ∃x(Ax & -Bx). The same doubling up is required also when we attempt to quantify the predicate in the case of universal affirmatives. So, says Mill, Hamilton is not asking us to make explicit what is already implicit, since what he says is implicit (that is, in our minds already) is nothing of the sort. The Hamiltonian rewritings merely substitute two judgments for one. Mill adds a footnote to explain that we individuate judgments by way of seeing what quaesitum we answer, and he quotes one of Hamilton’s own authorities to the effect that the “cause why the quantitative note is not usually joined with the predicate, is that there would thus be two quæsita at once; to wit, whether the predicate were affirmed of the subject, and whether it were denied of everything beside” (400n-1n). Mill’s conclusion is what one would expect:

The general result of these considerations is, that the utility of the new forms is by no means such as to compensate for the great additional complication which they introduce into the syllogistic theory; a complication which would make it at the same time difficult to learn or remember, and intolerably tiresome both in the Edition: current; Page: [lix] learning and in the using. . . . The new forms have thus no practical advantage which can countervail the objection of their entire psychological irrelevancy; and the invention and acquisition of them have little value, except as one among many other feats of mental gymnastic, by which students of the science may exercise and invigorate their faculties.


Given that Hamilton’s claims had been for the psychological and theoretical merits of the doctrine, it is hard to blame Mill for not going out of his way to find a more plausible and persuasive version of the doctrine to criticize.


The last issue on which we shall see how Mill takes Hamilton to task is that of the freedom of the will. As we should imagine, the Philosophy of the Conditioned found the questions of how the will determined action, and how the will was itself moved (if not determined) to act, the occasion for a riot of declared nescience. Mansel, whose commitment to the unanswerability of ultimate questions was stronger than Hamilton’s, placed the question whether and in what way the will was free on the list of topics where philosophy proceeded by denying the intelligibility of the claims of reductionists, materialists, and necessitarians, rather than by defending an articulated account of the nature of the will and its free operation. But it was, if anything was, the central issue on which he proposed to stand and fight. For Mansel, the two opposing armies were those of the philosophy of Personality on the one side and those of Necessity on the other, and, although he did not do anything to defend this view of the nature of the battlefield or his own place in the ranks of the personalists in The Philosophy of the Conditioned, the opposition itself appears plainly enough almost throughout his Bampton Lectures.59 Mill attacks some of the obiter dicta in Mansel’s Prolegomena Logica, but in criticism he sticks pretty closely to Hamilton. However, for most readers, Mill’s positive views provide the interest of the chapter, for Mill commits himself to a number of views on punishment, the nature of justice, and the analysis of responsibility which outraged his critics at the time, and which still are live philosophical positions.

Mill says, rather plausibly, that Hamilton’s account of the freedom of the will is central to the whole Philosophy of the Conditioned. Hamilton brings the supposed incapacity of the human mind to conceive an “absolute commencement” into head-on conflict with our apparently intuitive conviction that we are free agents, whose acts of will are indeed absolute commencements. Hamilton’s Philosophy of the Conditioned, moreover, denied the teachings of common sense on the freedom of the will. Where Edition: current; Page: [lx] Reid had come close to Dr. Johnson’s famous assertion that “we know our will is free, and there’s an end on’t,”60 Hamilton thought we knew nothing of the sort. Even Reid had agreed that people act from motives; a motive must in some fashion determine the action—even if the motive was not a direct cause of action, it was surely one of the co-operating causes which determined the will, and the will in turn was the direct cause of the action (444). Mill gratefully acknowledges Hamilton’s assistance in repudiating Reid’s common-sense position, though he does so in a somewhat barbed fashion: “Sir W. Hamilton having thus, as is often the case (and it is one of the best things he does), saved his opponents the trouble of answering his friends, his doctrine is left resting exclusively on the supports which he has himself provided for it” (445). But the freedom of the will is central to Hamilton’s metaphysics in more than providing a paradigm of the conditioned nature of thought, and in more than providing a point at which Hamilton’s distinctive views emerged clearly by contrast with those of Reid. For Hamilton’s theology rested on human freedom. In effect, he held that the existence of a non-natural origin of action was the chief ground for supposing that there was a personal Creator, rather than, say, a material First Cause or a Platonic Form, at the origin of the universe. It is not just that the human personality provides, and has to provide, the model in terms of which we imagine God to ourselves—this was the burden of Mansel’s case—it is that unless human agency is somehow outside the ordinary natural course of events, there is no reason why the universe should not be thought of as having a wholly natural origin.

Mill does not so much argue against this view, though he does do so, as complain about the wickedness of resorting to such arguments at all:

the practice of bribing the pupil to accept a metaphysical dogma, by the promise or threat that it affords the only valid argument for a foregone conclusion—however transcendently important that conclusion may be thought to be—is not only repugnant to all the rules of philosophizing, but a grave offence against the morality of philosophic enquiry


The only thing about Mill’s attack on Hamilton’s theology that is of much philosophical interest is negative. Mill does not suggest that a (really or only apparently) contracausal freedom of agency could have appeared in the world by purely natural processes. He insists instead that Hamilton’s argument for the existence of God is a poor one compared with his own favoured argument, that from design (439).61 And he argues against Hamilton that a necessitarian or determinist could believe in God as a First Edition: current; Page: [lxi] Cause with no more difficulty over the First Cause’s own origins than the libertarian had. But he does not suggest anything like the kind of theory of emergent properties which might explain the way in which a sufficient degree of, say, neurological complexity and brain capacity causes a change of kind in the determination of action without introducing supernatural causes. The fact has a certain historical interest in showing how little Mill had absorbed of the evolutionary theory which would so naturally have provided him with just such an explanation.

All this, however, is almost by the way. For Mill’s aim is to present the positive case for necessitarianism or—since he rejected the idea of any “must in the case, any necessity, other than the unconditional universality of the fact” (446)—what he preferred to call determinism. The determinist holds no more complicated a belief than that human actions are not exempt from the causality in terms of which we explain all other phenomena. He hold that “volitions do, in point of fact, follow determinate moral antecedents with the same uniformity, and (when we have sufficient knowledge of the circumstances) with the same certainty, as physical effects follow their physical causes” (446). Mill encourages us to test the belief against evidence, both individual and social, and assures the reader that it is confirmed by the predictability of people’s behaviour. Mill, like empiricists before and after him, assumes rather readily that all prediction rests upon knowledge of physical causes. There is no such thing as real unpredictability, no genuine indeterminacy in the facts; all there is is the residual ignorance of the observer. “The cases in which volitions seem too uncertain to admit of being confidently predicted, are those in which our knowledge of the influences antecedently in operation is so incomplete, that with equally imperfect data there would be the same uncertainty in the predictions of the astronomer and the chemist” (446). Such uncertainties do not induce the scientist to abandon his belief in the universal reign of causality, and they ought not to induce anything of the sort in human affairs: “we must reject equally in both cases the hypothesis of spontaneousness . . .” (446).

Hamilton had expressed uncertainty about the revelations of consciousness on the subject of free will. Mill thinks that this is proper, because the only unchallengeable deliverances of consciousness are those where there really is no room for error—whatever I now feel, I really do now feel, and cannot think I do not. But freedom is not a matter of current feeling; it is a hypothesis, namely, the hypothesis that I could have done something other than what I actually did do. As a counterfactual, its content is ex hypothesi not present to consciousness; so consciousness simply cannot tell us that we are free. Although Mill half credits Hamilton with this realization, he argues that Hamilton sometimes lapses into saying we intuit our own freedom—inconceivable though it is on his own account to do so—and Edition: current; Page: [lxii] argues that, more interestingly, Hamilton holds that what we intuit is not our freedom but rather our moral responsibility, in which freedom of the will is implicit. This introduction of the concept of responsibility gives Mill the opportunity to leave Hamilton’s case on one side, and to return to the argument with the Owenites which dominates the discussion of freedom and necessity in Book Six of the Logic. Mill wishes to distinguish his own, determinist doctrine from two species of Fatalism. The first is pure or Asiatic fatalism, which “holds that our actions do not depend upon our desires. Whatever our wishes may be, a superior power, or an abstract destiny, will overrule them, and compel us to act, not as we desire, but in the manner predestined.” (465.) The second doctrine is that of Owenite fatalism, or “Modified Fatalism”:

our actions are determined by our will, our will by our desires, and our desires by the joint influence of the motives presented to us and of our individual character; but that, our character having been made for us and not by us, we are not responsible for it, nor for the actions it leads to, and should in vain attempt to alter them


The doctrine Mill held against both varieties of fatalism was not fatalist, merely determinist: that

not only our conduct, but our character, is in part amenable to our will; that we can, by employing the proper means, improve our character; and that if our character is such that while it remains what it is, it necessitates us to do wrong, it will be just to apply motives which will necessitate us to strive for its improvement, and so emancipate ourselves from the other necessity


The Owenites had argued from their position of modified fatalism that it was unjust to punish people, or, which was in their eyes, though not in everyone’s, the same thing, that punishment was ineffective as a means of social control and therefore amounted to gratuitous cruelty. The reason why their views on punishment mattered to Mill in the Examination was perhaps rather different from the reason why they mattered when he was writing the Logic. In his youth, Mill had obviously been very vulnerable to the accusation that his character had been made for him, and not by him, and that he was an artefact of James Mill’s designing. The argument in the Logic is directed almost entirely to showing that we can improve our characters, that we are not the helpless slaves of antecedent circumstances, and can choose to become something other than we have so far been brought up to be. The discussion in the Examination is less passionate. It takes off from the fact that, on Mill’s analysis, the idea of responsibility is wholly bound up with the idea of punishment. To show that there is an analysis of responsibility consistent with determinism is, in effect, to show that there is such a thing as just punishment in a determinist world.

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Mill accepts that it is unjust to punish people for what they cannot help, or when they could not have acted otherwise than they did. But his analysis of what we mean when we say that a person could have acted otherwise rephrases the statement, in the classical empiricist mould, as a claim that the person would have acted otherwise if he or she had so chosen. That all else could have remained unchanged, and that the person in question should have acted differently, is what Mill denies. When Mansel says that we know that we could have acted differently, even if everything else had been the same, Mill agrees, “though the antecedent phænomena remain the same: but not if my judgment of the antecedent phænomena remains the same. If my conduct changes, either the external inducements or my estimate of them must have changed.” (448n.) We cannot act against our strongest motive, so freedom must consist in being able to act according to it. Mill goes on to claim that this kind of freedom is entirely consistent with determinism—as it evidently is—and that it is entirely consistent with holding ourselves and others responsible for their actions. Mill begins by insisting that “Responsibility means punishment” (454). He distinguishes at once between two different ways in which we may be said to be liable to punishment.

When we are said to have the feeling of being morally responsible for our actions, the idea of being punished for them is uppermost in the speaker’s mind. But the feeling of liability to punishment is of two kinds. It may mean, expectation that if we act in a certain manner, punishment will actually be inflicted upon us, by our fellow creatures or by a Supreme Power. Or it may only mean, knowing that we shall deserve that infliction.


Mill sees that it is the idea of deserving punishment which needs explaining. Expecting to suffer is very obviously consistent with a complete absence of free will.

Mill, in essence, provides a naturalistic theory of punishment. If a society has some sense of right and wrong, then those who cultivate anti-social dispositions, and threaten the security and well-being of everyone else, will naturally be thought to be behaving wrongly, and will be objects of fear and dislike to everyone else. They will therefore be left out of the distribution of common benefits and will have whatever measures of self-defence others think necessary employed against them. The wrongdoer

is certain to be made accountable, at least to his fellow creatures, through the normal action of their natural sentiments. And it is well worth consideration, whether the practical expectation of being thus called to account, has not a great deal to do with the internal feeling of being accountable; a feeling, assuredly, which is seldom found existing in any strength in the absence of that practical expectation.

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Now it is noticeable here that Mill introduces a consideration which haunts the subsequent discussion of punishment much as, with its contractual overtones, it haunts Mill’s account of justice in Utilitarianism and much as it haunts On Liberty. This is the suggestion that society is founded on some sort of implicit agreement about the reciprocity of good and evil; we get security against the attacks of others in return for our forbearance, and we are punished when we break this agreement. Being practically held to account is a way of having the reciprocal nature of social agreement brought home to us. People who never enter into egalitarian relations cease to have notions like “fair play” in their moral lexicon. The importance of some such conception of justice as fairness is not much developed anywhere in Mill’s work, though it emerges in Mill’s interpretation of what utility requires. Here it emerges in what he says about the retributive element in punishment, and in a rather Kantian interpretation of the connection between punishment and the good of the criminal himself.

The main aim of Mill’s account, however, is to show how punishment is not shown to be unjust on determinist interpretations of it. After arguing, rather neatly, that even if we believed that the “criminal” class consisted of creatures who had no control at all over their noxious behaviour we should endeavour to control them by measures very like what we now call punishment, he confronts head on the opponent who says that all this is beside the point. The root of the difficulty is a question of justice: “On the theory of Necessity (we are told) a man cannot help acting as he does; and it cannot be just that he should be punished for what he cannot help” (458). Mill’s first response to this is at least odd, at worst catastrophic. He says that the claim that the criminal could not help it needs qualification; if he is of vicious temperament, the criminal cannot help committing the crime, but if “the impression is strong in his mind that a heavy punishment will follow, he can, and in most cases does, help it” (458). On this view the threat of punishment is a countervailing motive, which so to speak pushes the criminal in the opposite direction to that in which his criminal character pushes him. Mill’s critics all saw that there was something very wrong here, but nobody seems to have pointed out that, on Mill’s analysis, anyone who commits a crime can always make precisely the claim that Mill is trying to rebut. If he cannot help doing wrong when he is not threatened, the proper conclusion to draw is that when he is threatened and still offends, those who have threatened him have not done so effectively. If he could not help it, unthreatened, how can he help it, inadequately threatened?

Mill’s great concern to show that we are responsible for our characters may be thought to indicate some awareness of the trouble he had caused himself. The criminal who explains to the court that it is unfortunate that he has such a bad character, but that once he had it, it overwhelmed all the Edition: current; Page: [lxv] threats the law was prepared to utter, could be told that he had no more business going around with a bad character than he would have had going around with a loaded revolver. The retort, however, will not do much to save Mill’s case. Anyone who is faced with that argument can simply respond by saying that without a sufficient motive to improve his character he could not improve it; given the initial badness of his character, it was no use looking to any internal motive for change; and as for the absence of an external motive, how could he be blamed for that? Mill, indeed, does not linger on the question of the agent’s motives. He turns rather to the question of what makes punishment just. In explaining this, he gives hostages both to fortune and to Kant. Punishment has two proper goals, the good of the criminal and the defence of the just rights of others. If punishment is not inflicted to protect the just rights of others, it is mere aggression on the individual punished. But, many of Mill’s readers might wonder, how can he argue that a proper purpose of punishment is to do the offender good? Is not On Liberty devoted to denouncing precisely such a claim? And when Mill says: “To punish him for his own good, provided the inflictor has any proper title to constitute himself a judge, is no more unjust than to administer medicine” (458)—is this not in flat contradiction to his attacking Whewell for suggesting that the law on quarantine was for the sufferer’s own good?62 Mill responds to this charge in a long footnote. He seems to see only part of the point, for he begins by saying that of course we punish children for their own good, and we may treat “adult communities which are still in the infantine stage of development” in the same way; but he seems to draw back a little over adult offenders. “And did I say, or did any one ever say, that when, for the protection of society, we punish those who have done injury to society, the reformation of the offenders is not one of the ends to be aimed at, in the kind and mode, at least, of the punishment?” (459n.) There is here, perhaps, a suggestion to the effect that Mill accepts Kant’s view that nobody can be punished simply to do him good, but that once he forfeits his right to immunity from all punishment, we may properly consider how to reform him when we consider what punishment to inflict.

The same awkwardness emerges when Mill talks of the legitimate defence of our just rights as a ground of punishment. Looked at from society’s point of view, it is just to punish offenders who transgress the rights of others, “as it is just to put a wild beast to death (without unnecessary suffering) for the same object” (460). To say this seems precisely to ignore the whole question of the distinction between punishment applied to free moral agents and mere measures of social control applied to non-human Edition: current; Page: [lxvi] creatures. But then Mill moves on to the question of whether the criminal can complain of being treated unjustly, and says that the crucial element in holding ourselves responsible for our actions lies in our recognizing that other people have rights. Doing so is, in essence, placing ourselves at their point of view, and if we do so we shall see that there is no injustice in their defending themselves against any disposition on our part to infringe those rights. Once again, the importance of equality emerges in the observation that we shall more readily recognize the justice of their defending their rights by punishing offences against them, the more often we have ourselves stood up for our own rights in this way. Something much nearer an appeal to fairness than to simple utility is evidently at stake.

Thereafter, Mill’s account is very like Hume’s or, indeed, one may say, like most empiricist accounts. Mere retribution is of no value, and would amount to gratuitous cruelty; something like retribution is warranted, as a way of satisfying the natural hostility and outrage which criminal acts arouse in us, but such a justification is instrumental, a case of means-ends argument, and not an appeal with arithmetical overtones to fitness or to an eternal justice. The means-ends arguments for punishment reinforce the determinists’ case, for it would evidently be both silly and cruel to inflict punishment where it could not modify behaviour, or to threaten it where it could not do so in prospect. Mill appeals to the same considerations to explain why we should punish only the guilty. If we are aiming to deter people from committing crimes, there is no point in punishing those who have not committed crimes, since there is then no basis for an association of ideas between the crime on the one hand and the punishment on the other.

It goes without saying that Mill raises all sorts of issues that have not been tackled here. The general implausibility of his analysis of responsibility has been argued at length in various other places, and almost every point he makes about motivation, about the justification of punishment, and about the compatibility of freedom and determinism has been the subject of exhaustive, but still quite unexhausted controversy for the past hundred years. A review of these arguments is not necessary here. Two negative points will suffice. It is worthy of notice that Mill does not seem to see that his opponents are groping, even if only dimly, towards the crucial point that what we call punishment is very far from being a means of social control of an obviously utilitarian kind. Why, for example, do we not endeavour to remodel the characters of those who have not yet offended, but who are likely to? Why do we not set penalties for offences for maximum deterrence at minimum cost? So effective would capital punishment be if threatened for parking offences that it is doubtful if more than one or two persons a year would be executed in the whole United States, yet the idea seems absurd. Mill has nothing to say about this issue, perhaps because he takes Edition: current; Page: [lxvii] for granted constraints on the utilitarian calculus which are of rather doubtfully utilitarian origin. Secondly, it is worth noticing that the two places where the Examination is at its most interesting and least persuasive are where Mill discusses personal identity and where he analyzes individual responsibility. The reason is easy enough to point to, and extremely hard to explicate. In essence, Mill’s epistemology requires us to treat our own selves and our own behaviour as if they are external objects and the behaviour of external objects. We can, of course, treat other persons in this “external” or third-person fashion; we can treat some parts of our past in this way, and, up to a point, our own distant futures. The wholesale assimilation of the first-person and third-person view of the world looks much more problematic. If it is essentially an incoherent project, we should expect the incoherence to appear just where it does in the Examination, that is, when our view of our own identity is being assimilated to our view of the identity of other persons and objects, and when our control over our own activity is being assimilated to the control we may exercise over things and over other persons. If readers of the Examination are unlikely to find it quite such an exemplary work of empiricist self-criticism as Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, it will, at least in these respects, stand the comparison.

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Textual Introduction


an examination of sir william hamilton’s philosophy is in several respects exceptional among Mill’s works. Although he devoted several major essays (such as “Bentham” and “Coleridge”), and one book (Auguste Comte and Positivism—originally a pair of essays) to individuals, only here did he subject an author’s texts to a searching and detailed analysis, sustained by an admitted polemical intent. Only part of the work is devoted to an exposition of Mill’s own views, and a few passages at most could be said to provide the kind of synthesis so typical of his other major writings. The kinds of revisions revealed by collation of the editions are also unusual in two related respects: a much higher proportion than in his other works is devoted to answering critics; and far more of the changes are in the form of added footnotes than is usual for him. Another difference is that the response to the book was immediate and strong: it elicited more reviews and critical replies in a short period of time than his Principles of Political Economy, System of Logic, and even On Liberty. Published in 1865, the first edition (of 1000 copies) sold out so quickly that a second edition was prepared within a couple of months, and a third edition, which was published two years after the first, would have appeared sooner had Mill not wished to answer his critics fully and at leisure. A fourth edition, the last in his lifetime, appeared in 1872 only five years after the third, and the work continued in demand for about twenty years.1

As will be shown below, the evidently controversial nature of the argument Edition: current; Page: [lxx] explains much of the demand for the Examination; to some extent, however, Mill himself became more widely known at this time. His election campaign of 1865, though it came after both the first and second editions, must have increased the sales to troubled opponents as well as supporters. Also, the extraordinary interest in his other writings in these years added to, as well as reflected, his new prominence.2

The content and form of the argument is best seen against at least a brief outline of Mill’s interest in and acquaintance with Hamilton’s writings—they did not meet one another or, evidently, correspond. Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), like Mill, was widely known long before any writings appeared under his name; indeed, unlike Mill, he began publishing significant articles anonymously only in his early forties. Described in 1814 to De Quincey by John Wilson as a “monster of erudition,”3 and remembered as a student at Oxford for his unexampled knowledge of obscure commentators on the Classics, he was elected Professor of Civil History at Edinburgh in 1821, but can hardly have become famous in that capacity, as the emolument soon ceased and he stopped lecturing. In 1829 appeared the first of his fifteen articles in the Edinburgh Review, his review of Cousin; one can probably assume that the tribal telegraph began to send the message that Hamilton was “coming out,” and Mill in London may soon have known; the Cousin review, coincidentally, appeared in the same number (Vol. L, October, 1829) as the third of Macaulay’s attacks on James Mill and Utilitarianism, and so it is almost certain that the younger Mill saw it, even if he did not know who had written it. In any case, the earliest extant reference comes in a letter from Mill to Carlyle of 2 August, 1833, in which he mistakenly assumes that Sir William Hamilton is the “strangest old schoolman (in a new body only forty years old)” to whom Carlyle had talked in the preceding winter. Mill’s assumption may have been founded on knowledge that Hamilton was the author of the erudite (but undoubtedly not to Mill persuasive) “Recent Publications on Logical Science” in the Edinburgh for April, 1833. Carlyle corrected Mill, saying that he had meant “a ganz ausgestorbener Mann,” considerably inferior to Hamilton, whom he also had met.4 It seems very likely that in the next year, after moving to London, Carlyle is referring to the proposed London Review and to Mill when he writes to Hamilton to say that there is talk of founding “a new Edition: current; Page: [lxxi] periodical, gn another than the bibliopolic principle, with intent to show Liberalism under a better than its present rather sooty and ginshop aspect,” and that having been asked whether Hamilton might write for it, had “answered, Possible.” Hamilton, a strong Whig, writing later to Sarah Austin, indicates cautious interest in such a connection, but says his help could at best be occasional: “. . . I am too much occupied with matters apart from all popular interest, and have in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ an outlet more than sufficient for any superfluous energy with which I may be distressed.”5 In the event, Hamilton did not contribute to the London Review (or the London and Westminster), but one may assume that Mill was aware of him from this time on, and would know of his widely discussed election to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh in 1836. Mill, however, makes no direct allusion to Hamilton until 1842, when, having virtually finished his Logic, he speculates that, if John Austin does not review it for the Edinburgh, it is likely that Hamilton will, in a manner “hostile, but intelligent.”6 Still Hamilton had not published a book, but in 1846, ten years later than he had anticipated, his edition of Thomas Reid’s Works appeared, packed with his own footnotes and supplementary dissertations (the latter oddly and confusingly incomplete, as we shall see). Though he had suffered a severe stroke in 1844, he continued to lecture, and in 1852 published a collection of his review articles, Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, Education and University Reform. Mill, who owned the second edition (1853), obviously read it soon after its publication, for he added references to it in the fourth edition of his Logic (1856, the year of Hamilton’s death). In 1859 Mansel’s two-volume edition of Hamilton’s Lectures on Metaphysics appeared, followed in 1860 by the companion two-volume Lectures on Logic.7


at this point, one may cite Mill’s account in his Autobiography of his reasons for turning to Hamilton’s philosophy as a subject. (This account, it should be noted, was written in 1869-70, that is, in the years between the Edition: current; Page: [lxxii] third and fourth editions of his Examination.) He was at that time seeking a subject, feeling, apparently, that he had completed, at least for the time being, all he was able to do of the writing programme he and Harriet had agreed on in the 1850s.8 In particular, Considerations on Representative Government (first and second editions) and Utilitarianism (in its periodical form) had appeared in 1861, and The Subjection of Women, presumably in almost its final form, had been put aside in readiness for a more propitious occasion for publication. He wrote in Avignon in January, 1862, “The Contest in America,” and, after a seven-month trip to Greece and Turkey, in September (one must assume) composed, back in Avignon, a review of Cairnes’s The Slave Power.9

In the Autobiography, after mentioning the latter article, he says that the Examination was his “chief product” during the “next two years.” He had, however, begun serious study and consideration of Hamilton a year earlier, when he read Hamilton’s Lectures (which he erroneously dates as 1860 and 1861) “towards the end of the latter year, with a half formed intention of giving an account of them in a Review”;10 in fact, he wrote to Alexander Bain in November, 1861, saying that he intended to “take up Sir William Hamilton,” and try to make an article on him for the Westminster Review.11 However, he soon decided (actually, within about a month)12 that to do so “would be idle,” for “justice could not be done to the subject in less than a volume.” But should he write such a work? On reflection, he thought he should. As he indicates, up to this time he “had not neglected” the Discussions in Philosophy,13 though he had postponed study of the “Notes to Reid” because of “their unfinished state. . . .” Actually, it was not the “Notes” (Hamilton’s erudite and lengthy footnotes to passages in his edition of Reid), but the “Supplementary Dissertations” added at the end of the volume that were incomplete.

The story is a very pecular and confusing one: for reasons that are inadequately given by Mansel in the sixth edition or by Veitch in the Memoir of Sir William Hamilton, the first edition, prepared by Hamilton Edition: current; Page: [lxxiii] himself, breaks off (as Mill indicates, 3 below) in the middle of a sentence in Note D*** of the “Dissertations,” on 914; stereotyped editions appeared in the same form until 1863 (seven years after Hamilton’s death), when a sixth (also stereotyped) edition, prepared by Mansel, had a completion (after an insertion in square brackets) of Note D***, and further material.14 Though intriguing as a bibliographic puzzle, this curiosity would not be worth dwelling on here, had not Mill contributed to the difficulty by mentioning (33n), in a passage added in his fourth edition (1872), that his attention had been drawn to a section (Note N, itself “unfortunately left unfinished”) in “the posthumous continuation” of the “Dissertations,” and so suggesting, in conjunction with his earlier remark that the work was incomplete, that he had not seen the sixth (expanded) edition of Reid’s Works until he was preparing his own fourth edition. And Mill added in 1872 another note (255n) quoting from the additional material, again hinting that he had just come across it. However, Mill in fact was aware of the sixth edition when he wrote the Examination, for he quotes from the added material in his first edition (1865), mentioning that the passage comes from “one of the fragments recently [i.e., in 1863] published by his editors, in continuation of the Dissertations on Reid” (117). And, referring to Note D***, he says in the first edition, “this Dissertation . . . originally broke off abruptly, but the conclusion . . . has recently been supplied from the author’s papers . . .” (251n). Indeed, the first reference in the Examination includes the observation that the “Dissertations” leave off, “scarcely half finished,” in midsentence; to make this judgment, he must have had the other “half” before his eyes.

In any case, it would seem likely that Mill did not carefully study Hamilton’s edition of Reid until after his reading of the Lectures in late 1861. That reading was to him disappointing, for the Discussions, containing Hamilton’s “vigorous polemic against the later Transcendentalists, and his strenuous assertion of some important principles, especially the Relativity of human knowledge,” had attracted Mill’s sympathy and admiration, much as he realized the difference between himself and Hamilton concerning the bases of mental philosophy.15 “His Lectures,” says Mill,

and the Dissertations on Reid dispelled this illusion: and even the Discussions, read by the light which these threw on them, lost much of their value. I found that the Edition: current; Page: [lxxiv] points of apparent agreement between his opinions and mine were more verbal than real; that the important philosophical principles which I had thought he recognised, were so explained away by him as to mean little or nothing, or were continually lost sight of, and doctrines entirely inconsistent with them were taught in nearly every part of his philosophical writings. My estimation of him was therefore so far altered, that instead of regarding him as occupying a kind of intermediate position between the two rival philosophies, holding some of the principles of both, and supplying to both powerful weapons of attack and defence, I now looked upon him as one of the pillars, and in this country from his high philosophical reputation the chief pillar, of that one of the two which seemed to me to be erroneous.16

Mill goes on, in a passage of intensity and force, to explain why Hamilton, a man of “imposing character” and “great personal merits and mental endowments,” came to embody for him his most resolute enemies, the Intuitionists (he makes special reference to Mansel, paraphrasing his attack in the Examination on the immorality of Mansel’s view of God), and so to justify “a thorough examination of all [Hamilton’s] most important doctrines, and an estimate of his general claims to eminence as a philosopher.” Or, in stronger language: “there ought to be a hand-to-hand fight between [the school of Intuition and the school of Experience and Association], . . . controversial as well as expository writings were needed, and . . . the time was come when such controversy would be useful.”17 As he had said to Bain in December, 1861, after having “studied all Sir W. Hamilton’s works pretty thoroughly”: “The great recommendation of this project is, that it will enable me to supply what was prudently left deficient in the Logic, and to do the kind of service which I am capable of to rational psychology, namely, to its Polemik.”18 Much the same attitude was conveyed to George Grote on 10 January, 1862:

My meditations on Sir W. Hamilton’s work have shaped themselves into an intention that an examination of his philosophy considered as representative of the best form of Germanism, shall be the subject of the next book I write: for it cannot be done in anything less than a book, without assuming points which it is of great importance to prove. I have tolerably settled in my own mind what I have got to say on most of the principal points.19

Presumably he put aside Hamilton during the long trip to Greece referred to above, but with characteristic energy and thoroughness he was back at the task before the end of the year, mentioning in December to Theodor Gomperz his interest in Gomperz’s work on the principle of contradiction, Edition: current; Page: [lxxv] for he had “commenced writing something to which a full understanding of that subject is indispensable,” and he had not yet thoroughly mastered it.20 Bain says (without specific dates) that Mill, who was regularly corresponding with him at the time, “read all Hamilton’s writings three times over; and all the books that he thought in any way related to the subjects treated of.”21 These included, by early 1863, Mansel’s Limits of Religious Thought (a “detestable, . . . absolutely loathsome book”) and (re-read) Ferrier’s Institutes.22 The year of 1863 was not busy by Mill’s standards, his only major article being “Austin on Jurisprudence” in the October Edinburgh, and the only edition being the first book version of Utilitarianism. He spent April and May in Avignon, and then spent the next months in London (with a few days botanizing); he was busy enough socially in those months to express relief to Gomperz on 5 July that his life was “about to relapse into its usual wholesome tranquillity,” adding: “. . . I have been enabled to have a few days work at my book on Hamilton with which I now mean to persevere steadily.”23 Returning to Avignon in early September, he was able to tell John Chapman on 5 October that, having finished his review of Austin, he was “at present chiefly writing on metaphysics.”24 To Bain he said on 22 November that he had finished the Edition: current; Page: [lxxvi] book, “as far as regards the first writing,” and would not start rewriting until he had seen Bain’s more “matured form” of the analysis of primary qualities (i.e., in the second edition of his The Senses and the Intellect).25 And again, on 4 December, he reports to Henry Fawcett: “. . . I have had little time to think on any scientific subject except Metaphysics, on which I am making good progress in the work I am about.”26

It is probably to the work of this period that Mill and Bain refer as occasioning Mill’s decreased respect for Hamilton after the careful study of his writings. Mill says: “As I advanced in my task, the damage to Sir W. Hamilton’s reputation became greater than I at first expected, through the almost incredible multitude of inconsistencies which shewed themselves on comparing different passages with one another.”27 Bain’s version is similar: “His picture of Hamilton grew darker as he went on; chiefly from the increasing sense of his inconsistencies. He often wished that Hamilton were alive to answer for himself.”28 This coincidence is not surprising, of course, for Bain had the Autobiography by him, as well as Mill’s letter of 22 November, 1863, in which the tone is even sharper:

I was not prepared for the degree in which this complete acquaintance lowers my estimate of the man & of his speculations. I did not expect to find them a mass of contradictions. There is scarcely a point of importance on which he does not hold conflicting theories, or profess doctrines which suppose one theory while he himself holds another. I think the book will make it very difficult to hold him up as an authority on philosophy hereafter. It almost goes against me to write so complete a demolition of a brother-philosopher after he is dead, not having done it while he was alive—& the more when I consider what a furious retort I shd infallibly have brought upon myself, if he had lived to make it.29

In fact this letter gives us the best picture of Mill’s progress. Enclosing a table of contents (now lost), he says that on all these heads he has “written chapters which are not unfit to print even now,” though he is, on the basis of “a third consecutive reading of Hamilton’s philosophical writings from beginning to end,” making “notes for additions & improvements” on the “blank pages” (i.e., the versos) of the manuscript. And he continued with Edition: current; Page: [lxxvii] his reading, asking Bain for information about Immanuel von Fichte, Vogt, and Moleschott (none of whom, incidentally, was demonstrably to influence his views).30

The next year, 1864, also saw little publication by Mill, with no major essays or new works, only the second edition of Utilitarianism and the third of On Liberty appearing (both with the most trivial of revisions), and it may reasonably be argued that most of his working time in the first half of the year was given to rewriting the Examination, both in Avignon and London.31 Writing to Bain on 18 March, 1864, to thank him for the second edition of his The Senses and the Intellect, Mill says that the “remaining portion” of the Examination will—presumably as a result of Bain’s work—“now be plain sailing.” And, after discussing related matters at length, he concludes by saying that he hopes to have “at least some chapters of the Hamilton in a state to shew” to Bain in June.32 He notified Gomperz in June that, after hard work, the book was “well advanced towards completion,”33 and he was able to let Bain read “the finished MS. of a large part of the book,” on which Bain made “a variety of minor suggestions,” and Mill “completed the work for the press the same autumn.”34 Though we do not know when he approached Longman, by late October he told Augustus De Morgan that he anticipated publication in the spring of 1865,35 and his attention had turned to his articles on Comte, which were finished in February, and appeared in the Westminster for April and July, 1865.

The Examination was published in an edition of 1000 copies on 13 Edition: current; Page: [lxxviii] April,36 and by the end of the month had sold four hundred copies;37 a second edition also of 1000 copies was called for, revised, printed, and published by 24 July.38 As the surviving correspondence and the printed record demonstrate, Mill soon was engaged in replying to friend and foe, and the debate, private and public, continued for some years. He wrote, during its later phase:

It was my business however to shew things exactly as they were, and I did not flinch from it. I endeavoured always to treat the philosopher whom I criticized with the most scrupulous fairness; and I knew that he had abundance of disciples and admirers to correct me if I ever unintentionally did him injustice. Many of them accordingly have answered me, more or less elaborately; and they have pointed out oversights and misunderstandings, though few in number, and mostly very unimportant in substance. Such of those as had (to my knowledge) been pointed out before the publication of the latest edition (at present the third) have been corrected there, and the remainder of the criticisms have been, as far as seemed necessary, replied to.39

The year 1865 having been extremely busy for Mill, 1866 was even more demanding, as his parliamentary duties, which for him meant constant mental as well as physical presence, speeches, and heavy responsibilities outside the House in connection with the Jamaica Committee and the Hyde Park riots, occupied a great deal of his time. In that year also his “Grote’s Plato,” a short book in itself, appeared, as did the slightly revised second edition of Auguste Comte and Positivism. But he found time to read and consider the responses to the Examination, and to report on them to Grote40 and to Bain, the latter of whom says that Mill, after the close of the session in August, and a subsequent tour of the Alps and Pyrenees, settled down in Avignon to write his Rectorial Address for St. Andrews, and “to answer the attacks on Hamilton for the third edition; both which feats he accomplished before the opening of the session of 1867”41 in February. Mill Edition: current; Page: [lxxix] was aware of the need for a third edition in April of 1866,42 but (with Longman’s concurrence) decided not to rush the rewriting,43 and had “got through fully three fourths of the revision” by the end of the year.44 Though the edition (again of 1000 copies) was not published until May,45 it seems likely that, as Bain says, he had finished the revision before his return to London for the session, because early in February he told W. G. Ward, towards whom he always showed more than courtesy, that he would not be able in the revision to take account of Ward’s “Science, Prayer, Free Will, and Miracles,” even if he immediately saw proof of it.46

The volume continued to sell, though more slowly: as Longman Division Books show, by June, 231 copies were disposed of, and in the next twelve months, till June, 1868, another 232. In the following twelve-month periods 162, 161, 141, and 148 were sold, so that by June, 1872 (what with some wastage and copies otherwise distributed), there were only twenty-seven copies left.

Further replies and discussions appeared in these years, and the French translation by Cazelles, published in 1869, brought forth notices in France. Mill proceeded with the substantial task of replying to critics, presumably reading and pondering the responses as they appeared. When he turned his hand to the actual revision we do not know, it being likely that, as usual, he waited until it was evident that a new edition was needed, which, as the account books suggest, was probably during 1871, there being only 176 copies on Longman’s hands by June of that year. In any case, he wrote to Cairnes in April of 1872 to say that, as well as rereading and (to our regret) culling old letters, he had been “correcting proofs for new editions” of the Logic (the eighth, which appeared in July) and the Examination (the fourth, our copy-text, which appeared in October).47


commenting on mill’s replies in the third edition “to the host of critics” who had assailed the Examination, Bain says, with justice: “The additional scope given to the author’s polemical ability greatly enhanced the interest Edition: current; Page: [lxxx] of the book.”48 Indeed the temper, the tone, and to a significant extent the focus of the work were altered by the revisions in the third and fourth editions. As is so often the case, Mill’s own comments in his Preface to the third edition (and those added there in the fourth) give no clear guidance to his rewriting and imply that much less took place than is the actual case. In 1867 he wrote:

Where criticism or reconsideration has convinced me that anything in the book was erroneous, or that any improvement was required in the mode of stating and setting forth the truth, I have made the requisite alterations. When the case seemed to require that I should call the reader’s attention to the change, I have done so; but I have not made this an invariable rule. Mere answers to objectors I have generally relegated to notes. . . . A slight modification in a sentence, or even in a phrase, which a person unacquainted with the former editions might read without observing it, and of which, even if he observed it, he would most likely not perceive the purpose, has sometimes effaced many pages of hostile criticism.


And in the fourth edition he calls attention only to the two corrections deriving from Veitch and a reply to Ward (see the discussion below).

The changes were very considerable indeed. Using the crudest of measures, the number of pages,49 to give a sense of the amount of change, one finds that the first and second editions are of the same length, 560 pages of text.50 The third, however, has 633 pages (an additional 73, or 13 per cent), and the fourth has 650 (a further 17 pages, or 3 per cent). This measure even on its own terms seriously underestimates the amount of addition, for much of the new material—far more than in any other of Mill’s heavily revised works—is in footnotes, set in very small type with minimal leading.51

Substantive variants. As the account just given would indicate, the second edition was very little revised. Of the total of almost five hundred substantive variants in all editions, fewer than forty occurred in the second edition, almost all of them being very minor revisions of wording in the text. The great bulk of the changes, some 345, or just over 70 per cent, were Edition: current; Page: [lxxxi] made in the third edition, and of these nearly one-third were added footnotes or parts of footnotes. The fourth edition accounts for the remaining one hundred odd variants, with an even larger proportion (about two-fifths) being either added footnotes or parts of footnotes (the latter being here more significant than in the third edition, as Mill responded to criticisms of replies he had added in notes in 1867).

For purposes of comparison as well as analysis, one may classify the variants into four groups: (1) major alterations, involving changes of opinion, the introduction of new information, and responses to criticism; (2) changes resulting from the passage of time; (3) qualifications and clarifications of a minor kind, generally involving semantic shifts; and (4) minor changes in syntax, changes entailed by other changes, italicization, terminal punctuation, and merely referential footnotes. In Mill’s other works one finds, as would be expected, a great preponderance of changes of the third and fourth kinds; in the Examination, however, there are as many of the first kind as of the fourth (just over 180 in each case), comparatively fewer of the third kind (120), so typical of Mill elsewhere, and only a handful (8) of the second kind. What may appear strange about this pattern disappears on closer inspection: the vast majority of the type (1) changes (two-thirds of which occur in notes) are responses to critics of a kind rare even in the Logic and the Principles. The paucity of type (2) changes of a simple sort is explained by the relatively short time (seven years) from the first edition to the last in Mill’s lifetime, and by the nature of the text, which is such as virtually to preclude comments that would be affected by the passage of a few years. As to the slightly smaller percentage of type (3) changes, it may be noted that while such changes are found in virtually everything republished by Mill, the greatest volume of them occurs in editions revised in the early 1850s.

The distribution of the changes within the work is informative, but before turning to such questions it is worth citing a few examples to illustrate in general the sort of revision that Mill engaged in, and to call attention to some features that might otherwise not be strongly evident. As indicated above, most of what have been counted as type (1) changes are in response to criticism. As an illustration of those occurring in footnotes, one may cite 32n-3n, added in the third edition like most of the other notes not found in the first edition, where Mill quotes Alexander Fraser in support of his position, as against Mansel and the anonymous reviewer in the North American Review, and goes on to differ from Fraser’s interpretation of Hamilton. The note includes (32t-t) a variant arising from a type (3) revision (a qualification) in the fourth edition, and concludes with a lengthy passage added in the fourth edition, arising from the continuation of Hamilton’s “Dissertations on Reid” having been called to Mill’s attention (a matter Edition: current; Page: [lxxxii] discussed at lxxiii above). This note is typical of others in its length, in its dealing with more than one critic (and issue), and in its containing elements from both the third and fourth editions.

Of the major changes that occur in the text rather than the notes, several may be cited to illustrate different motivations and results. Very few passages were deleted; one of the longest instances (as usual, deriving from the third edition) occurs at 19e—but in fact the deletion is only seemingly made, for, in revised form, most of the text is used in the long addition, 20g-g22, which shows Mill responding to the criticisms of John Cunningham and Mansel. (An actual deletion of considerable length will be seen at 189f.) Another long addition in the text, exceptional in its length, but again typical in dealing with more than one critic (four in this case) and deriving from the third edition, will be seen at 24m-m32. An interesting example of a more temperate or cautious judgment is seen at 82n, where (discussing Hamilton’s views of antinomies) Mill originally commented: “I think he has failed to make out either point”, but in the third edition deleted the sentence. Actually this change is related to others occurring later in the chapter (see 88n and 87c-c), where the justification will be found. (The footnote on 81 is one of the few where Mill mentions what he had said “in the first edition”; actually in these cases—which are not full retractions—the matter appeared in both the first and second editions.)

Most of these examples, as mentioned above, relate to criticism, though seldom does Mill admit to actual mistakes in fact or judgment (in the last example, he refers merely, 88n, to “an over-statement”); there are a few places, however, where he makes—not in a full spirit of repentance—revisions. His controversy with John Veitch, Hamilton’s biographer, to which further reference will be made below, led to Mill’s admission in the Preface to the fourth edition (cvii-cviii below) that he had made two “errors” which, though they did not “affect anything of importance in the criticism” of Hamilton’s interpretation of Aristotle, needed correction. These may be seen in Mill’s last chapter, at 503k-k and 503n, in the first of which Mill silently added “by the editors,” in response to Veitch’s complaint that Hamilton was not guilty of mistaking the meaning of an Aristotelian term, his editors having searched out a passage to bear out his text. The second of these changes is almost parallel, except that here Mill mentions Veitch and the accusation, and goes on to say that the editors “would have done more wisely by making no reference, than one which so totally fails to support the inference drawn from it” (503n).52 Another interesting correction will be seen at 143n and p-p: Mill, as always, had assumed that in mentioning Herbert Spencer he would give no offence; Spencer, as always, Edition: current; Page: [lxxxiii] took offence; and Mill, as always, hastened to apologize—without giving very much away.

Another kind of variant included in type (1) reflects Mill’s work on his other writings. Most evident here are additions bearing a relation to his “Bailey on Berkeley’s Theory of Vision” and “Berkeley’s Life and Writings.”53 The former appeared in Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. II, which Mill revised for its second edition (March, 1867), just before completing his revision of the Examination for its third edition (May, 1867). It is therefore reasonable to assume that the adding in the third edition of 178a-a was the result of his having just looked carefully over this article, especially if one compares 178a-a with pages 249-50 and 255 of the article.54 Similarly, the later article, “Berkeley’s Life and Writings” (published in November, 1871), was fresh in Mill’s mind when he revised the Examination for its fourth edition (1872), and surely one may assume that his reading for that article is reflected in the additions in 1872 seen at 163g-g and 230s-s (with the second, cf. “Berkeley’s Life and Writings,” 456-7). A variant connected in subject matter with these is of a slightly different sort: in the third edition a reference was added 236z-z to Thomas Nunneley’s On the Organs of Vision, published in 1858, which (given that date) Mill could have mentioned (it would have been apposite) in revising “Bailey on Berkeley” (see, e.g., 263-5 of that article) in 1867, but did not. Nunneley is mentioned, however, in the passage (454-7) of “Berkeley’s Life and Writings” that treats of the same issue.

A regrettably frequent source of confusion for readers wishing to identify or check Mill’s references may be illustrated by 85n, added in the third edition, and modified in three places in the fourth. The note begins: “Mr. Mansel replies (p. 134) . . .”55—but Mill does not here say to which of Mansel’s works he refers (he quotes from four in the Examination). Admittedly, if readers knew that the note had been added in 1867 they would have been likely to guess that Mill was citing The Philosophy of the Conditioned, which appeared in 1866 as a reply to the Examination. Even if that guess had been correctly made, however, the reader would hardly suspect that the final two sentences of the note were added in 1872 (see 85v-v), and the reference therein (“Mr. Mansel says we do . . .”) is to Mansel’s reply to Mill’s third edition in his “Supplementary Remarks,” in the Contemporary Review for September, 1867. (Compare the long footnote, Edition: current; Page: [lxxxiv] note, 76n-7n, where Mill in the fourth edition, without notice, sandwiches between two passages of the third edition three sentences, including a quotation, referring simply to Mansel’s “rejoinder”—i.e., again the essay in the Contemporary Review.) Similar problems must have beset careful readers when Mill does not indicate that he is referring to two of McCosh’s works at, for example, 75n, where there is a footnote compounded of 1867 and 1872 passages, in which, again, neither title is given.

Actually Mill was aware (how could he not have been?) of the desirability of indicating that certain passages had been added subsequent to the first publication. He wrote to Augustus De Morgan in 1865: “I have sometimes thought I ought to have some mark for alterations and additions. But one could scarcely give distinctive marks to all the successive strata of new matter, and a mere note of distinction from the edition immediately previous would not answer the [purposes of] those readers who only possess a still earlier one.”56 In the third edition of the Examination he in fact made a much less than half-hearted attempt, and, alas, a misleading one, to indicate added footnote material. Of the more than one hundred footnotes or parts of footnotes that were added to the third edition, some ten are parts of notes, and of these four appeared in 1867 between square brackets.57 And in 1872, of some twenty parts added to notes, five were placed between square brackets.58 Unfortunately, not only is the device used sporadically for parts of notes and not at all for full notes and the text, but also it is unexplained and confusing (there is no distinction, for example, in the fourth edition between additions made in 1867 and those made in 1872). Even assuming that Mill intended to indicate only additions within footnotes that he considered important (and here one would want to challenge his judgment), examination reveals problems. For example, in the footnote that appears below on 71-4, the paragraph on 72n, running “Hardly . . . spare.” and that on 74n, running “The ‘Geometry of Visibles’ . . . truths.” were added in 1867 as the contiguous concluding paragraphs to a note found in the first and second editions; Mill placed square brackets around them. However, in 1872 he added six paragraphs between those two, placed square brackets around those added in 1872, and deleted those around the two added in 1867. So the indication of the earlier addition (an indication he evidently thought important in 1867) is lost, even to anyone trying to understand the device, and such a person would also, at least prima facie, Edition: current; Page: [lxxxv] assume that the unbracketed portions of the note all date from the same edition. Another confusing instance is that at 93n-4n, where the square brackets were added in 1872 to a passage introduced in 1867 without brackets; uniquely, the brackets here evidently signal the rewriting that occurred for the fourth edition.59

Some of the type (1) changes, it will be noted, entail other changes, which have been counted as type (4). An example is to be found at 154c-c, where in 1872 an addition to the footnote of a needed explanation of Mill’s judgment that a particular element in Kant’s reasoning is “strangely sophistical” resulted in the deletion of that characterization from the text (154b).60 Similarly, the footnote added in 1867 to 266 (a response to Mahaffy’s argument), entailed (as Mill therein explains) the addition of “persistent” to the text (266i-i).61 It need hardly be mentioned that many additions and revisions, especially the longer ones, brought with them referential footnotes, which similarly have been counted as type (4) variants (see, e.g., 24n, which results from 24m-m32).

Before leaving the type (1) variants, one may mention a few of a minor kind. One of these shows Mill as sharing the frailties of most people: on 386, in an illustrative logical example, he (carelessly?) said, “A dolphin is a fish”; sometime before the third edition the error was caught, and “herring” swam into the dolphin’s place. And finally, the added reference in 1867 to Whately’s Logic at 410a-a may indicate that he had again looked at that work so important in his mental history—or, of course, someone such as Alexander Bain (then working on his own Logic) may have mentioned the appositeness of the citation.

Type (2) changes, that is, those resulting from the passage of time, being rare in the Examination, may be dealt with briefly. One obvious type, reflecting a changed status (or a change in Mill’s knowledge of status) may be seen at 92d-d, where “Mr. Calderwood” becomes “Dr. Calderwood” in 1867, and at 164k-k and 165l-l, where Ward’s doctorate is similarly recognized in 1872.62 The reasons for other changes of this type are less easy to Edition: current; Page: [lxxxvi] establish: at 116f a reference to his father changes in 1867 from “Mr. Mill” to simply “Mill”;63 and in 1872 at 216f, “Professor Bain, of Aberdeen,” loses his institutional identification.64 It is also puzzling to see that Mill added an apposite reference (217h-h) to his Auguste Comte and Positivism (published in 1865) in 1872, rather than in 1867.65 The added reference in 1872 to Cazelles’s writings at 250a-a is easier to explain—at least until one tries (in our case almost in vain) to identify exactly which published (rather than proposed) works Mill intends. An example of the interesting kind of type (2) change found frequently in the Logic is seen at 422d-d, where Mill mentions, in 1867, that there had been “developments of the doctrine of the Unity of Force” since Hamilton’s death.

Moving to type (3) changes, those involving qualifications, we may begin with one very typical of Mill’s revisions: at 280g-g, in the second edition, he added the words “appear to” in the passage asserting that Pasteur’s “important experiments . . . appear to have finally exploded the ancient hypothesis of Equivocal Generation. . . .”66 Other examples of his continuous search for the precisely correct way of expressing uncertainty are quite common: see, for example, 8e-e, f-f, g-g, where in 1867 “we should know” becomes “we might know”, and “since the new impressions would doubtless be linked with the old” becomes “if the new impressions were linked with the old”. For further illustration of Mill’s habit of mind, see 183k-k (“unintentional” added before “sanction” in 1867), 188c-c (“an even” substituted in 1872 for “a much” before “more unqualified manner”, in what may be called a combined precept and example as Mill tries to avoid the imputed sin), 213b-b (“(as I believe, with nearly all philosophers)” modified Edition: current; Page: [lxxxvii] to “as I believe (with the great majority of philosophers)”), and 237a (the removal of “fully” in 1867, in a change whose significance becomes apparent when one reads 237n-8n, also added in 1867). The example at 397f-f is interesting in that it shows a reversion to an earlier reading of a single word which might be taken (on that ground as well as on the ground of sense) as a typographical error (and is so questioned in the variant note), but which could represent a hesitancy over a legitimate choice of words (“subject” was altered to “object” in the second edition, with “subject” being restored in the third).

A type (3) change of a significant kind, representing a search after more precise expression of a concept, may be seen at 220i-i, where Mill says (in 1865) of Brown and others who held the psychological theory: “Their argument is not, as Sir W. Hamilton fancied, a fallacious confusion between two meanings of the word length, but an identification of them as one”, and (in 1867), substituting a semi-colon for the last comma, replaces the last clause with: “they maintain the one to be the product of the other.”67 Compare, as a type, 141m-m, where the original wording, “the time at which memory commences”, was altered (in the fourth edition) to the more accurate, “the time to which memory goes back”. Another slight example of the kind found in larger number in works more often revised by Mill is seen in the double change at 178c-c: here Mill originally wrote, “there is in our perceptions”; in the second edition he altered the wording to “there is involved in our perceptions”; and he settled, in the third, for “there is concerned in our perceptions”.

One final illustration of type (3) changes points again to Mill’s frequent tempering of judgments in what, at this stage in the controversy and in his career, cannot be seen as mere caution. At 480d-d he first published his opinion of a blunder in this form: “If Sir W. Hamilton could think so, his ignorance of the subject must have been greater than can be imputed to any educated mind, not to speak of a philosopher.” In 1867, rewriting of the first part of the sentence produced a still stern, but less particular and insulting condemnation: “to think so would require an ignorance of the subject greater than can be imputed to any educated mind, not to speak of a philosopher.”

There is no need to dwell on the type (4) variants, which on the whole reflect the sort of revision in which anyone engages who tries to make syntax more transparent and emphasis more obvious. A few, however, may be cited, just to suggest the effect of such fine tuning, and to show that some are not entirely trivial. At 175g-g the change (one of the rare second-edition Edition: current; Page: [lxxxviii] variants) from “nothing different in it from his own” to “nothing in it different from his own” clearly makes the sentence easier to read. Throughout the volume Mill habitually uses the first-person singular, and seems to have been more careful than many of his “cotemporaries” in saving the first-person plural for editorial (as well as normal) usage: it is therefore slightly surprising to find “we” at 136i-i, but not at all surprising to see that “I” replaced it in 1867. Simple removal of unnecessary emphasis is seen at 6a-a and 7d-d, where italics were removed from “outside” and “something” in 1867. One variant of moot significance—it could even be considered a type (1)—is found at 458r-r, where “On the theory of Necessity (we are told) man cannot help acting as he does” is modified by the perhaps trivial and perhaps important insertion of “a” before “man”.68

A major problem for editors (though not for most more fortunate folk) lies in deciding which changes in a text should be seen as minor variants and which as printer’s errors.69 Some examples where the latter choice was made are 119.31 and 35,70 348.11,71 382.14,72 478.2173 and 483.19.74 Examples of the former choice, that is, where the evidence and/or sense suggest that a variant reading is useful (even when, in some cases, a typographical error is almost certain), are 42q-q, 306a-a,75 289b-b, and 382f-f.76 It is virtually Edition: current; Page: [lxxxix] certain that the printer misread Mill’s hand in places, but in general it seems wisest to adopt the conservative principle of retaining what appears in the printed text, except where there is strong evidence; some such cases of caution are revealed if one looks at the collation of Mill’s quotations with their sources, as at 203n.5 and 8, where the compositor read (and we print) “any,” where O’Hanlon, whom Mill is quoting, has “my.” A pair of typographical errors deserve mention because they signal the existence of two states of Gathering K in the fourth edition: in the correct state, at 103.35 the reading is “But if what I am told”, and at 104.19, “Is it unfair . . .?”; in the incorrect state (probably the second, resulting from the forme being pied), the readings are “But if what am I told”, and “It is unfair . . .?” (There are other, non-substantive, indications of resetting in the gathering.)

Accidental variants. The pattern of changes in punctuation does not match that of the substantives, for the largest number (over 190) occurs in the second edition, the great bulk being, as expected, the deletion of a comma or a pair of commas (72 cases, the most numerous kind of change overall) or the addition of a comma or a pair of commas (34 cases). Considering only types of change where there are at least ten instances, one finds in the second edition twenty-six places where a semi-colon was substituted for a colon, and nineteen places where the reverse change occurs. In fourteen instances Mill reduced an initial capital letter to lower case.

In the third edition there are about 170 changes in punctuation and initial capitalization, markedly fewer in relation to the accidental and substantive changes in the second and fourth editions, when judged by the pattern in Mill’s other works. The reason may be that none of his other heavily revised writings received their most thorough reworking this late in his life, or without his wife’s assistance, and that, with so much of the substantive revision consisting of added footnotes, Mill scrutinized the text less carefully—or it may be that, by his judgment at least, the second edition was quite well punctuated—or, indeed, the explanation may lie, at least in the main, in the habits and predelictions of the compositors of this and other of Mill’s works. In any case, the third edition reveals again as the most Edition: current; Page: [xc] frequent changes the addition (52 instances) or deletion (51 instances) of individual or paired commas; next most frequent are the lowering of initial capitals (19 instances), though here initial letters are raised eleven times; and in ten instances a semi-colon replaces a colon. In seven instances of various kinds the changes have been judged to be typographical errors.

The fourth edition reveals some 150 changes of these kinds, the most interesting fact about them being that forty are of the sort we have considered as typographical errors (and so in these cases we have in our text adopted the reading of the third edition). Of the total, the addition (27 instances, four read as typographical errors) and deletion (62 instances, 19 read as typographical errors) of individual or paired commas again predominate; continuing the general pattern of lightening punctuation, in fifteen cases (three seen as typographical errors) semi-colons replace colons; in raw scores, raising and lowering of initial letters tie with ten instances each, but nine of the latter, as against two of the former, appear to be typographical errors.77

The spelling changes provide, as is usual in Mill’s texts, more opportunity for speculation than grounds for judgment, especially in the absence of manuscripts and proof. The most common alterations are from “s” to “z” (and the reverse) in verbals, and of initial “i” to “e” (and the reverse). Of the first of these, the treatment of “cognize” (and its cognates) will illustrate Mill’s (or someone else’s) indecision: in the third edition, in one instance “s” becomes “z”, while in another “z” becomes “s”; in the fourth edition, in three cases “s” becomes “z”, while in two the reverse change occurs; in two passages added to the text, one in the third and one in the fourth edition, the former uses the “z” form (which is retained in the fourth edition), while the latter uses the “s” form. Changes from “e” to “i” (and the reverse) include six cases (four in the second edition, two in the third) where “enquiry” (or one of its cognates) becomes “inquiry”, two (one in the second edition, one in the fourth) where cognates of “inclose” become “enclose”, and the alteration in the third edition (one instance each) of “intangle” and “indorse” to “entangle” and “endorse”. As to the vexing question of final single or double “l”, in four cases (on the same page) in the second edition “recall” became “recal”, and the same change is found twice in the third edition and once in the fourth—but also in the fourth the four “recal”s of the second edition reverted to the “recall” of the first. (The one use of “foretel” persists through all editions, and “dispel”, added in the third edition in one place, remains in the fourth.) There seems no clear guidance as to whether or not Mill preferred a hyphen after the prefix “co”, except in “coexist” and its cognates, where the clearly dominant form is without the hyphen; also it Edition: current; Page: [xci] seems doubtful to assume that he came to prefer “phenomenon” to “phænomenon”, because, although the former is adopted once in each of the third and fourth editions where a change occurs, as well as in more than ten passages added in those editions, the latter form persists. All in all, it seems wise to conclude that many, though not all, of the changes reflect the preferences of compositors rather than of Mill.

Mill’s references and sources. As the Bibliographic Index (Appendix D) reveals, there are direct or indirect references to about 190 works in the Examination, and over 80 references to persons not specifically as authors. Of the cited works, nearly 60 per cent are quoted, the bulk of the quotations coming, of course, from the writings of Hamilton. There are references to, and quotations from many of, twenty-two books or reviews prompted at least in part by Mill’s attack on Hamilton, and Mill refers to five of his own writings (usually because they were mentioned by his critics). One interesting finding is that of the works Mill cites when controverting Hamilton’s view of contrariety, having, he says, “only looked up the authorities nearest to hand” (412-13), the London Library has copies of eight which he had known from youth.78

For the most part his treatment of his sources is fair, and transcriptions reasonably accurate, but of course his judgments were polemical, and much resented by members of the other “school” of philosophy. A good deal of the argument is carried on, as is common in the genre, by quotation and counter-quotation, so the proportion of quoted matter is much higher here than in Mill’s other major works.79 Mill made a genuine attempt to answer his critics, but he was as little sympathetic to some of them as they were to him, and so it is misleading to estimate either the strengths or the weaknesses of his opponents (or even his allies) by his citations in the Examination. A few specific instances may be mentioned, partly at least for their curiosity.

The changes Mill made in the fourth edition as a result of Veitch’s criticisms have already been touched upon, but the matter merits a few further words, for Mill chose to ignore most of what Veitch had to say. The justification is in a letter to Bain:

Mr Veitch sent me a copy of the Life of Hamilton. His replies to my strictures are so Edition: current; Page: [xcii] very weak (Mansel & water, with an infusion of vinegar) that I shall hardly [feel] any need of giving them the distinction of a special notice; except that I am bound to admit that the passage of Aristotle which H. seemed to have misunderstood, was not indicated by any reference of his own, but of the editors. That is quite sufficient for my purpose; since Mansel at least has learning, & that passage of Aristotle was I suppose, the nearest he could find to bearing out what Hamilton said. But after all H. must have known what A. meant by ἐνεργεια. I agree with you as to the general impression which the book gives of Hamilton. Only as it shews advantageously a side of his character which I had no knowledge of, that of his private affections, the general result rather raised him in my eyes.80

Veitch (who was using the first and third editions of the Examination, with page references to the third) attacked Mill for alleging that Hamilton’s philosophic positions were conditioned by his unreasoned acceptance of the doctrine of free will, and that he bribed his pupils to accept metaphysical dogmas “by the promise or threat” that they afford the only valid support for “foregone” conclusions.81 These remarks Mill ignored, as he also passed by Veitch’s admission that Mill was in the main right in suggesting that Hamilton lacked (in Veitch’s phrasing) “the historical imagination as exercised in philosophy,” though Mill notices Veitch’s claim that Mill was completely wrong in imputing to Hamilton a weakness in perceiving (Mill’s words) “the mutual relations of philosophical doctrines.”82 This latter question is gone into more thoroughly by Veitch in his appended Note C, where he examines and attempts to refute Mill’s expositions of Hamilton on Hume, Leibniz, and Aristotle (to only part of the last of which did Mill respond, in the changes alluded to above).83 The “vinegar” of Veitch’s attack is most evident in his Note A, concerning Hamilton on Cousin’s view of the Infinite and Absolute, where, in language stronger than Mill’s about Hamilton, Veitch refers to Mill’s “gross, even ludicrous, misrepresentation of Hamilton’s doctrines,” and says, in a classical example of the rhetorical device of occupatio, that there is no need for further rebuttal than that found in Mansel’s “admirably clear, acute, and powerful exposure of Mr Mill’s misconceptions” in his Philosophy of the Conditioned.84 Given Veitch’s special acquaintance with Hamilton’s Lectures (he was one of Hamilton’s students),85 it is interesting to find him assailing Mill for treating them as of equal value with Hamilton’s “deliberate writing”;86 it is even more interesting to find Veitch nonetheless using the Edition: current; Page: [xciii] Lectures in an attempt to refute Mill on a substantive issue,87 and then showing no hesitation in bestowing fulsome praise on them in other contexts, and going so far as to devote his Note B to citing the high opinions of the Lectures expressed in the United States.88

The emotional disadvantages of engaging in this kind of controversy are illustrated by the rather unusual reaction of Patrick Proctor Alexander to Mill’s ignoring his riposte to Mill’s response to his attack. Alexander, in what Mill accurately characterized as a “rollicking style” (460n), assaulted the Examination in Mill and Carlyle. An examination of Mr. John Stuart Mill’s doctrine of causation in relation to moral freedom. With an occasional discourse on Sauerteig, by Smelfungus (Edinburgh: Nimmo, 1866)—the title itself giving clear enough indication that Alexander inclined to the Carlylian side of the conjunction. In the third edition Mill responded at some length (see the citations in the Bibliographic Index), but not very much to the satisfaction of Alexander, who replied with Moral Causation; or, Notes on Mr. Mill’s notes to the chapter on “freedom” in the third edition of his “Examination of Sir W. Hamilton’s Philosophy” (Edinburgh: Nimmo, 1868), the rollicking introduction to which reveals (7) that others had called his style “disgustingly flippant.” “The success of this work,” Alexander later commented, “was, sooth to say, not much; I am not aware that any one ever bought or read it; and the notices of it in the press were few, slight, and for the most part, I rather think, contemptuous.” He had, however, sent a copy to Mill, and anticipated a reply in Mill’s fourth edition—but no such reply was there! Alexander therefore prepared a second edition of his Moral Causation (“revised and extended”), which he planned to issue so that Mill could reply in a fifth edition. But again frustrated, in this case by Mill’s death, Alexander issued his second edition (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1875), in the Preface to which (as Edition: current; Page: [xciv] well as the remark about the success of the first edition quoted above) he includes a complaint against Mill’s having said in his fourth edition that only Mansel and McCosh had published rejoinders to the replies in the third.89 In this context it should be noted that Mill objects (cvii) to McCosh’s assumption that criticisms unrefuted are triumphant; he calls attention to the fact that the subject of the work is the philosophy of Hamilton, not McCosh contra Mill.90

Since anyone who has attempted to follow the intricacies of these controversies with sympathy and understanding may well have felt a heaviness of spirit, I may be forgiven the mention of one other curiosity. The perceptiveness of the rather taciturn John Grote (younger brother of George) might well lead one to anticipate valuable comments on the Examination in his Exploratio Philosophica.91 But all one finds is the following example of scholarly eccentricity, which does not permit of condensation:

Since the following pages have been in course of printing, I have become aware of a book which Mr Mill is publishing, or has published, on the subject of his philosophical differences with Sir William Hamilton. I speak in this doubtful manner only because I have purposely avoided learning further. Perhaps this will be understood. To have waited, and referred to what Mr Mill may thus say, would have involved a wider controversy. If criticism of Mr Mill had been in any degree my main purpose, I should have been bound to do this: but, as I have said, I have only used Mr Mill’s published views (and so for the other books I have noticed) to compare my own with: I have said as little as may be of approving and disapproving, and spoken only of agreement and disagreement: let us suppose Mr Mill, as he has written hitherto, to be A, a character in rather a lengthened philosophical discussion, and if the actual Mr Mill has changed his views, or, which is exceedingly likely, I have misunderstood him, then let it not be supposed that it is Mr Mill that I am discussing with at all. For myself, I am curious to see, when these pages are published, what Mr Mill may have said on any subject of which I may have spoken, and I think that such involuntary controversy may possibly not be the worst form of it. And after all, since what I have said about Mr Mill and Sir William Hamilton in conjunction is not much, it is possible that what Mr Mill says of the philosophy of the latter may not refer to it, and may concern some other subject, as, for instance, the Philosophy of the Unconditioned.

(“Introduction,” xxx.)

Effects of the revisions. The fourth edition—or, more truthfully, the third, where most of the changes appeared—of the Examination is, in tone Edition: current; Page: [xcv] as well as length, a markedly different work from the first edition, even though virtually nothing was removed. It is, I believe, both unnecessary and unwise to comment extensively on the different ways in which the two versions affect a reader, but a few comments may assist an understanding of the controversial circumstances. Alan Ryan comments in his Introduction on the two kinds of material in the Examination: on the one hand, and most extensively, an exposition and criticism of Hamilton’s (and to a lesser extent, Mansel’s) views; on the other, an exposition and defence of Mill’s (usually) countering views. While the two cannot be exactly isolated, for Mill almost necessarily interweaves his views with his criticism of Hamilton, Chapters xi, xii, and xiii are devoted to Mill’s account of his own psychological theory, which is compared not in these chapters, but in the surrounding ones, to the views of Hamilton and his school. Also Chapter xxvi, on the Freedom of the Will, contains a good deal of exposition and defence of Mill’s view. One may consider as well the chapters where Mansel receives most attention, especially vii, “The Philosophy of the Conditioned, as Applied by Mr. Mansel to the Limits of Religious Thought,” and xiv, which deals with Mansel’s as well as Hamilton’s treatment of Associationism, as being specially related to Mill’s views.92

So, in the crudest terms, of the twenty-eight chapters (which vary widely in length), six may be considered as most relevant to a consideration of Mill’s direct presentation of his ideas, and all but one of these appear in the first half (measured in chapters) of the work. In fact, measured in pages, in the first two editions these fourteen chapters occupy 270 of the total 560 pages, or 46 per cent. In the third edition these fourteen chapters come to 326 of 633 pages, or 51.5 per cent, and in the fourth to 340 of 650, or 52.3 per cent, not in themselves very startling increases, except that they account for 70 additional pages, leaving only 20 for the chapters of the latter half. When one looks at the five chapters in the first half specially relevant to Mill’s views, the point is more clearly made: 42 of the 70 pages added to the first fourteen chapters (33 pages in 1867, 9 in 1872) appear there.93 (And of the 20 added in the latter half, 11 appear in Chapter xxvi.) Furthermore, two other chapters in the first half, devoted in the first edition to critical examinations of Hamilton’s views on the relativity of human knowledge (Chapter iii) and the Philosophy of the Conditioned (Chapter vi), were greatly expanded for the third edition, and further enlarged for the fourth, to accommodate some of Mill’s strongest statements of his views countering Edition: current; Page: [xcvi] those of Hamilton’s defenders. In these two chapters (both, it will be noted, again in the first half of the work) a further 26 pages appeared by the fourth edition, and so, adding these to those already accounted for, 68 pages of the 70 added in the first half between the first and fourth editions appear in chapters having to do particularly with Mill’s own views and his arguments against the major metaphysical positions of Hamilton and the application of those views by Mansel. (And Chapter xxvi, which is related to these same matters, accounts for slightly more than half of the additions to the second half.) One should also recall the point made above, that a majority of the additions come in footnotes that consist of Mill’s defence or counter-attack against critics who most frequently are assailing Mill’s views rather than supporting Hamilton’s.

Without going into even more painful games of numbers, one may, I believe, accept certain conclusions about the overall rhetorical and tonal effects of the revisions, and make at least suggestions concerning what seemed important to Mill about his vocal readers’ reactions. In the first version, less than half the work was given over to the exposition of Hamilton’s and Mill’s countering views on metaphysics and psychology; the larger part dealt mainly with other aspects of Hamilton’s thought (see Mill’s explanation of the divisions on 301; cf. 109, 417, 430, 470), most particularly with his logical speculations. By and large, almost no one took up the challenge—the challenge is certainly there, for the polemic is very strong in the latter half—to defend Hamilton on logic, or mathematics, or any other special topic, and so the latter half of the work finally remained (with the exception of Chapter xxvi) much as it had been in the first edition. (The interesting comments in the concluding chapter on Hamilton’s personal qualities do little to affect the tone.) But many a critic seized metaphysical and theological cudgels to belabour Mill—not even here, in general, to defend the corpus of Hamilton—and Mill, not without some selection of ground where response would be, in his view, most telling, took the field of their choice, that is, the areas covered in the first half of the work. There is nothing odd in these reactions, of course, but they do suggest that it was not Sir William Hamilton who attracted the critics’ attention, but the battle between the two philosophies, and the way it was being waged by the active combatant, Mill. Surely it may, at the least, be surmised that here lies the explanation for what has appeared odd to many, Mill’s choice of Hamilton as a subject for what is, after all, his third longest work, and one on which he bestowed much labour. He was looking for a fight, and Hamilton (as he discovered during his careful study) provided both issue and occasion. Organizing the work as he did—and exception can be taken to the details of his dispositio94—he called attention to what he considered most important, Edition: current; Page: [xcvii] and (perhaps) most provoking. The event proved him right, for not only did the argument centre on the issues between intuitionism and empiricism, but it was a clamorous one, more immediately intense than that aroused by any of his other works. The Examination, whatever the modern view, passed its own test.


as throughout the Collected Works, the copy-text is that of the final edition in Mill’s lifetime, in this case, the fourth, 1872. It has been collated with the three previous editions, and the few manuscript fragments reproduced in Appendix A. Substantive textual changes among the editions are recorded, substantive here meaning all changes except spelling, initial capitalization, word division, punctuation, demonstrable typographical errors, alterations in the form and style of references, and such printing-house concerns as type size.

Our goals are (a) an accurate text as little interrupted by editorial apparatus as is consistent with (b) the immediate reconstruction of earlier versions without separate instructions for each variant, and (c) the minimum number of levels of type on the page. This minimum number is three: the text of the fourth edition; in slightly smaller type, Mill’s own footnotes and referential footnotes added (in square brackets) by the editor; and in still smaller type, footnotes giving the variant readings. In the Edition: current; Page: [xcviii] text itself, the usual indicators (*, , etc.) call attention to Mill’s footnotes; editorial notes of reference are signalled by the same indicators (in separate sequence) enclosed in square brackets. Small italic superscript letters, in alphabetical sequence (beginning anew in each chapter) call attention to variant readings (and, in the seven cases where manuscript fragments occur, to their existence). These variants are of three kinds: addition of a word or words, substitution of a word or words, deletion of a word or words. The illustrative examples below are chosen for their ease of presentation and reference, not for their significance.

Addition of a word or words: see 83p-p. In the text, the word “invariably” appears as “pinvariablyp”; the variant note reads “p-p+67,72”. Here the plus sign indicates that the word was added; the following numbers indicate the editions in which the added word appears. The editions are indicated by the last two numbers of their publication dates, with superscript numerals to distinguish between the first and second editions, both of which appeared in 1865: that is, 651=first edition (1865), 652=second edition (1865), 67=third edition (1867), and 72=fourth edition (1872), the copy-text. The only exception is that one change of “a” to “an” (before “useful” at 471.11) and three changes of “an” to “a” (before “hyperphysical” at 190.9, and twice before “hypothetical” at 410.12 and 16) are not recorded. If a variant occurs within a quotation, and the earlier version (i.e., that in the variant note) is the reading of the source from which Mill is quoting, the word “Source” precedes the edition indicators in the variant note (see 382f-f). (If the reading in the text, as opposed to that in the variant note, is the same as that of the source, no such indication is necessary.) If the quoted text varies from the source, but does not vary among editions, there is no variant note (the variant reading is given, however, in Appendix D, the Bibliographic Appendix: see, e.g., the entry for 242n.3 under Abbott’s Sight and Touch, 521, where the “then” in Abbott does not appear in any of Mill’s editions).

Placing the example (83p-p) in context, then, the interpretation is that in the first and second editions the reading is “as it is interpreted”; in the third edition (1867) this was altered to “as it is invariably interpreted”, and the reading of the third edition was retained (as is clear in the text) in the fourth edition (1872), the copy-text.

When the addition is a long one, the second enclosing superscript may appear several pages after the first one; to make reference easier, the superscript notation in the footnote (which appears on the same page as the first superscript) will give the page number where the variant concludes (see, e.g., 63g-g65).

Substitution of a word or words: see 63f-f. In the text the words “one of the chief sources” appears as “fone of the chief sourcesf”; the variant note reads “f-f651,652 the chief source”. Here the reading following the edition Edition: current; Page: [xcix] indicators is that for which “one of the chief sources” was substituted; again putting the variant in context, the interpretation is that in the first and second editions (651 and 652) the reading was “and be the chief source of the reputation”; in the third edition this was altered to “and be one of the chief sources of the reputation”, and this reading was retained (again as is clear in the text) in the fourth edition.

Deletion of a word or words: see 75g. In the text, a single superscript g appears centred between “but” and “could”; the variant note reads “g651,652 it”. Here the word following the edition indicators was deleted; again putting the variant in context, the interpretation is that the reading in the first and second editions was “but it could not realize”; the word “it” was deleted in the third edition, and the reading of the third was continued in the fourth edition.

Passages changed more than once. Here two methods are used. In the cases, rare in the Examination though common in Mill’s other lengthy works (which went through many editions over an extended period of time), when a few words were altered and then altered again, the method followed is that illustrated at 38k-k. Here the text reads “juncaused, and is therefore most naturally identified with thej”; the variant note reads “j-j651, 652 a] 67 the”. The interpretation is, that in the first and second editions the reading, in context, was “In this signification it is synonymous with a First Cause.” In the third edition the sentence ending was altered to “with the First Cause”; and in the fourth edition (as is evident in the text) to “with uncaused, and is therefore most naturally identified with the First Cause.”

The other method is used for changes within lengthy passages added subsequent to the first edition. Most of these, in the Examination, occur within added footnotes (discussed below), but examples in the text will be found at 26n-n to q-q, where within a long addition (m-m, which runs from 24 to 32) there are, all within one sentence, later changes indicated. Passage m-m was added in the third edition, but the wording, in that sentence, was altered in the fourth edition. For example, in 1867 it began: “Indeed, the very fact that Sir W. Hamilton thinks it possible for philosophers to discriminate . . .”; in 1872 the wording became: “Indeed, the discrimination which Sir W. Hamilton thinks it possible for philosophy to make. . . .” In these cases, within the superscript letters indicating an added passage, there will be other superscript sets indicating other changes; the variants are listed separately, and in the order of their appearance in the text.

Variants in Mill’s footnotes. By far the most common type is the note added in full (the great majority of them in 1867), as, for example, at 21n, where the first note begins: “[67] This is essentially . . .”; the editorially inserted “[67]” indicates that the note was added in the third edition, and Edition: current; Page: [c] was retained (as is evident) in the fourth. Many of these are simply referential, deriving from variants in the text proper, but their addition is always separately signalled in this way.

Changes within notes are treated in the same manner as changes in the text: see, e.g., 29g-g, where a passage was added in 1872; 29r-r, where a substitution was made, again in 1872; and 34a, where a clause was deleted, once more in 1872.

Prefaces. No preface appeared in the first or second edition. That to the third edition was reprinted (still entitled “Preface to the Third Edition”) in the fourth, with a substantial addition. Mill not having indicated that this matter was added in the fourth edition, we have treated it as a variant in the usual way.

Other textual liberties. The following changes are all silently made in the text, except as specifically indicated. Textual emendations, including typographical errors, are listed in Appendix B below, with a note explaining their choice and treatment.95 (Typographical errors found only in one or more of the first three editions are not listed.) Long quotations have been set in smaller type; the quotation marks found in such quotations at each line in the left margin of the original editions have been removed. (It may be noted, as will be seen in Appendix B, that in several instances these quotation marks led to typographical errors when the text was reset.) Within these quotations, Mill sometimes used quotation marks and round brackets to signal interpolations; we have deleted the quotation marks and substituted square brackets. As mentioned above, the square brackets that Mill occasionally used to indicate matter added in footnotes have been replaced by variant indicators. Mill’s placing of footnote indicators was rather eccentric in this work; we have, wherever it was possible without causing confusion, moved them to the ends of quoted passages. Infrequently the result is that two of his notes have been combined. Also, more infrequently, where Mill gave a single reference for a very lengthy quotation from which he had omitted a considerable passage, we have split his one reference into two. Indications of ellipsis in quotations have been standardized to three dots plus, when required, terminal punctuation. A few trivial alterations in printing style have been made, such as the removal of dashes when combined with other punctuation in introducing quotations and references. The running heads have been altered to suit this edition. When necessary, Mill’s references to sources have been amplified and Edition: current; Page: [ci] corrected (the corrections are listed in Appendix C below), with all added information being placed in square brackets, as are all editorial references. These last are also signalled by indicators in square brackets, as mentioned above.


Appendix A gives the readings (with explanatory and variant notes) of the few manuscript fragments that survive.

Appendix B lists the textual emendations with the original readings. The headnote gives the general justification; individual items there entered give, when necessary, the special justifications.

Appendix C gives the original and emended readings of Mill’s references that have been silently corrected in his footnotes.

Appendix D, the Bibliographic Appendix, lists all persons and works referred to or quoted in the Examination, except mythical persons and those simply used as place-holders in logical examples. Substantive variants between Mill’s quotations and his sources are entered, both to correct misquotations and to provide contexts for partial quotations. Because this appendix includes all references to persons and books, it is in effect an index to names and titles, which are therefore omitted from the Index proper.

The Index has been prepared by Dr. Bruce L. Kinzer.


for permission to publish manuscript material, we are indebted to the Columbia University Library, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, to the Yale University Library, and to the National Provincial Bank (literary executors and residual legatees of Mary Taylor, Mill’s step-grand-daughter). Our deep gratitude is once again cheerfully offered to the staffs of the British Library, the Somerville College Library, the University of London Library, the University of Reading Library (and especially its Archivist, Mr. J. A. Edwards), the British Library of Political and Economic Science, the London Library, the University of Toronto Library, the library of the Pontifical Institute of Mediæval Studies, the libraries of Knox, Regis, St. Michael’s, Trinity, and Wycliffe Colleges, Toronto, and never least, the Victoria University Library. To the members of the Editorial Committee, especially Jean Houston and R. F. McRae, to the copy-editor, Rosemary Shipton, and the editorial, production, and printing Edition: current; Page: [cii] staff of the University of Toronto Press, my never failing, though not always expressed, thanks for unstinting co-operation. Among others to whom credit is due, and no discredit should accrue, are Father J. L. Dewan, Mr. Charles P. Finlayson of the Edinburgh University Library, Professor Daniel De Montmollin, Professor Joseph Hamburger, Professor Hugh R. MacCallum, Professors E. Jane and Michael Millgate, Professor Emeritus J. R. O’Donnell, the Reverend J. Owens, Mr. H. Russell of the Belfast Public Libraries, Professor C. A. Silber, Professor F. E. Sparshott, Professor Jack Stillinger, and Professor J. R. Vanstone. In a very real sense the editing of the volume is the work of my colleagues on the Mill project, where good spirits, co-operation, and industry have made the time seem short and be pleasant: Marion Filipiuk, Bruce Kinzer, Martin Kreiswirth, Judith LeGoff, and Rea Wilmshurst. Lady Hamilton, among her other duties, sat up through the nights till the northern dawn transcribing the lecture notes which Sir William was writing for the next afternoon; that my wife did not do the like for me (nor I for her) might suggest a number of conclusions, but I believe that her generous aid to this volume would not have been forthcoming had she (or I) done so.

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Preface to the Third Edition[*]

in former writings I have perhaps seemed to go in search of objectors, whom I might have disregarded, but who enabled me to bring out my opinions into greater clearness and relief. My present condition is far different; for a host of writers, whose mode of philosophic thought was either directly or indirectly implicated in the criticisms made by this volume on Sir W. Hamilton, have taken up arms against it, and fought as pro aris et focis. Among these are included, not solely friends or followers of Sir W. Hamilton, who were under some obligation to say whatever could fairly be said in his defence, but many who stand almost as widely apart from him as I do, though mostly on the reverse side. To leave these attacks unanswered, would be to desert the principles which as a speculative thinker I have maintained all my life, and which the progress of my thoughts has constantly strengthened. The criticisms which have come under my notice (omitting the daily and weekly journals) are the following; there may be others:

Mr. Mansel: The Philosophy of the Conditioned; comprising some remarks on Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, and on Mr. J. S. Mill’s Examination of that Philosophy. (First published in Nos. 1 and 2 of the Contemporary Review.)[†]

The Battle of the Two Philosophies; by an Inquirer.[‡]

Dr. M‘Cosh: An Examination of Mr. J. S. Mill’s Philosophy, being a Defence of Fundamental Truth.[§]

Dr. Calderwood: “The Sensational Philosophy—Mr. J. S. Mill and Dr. M‘Cosh;” in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review for April 1866.[¶]

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Dr. Henry B. Smith: “Mill v. Hamilton,” in the American Presbyterian and Theological Review for January 1866.[*]

Mr. H. F. O’Hanlon: A Criticism of John Stuart Mill’s Pure Idealism; and an Attempt to show that, if logically carried out, it is Pure Nihilism.[†]

Review of this work in Blackwood’s Magazine for January 1866.[‡]

(The two last mentioned are confined to the doctrine of Permanent Possibilities of Sensation.)

Mr. J. P. Mahaffy, in the Introduction to his translation of Professor Kuno Fischer’s account of Kant’s Kritik. (Confined to the doctrine of Permanent Possibilities, and the subject of Necessary Truths.)[§]

Mr. Patrick Proctor Alexander: “An Examination of Mr. John Stuart Mill’s Doctrine of Causation in Relation to Moral Freedom;” forming the greater part of a volume entitled Mill and Carlyle.[¶]

Reviews of this work in the Dublin Review for October 1865 (with the signature R.E.G.), and in the Edinburgh Review for July 1866.[∥]

And, earlier than all these, the able and interesting volume of my friend Professor Masson, entitled Recent British Philosophy: a Review, with Criticisms; including some comments on Mr. Mill’s Answer to Sir William Hamilton.[**]

All these, in regard to such of the main questions as they severally discuss, are unqualifiedly hostile: though some of the writers are, in a personal point of view, most courteous, and even over-complimentary; and the last eminently friendly as well as flattering.

The following are only partially adverse:

Review of the present work in the North British Review for September 1865, attributed to Professor Fraser, and bearing the strongest internal marks of that origin.[††] This able thinker, though he considers me to have often misunderstood Sir W. Hamilton, is, on the substantive philosophic Edition: current; Page: [cv] doctrines principally concerned, a most valuable ally; to whom I might almost have left the defence of our common opinions.

Mr. Herbert Spencer: “Mill v. Hamilton—The Test of Truth;” in the Fortnightly Review for July 15, 1865.[*]

Review of the present work in the North American Review for July 1866.[†]

The only important criticism, in all essentials favourable, to which I am able to refer, is that in the Westminster Review for January 1866, by an illustrious historian and philosopher, who, of all men now living, is the one by whom I should most wish that any writing of mine, on a subject in speculative philosophy, should be approved.[‡] There have also been published since the first edition of the present work, two remarkable books, which, if they do not give me direct support, effect a powerful diversion in my favour. One is Mr. Bolton’s Inquisitio Philosophica; an Examination of the Principles of Kant and Hamilton;[§] which, along with much other valuable matter, contains a vigorous assault upon my most conspicuous assailant, Mr. Mansel.[¶] The other is Mr. Stirling’s Sir William Hamilton, being the Philosophy of Perception; an Analysis:[∥] an able and most severe criticism on Sir W. Hamilton’s inconsistencies, and on his general character as a philosopher, taken from a different point of view from mine, and expressed with far greater asperity than I should myself think justifiable; legitimated, no doubt, to the writer’s mind by “a certain vein of disingenuousness”[**] which he finds in Sir W. Hamilton, but which I have not found, and shall not believe until I see it proved.

I must have been quite incapable of profiting by criticism, if I had learnt nothing from assailants so numerous, all of more or less, and some of very considerable, ability. They have detected not a few inadvertences of expression, as well as some of thought: and partly by their help, partly without it, I have discovered others. They have not shaken any statement or opinion of real moment; but I am sincerely indebted to them, both for the errors they have corrected, and for compelling me to strengthen my defences. The point in which it was to be expected that they would oftenest Edition: current; Page: [cvi] prevail, was in showing me to have erroneously interpreted Sir W. Hamilton. The difficulty to any thinker is so great, in these high regions of speculation, of placing himself completely at the point of view of a different philosophy, and even of thoroughly understanding its language, that it would be very presumptuous in me to imagine that I had always overcome that difficulty; and that too with the warning before me, of the absolute failure of able and accomplished minds on the other side in philosophy, to accomplish this in regard to the modes of thinking with which I am most familiar. I have been surprised, therefore, to find in how few instances, and those how little important, the defenders of Sir W. Hamilton have been able to show that I have misunderstood or incorrectly stated his opinions or arguments. I cannot doubt that more such mistakes remain to be pointed out: and I regret that the greater part of the volume has not yet, in its relation to Sir W. Hamilton, had the benefit of a sufficiently minute scrutiny. Had the unsparing criticism of Mr. Mansel on the first few chapters been continued to the remainder, he would doubtless have pointed out real mistakes; he might perhaps have thrown light on some of the topics from his own thoughts; and I should at least have had to thank him for additional confidence in the statements and opinions which had passed unharmed through the ordeal of his attacks.

Where criticism or reconsideration has convinced me that anything in the book was erroneous, or that any improvement was required in the mode of stating and setting forth the truth, I have made the requisite alterations. When the case seemed to require that I should call the reader’s attention to the change, I have done so; but I have not made this an invariable rule. Mere answers to objectors I have generally relegated to notes. With so many volumes to deal with, I could not take express notice of every criticism which they contained. When any of my critics finds that he, or some of his objections, are not individually referred to, let him be assured that it is from no disrespect, but either because I consider them to have been answered by the reply made to some one else, or because their best confutation is to remand the objector to the work itself, or because the edge of the objection has been turned by some, perhaps quite unapparent, correction of the text. A slight modification in a sentence, or even in a phrase, which a person acquainted with the former editions might read without observing it, and of which, even if he observed it, he would most likely not perceive the purpose, has sometimes effaced many pages of hostile criticism.

* * * * *

aOf the assailants to whom I replied, two only have published a rejoinder; Dean Mansel, in the Contemporary Review for September 1867, and Dr. Edition: current; Page: [cvii] M‘Cosh, in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review for April 1868[*] Neither of them appears to me to have added much of value to what he had previously advanced; and so far as concerns Dean Mansel, his regretted death has put a final termination to the controversy between us. I am not, however, thereby exempted from taking notice, however briefly, of such points in his rejoinder as appear to require it. Dr. M‘Cosh seems to think it a great triumph of his assaults upon me, that many of them were not noticed in my replies to critics. It is a little unreasonable in Dr. M‘Cosh to suppose that in a work, the subject of which is the philosophy of Sir William Hamilton, I was bound to fight a pitched battle with Dr. M‘Cosh on the whole line. His book was an attack directed against the whole of my philosophical opinions. I answered such parts of it as had reference to the present work, when they seemed to require an answer, and not to have received it sufficiently in what I had already written. And I have done the same, in the present edition, with his rejoinder.

Besides several unpublished criticisms which I owe to the kindness of correspondents, and which have helped me to correct or otherwise improve some of the details of the work; two more attacks have been made upon it subsequently to the third edition. Professor Veitch, in the Appendices to his interesting Memoir of Sir W. Hamilton, has commented sharply on what I have said respecting Sir W. Hamilton’s mode of understanding the Relativity of human knowledge, and respecting his failure to apprehend correctly the general character of Hume and Leibnitz as philosophers, as well as some particular passages of Aristotle.[†] On the first subject, that of Relativity, I find so much difficulty in reducing Professor Veitch’s statement to distinct propositions, and, so far as I understand his meaning, it differs so little, and that little not to its advantage, from what I have already commented on in answering Mr. Mansel, that I do not think it necessary to burthen this volume with an express reply to him. With regard to Hume and Leibnitz I am content that they who have a competent knowledge of those philosophers should form their own opinion. As regards Sir W. Hamilton’s interpretation of Aristotle, Professor Veitch has convicted me of a mistake in treating a citation made by his editors as if it had been made by himself, and of an overstatement of one of Sir W. Hamilton’s opinions which I only noticed incidentally.[‡] These errors I have corrected, in their places,[§] and Edition: current; Page: [cviii] it will be found that they do not affect anything of importance in the criticism there made upon Sir W. Hamilton.

Professor Veitch* considers it unfair that I should press against Sir W. Hamilton anything contained in his Lectures,[*] these having been hastily written under pressure from time, and not being the most matured expression of some of his opinions. But though thus written, it is admitted that they continued to be delivered by Sir W. Hamilton as long as he performed the duties of Professor; which would not have been the case if he had no longer considered them as a fair representation of his philosophy. A complete representation I never pretended that they were; a correct representation I am bound to think them; for it cannot be believed that he would have gone on delivering to his pupils matter which he judged to be inconsistent with the subsequent developments of his philosophy.

The other thinker who has taken the field against my psychological opinions is Dr. Ward, who, in the Dublin Review for October 1871,[†] has made an able attack on the views I have expressed in this and other writings on the subject of what is called Necessary Truth. Some of Dr. Ward’s observations are more particularly directed against a portion of my System of Logic,[‡] and the fittest place for their discussion is in connexion with that treatise. But the greater part of his article principally regards the chapter of the present work which relates to Inseparable Association, and a reply to it will be found in a note which I have added at the end of that chapter.a[§]

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CHAPTER I: Introductory Remarks

among the philosophical writers of the present century in these islands, no one occupies a higher position than Sir William Hamilton. He alone, of our metaphysicians of this and the preceding generation, has acquired, merely as such, an European celebrity: while, in our own country, he has not only had power to produce a revival of interest in a study which had ceased to be popular, but has made himself, in some sense, the founder of a school of thought. The school, indeed, is not essentially new; for its fundamental doctrines are those of the philosophy which has everywhere been in the ascendant since the setting in of the reaction against Locke and Hume, which dates from Reid among ourselves and from Kant for the rest of Europe. But that general scheme of philosophy is split into many divisions, and the Hamiltonian form of it is distinguished by as marked peculiarities as belong to any other of its acknowledged varieties. From the later German and French developments of the common doctrine, it is separated by differences great in reality, and still greater in appearance; while it stands superior to the earlier Scottish and English forms by the whole difference of level which has been gained to philosophy through the powerful negative criticism of Kant. It thus unites to the prestige of independent originality, the recommendation of a general harmony with the prevailing tone of thought. These advantages, combined with an intellect highly trained and in many respects highly fitted for the subject, and a knowledge probably never equalled in extent and accuracy of whatever had been previously thought and written in his department, have caused Sir William Hamilton to be justly recognised as, in the province of abstract speculation, one of the important figures of the age.

The acknowledged position of Sir W. Hamilton at the head, so far as regards this country, of the school of philosophy to which he belongs, has principally determined me to connect with his name and writings the speculations and criticisms contained in the present work. The justification of the work itself lies in the importance of the questions, to the discussion of which it is a contribution. England is often reproached by Continental thinkers, with indifference to the higher philosophy. But England did not always deserve this reproach, and is already showing, by no doubtful Edition: current; Page: [2] symptoms, that she will not deserve it much longer. Her thinkers are again beginning to see, what they had only temporarily forgotten, that a true Psychology is the indispensable scientific basis of Morals, of Politics, of the science and art of Education; that the difficulties of Metaphysics lie at the root of all science; that those difficulties can only be quieted by being resolved, and that until they are resolved, positively awhenevera possible, but at any rate negatively, we are never assured that any human knowledge, even physical, stands on solid foundations.

My subject, therefore, is blessb Sir W. Hamilton, cthanc the questions which Sir W. Hamilton discussed. It is, however, impossible to write on those questions in our own country and in our own time, without incessant reference, express or tacit, to his treatment of them. On all the subjects on which he touched, he is either one of the most powerful allies of what I deem a sound philosophy, or (more frequently) by far its most formidable antagonist; both because he came the latest, and wrote with a full knowledge of the flaws which had been detected in his predecessors, and because he was one of the ablest, the most dfar-sightedd, and the most candid. Whenever any opinion which he deliberately expressed, is contended against, his form of the opinion, and his arguments for it, are those which especially require to be faced and carefully appreciated: and it being thus impossible that any fit discussion of his topics should not involve an estimate of his doctrines, it seems worth while that the estimate should be rendered as complete as practicable, by being extended to all the subjects on which he has made, or on which he is believed to have made, any important contribution to thought.

In thus attempting to anticipate, as far as is yet possible, the judgment of posterity on Sir W. Hamilton’s labours, I sincerely lament that on the many points on which I am at issue with him, I have the unfair advantage possessed by one whose opponent is no longer in a condition to reply. Personally I might have had small cause to congratulate myself on the reply which I might have received, for though a strictly honourable, he was a most unsparing controversialist, and whoever assailed even the most unimportant of his opinions, might look for hard blows in return. But it would have been worth far more, even to myself, than any polemical success, to have known with certainty in what manner he would have met the objections raised in the present volume. I feel keenly, with Plato, how much more is to be learnt by discussing with a man, who can question and Edition: current; Page: [3] answer, than with a book, which cannot.[*] But it was not possible to take a general review of Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrines while they were only known to the world in the fragmentary state in which they were published during his life. His Lectures, the fullest and the only consecutive exposition e(as far as it goes)e of his philosophy, are a posthumous publication; while the latest and most matured expression of many of his opinions, the “Dissertations on Reid,”[†] left off, scarcely half finished, in the middle of a sentence; and so long as he lived, his readers were still hoping for the remainder. The Lectures, it is true, have added less than might have been expected to the knowledge we already possessed of the author’s doctrines; but it is something to know that we have now all that is to be had; and though we should have been glad to have his opinions on more subjects, we could scarcely have known more thoroughly than we are now at last enabled to do, what his thoughts were on the points to which he attached the greatest importance, and which are most identified with his name and fame.

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CHAPTER II: The Relativity of Human Knowledge

the doctrine which is thought to belong in the most especial manner to Sir W. Hamilton, and which was the ground of his opposition to the transcendentalism of the later French and German metaphysicians, is that which he and others have called the Relativity of Human Knowledge. It is the subject of the most generally known, and most impressive, of all his writings,[*] the one which first revealed to the English metaphysical reader that a new power had arisen in philosophy; and, together with its developments, it composes the “Philosophy of the Conditioned,” which he opposed to the German and French philosophies of the Absolute, and which is regarded by most of his admirers as the greatest of his titles to a permanent place in the history of metaphysical thought.

But the “relativity of human knowledge,” like most other phrases into which the words relative or relation enter, is vague, and admits of a great variety of meanings. In one of its senses, it stands for a proposition respecting the nature and limits of our knowledge, in my judgment true, fundamental, and full of important consequences in philosophy. From this amplitude of meaning its significance shades down through a number of gradations, successively more thin and unsubstantial, till it fades into a truism leading to no consequences, and hardly worth enunciating in words. When, therefore, a philosopher lays great stress upon the relativity of our knowledge, it is necessary to cross-examine his writings, and compel them to disclose in which of its many degrees of meaning he understands the phrase.

There is one of its acceptations, which, for the purpose now in view, may be put aside, though in itself defensible, and though, when thus employed, it expresses a real and important law of our mental nature. This is, that we only know anything, by knowing it as distinguished from something else; that all consciousness is of difference; that two objects are the smallest number required to constitute consciousness; that a thing is only seen to be what it is, by contrast with what it is not. The employment of the proposition, Edition: current; Page: [5] that all human knowledge is relative, to express this meaning, is sanctioned by high authorities,* and I have no fault to find with that use of the phrase. But we are not concerned with it in the present case; for it is not in this sense, that the expression is ordinarily or intentionally used by Sir W. Hamilton; though he fully recognises the truth which, when thus used, it serves to express. In general, when he says that all our knowledge is relative, the relation he has in view is not between the thing known and other objects compared with it, but between the thing known and the mind knowing.

All language recognises a distinction between myself—the Ego—and a world, either material, or spiritual, or both, external to me, but of which I can, in some mode and measure, take cognizance. The most fundamental questions in philosophy are those which seek to determine what we are able to know of these external objects, and by what evidence we know it.

In examining the different opinions which are or may be entertained on this subject, it will simplify the exposition very much, if we at first limit ourselves to the case of physical, or what are commonly called material objects. These objects are of course known to us through the senses. By those channels and no otherwise do we learn whatever we do learn concerning them. Without the senses we should not know nor suspect that such things existed. We know no more of what they are, than the senses tell us, nor does nature afford us any means of knowing more. Thus much, in the obvious meaning of the terms, is denied by no one, though there are thinkers who prefer to express the meaning in other language.

There are, however, conflicting opinions as to what it is that the senses tell us concerning objects. About one part of the information they give, there is no dispute. They tell us our sensations. The objects excite, or awaken in us, certain states of feeling. A part, at least, of what we know of the objects, is the feelings to which they give rise. What we term the properties of an object, are the powers it exerts of producing sensations in our consciousness. Take any familiar object, such as an orange. It is yellow; that is, it affects us, through our sense of sight, with a particular sensation of colour. It is soft; in other words it produces a sensation, through our muscular feelings, of resistance overcome by a slight effort. It is sweet; for it causes a peculiar kind of pleasurable sensation through our organ of taste. It is of a globular figure, somewhat flattened at the ends: we affirm this on account of sensations that it causes in us, respecting which it is still in dispute among psychologists whether they originally came to us solely through touch and the muscles, or also through the organ of sight. Edition: current; Page: [6] When it is cut open, we discover a certain arrangement of parts, distinguishable as being, in certain respects, unlike one another; but of their unlikeness we have no measure or proof except that they give us different sensations. The rind, the pulp, the juice, differ from one another in colour, in taste, in smell, in degree of consistency (that is, of resistance to pressure) all of which are differences in our feelings. The parts are, moreover, aoutsidea one another, occupying different portions of space: and even this distinction, it is maintained (though the doctrine is vehemently protested against by some) may be resolved into a difference in our sensations. When thus analysed, it is affirmed that all the attributes which we ascribe to objects, consist in their having the power of exciting one or another variety of sensation in our minds; that to us the properties of an object have this and no other meaning; that an object is to us nothing else than that which affects our senses in a certain manner; that we are incapable of attaching to the word object, any other meaning; that even an imaginary object is but a conception, such as we are able to form, of something which would affect our senses in some new way; so that our knowledge of objects, and even our fancies about objects, consist of nothing but the sensations which they excite, or which we imagine them exciting, in ourselves.

This is the doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge to the knowing mind, in the simplest, purest, and, as I think, the most proper acceptation of the words. There are, however, two forms of this doctrine, which differ materially from one another.

According to one of the forms, the sensations which, in common parlance, we are said to receive from objects, are not only all that we can possibly know of the objects, but are all that we have any ground for believing to exist. What we term an object is but a complex conception made up by the laws of association, out of the ideas of various sensations which we are accustomed to receive simultaneously. There is nothing real in the process but these sensations. They do not, indeed, accompany or succeed one another at random; they are held together by a law, that is, they occur in fixed groups, and a fixed order of succession: but we have no evidence of anything which, not being itself a sensation, is a substratum or hidden cause of sensations. The idea of such a substratum is a purely mental creation, to which we have no reason to think that there is any corresponding reality exterior to our minds. Those who hold this opinion are said to doubt or deny the existence of matter. They are sometimes called by the name Idealists, sometimes by that of Sceptics, according to the other opinions which they hold. They include the followers of Berkeley and those of Hume. Among recent thinkers, the acute and accomplished Edition: current; Page: [7] Professor Ferrier, though by a circuitous path, and expressing himself in a very different phraseology, seems to have arrived at essentially the same point of view. These philosophers maintain the Relativity of our knowledge in the most extreme form in which the doctrine can be understood, since they contend, not merely that all we can possibly know of anything is the manner in which it affects the human faculties, but that there is nothing else to be known; that affections of human or of some other minds are all that we can know to exist.

This, however, is far from being the shape in which the doctrine of the Relativity of our knowledge is usually held. To most of those who hold it, the difference between the Ego and the Non-Ego is not one of language only, nor a formal distinction between two aspects of the same reality, but denotes two realities, each bhaving a separate existenceb, and neither dependent on the other. In the phraseology borrowed from the Schoolmen by the German Transcendentalists, they regard the Noumenon as in itself a different thing from the Phænomenon, and equally real; many of them would say, much more real, being the permanent Reality, of which the other is but the passing manifestation. They believe that there is a real universe of “Things in Themselves,” and that whenever there is an impression on our senses, there is a “Thing in itself,” which is behind the phænomenon, and is the cause of it. But as to what this Thing is “in itself,” we, having no corgansc except our senses for communicating with it, can only know what our senses tell us; and as they tell us nothing but the impression which the thing makes upon us, we do not know what it is in itself at all. We suppose (at least these philosophers suppose) that it must be dsomethingd “in itself,” but all that we know it to be is merely relative to us, consisting in the power of affecting us in certain ways, or, as it is technically called, of producing Phænomena. External things exist, and have an inmost nature, but their inmost nature is inaccessible to our faculties. We know it not, and can assert nothing of it with a meaning. Of the ultimate Realities, as such, we know the existence, and nothing more. But the impressions which these Realities make on us—the sensations they excite, the similitudes, groupings, and successions of those sensations, or, to sum up all this in a common though improper expression, the representations generated in our minds by the action of the Things themselves—these we may know, and these are all that we can know respecting them. In some future state of existence it is conceivable that we may know more, and more may be known by intelligences superior to us. Yet even this can only be true in the same sense in which a person with the use of his eyes knows more than is Edition: current; Page: [8] known to one born blind, or in which we should know more than we do if we were endowed with two or three additional senses. We should have more sensations; phænomena would exist to us of which we have at present no conception; and we emighte know better than we now do, many of those which are within our present experience; for fiff the new impressions gwereg linked with the old, as the old are with one another, by uniformities of succession and coexistence, we should now have new marks indicating to us known phænomena in cases in which we should otherwise have been unaware of them. But all this additional knowledge would be, like that which we now possess, merely phænomenal. We should not, any more than at present, know things as they are in themselves, but merely an increased number of relations between them and us. And in the only meaning which we are able to attach to the term, all knowledge, by however exalted an Intelligence, can only be relative to the knowing Mind. If Things have an inmost nature, apart not only from the impressions which they produce, but from all those which they are fitted to produce, on any sentient being, this inmost nature is unknowable, inscrutable, and inconceivable, not to us merely, but to every other creature. To say that even the Creator could know it, is to use language which to us has no meaning, because we have no faculties by which to apprehend that there is any such thing for him to know.

It is in this form that the doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge is held by the greater number of those who profess to hold it, attaching any definite idea to the term. These again are divided into several distinct schools of thinkers, by some of whom the doctrine is held with a modification of considerable importance.

Agreeing in the opinion that what we know of Noumena, or Things in themselves, is but their bare existence, all our other knowledge of Things being but a knowledge of something in ourselves which derives its origin from them; there is a class of thinkers who hold that our mere sensations, and an outward cause which produces them, do not compose the whole of this relative knowledge. The Attributes which we ascribe to outward things, or such at least as are inseparable from them in thought, contain, it is affirmed, other elements, over and above sensations plus an unknowable cause. These additional elements are still only relative, for they are not in the objects themselves, nor have we evidence of anything in the objects that answers to them. They are added by the mind itself, and belong, not to the Things, but to our perceptions and conceptions of them. Such properties as the objects can be conceived divested of, such as sweetness or Edition: current; Page: [9] sourness, hardness or softness, hotness or coldness, whiteness, redness, or blackness—these, it is sometimes admitted, exist in our sensations only. But the attributes of filling space, and occupying a portion of time, are not properties of our sensations in their crude state, neither, again, are they properties of the objects, nor is there in the objects any prototype of them. They result from the nature and structure of the Mind itself: which is so constituted that it cannot take any impressions from objects except in those particular modes. We see a thing in a place, not because the Noumenon, the Thing in itself, is in any place, but because it is the law of our perceptive faculty that we must see as in some place, whatever we see at all. Place is not a property of the Thing, but a mode in which the mind is compelled to represent it. Time and Space are only modes of our perceptions, not modes of existence, and higher Intelligences are possibly not bound by them. Things, in themselves, are neither in time nor in space, though we cannot represent them to ourselves except under that twofold condition. Again, when we predicate of a thing that it is one or many, a whole or a part of a whole, a Substance possessing Accidents, or an Accident inhering in a Substance—when we think of it as producing Effects, or as produced by a Cause, (I omit other attributes not necessary to be here enumerated,) we are ascribing to it properties which do not exist in the Thing itself, but with which it is clothed by the laws of our conceptive faculty—properties not of the Things, but of our mode of conceiving them. We are compelled by our nature to construe things to ourselves under these forms, but they are not forms of the Things. The attributes exist only in relation to us, and as inherent laws of the human faculties; but differ from Succession and Duration in being laws of our intellectual, not our sensitive faculty; technically termed Categories of the Understanding. This is the doctrine of the Relativity of our knowledge as held by Kant, who has been followed in it by many subsequent thinkers, German, English, and French.

By the side of this there is another philosophy, older in date, which, though temporarily eclipsed and often contemptuously treated by it, is, according to present appearances, likely to survive it. Taking the same view with Kant of the unknowableness of Things in themselves, and also agreeing with him that we mentally invest the objects of our perceptions with attributes which do not all point, like whiteness and sweetness, to specific sensations, but are in some cases constructed by the mind’s own laws; this philosophy, however, does not think it necessary to ascribe to the mind certain innate forms, in which the objects are (as it were) moulded into these appearances, but holds that Place, Extension, Substance, Cause, and the rest, are conceptions put together out of ideas of sensation by the known laws of association. This, the doctrine of Hartley, of James Mill, of Professor Bain, and other eminent thinkers, and which is compatible with Edition: current; Page: [10] either the acceptance or the rejection of the Berkeleian theory, is the extreme form of one mode of the doctrine of Relativity, as Kant’s is of another. Both schemes accept the doctrine in its widest sense—the entire inaccessibility to our faculties of any other knowledge of Things than that of the impressions which they produce in our mental consciousness.

Between these there are many intermediate systems, according as different thinkers have assigned more or less to the original furniture of the mind on the one hand, or to the associations generated by experience on the other. Brown, for example, regards our notion of Space or Extension as a product of association, while many of our intellectual ideas are regarded by him as ultimate and undecomposable facts. But he accepts, in its full extent, the doctrine of the Relativity of our knowledge, being of opinion that though we are assured of the objective existence of a world external to the mind, our knowledge of that world is absolutely limited to the modes in which we are affected by it. The same doctrine is very impressively taught by one of the acutest metaphysicians of recent times, Mr. Herbert Spencer, who, in his First Principles, insists with equal force upon the certainty of the existence of Things in Themselves, and upon their absolute and eternal relegation to the region of the Unknowable.* This is also, apparently, the doctrine of Auguste Comte: though while maintaining with great emphasis the unknowableness of Noumena by our faculties, his aversion to metaphysics prevented him from giving any definite opinion as to their real existence, which, however, his language always by implication assumes.[*]

It is obvious that what has been said respecting the unknowableness of Things “in themselves,” forms no obstacle to our ascribing attributes or properties to them, provided these are always conceived as relative to us. If a thing produces effects of which our sight, hearing, or touch can take cognizance, it follows, and indeed is but the same statement in other words, that the thing has power to produce those effects. These various powers are its properties, and of such, an indefinite multitude is open to our knowledge. But this knowledge is merely phænomenal. The object is known to us only in one special relation, namely, as that which produces, or is capable of producing, certain impressions on our senses; and all that we really know is these impressions. This negative meaning is all that should be understood by the assertion, that we cannot know the Thing in itself; that we cannot know its inmost nature or essence. The inmost nature or essence of a Thing is apt to be regarded as something unknown, which, if we knew it, would Edition: current; Page: [11] explain and account for all the phænomena which the thing exhibits to us. But this unknown something is a supposition without evidence. We have no ground for supposing that there is anything which if known to us would afford to our intellect this satisfaction; would sum up, as it were, the knowable attributes of the object in a single sentence. Moreover, if there were such a central property, it would not answer to the idea of an “inmost nature;” for if knowable by any intelligence, it must, like other properties, be relative to the intelligence which knows it, that is, it must hsolelyh consist in iproducing in that intelligence some specifically definite state of consciousnessi; for this is the only idea we have of knowing; the only sense in which the verb “to know” means anything.

It would, no doubt, be absurd to assume that our words exhaust the possibilities of Being. There may be innumerable modes of it which are inaccessible to our faculties, and which consequently we are unable to name. But we ought not to speak of these modes of Being by any of the names we possess. These are all inapplicable, because they all stand for known modes of Being. We might invent new names for jsuchj unknown modes; but the new names would have no more meaning than the x, y, z, of Algebra. The only name we can give them which really expresses an attribute, is the word Unknowable.

The doctrine of the Relativity of our knowledge, in the sense which has now been explained, is one of great weight and significance, which impresses a character on the whole mode of philosophical thinking of whoever receives it, and is the key-stone of one of the only two possible systems of Metaphysics and Psychology. But the doctrine is capable of being, and is, understood in at least two other senses. In one of them, instead of a definite and important tenet, it means something quite insignificant, which no one ever did or could call in question. Suppose a philosopher to maintain that certain properties of objects are in the Thing, and not in our senses; in the thing itself, not as whiteness may be said to be in the thing (namely, that there is in the thing a power whereby it produces in us the sensation of white), but in quite another manner; and are known to us not indirectly, as the inferred causes of our sensations, but by direct perception of them in the outward object. Suppose the same philosopher nevertheless to affirm strenuously that all our knowledge is merely phænomenal, and relative to ourselves; that we do not and cannot know anything of outward objects, except relatively to our own faculties. I think our first feeling respecting a thinker who professed both these doctrines, would be to wonder what he could possibly mean by the latter of them. It would seem Edition: current; Page: [12] that he must mean one of two trivialities; either that we can only know what we have the power of knowing, or else that all our knowledge is relative to us inasmuch as it is we that know it.

There is another mode of understanding the doctrine of Relativity, intermediate between these insignificant truisms and the substantial doctrine previously expounded. The position taken may be, that perception of Things as they are in themselves is not entirely denied to us, but is so mixed and kconfoundedk with impressions derived from their action on us, as to give a relative character to the whole aggregate. Our absolute knowledge may be vitiated and disguised by the presence of a relative element. Our faculty (it may be said) of perceiving things as they are in themselves, though real, has its own laws, its own conditions, and necessary mode of operation: our cognitions consequently depend, not solely on the nature of the things to be known, but also on that of the knowing faculty, as our sight depends not solely upon the object seen, but upon that together with the structure of the eye. If the eye were not achromatic, we should see all visible objects with colours derived from the organ, as well as with those truly emanating from the object. Supposing, therefore, that Things in themselves are the natural and proper object of our knowing faculty, and that this faculty carries to the mind a report of what is in the Thing itself, apart from its effects on us, there would still be a portion of uncertainty in these reports, inasmuch as we could not be sure that the eye of our mind is achromatic, and that the message it brings from the Noumenon does not arrive tinged and falsified, in an unknown degree, through an influence arising from the necessary conditions of the mind’s action. We may, in short, be looking at Things in themselves, but through imperfect glasses: what we see may be the very Thing, but the colours and forms which the glass conveys to us may be partly an optical illusion. This is a possible opinion: and one who, holding this opinion, should speak of the Relativity of our knowledge, would not use the term wholly without meaning. But he could not, consistently, assert that all our knowledge is relative; since his opinion would be that we have a capacity of Absolute knowledge, but that we are liable to mistake relative knowledge for it.

In which, if in any, of these various meanings, was the doctrine of Relativity held by Sir W. Hamilton? To this question, a more puzzling one than might have been expected, we shall endeavour in the succeeding chapter to find an answer.

Edition: current; Page: [13]

CHAPTER III: The Doctrine of the Relativity of Human Knowledge, as Held by Sir William Hamilton

it is hardly possible to affirm more strongly or more explicitly than Sir W. Hamilton has done, that Things in themselves are to us altogether unknowable, and that all we can know of anything is its relation to us, composed of, and limited to, the Phænomena which it exhibits to our organs. Let me cite a passage from one of the Appendices to the Discussions.

Our whole knowledge of mind and of matter is relative, conditioned—relatively conditioned. Of things absolutely or in themselves, be they external, be they internal, we know nothing, or know them only as incognisable; and become aware of their incomprehensible existence, only as this is indirectly and accidentally revealed to us, through certain qualities related to our faculties of knowledge, and which qualities, again, we cannot think as unconditioned, irrelative, existent in and of themselves. All that we know is therefore phænomenal,—phænomenal of the unknown. . . . Nor is this denied; for it has been commonly confessed, that, as substances, we know not what is Matter, and are ignorant of what is Mind.*

This passage might be matched by many others, equally emphatic, and in appearance equally decisive; several of which I shall have occasion to quote. Yet in the sense which the author’s phrases seem to convey—in the only aimportanta meaning capable of being attached to them—the doctrine they assert was certainly not held by Sir W. Hamilton. He by no means admits that we know nothing of objects except their existence, and the impressions produced by them upon the human mind. He affirms this in regard to what have been called by metaphysicians the Secondary Qualities of Matter, but denies it of the Primary.

On this point his declarations are very explicit. One of the most elaborate of his “Dissertations on Reid” is devoted to expounding the distinction. The “Dissertation” begins thus:

The developed doctrine of Real Presentationism, the basis of Natural Realism [the doctrine of the author himself] asserts the consciousness or immediate perception Edition: current; Page: [14] of certain essential attributes of Matter objectively existing; while it admits that other properties of body are unknown in themselves, and only inferred as causes to account for certain subjective affections of which we are cognizant in ourselves. This discrimination, which to other systems is contingent, superficial, extraneous, but to Natural Realism necessary, radical, intrinsic, coincides with what since the time of Locke has been generally known as the distinction of the Qualities of Matter or Body, using these terms as convertible, into Primary and Secondary.*

Further on, he states, in additional development of so-called Natural Realism,

that we have not merely a notion, a conception, an imagination, a subjective representation—of Extension, for example—called up or suggested in some incomprehensible manner to the mind, on occasion of an extended object being presented to the sense; but that in the perception of such an object we really have, as by nature we believe we have, an immediate knowledge of that external object as extended.

If we are not percipient of any extended reality, we are not percipient of body as existing; for body exists, and can only be known immediately and in itself, as extended. The material world, on this supposition, sinks into something unknown and problematical; and its existence, if not denied, can, at least, be only precariously affirmed, as the occult cause, or incomprehensible occasion, of certain subjective affections we experience in the form either of a sensation of the secondary quality or of a perception of the primary.

Not only, in Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion, do we know, by direct consciousness or perception, certain properties of Things as they exist in the Things themselves, but we may also know those properties as in the Things, by demonstration à priori. “The notion of body being given, every primary quality is to be evolved out of that notion, as necessarily involved in it, independently altogether of any experience of sense.”§ “The Primary Qualities may be deduced à priori, the bare notion of matter being given; they being, in fact, only evolutions of the conditions which that notion necessarily implies.” He goes so far as to say, that our belief of the Primary Qualities is, not merely necessary as involved in a fact of which we have a direct perception, but necessary in itself, by our mental constitution. He speaks of “that absolute or insuperable resistance which we are compelled, independently of experience, to think that every part of matter would oppose to any attempt to deprive it of its space, by compressing it into an inextended.”

The following is still more specific. “The Primary” Qualities “are apprehended as they are in bodies; the Secondary, as they are in us: the Edition: current; Page: [15] Secundo-primary” (a third class created by himself, comprising the mechanical as distinguished from the geometrical properties of Body)

as they are in bodies and as they are in us. . . . We know the Primary qualities immediately as objects of perception; the Secundo-primary both immediately as objects of perception and mediately as causes of sensation; the Secondary only mediately as causes of sensation. In other words: The Primary are known immediately in themselves; the Secundo-primary, both immediately in themselves and mediately in their effects on us; the Secondary, only mediately in their effects on us. . . . We are conscious, as objects, in the Primary Qualities, of the modes of a not-self; in the Secondary, of the modes of self; in the Secundo-primary, of the modes of self and of a not-self at once.*

There is nothing wonderful in Sir W. Hamilton’s entertaining these opinions; they are held by perhaps a majority of metaphysicians. But it is surprising that, entertaining them, he should have believed himself, and been believed by others, to maintain the Relativity of all our knowledge. What he deems to be relative, in any sense of the term that is not insignificant, is only our knowledge of the Secondary Qualities of objects. Extension and the other Primary Qualities he positively asserts that we have an immediate intuition of, “as they are in bodies”—“as modes of a not-self;” in express contradistinction to being known merely as causes of certain impressions on our senses or on our minds. As there cannot have been, in his own thoughts, a flat contradiction between what he would have admitted to be the two cardinal doctrines of his philosophy, the only question that can arise is, which of the two is to be taken in a non-natural sense. Is it the doctrine that we know certain properties as they are in the Things? Were we to judge from a foot-note to the same Dissertation, we might suppose so. He there observes—“In saying that a thing is known in itself, I do not mean that this object is known in its absolute existence, that is, out of relation to us. This is impossible: for our knowledge is only of the relative. To know a thing in itself or immediately, is an expression I use merely in contrast to the knowledge of a thing in a representation, or mediately:” in other words, he merely means that we perceive objects directly, and not through the species sensibiles of Lucretius,[*] the Ideas of bLockeb, or the Mental Modifications of Brown.[†] Let us suppose this Edition: current; Page: [16] granted, and that the knowledge we have of objects is gained by direct perception. Still, the question has to be answered whether the knowledge so acquired is of the objects as they are in themselves, or only as they are relatively to us. Now what, according to Sir W. Hamilton, is this knowledge? Is it a knowledge of the Thing, merely in its effects on us, or is it a knowledge of somewhat in the Thing, ulterior to any effect on us? He asserts in the plainest terms that it is the latter. Then it is not a knowledge wholly relative to us. If what we perceive in the Thing is something of which we are only aware as existing, and as causing impressions on us, our knowledge of the Thing is only relative. But if what we perceive and cognise is not merely a cause of our subjective impressions, but a Thing possessing, in its own nature and essence, a long list of properties, Extension, Impenetrability, Number, Magnitude, Figure, Mobility, Position, all perceived as “essential attributes” of the Thing as “objectively existing”—all as “Modes of a Not-Self” and by no means as an occult cause or causes of any Modes of Self—(and that such is the case Sir W. Hamilton asserts in every form of language, leaving no stone unturned to make us apprehend the breadth of the distinction) then I am willing to believe that in affirming this knowledge to be entirely relative to Self, such a thinker as Sir W. Hamilton had a meaning, but I have no small difficulty in discovering what it is.

The place where we should expect to find this difficulty cleared up, is the formal exposition of the Relativity of Human Knowledge, in the first volume of the Lectures. He declares his intention of

now stating and explaining the great axiom that all human knowledge, consequently that all human philosophy, is only of the relative or phænomenal. In this proposition, the term relative is opposed to the term absolute; and therefore, in saying that we know only the relative, I virtually assert that we know nothing absolute,—nothing existing absolutely, that is, in and for itself, and without relation to us and our faculties. I shall illustrate this by its application. Our knowledge is either of matter or of mind. Now, what is matter? What do we know of matter? Matter, or body, is to us the name either of something known, or of something unknown. In so far as matter is a name for something known, it means that which appears to us under the forms of extension, solidity, divisibility, figure, motion, roughness, smoothness, colour, heat, cold, &c.; in short, it is a common name for a certain series, or aggregate, or complement, of appearances or phænomena manifested in coexistence.

But as these phænomena appear only in conjunction, we are compelled by the constitution of our nature to think them conjoined in and by something; and as they are phænomena, we cannot think them the phænomena of nothing, but must regard them as the properties or qualities of something that is extended, solid, figured, &c. But this something, absolutely and in itself, i.e. considered apart from its phænomena—is to us as zero. It is only in its qualities, only in its effects, in its relative or phænomenal existence, that it is cognizable or conceivable; and it is only by a law of thought which compels us to think something absolute and unknown, as Edition: current; Page: [17] the basis or condition of the relative and known, that this something obtains a kind of incomprehensible reality to us. Now, that which manifests its qualities—in other words, that in which the appearing causes inhere, that to which they belong,—is called their subject, or substance, or substratum. To this subject of the phænomena of extension, solidity, &c., the term matter or material substance is commonly given; and therefore, as contradistinguished from these qualities, it is the name of something unknown and inconceivable.

The same is true in regard to the term mind. In so far as mind is the common name for the states of knowing, willing, feeling, desiring, &c., of which I am conscious, it is only the name for a certain series of connected phænomena or qualities, and, consequently, expresses only what is known. But in so far as it denotes that subject or substance in which the phænomena of knowing, willing, &c., inhere—something behind or under these phænomena,—it expresses what, in itself or in its absolute existence, is unknown.

Thus, mind and matter, as known or knowable, are only two different series of phænomena or qualities; mind and matter, as unknown and unknowable, are the two substances, in which these two different series of phænomena or qualities are supposed to inhere. cThe existence of an unknown substance is only an inferencec we are compelled to make from the existence of known phænomena; and the distinction of two substances is only inferred from the seeming incompatibility of the two series of phænomena to coinhere in one.

Our whole knowledge of mind and matter is thus, as we have said, only relative; of existence, absolutely and in itself, we know nothing: and we may say of man what Virgil said of Æneas, contemplating in the prophetic sculpture of his shield the future glories of Rome—

“Rerumque ignarus, imagine gaudet.”*

Here is an exposition of the nature and limits of our knowledge, which would have satisfied Hartley, Brown, and even Comte. It cannot be more explicitly laid down, that Matter, as known to us, is but the incomprehensible and incognisable basis or substratum of a bundle of sensible qualities, appearances, phænomena; that we know it “only in its effects;” that its very existence is “only an inference we are compelled to make” from those sensible appearancesd. On the subject of Mind, again, could it have been more explicitly affirmed, that all we know of Mind is its successive states “of knowing, willing, feeling, desiring, &c.,” and that Mind, considered as “something behind or under these phænomena,” is to us unknowable?

Subsequently he says, that not only all the knowledge we have of anything, but all which we could have if we were a thousandfold better endowed than we are, would still be only knowledge of the mode in which the thing would affect us. Had we as many senses (the illustration is his Edition: current; Page: [18] own) as the inhabitants of Sirius, in the Micromegas of Voltaire;[*] were there, as there may well be, a thousand modes of real existence as definitely distinguished from one another as are those which manifest themselves to our present senses, and “had we, for each of these thousand modes, a separate organ competent to make it known to us,—still would our whole knowledge be, as it is at present, only of the relative. Of existence, absolutely and in itself, we should then be as ignorant as we are now. We should still apprehend existence only in certain special modes—only in certain relations to our faculties of knowledge.”*

Nothing can be truer or more clearly stated than all this: but the clearer it is, the more irreconcileable does it appear with our author’s doctrine of the direct cognoscibility of the Primary Qualities. If it be true that Extension, Figure, and the other qualities enumerated, are known “immediately in themselves,” and not, like Secondary qualities, “in their effects on us;” if the former are “apprehended as they are in bodies,” and not, like the Secondary, “as they are in us;” if it is these last exclusively that are “unknown in themselves, and only inferred as causes to account for certain subjective affections in ourselves:” while, of the former, we are immediately conscious as “attributes of matter objectively existing;” and if it is not to be endured that matter should “sink into something unknown and problematical,” whose existence “can be only precariously affirmed as the occult cause or incomprehensible occasion of certain subjective affections we experience in the form either of a sensation of the secondary quality or of a perception of the primary” (being precisely what Sir W. Hamilton, in the preceding quotations, appeared to say that it is); if these things be so, our faculties, as far as the Primary Qualities are concerned, do cognise and know Matter as it is in itself, and not merely as an unknowable and incomprehensible substratum; they do cognise and know it as it exists absolutely, and not merely in relation to us; it is known to us directly, and not as a mere “inference” from Phænomena.

Will it be said that the attributes of extension, figure, number, magnitude, and the rest, though known as in the Things themselves, are yet known only relatively to us, because it is by our faculties that we know them, and because appropriate faculties are the necessary condition of knowledge? If so, the “great axiom” of Relativity is reduced to this, that we can know Things as they are in themselves, but can know no more of them than our faculties are competent to inform us of. If such be the meaning of Relativity, our author might well maintain that it is a truth “harmoniously reechoed by every philosopher of every school;” nor need he have added Edition: current; Page: [19] “with the exception of a few late Absolute theorizers in Germany;”* for certainly neither Schelling nor Hegel claims for us any other knowledge than such as our faculties are, in their opinion, competent to give.

Is it possible, that by knowledge of qualities “as they are in Bodies,” no more was meant than knowing that the Body must have qualities whereby it produces the affection of which we are conscious in ourselves? But this is the very knowledge which our author predicates of Secondary Qualities, as contradistinguished from the Primary. Secondary he frankly acknowledges to be occult qualities: we really, in his opinion, have no knowledge, and no conception, what that is in an object, by virtue of which it has its specific smell or taste. But Primary qualities, according to him, we know all about: there is nothing occult or mysterious to us in these; we perceive and conceive them as they are in themselves, and as they are in the body they belong to. They are manifested to us, not, like the Secondary qualities, only in their effects, in the sensations they excite in us, but in their own nature and essence.

Perhaps it may be surmised, that in calling knowledge of this sort by the epithet Relative, Sir W. Hamilton meant that though we know those qualities as they are in themselves, we only discover them through their relation to certain effects in us; that in order that there may be Perception there must also be Sensation; and we thus know the Primary Qualities, in their effects on us and also in themselves. But neither will this explanation serve. This theory of Primary Qualities does not clash with the Secondary, but it runs against the Secundo-primary. It is this third class, which, as he told us, are known “both immediately in themselves and mediately in their effects on us.” The Primary are only known “immediately in themselves.” He has thus with his own hands deliberately extruded from our knowledge of the Primary qualities the element of relativity to us:—except, to be sure, in the acceptation in which knowing is itself a relation, inasmuch as it implies a knower; whereby instead of the doctrine that Things in themselves are not possible objects of knowledge, we obtain the “great axiom” that they cannot be known unless there is somebody to know them.e

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Can any light be derived from the statement that we do not know any qualities of things except those which are in connexion with our faculties, or, as our author expresses it (surely by a very strained use of language), which are “analogous to our faculties?”* If, by “our faculties,” is to be understood our knowing faculty, this proposition is but the trivial one already noticed, that we can know only what we can know. And this is what the author actually seems to mean; for in a sentence immediately following, he paraphrases the expression “analogous to our faculties,” by the phrase that we must “possess faculties accommodated to their apprehension.” To be able to see, we must have a faculty accommodated to seeing. Is this what we are intended to understand by the “great axiom?”f But if “our faculties” does not here mean our knowing faculty, it must mean our sensitive faculties; and the statement is, that, to be known by us, a quality must be “analogous” (meaning, I suppose, related) to our senses. But what is meant by being related to our senses? That it must be fitted to give us sensations. We thus return as before to an identical proposition.

gThere is still another possible supposition; that, in calling our knowledge relative in contradistinction to absolute, Sir W. Hamilton was not thinking of our knowledge of qualities, but of substances—of Matter and Mind; and meant that qualities might be cognised absolutely, or as they are in themselves, but that, since substances are only known through their qualities, the knowledge of substances is not knowledge of them as they are in themselves, but is merely relative. According to this interpretation, the relativity which Sir W. Hamilton ascribes to our knowledge of substances is relativity not to us, but to their attributes: we “become aware of their incomprehensible existence only as this is revealed to us through certain qualities.” And when he adds, “which qualities, again, we cannot think as unconditioned, irrelative, existent in and of themselves,”[*] thus predicating relativity of attributes also (considered as known or conceived by us), he means relativity to a substance. We can only know a substance through its qualities, but also, we can only know qualities as inhering in a substance. Substance and attribute are correlative, and can only be thought together: the knowledge of each, therefore, is relative to the other; but need not be, Edition: current; Page: [21] and indeed is not, relative to us. For we know attributes as they are in themselves, and our knowledge of them is only relative inasmuch as attributes have only a relative existence. It is relative knowledge in a sense not contradictory to absolute. It is an absolute knowledge, though of things which only exist in a necessary relation to another thing called a substance.*

I am not disposed to deny that this interpretation of Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrine is, to a certain point, correct. He did draw a distinction between our manner of knowing attributes and our manner of knowing substances; and did regard certain attributes (the primary qualities) as objects of direct and immediate knowledge; which, in his opinion, substances are not, but are merely assumed or inferred from phænomena, by a law of our nature which compels us to think phænomena as attributes of something beyond themselves. I do not doubt that when he said that our knowledge of attributes is relative, the necessity of thinking every attribute as an attribute of a substance was present to his mind, and formed a part of his meaning. hThere is, however, abundant evidence that the relativity which Sir W. Hamilton ascribed to our knowledge of attributes was not merely relativity to their substances, but also relativity to us. He affirms of attributes as positively as of substances, that all our knowledge of them is relative to us. The passages already quoted apply as much to attributes as to substances. “In saying that we know only the relative, I virtually assert that we know nothing absolute—nothing existing absolutely, that is, in and for itself, and without relation to us and our faculties. “In saying that a thing is known in itself, I do not mean that this object is known in its absolute existence, that is, out of relation to us. This is impossible, for our knowledge is only of the relative. In the following passages he is speaking solely of attributes. “By the expression what they are in themselves, in reference to the primary qualities, and of relative notion in reference to the secondary, Reid cannot mean that the former are known to us absolutely and in themselves, that is, out of relation to our cognitive faculties; for he elsewhere admits that all our knowledge is relative.”§ “We can know, we can conceive, only what is relative. Our knowledge of qualities or phænomena is necessarily relative; for these exist only as they exist in Edition: current; Page: [22] relation to our faculties.”* The distinction, therefore, which Sir W. Hamilton recognises between our knowledge of substances and that of attributes, though authentically a part of his philosophy, is quite irrelevant here.h He affirms without reservation, that certain attributes (extension, figure, &c.) are known to us as they really exist out of ourselves; and also that all our knowledge of them is relative to us. And these two assertions are only reconcileable, if relativity to us is understood in the altogether trivial sense, that we know them only so far as our faculties permit.g

The conclusion I cannot help drawing from this collation of passages is, that Sir W. Hamilton either never held, or when he wrote the “Dissertations” had ceased to hold i(for his theory respecting knowledge of the Primary Qualities does not occur in the Lectures)i the doctrine for which he has been so often praised and nearly as often attacked—the Relativity of Human Knowledge. He certainly did sincerely believe that he held it. But he repudiated it in every sense which makes it other than a barren truism. In the only meaning in which he really maintained it, there is nothing to maintain. It is an identical proposition, and nothing more.

And to this, or something next to this, hej reduces it in kthe first portion ofk the summary with which he concludes its exposition. “From what has been said,” he observes, “you will be able, I hope, to understand what is meant by the proposition, that all our knowledge is only relative. It is relative, 1st. Because existence is not cognisable absolutely in itself, but only in special modes; 2nd. Because these modes can be known only if they stand in a certain relation to our faculties.” Whoever can find anything more in these two statements, than that we do not know all about a Thing, but only as much about it as we are capable of knowing, is more ingenious or more fortunate than myself.

He adds, however, to these reasons why our knowledge is only relative, a third reason. “3rd. Because the modes, thus relative to our faculties, are assented to, and known by, the mind only under modifications determined by those faculties themselves.” Of this addition to the theory we took Edition: current; Page: [23] notice near the conclusion of the preceding chapter.[*] It shall have the advantage of a fuller explanation in Sir W. Hamilton’s words.

In the perception of an external object, the mind does not know it in immediate relation to itself, but mediately, in relation to the material organs of sense. If, therefore, we were to throw these organs out of consideration, and did not take into account what they contribute to, and how they modify, our knowledge of that object, it is evident that our conclusion in regard to the nature of external perception would be erroneous. Again, an object of perception may not even stand in immediate relation to the organ of sense, but may make its impression on that organ through an intervening medium. Now, if this medium be thrown out of account, and if it be not considered that the real external object is the sum of all that externally contributes to affect the sense, we shall, in like manner, run into error. For example, I see a book—I see that book through an external medium (what that medium is, we do not now inquire) and I see it through my organ of sight, the eye. Now, as the full object presented to the mind (observe that I say the mind) in perception, is an object compounded of the external object emitting or reflecting light, i.e., modifying the external medium—of this external medium—and of the living organ of sense, in their mutual relation, let us suppose, in the example I have taken, that the full or adequate object perceived is equal to twelve, and that this amount is made up of three several parts; of four, contributed by the book,—of four, contributed by all that intervenes between the book and the organ,—and of four, contributed by the living organ itself. I use this illustration to show that the phænomenon of the external object is not presented immediately to the mind, but is known by it only as modified through certain intermediate agencies; and to show, that sense itself may be a source of error, if we do not analyze and distinguish what elements, in an act of perception, belong to the outward reality, what to the outward medium, and what to the action of sense itself. But this source of error is not limited to our perceptions; and we are liable to be deceived, not merely by not distinguishing in an act of knowledge what is contributed by sense, but by not distinguishing what is contributed by the mind itself. This is the most difficult and important function of philosophy; and the greater number of its higher problems arise in the attempt to determine the shares to which the knowing subject, and the object known, may pretend in the total act of cognition. For according as we attribute a larger or a smaller proportion to each, we either run into the extremes of Idealism and Materialism, or maintain an equilibrium between the two.*

The proposition, that our cognitions of objects are only in part dependent on the objects themselves, and in part on elements superadded by our organs or by our minds, is not identical, nor primâ facie absurd. It cannot, however, warrant the assertion that all our knowledge, but only that the part so added, is relative. If our author had gone as far as Kant, and had said that all lthe primary qualities which we think we perceive in bodies, arel put in by the mind itself, he would have really held, in one of its forms, the doctrine of the Relativity of our knowledge. But what he does say, far from Edition: current; Page: [24] implying that the whole of our knowledge is relative, distinctly imports that all of it which is real and authentic is the reverse. If any part of what we fancy that we perceive in the objects themselves, originates in the perceiving organs or in the cognising mind, thus much is purely relative; but since, by supposition, it does not all so originate, the part that does not, is as much absolute as if it were not liable to be mixed up with these delusive subjective impressions. The admixture of the relative element not only does not take away the absolute character of the remainder, but does not even (if our author is right) prevent us from recognising it. The confusion, according to him, is not inextricable. It is for us to “analyze and distinguish what elements” in an “act of knowledge” are contributed by the object, and what by our organs, or by the mind. We may neglect to do this, and as far as the mind’s share is concerned, can only do it by the help of philosophy; but it is a task to which in his opinion philosophy is equal. By thus stripping off such of the elements in our apparent cognitions of Things as are but cognitions of something in us, and consequently relative, we may succeed in uncovering the pure nucleus, the direct intuitions of Things in themselves; as we correct the observed positions of the heavenly bodies by allowing for the error due to the refracting influence of the atmospheric medium, an influence which does not alter the facts, but only our perception of them.

mThis last doctrine, however,—that the mind’s own constitution contributes along with the outward object, to make up what is called our knowledge of the object,—is what Mr. Mansel maintains Sir W. Hamilton to have meant by the assertion that our whole knowledge of the object is relative. And this is the foundation of all that Mr. Mansel presents as a refutation of the present chapter.

If it be true (to use Mr. Mansel’s words) that, in the constitution of our knowledge, the mind “reacts on the objects affecting it, so as to produce a result different from that which would be produced, were it merely a passive recipient,”* this modifying action of the mind must consist, as is affirmed by Kant and by all others who profess the doctrine, in making us ascribe to the object, and apprehend as in the object, properties which are not really in the object, but are merely lent to it by the constitution of our mental nature. Now, if the attributes which we perceive, or think we perceive, in objects, are partly given by the mind, but not wholly, being also partly given by the nature of the object itself (which is admitted to be Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion); this joint agency of the object and of the mind’s own laws in generating what we call our knowledge of the object, may be conceived in two ways.

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First: The two factors may be jointly operative in every part of the effect. Every attribute with which we perceive the thing as invested, may be a joint product of the thing itself and of the modifying action of the mind. If this be the case, we do not really know any property as it is in the object: we have no reason to think that the object as we apprehend it, and as we figure to ourselves that we perceive and know it, agrees in any respect with the object that exists without us; but only that it depends upon that outward object, as one of its joint causes. Such was the opinion of Kant; and whoever is of this opinion, holds, in one of its forms, as I have expressly admitted, the genuine doctrine of the Relativity of our knowledge. For all must agree with Mr. Mansel when he says, that an object of thought, into which the mind puts a positive element of its own, thereby making it different from what it otherwise would be, is that which it is, only relatively to the mind. This seems to be Mr. Mansel’s own mode of representing to himself the combined action of the mind and the object in perception. For he compares it to the action of an acid and an alkali in forming a neutral salt;* and to a chemical fusion together of two elements, in contradistinction to a mere mechanical juxtaposition. If we had never seen, and could not get at, the acid or the alkali except as united in the salt, Mr. Mansel could not think that our knowledge of the salt gave us any knowledge of the acid or the alkali themselves.

But, secondly: There is another mode in which the co-operation of the object and the mind’s own properties in producing our cognition of the object, may be conceived as taking place. Instead of their being joint agents in producing our cognitions of all the attributes with which we mentally clothe the object, some of the attributes as cognised by us may come from the object only, and some from the mind only, or from both. Now it is not open to a holder of this second opinion, as it is to one of the first, to affirm that all the attributes are only known relatively to us. Such of them, indeed, as are made to be that which they are by what the mind puts into them, are, on this theory, only known relatively to the mind: they have even no existence except relatively to the mind. But those into which no positive element is introduced by the mind’s laws (I say no positive element, because a mere negative limitation by the mind’s capacities is nothing to the purpose), these, as their cognition contains nothing but what is presented in the external object, must be held to be known not relatively, but absolutely. The doubt how much of what we apprehend in them is due to our own constitution, and how much to the external world, has no place here: they are, by supposition, wholly perceptions of something in the external world.

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Now, this second view of the joint action of the mind and the outward thing, as the two factors in our cognition of the thing, is Sir W. Hamilton’s. The passages in which he characterizes our knowledge of the Primary Qualities place this beyond question. He affirms clearly and consistently that extension, figure, and the other Primary Qualities are known by us “as they are in bodies,” and not “as they are in us;” that they are known as “essential attributes of matter objectively existing;” as “modes of a notself,” not even combined, as in the Secundo-primary, with any “modes of self;”[*] so that no element originating in our subjective constitution interferes with the purity of the apperception. In this respect the physical phenomena which Mr. Mansel calls in as illustrations afford no parallel. No one would say that the acid in a neutral salt is perceived and known by us in the salt as what it is as an acid. Indeed, the ndiscrimination whichn Sir W. Hamilton thinks it possible for philosophy to omake,o between that in our knowledge which the object contributes and that which the mind contributes, palmost requires as its condition that some attributes should bep wholly contributed by the one and some by the other: for if every attribute was the joint product of both, qit is difficult to see what means the case could affordq of making the discrimination, any more than of discriminating between the acid and the alkali in Mr. Mansel’s salt. The question, how much of the salt is due to the acid and how much to the alkali, is not merely unresolvable, but intrinsically absurd.*

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Mr. Mansel’s mode of reconciling Sir W. Hamilton’s emphatic declaration, that we know the Primary Qualities as they are in objects, with his assertion of the entire incognoscibility of Things in themselves, is by saying that “objects” are not identical with “things in themselves.”* “Objective existence,” he says,

does not mean existence per se; and a phenomenon does not mean a mere mode of mind. Objective existence is existence as an object, in perception, and therefore in relation; and a phenomenon may be material, as well as mental. The thing per se may be only the unknown cause of what we directly know; but what we directly know is something more than our own sensations. In other words, the phenomenal effect is material as well as the cause, and is, indeed, that from which our primary conceptions of matter are derived.

Now, this is a possible opinion; it was really the opinion of Kant. That philosopher did recognise a direct object of our perceptions, different from the thing itself, and intermediate between it and the perceiving mind. And it was open to Kant to do so; because he held what Sir W. Hamilton calls a representative theory of perception. He maintained that the object of our perception, and of our knowledge, is a representation in our own minds. In his philosophy, both object and subject are accommodated within the mind itself—the object within the subject. The mind has no perception of the external thing, nor comes into any contact with it in the act of perception. Was this Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion? On the contrary, if there be a doctrine of his philosophy which he has laboured at beyond any other, against, as he Edition: current; Page: [28] affirms, nearly all philosophers, it is, that the thing we perceive is the real thing which exists outside us, and that the perceiving mind is in direct contact with it, without any intermediate link whatever. We never hear from Sir W. Hamilton of three elements in our cognition of the outward world, but of two only, the mind, and the real object; which he sometimes calls the external object, sometimes Body, sometimes Matter, sometimes a Non-ego. Yet, according to Mr. Mansel, he must have believed that this object, which he so strenuously contended to be the very thing itself, is not the very thing in itself, but that behind it there is another Thing in itself, the unknown cause of it. I can discover no trace in Sir W. Hamilton’s writings of any such entity. The outward things which he believed to exist, he believed that we perceive and know: not, indeed, “absolutely or in themselves,” because only in such of their attributes as we have senses to reveal to us; but yet as they really are. He did not believe in, or recognise, a Thing per se, itself unknowable, but engendering another material object called a phænomenon, which is knowable. The only distinction he recognised between a phænomenon and a Thing per se, was that between attributes and a substance. But he believed the primary attributes to be known by us as they exist in the substance, and not in some intermediate object.*

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The mark by which Mr. Mansel distinguishes between the object and the Thing in itself, is that the object is in space and time, but the Thing out of space and time; space and time having merely a subjective existence, in us, not in external nature. This is Kantism, but it is not Hamiltonism. I do not believe that the expression “out of space and time” is to be found once in all Sir W. Hamilton’s writings. It belongs to the Kantian, not to the Hamiltonian philosophy. Sir W. Hamilton does indeed hold with Kant, and on Edition: current; Page: [30] Kant’s shewing, that space and time are à priori forms of the mind, but he believes that they are also external realities, known empirically.* And it is worth notice, that he grounds the outward reality of Space, not on his favourite evidence, that of our Natural Beliefs, but on the specific reason, that (Extension being only another name for Space), if Space was not an outward thing cognizable à posteriori, we could not, as he affirms that we do, cognize Extension as an external reality. He must therefore have thought, not that Space is a mere form in which our perceptions of objects are clothed by the laws of our perceiving faculty, but that we perceive real things in real space.

Mr. Mansel is not the only one of my critics who has interpreted Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrine of our direct knowledge of outward objects, as if those outward objects were a tertium quid, between the mind and the real outward, or if the expression may be permitted, the outer outward object. For, irreconcilable as this supposition is with the evidence of his writings, it is the only one which can be thought of to give a substantial meaning to his doctrine of Relativity, consistent with the external reality of the Primary Qualities. Professor Masson consequently had already taken refuge in the same interpretation as Mr. Mansel; but propounded it in the modest form of Edition: current; Page: [31] an hypothesis, not a dogmatical assertion. The North American Reviewer in like manner says:

An existence non-ego may be immediately cognizable consistently with the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, provided this non-ego be phenomenal, that is, necessarily dependent on some other incognizable existence among the real causes of things. . . . If the meaning of the word phenomenon which we have attributed to Hamilton be a valid one, his philosophy escapes from this criticism by affirming that the primary qualities of matter, that is, the having extension, figure, &c., though not cognized as the effects of matter on us, are yet modes of existence implying an unknown substance, and are hence phenomenal in Hamilton’s meaning of the word.*

This explanation might pass, if Sir W. Hamilton’s assertion of the relativity of our knowledge to our mind were all contained in the word phænomenal, and could be explained away by supposing that word to mean relativity not to us, but to an unknown cause. But I need not requote his declaration that our knowledge of Qualities is all relative to us, nor his assertion that nevertheless certain qualities are in the object, and are perceived and known in the object, and that the object perceived and known is no other than the real Thing itself. Nowhere in his works do I find any recognition of another real Thing, which is not the Thing perceived by us through its attributes. He does not tell us of a Body perceived, and an unperceived Substance in the background: the Body is the Substance. He does indeed say that the Substance is only an inference from the Attributes; but he also says that certain attributes are perceived as in the real external Thing; and he never drops the smallest hint of any real external thing in which the attributes can be, except the Substance itself, which he expressly defines as “that which manifests its qualities,” that in which the “phænomena or qualities are supposed to inhere.”[*]

Professor Fraser, in the (in many respects) profound Essay of which he has done this work the honour of making it the occasion, vindicates at once the consistency of Sir W. Hamilton, and the substantial significance of his doctrine of Relativity, by ascribing to him, in opposition to his incessant declarations, Mr. Fraser’s own far clearer views of the subject. Mr. Fraser, like myself, believes the Primary Qualities to have no more existence out of our own or other minds, than the Secondary Qualities have, or than our pains and pleasures have; and he asks, “Where does he” (Sir W. Hamilton) “say that we have an absolute knowledge of the primary qualities of matter, in any other sense than that in which he says that we have a like knowledge of a feeling of pain or pleasure in our minds while it is being felt, or of an act Edition: current; Page: [32] of consciousness while it is being acted?”* To this “where,” I answer, in every place where he says that we know the Primary Qualities not as they are in us, but as they are in the Body. That is asserting an absolute knowledge of them, as distinguished from relativity to us: and he would not have made a similar assertion of our pains and pleasures, or of our acts of internal consciousness. Again, asks Mr. Fraser, “How does the assertion that we are percipient directly, and not through a medium, of phenomena of solidity and extension, contradict the principle that all our knowledge is relative, when the assertion that we are percipient, directly and not through a medium, of the phenomena of sensation or emotion or intelligence does not?” Because the phænomena of sensation or emotion or intelligence are admitted to be perceived or felt as facts that have no reality out of us, and the facts being only relative to us, the knowledge of the facts partakes of the same relativity: but the phænomena of solidity and extension are alleged by Sir W. Hamilton to be perceived as facts whose reality is out of our minds, and in the material object: which is indeed knowing them relatively to the outward object, but is the diametrical opposite of knowing them relatively to us.m

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It has vnowv been shown, by accumulated proof, that Sir W. Hamilton did not hold any opinion in virtue of which it could rationally be asserted that all human knowledge is relative; but did hold, as one of the main elements of his philosophical creed, the opposite doctrine, of the cognoscibility of external Things, in certain of their aspects, as they are in themselves, absolutely.

But if this be true, what becomes of his dispute with Cousin, and with Cousin’s German predecessors and teachers? That celebrated controversy surely meant something. Where there was so much smoke there must have been some fire. Some difference of opinion must really have existed between Sir W. Hamilton and his antagonists.

Assuredly there was a difference, and one of great importance from the point of view of either disputant; not unimportant in the view of those who dissent from them both. In the succeeding chapter I shall endeavour to point out what the difference was.

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CHAPTER IV: In What Respect Sir William Hamilton Really Differs from the Philosophers of the Absolute

the question really at issue in Sir W. Hamilton’s celebrated and striking review of Cousin’s philosophy,[*] is this: Have we, or have we not, an immediate intuition of God. The name of God is veiled under two extremely abstract phrases, “The Infinite” and “The Absolute,” perhaps from a reverential feeling: such, at least, is the reason given by Sir W. Hamilton’s disciple, Mr. Mansel,* for preferring the more vague expressions. But it is one of the most unquestionable of all logical maxims, that the meaning of the abstract must be sought for in the concrete, and not conversely; and we shall see, both in the case of Sir W. Hamilton and of Mr. Mansel, that the process cannot be reversed with impunity.

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I proceed to state, chiefly in the words of Sir W. Hamilton, the opinions of the two parties to the controversy. Both undertake to decide what are the facts which (in their own phraseology) are given in Consciousness; or, as others say, of which we have intuitive knowledge. According to Cousin, there are, in every act of consciousness, three elements; three things of which we are intuitively aware. There is a finite element; an element of plurality, compounded of a Self or Ego, and something different from Self, or Non-ego. There is also an infinite element; a consciousness of something infinite. “At the same instant when we are conscious of these [finite] existences, plural, relative, and contingent, we are conscious likewise of a Edition: current; Page: [36] superior unity in which they are contained, and by which they are explained; a unity absolute as they are conditioned, substantive as they are phænomenal, and an infinite cause as they are finite causes. This unity is God.”* The first two elements being the Finite and God, the third element is the relation between the Finite and God, which is that of cause and effect. These three things are immediately given in every act of consciousness, and are, therefore, apprehended as real existences by direct intuition.

Of these alleged elements of Consciousness, Sir W. Hamilton only admits the first; the Finite element, compounded of Self and a Not-self, “limiting and conditioning one another.”[*] He denies that God is given in immediate consciousness—is apprehended by direct intuition. It is in no such way as this that God, according to him, is known to us: and as an Infinite and Absolute Being he is not, and cannot be, known to us at all; for we have no faculties capable of apprehending the Infinite or the Absolute. The second of M. Cousin’s elements being thus excluded, the third (the Relation between the first and second) falls with it; and Consciousness remains limited to the finite element, compounded of an Ego and a Non-ego.

In this contest it is almost superfluous for me to say, that I am entirely with Sir W. Hamilton. The doctrine, that we have an immediate or intuitive knowledge of God, I consider to be bad metaphysics, involving a false conception of the nature and limits of the human faculties, and grounded on a superficial and erroneous psychology. Whatever relates to God I holdc to be matter of inference; I would add, of inference à posteriori. And in so far as Sir W. Hamilton has contributed, which he has done very materially, towards discrediting the opposite doctrine, he has rendered, in my estimation, a dvaluabled service to philosophy. But though I assent to his conclusion, his arguments seem to me very far from inexpugnable: a sufficient answer, I conceive, might without difficulty be given to emoste of them, though I do not say that it was always competent to M. Cousin to give it. And the arguments, in the present case, are of as much importance as the conclusion: not only because they are quite as essential a part of Sir W. Hamilton’s philosophy, but because they afford the premises from which some of his followers, if not himself, have drawn inferences which I venture to think extremely mischievous. While, therefore, I sincerely applaud the scope and purpose of this celebrated piece of philosophical criticism, I think it important to sift with some minuteness the reasonings it employs, and the general mode of thought which it exemplifies.

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The question is, as already remarked, whether we have a direct intuition of “the Infinite” and “the Absolute:” M. Cousin maintaining that we have—Sir W. Hamilton that we have not; that the Infinite and the Absolute are inconceivable to us, and, by consequence, unknowable.

It is proper to explain to any reader not familiar with these controversies, the meaning of the terms. Infinite requires no explanation. It is universally understood to signify that, to the magnitude of which there is no limit. If we speak of infinite duration, or infinite space, we are supposed to mean duration which never ceases, and extension which nowhere comes to an end. Absolute is much more obscure, being a word of several meanings; but, in the sense in which it stands related to Infinite, it means (conformably to its etymology) that which is finished or completed. There are some things of which the utmost ideal amount is a limited quantity, though a quantity never actually reached. In this sense, the relation between the Absolute and the Infinite is (as Bentham would have said) a tolerably close one, namely a relation of contrariety. For example, to assert an absolute minimum of matter, is to deny its infinite divisibility. Again, we may speak of absolutely, but not of infinitely, pure water. The purity of water is not a fact of which, whatever degree we suppose attained, there remains a greater beyond. It has an absolute limit: it is capable of being finished or complete, in thought, if not in reality. The extraneous substances existing in any vessel of water cannot be of more than finite amount, and if we suppose them all withdrawn, the purity of the water cannot, even in idea, admit of further increase.

fThe idea of Absolute, in this sense of the term, being thus contrasted with that of Infinite, they cannot, both of them, be truly predicated of God; or, if truly, not in respect of the same attributes. But the word Absolute, without losing the signification of perfect or complete, may drop that of limited. It may continue to mean the whole of that to which it is applied; but without requiring that this whole should be finite. Granted (for instance) a being of infinite power, that Being’s knowledge, if supposed perfect, must be infinite; and may therefore, in an admissible sense of the term, be said to Edition: current; Page: [38] be both absolute and infinite.* In this acceptation there is no inconsistency or incongruity in predicating both these words of God.

The word Absolute, however, has other meanings, which have nothing to do with perfection or completenessf, though often mixed and confounded with hith; the more readily as they are all ihabitually predicated of the Deityi. By Absolute is often meant the opposite of Relative; and this is rather many meanings than one; for Relative also is a term used very indefinitely, and wherever it is employed, the word Absolute always accompanies it as its negative. In another of its senses, Absolute means that which is independent of anything else: which exists, and is what it is, by its own nature, and not because of any other thing. In this jfourth sense as in the thirdj, Absolute stands for the negation of a relation; not now of Relation in general, but of the specific relation expressed by the term Effect. In this signification it is synonymous with kuncaused, and is therefore most naturally identified with thek First Cause. The meaning of a First Edition: current; Page: [39] Cause is, that all other things exist, and are what they are, by reason of it and of its properties, but that it is not itself made to exist, nor to be what it is, by anything else. It does not depend, for its existence or attributes, on other things: there is nothing upon the existence of which its own is conditional: it exists absolutely.l

mIn which of these meanings is the term used in the polemic with M. Cousin? M. Cousin makes no distinction at all between the Infinite and the Absolute. Sir W. Hamilton distinguishes them as two species of a higher genus, the Unconditioned; andm defines the Infinite as “the unconditionally unlimited,” the Absolute as “the unconditionally limited.”* Here is a new word introduced, the word “unconditionally;” of which we look in vain for any direct explanation, nbut which needs it as much as either of the words which it is employed to explain. In the Essay itself, this is the only attempt made to define the Absolute: but in the reprint Sir W. Hamilton appends the following note:

“The term Absolute is of a twofold (if not threefold) ambiguity, corresponding to the double (or treble) signification of the word in Latin.” The third application he, with reason, dismisses, as here irrelevant. The other two are as follows:

“1. Absolutum means what is freed or loosed: in which sense the Absolute will be what is aloof from relation, comparison, limitation, condition, dependence, &c., and thus is tantamount to τὸ ὰπόλυτον of the lower Edition: current; Page: [40] Greeks.[*] In this meaning the Absolute is not opposed to the Infinite.” This is an amplification of my third meaning.

“2. Absolutum means finished, perfected, completed; in which sense the Absolute will be what is out of relation, &c. as finished, perfect, complete, total, and thus corresponds to τὸ ὅλον and τὸ τέλειον of Aristotle.[†] In this acceptation—and it is that in which for myself I exclusively use it,—the Absolute is diametrically opposed to, is contradictory of, the Infinite.”* This second meaning of Sir W. Hamilton, which I, in the first edition, by a blameable inadvertence, confounded with my own first meaning, must be reckoned as a fifth, compounded of the first and third—of the idea of finished or completed, and the idea of being out of relation. How to make an intelligible meaning out of the two combined, is the question. One can, with some difficulty, find a meaning in being “aloof from relation, comparison, limitation, condition, dependence;” but what is meant by being all this “as finished, perfect, complete, total?” Does it mean, being both out of relation and also complete? and must the Absolute in Sir W. Hamilton’s second sense be also Absolute in his first, and be out of all relation whatever? or does the particle “as” signify that it is out of relation only in respect of its completeness, which (I suppose) means that it does not depend for its completeness on anything but itself? Mr. Mansel’s comment, which otherwise does not help us much, decides for the latter. “Out of relation as completed” means (he says) “self-existent in its completeness, and not implying the existence of anything else.”§ Without further attempt to clear Edition: current; Page: [41] up the obscurity, let it suffice that Sir W. Hamilton’s Absolute, though not synonymous with a “finished, perfected, completed,” but limited, whole, includes that idea, and is therefore incompatible with Infinite.*n

Having premised these verbal explanations, I proceed to state, as far as possible in Sir W. Hamilton’s own words, the heads of his argumentation to prove that the oAbsolute and Infinite areo unknowable. His first summary statement of the doctrine is as follows:

The unconditionally unlimited, or the Infinite, the unconditionally limited, or the Absolute, cannot positively be construed to the mind: they can be conceived only by a thinking away from, or abstraction of, those very conditions under which thought itself is realized; consequently, the notion of the Unconditioned is only negative; negative of the conceivable itself. For example: On the one hand, we can positively conceive neither an absolute whole, that is, a whole so great that we cannot also conceive it as a relative part of a still greater whole; nor an absolute part, that is, a part so small that we cannot also conceive it as a relative whole divisible into smaller parts. On the other hand, we cannot positively represent, or realize, or construe to the mind (as here Understanding and Imagination coincide) an infinite whole, for this could only be done by the infinite synthesis in thought of finite wholes, which would itself require an infinite time for its accomplishment; nor, for the same reason, can we follow out in thought an infinite divisibility of parts. The result is the same, whether we apply the process to limitation in space, in time, or in degree. The unconditional negation, and the unconditional affirmation of limitation; in other words, the Infinite and the Absolute properly so called, are thus equally inconceivable to us.

This argument, that the Infinite and the Absolute are unknowable by us because the only conceptions we are able to form of them are negative, is stated still more emphatically a few pages later.

Kant has clearly shown, that the Idea of the Unconditioned can have no objective reality,—that it conveys no knowledge,—and that it involves the most insoluble contradictions. But he ought to have shown that the Unconditioned had no objective application, because it had, in fact, no subjective affirmation; that it afforded no real knowledge, because it contained nothing even conceivable; and that it is self-contradictory, because it is not a notion, either simple or positive, but only a fasciculus of negations—negations of the Conditioned in its opposite extremes, and bound together merely by the aid of language, and their common character of incomprehensibility.

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Let us note, then, as the first and most fundamental of Sir W. Hamilton’s arguments, that our ideas of the Infinite and the Absolute are ppurely negative, and the Unconditioned which combines the two, “ap fasciculus of negations.” I reserve consideration of the validity of this and every other part of the argumentation, until we have the whole before us. He proceeds:

As the conditionally limited (which we may briefly call the Conditioned) is thus the only possible object of knowledge and of positive thought,—thought qnecessarilyq supposes condition. To think is to condition; and conditional limitation is the fundamental law of the possibility of thought. For, as the greyhound cannot outstrip his shadow, nor (by a more appropriate simile) the eagle outsoar the atmosphere in which he floats, and by which alone he is supported; so the mind cannot transcend that sphere of limitation, within and through which exclusively the possibility of thought is realized. Thought is only of the conditioned; because, as we have said, to think is simply to condition. The Absolute is conceived merely by a negation of conceivability; and all that we know, is known as—

“Won from the cold and formless Infinite.[*]

How, indeed, it could ever be doubted that thought is only of the conditioned, may well be deemed a matter of the profoundest admiration. Thought cannot transcend consciousness; consciousness is only possible under the antithesis of a subject and object of thought known only in correlation, and mutually limiting each other; while, independently of this, all that we know either of subject or object, either of mind or matter, is only a knowledge in each of the particular, of the plural, of the different, of the modified, of the phænomenal. We admit that the consequence of this doctrine is—that philosophy, if viewed as more than a science of the conditioned, is impossible. Departing from the particular, we admit that we can never, in our highest generalizations, rise above the Finite; that our knowledge, whether of mind or matter, can be nothing more than a knowledge of the relative manifestations of an existence which in itself it is our highest wisdom to recognise as beyond the reach of philosophy. This is what, in the language of St. Austin, Cognoscendo ignoratur, et ignoratione cognoscitur.*

The dictum that “to think is to condition” r(the meaning of which will be examined hereafter)r may be noted as our author’s second argument. And here ends the positive part of his argumentation. There remains his refutation of opponents. After an examination of Schelling’s opinion, into which I need not follow him, he grapples with M. Cousin, against whom he undertakes to show, that “his argument to prove the correality of his three Ideas proves directly the reverse;” “that the conditions under which alone he allows intelligence to be possible, necessarily exclude the possibility of a knowledge, not to say a conception, of the Absolute;” and “that the Absolute, Edition: current; Page: [43] as defined by him, is only a relative and a conditioned.”* Of this argument in three parts, if we pass over (or, as our author would say, discount) as much as is only ad hominem, what is of general application is as follows:

sFirst:s M. Cousin and our author are agreed that there can be no knowledge except “where there exists a plurality of terms;”[*] there are at least a perceived and a perceiver, a knower and a known. But this necessity of “difference and plurality” as a condition of knowledge, is inconsistent with the meaning of the Absolute, which

as absolutely universal, is absolutely one. Absolute unity is convertible with the absolute negation of plurality and difference. . . . The condition of the Absolute as existing, and under which it must be known, and the condition of intelligence, as capable of knowing, are incompatible. For, if we suppose the Absolute cognisable: it must be identified either—1°, with the subject knowing: or, 2°, with the object known: or, 3°, with the indifference of both. The first hypothesis, and the second, are contradictory of the Absolute. For in these the Absolute is supposed to be known, either as contradistinguished from the knowing subject, or as contradistinguished from the object known: in other words, the Absolute is asserted to be known as absolute unity, i.e., as the negation of all plurality, while the very act by which it is known, affirms plurality as the condition of its own possibility. The third hypothesis, on the other hand, is contradictory of the plurality of intelligence; for if the subject and the object of consciousness be known as one, a plurality of terms is not the necessary condition of intelligence. The alternative is therefore necessary: either the Absolute cannot be known or conceived at all; or our author is wrong in subjecting thought to the conditions of plurality and difference.

tSecondly:t In order to make the Absolute knowable by us, M. Cousin, says the author, is obliged to present it in the light of an absolute cause: now causation is a relation; therefore M. Cousin’s Absolute is but a relative. Moreover, “what exists merely as a cause, exists merely for the sake of something else—is not final in itself, but simply a mean towards an end. . . . Abstractly considered, the effect is therefore superior to the cause.” Hence an absolute cause “is dependent on the effect for its perfection;” and, indeed,

even for its reality. For to what extent a thing exists necessarily as a cause, to that extent it is not all-sufficient to itself; since to that extent it is dependent on the effect, as on the condition through which it realizes its existence; and what exists absolutely Edition: current; Page: [44] as a cause, exists therefore in absolute dependence on the effect for the reality of its existence. An absolute cause, in truth, only exists in its effects: it never is, it always becomes: for it is an existence in potentia, and not an existence in actu, except through and by its effects. The Absolute is thus, at best, something merely inchoative and imperfect.*

Let me ask, en passant, vwhy M. Cousin is under an obligation to thinkv that if the Absolute, or, to speak plainly, if God, is only known to us in the character of a cause, he must therefore “exist merely as a cause,” and be merely “a mean towards an end?” It is surely possible to maintain that the Deity is known to us only as he who feeds the ravens, without supposing that the Divine Intelligence exists solely in order that the ravens may be fed.

In reviewing the series of arguments adduced by Sir W. Hamilton for the incognoscibility and inconceivability of the Absolute, the first remark that Edition: current; Page: [45] occurs is, that most of them lose their application by simply substituting for the metaphysical abstraction “The Absolute,” the more intelligible concrete expression “Something Absolute.” If the first phrase has any meaning, it must be capable of being expressed in terms of the other. When we are told of an “Absolute” in the abstract, or of an Absolute Being, even though called God, we are entitled, and if we would know what we are talking about, are bound to ask, absolute in what? Do you mean, for example, absolute in goodness, or absolute in knowledge? or do you, perchance, mean absolute in ignorance, or absolute in wickedness? for any Edition: current; Page: [46] one of these is as much an Absolute as any other. And when you talk of something in the abstract which is called the Absolute, does it means one, or more than one, of these? or does it, peradventure, mean all of them? When (descending to a less lofty height of abstraction) we speak of The Horse, we mean to include every object of which the name horse can be predicated. Or, to take our examples from the same region of thought to which the controversy belongs—when The True or The Beautiful are spoken of, the phrase is meant to include all things whatever that are true, or all things whatever that are beautiful.* If this rule is good for other abstractions, it is good for the Absolute. The word is devoid of meaning unless in reference to predicates of some sort. What is absolute must be absolutely something; absolutely this or absolutely that. The Absolute, then, ought to be a genus comprehending whatever is absolutely anything—whatever possesses any predicate in finished completeness. If we are told therefore that there is some one Being who is, or which is, The Absolute—not something absolute, but the Absolute itself,—the proposition can be understood in no other sense than that the supposed Being possesses in absolute completeness all predicates; is absolutely good, and absolutely bad; absolutely wise, and absolutely stupid; and so forth. The conception of such a being, I will not say of such a God, is worse than a “fasciculus of negations;” it is a fasciculus of contradictions: and our author might have spared himself the Edition: current; Page: [47] trouble of proving a thing to be unknowable, which cannot be spoken of but in words implying the impossibility of its existence. To insist on such a truism is not superfluous, for there have been philosophers who saw that this must be the meaning of “The Absolute,” and yet accepted it as a reality. “What kind of an Absolute Being is that,” asked Hegel, “which does not contain in itself all that is actual, even evil included?”* Undoubtedly: and it is therefore necessary to admit, either that there is no Absolute Being, or that the law, that contradictory propositions cannot both be true, does not apply to the Absolute. Hegel chose the latter side of the alternative; and by this, among other things, has fairly earned the honour which will probably be awarded to him by posterity, of having logically extinguished transcendental metaphysics by a series of reductiones ad absurdissimum.

What I have said of the Absolute is true, mutatis mutandis, of the Infinite. This also is a phrase of no meaning, except in reference to some particular predicate; it must mean the infinite in something—as in size, in duration, or in power. These are intelligible conceptions. But an abstract Infinite, a Being not merely infinite in one or in several attributes, but which is “The Infinite” itself, must be not only infinite in greatness, but also in littleness; its duration is not only infinitely long, but infinitely short; it is not only infinitely awful, but infinitely contemptible; it is the same mass of contradictions as its companion the Absolute. There is no need to prove that neither of them is knowable, since, if the universal law of Belief is of objective validity, neither of them exists.

It is these unmeaning abstractions, however, these muddles of self-contradiction, which alone our author has proved, against Cousin and others, to be unknowable. He has shown, without difficulty, that we cannot know The Infinite or The Absolute. He has not shown that we cannot know a concrete reality as infinite or as absolute. Applied to this latter thesis, his reasoning breaks down.

We have seen his principal argument, the one on which he substantially relies. It is, that the Infinite and the Absolute are unknowable because inconceivable, and inconceivable because the only notions we can have of them are purely negative. If he is right in his antecedent, the consequent Edition: current; Page: [48] follows. A conception made up of negations is a conception of Nothing. It is not a conception at all.

But is a conception, by the fact of its being a conception of something infinite, reduced to a negation? This is quite true of the senseless abstraction “The Infinite.” That indeed is purely negative, being formed by excluding from the concrete conceptions classed under it, all their positive elements. But in place of “the Infinite,” put the idea of Something infinite, and the argument collapses at once. “Something infinite” is a conception which, like most of our complex ideas, contains a negative element, but which contains positive elements also. Infinite space, for instance: is there nothing positive in that? The negative part of this conception is the absence of bounds. The positive are, the idea of space, and of space greater than any finite space. So of infinite duration: so far as it signifies “without end” it is only known or conceived negatively; but in so far as it means time, and time longer than any given time, the conception is positive. The existence of a negative element in a conception does not make the conception itself negative, and a non-entity. It would surprise most people to be told that “the life eternal” is a purely negative conception; that immortality is inconceivable. Those who hope for it for themselves have a very positive conception of what they hope for. True, we cannot have an adequate conception of space or duration as infinite; but between a conception which though inadequate is real, and correct as far as it goes, and the impossibility of any conception, there is a wide difference. Sir W. Hamilton does not admit this difference. He thinks the distinction without meaning. “To say that the infinite can be thought, but only inadequately thought, is a contradiction in adjecto; it is the same as saying that the infinite can be known, but only known as finite.”* I answer, that to know it as greater than anything finite is not to know it as finite. The conception of Infinite as that which is greater than any given quantity, is a conception we all possess, sufficient for all human purposes, and as genuine and good a positive conception as one need wish to have. It is not adequate; our conception of a reality never is. But it is positive; and the assertion that there is nothing positive in the idea of infinity can only be maintained by leaving out and ignoring, as Sir W. Hamilton invariably does, the very element which constitutes the idea. Considering how many recondite laws of physical nature, afterwards verified by experience, have been arrived at by trains of mathematical reasoning grounded on what, if Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrine be correct, is a non-existent conception, one would be obliged to suppose that conjuring is a highly successful mode of the investigation of nature. If, indeed, we trifle by setting up an imaginary Infinite which is infinite in Edition: current; Page: [49] nothing in particular, our notion of it is truly nothing, and a “fasciculus of negations.” But this is a good example of the bewildering effect of putting nonsensical abstractions in the place of concrete realities. Would Sir W. Hamilton have said that the idea of God is but a xnegation, or a fasciculus of negations?x As having nothing greater than himself, he is indeed conceived negatively. But as himself greater than all other real or imaginable existences, the conception of him is positive.

Put Absolute instead of Infinite, and we come to the same result. “The Absolute,” as already shown, is a heap of contradictions, but “absolute” in reference to any given attribute, signifies the possession of that attribute in finished perfection and completeness. A Being absolute in knowledge, for example, is one who knows, in the literal meaning of the term, everything. Who will pretend that this conception is negative, or unmeaning to us? We cannot, indeed, form an adequate conception of a being as knowing everything, since to do this we must have a conception, or mental representation, of all that he knows. But neither have we an adequate conception of any person’s finite knowledge. I have no adequate conception of a shoemaker’s knowledge, since I do not know how to make shoes: but my conception of a shoemaker and of his knowledge is a real conception; it is not a fasciculus of negations. If I talk of an Absolute Being (in the sense in which we are now employing the term) I use words without meaning; but if I talk of a Being who is absolute in wisdom and goodness, that is, who knows everything, and at all times intends what is best for every sentient creature, I understand perfectly what I mean: and however much the fact may transcend my conception, the shortcoming can only consist in my being ignorant of the details of which the reality is composed: as I have a positive, and may have a correct conception of the empire of China, though I know not the aspect of any of the places, nor the physiognomy of any of the human beings, comprehended therein.

It appears, then, that the leading argument of Sir W. Hamilton to prove the inconceivability and consequent unknowability of the Unconditioned, namely, that our conception of it is merely negative, holds good only of an abstract Unconditioned which cannot possibly exist, and not of a concrete Being, supposed infinite and absolute in certain definite attributes.* Let us now see if there be any greater value in his other arguments.

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The first of them is,z that all knowledge is of things plural and different; that a thing is only known to us by being known as different from something else; from ourselves as knowing it, and also from other known things which Edition: current; Page: [51] are not it. Here we have at length something which the mind can rest on as a fundamental truth. It is one of the profound psychological observations which the world owes to Hobbes;[*] it is fully recognised both by M. Cousin and by Sir W. Hamilton; and it has, more recently, been admirably illustrated and applied by Mr. Bain and by Mr. Herbert Spencer. That to know a thing is to distinguish it from other things, is, as I formerly remarked, one of the truths which the very ambiguous expression “the relativity of human knowledge” has been employed to denotea. With this doctrine I have no quarrel. But Sir W. Hamilton proceeds to argue that the Absolute, being “absolutely One,” cannot be known under the conditions of plurality and difference, and as these are the acknowledged conditions of all our knowledge, cannot, therefore, be known at all. There is here, as it seems to me, a strange confusion of ideas. Sir W. Hamilton seems to mean that, being absolutely One, it cannot be known as plural. But the proposition that plurality is a condition of knowledge, does not mean that the thing known must be known as itself plural. It means, that a thing is only known, by being known as distinguished from something else. The plurality required is not within the thing itself, but is made up between itself and other things. Again, even if we concede that a thing cannot be known at all unless known as plural, does it follow that it cannot be known as plural because it is also One? bAre the One and the Many, then,b incompatible things, instead of different aspects of the same thing? Sir W. Hamilton surely does not mean by Absolute Unity, an indivisible Unit; the minimum, instead of the maximum of Being. He must mean, as M. Cousin certainly means, an absolute Whole; the Whole which comprehends all things. If this be so, does not this Whole not only admit of, but necessitate, the supposition of parts? Is not an Unity which comprehends everything, ex vi termini known as a plurality, and the most plural of all pluralities, plural in an unsurpassable degree? If there is any meaning in the words, must not Absolute Unity be Absolute cTotality, which is the highest degree of Pluralityc? There is no escape from the alternative: dthe Absoluted either means a single atom or monad, or it means Plurality in the extreme degree.

Though it is hardly needful, we will try this argument by the test we Edition: current; Page: [52] applied to a previous one; by substituting the concrete, God, for the abstract Absolute. Would Sir W. Hamilton have said that God is not cognizable under the condition of Plurality—is not known as distinguished from ourselves, and from the objects in nature? Call any positive Thing by a name which expresses only its negative predicates, and you may easily prove it under that name to be incognizable and a non-entity. Give it back its full name (if Mr. Mansel’s reverential feelings will permit), its positive attributes reappear, and you find, to your surprise, that what is a reality can be known as one.*

The next argument is chiefly directed against the doctrine of M. Cousin, that we know the Absolute as Absolute Cause.[*] This doctrine, says Sir W. Hamilton, destroys itself. The idea of a Cause is irreconcilable with the Absolute, for a Cause is relative, and implies an Effect: this Absolute, therefore, is not an Absolute at all. efThis would be unanswerable, if by the Edition: current; Page: [53] Absolute we were obliged to understand something which is not only “out of” all relation, but incapable of ever passing into relation. But is this what any one can possibly mean by the Absolute, who identifies it with the Creator? Granting that the Absolute implies an existence in itself, standing in no relation to anything: the only Absolute with which we are concerned, or in which anybody believes, must not only be capable of entering into relation with things, but must be capable of entering into any relation whatever, except that of dependence, with anything. May it not be known in some, at least, of those relations, and particularly in the relation of a Cause? And if it is a “finished, perfected, completed”[*] Cause, i.e. the most a cause that it is possible to be—the cause of everything except itself—then, if known as such, it is known as an Absolute Cause.e Has Sir W. Hamilton shown that an Absolute Cause, thus understood, is inconceivable, or unknowable? No: all he shows is, that, though gcapable of being known, itgf is known relatively to something else, namely, to its effects; and that such knowledge of God is not of God in himself, but of God in relation to his works. The truth is, M. Cousin’s doctrine is too legitimate a product of the metaphysics common to them both, to be capable of being refuted by Sir W. Hamilton. For this knowledge of God in and by his effects, according to M. Cousin, is knowing him as he is in himself: because the creative power whereby he causes, is in himself, is inseparable from him, and belongs to his essence.[†] And as far as I can see, the principles common to the two philosophers are as good a warrant to M. Cousin for saying this, as to Sir W. Hamilton for maintaining that extension and figure are h“essential attributes”h of matter, and perceived as such by intuition.

I have now examined, with one exception, every argument (which is not merely ad hominem) advanced by Sir W. Hamilton to prove against M. Cousin the unknowableness of the Unconditioned. The argument which I have reserved, is the emphatic and oracular one, that the Unconditioned must be unthinkable, because “to think is to condition.”[‡] I have kept this Edition: current; Page: [54] for the last, because it will occupy us the longest time: for we must begin by finding the meaning of the proposition; which cannot be done very briefly, so little help is afforded us by the author.

According to the best notion I can form of the meaning of “condition,” either as a term of philosophy or of common life, it means that on which something else is contingent, or (more definitely) which being given, something else exists, or takes place. I promise to do something on condition that you do something else: that is, if you do this, I will do that; if not, I will do as I please. A Conditional Proposition, in logic, is an assertion in this form: “If so and so, then so and so.” The conditions of a phænomenon are the various antecedent circumstances which, when they exist simultaneously, are followed by its occurrence. As all these antecedent circumstances must coexist, each of them in relation to the others is a conditio sine quâ non; i.e. without it the phænomenon will not follow from the remaining conditions, though it perhaps may from some set of conditions totally different.

If this be the meaning of Condition, the Unconditioned should mean, that which does not depend for its existence or its qualities on any antecedent; in other words, it should be synonymous with iUncausedi. This, however, cannot be the meaning intended by Sir W. Hamilton: for, in a passage already quoted from his argument against Cousin, he speaks of the effect as a condition of its cause. The condition, therefore, as he understands it, needs not be an antecedent, and may be a subsequent fact to that which it conditions.

He appears, indeed, in his writings generally, to reckon as a condition of a thing, anything necessarily implied by it: and uses the word Conditioned almost interchangeably with Relative. For relatives are always in pairs: a term of relation implies the existence of two things, the one which it is affirmed of, and another: parent implies child, greater implies less, like implies another like, and vice versâ. Relation is an abstract name for all concrete facts which concern more than one object. Wherever, therefore, a relation is affirmed, or anything is spoken of under a relative name, the existence of the correlative may be called a condition of the relation, as well as of the truth of the assertion. When, accordingly, Sir W. Hamilton calls an effect a condition of its cause, he speaks intelligibly, and the received use of the term affords him a certain amount of justification for thus speaking.

But, if the Conditioned means the Relative, the Unconditioned must mean its opposite; and in this acceptation, the Unconditioned would mean all Noumena; Things in themselves, considered without reference to the effects they produce in us, which are called their phænomenal agencies or Edition: current; Page: [55] properties. Sir W. Hamilton does, very frequently, seem to use the term in this sense. In denying all knowledge of the Unconditioned, he often seems to be denying any other than phænomenal knowledge of Matter or of Mind. Not only, however, he does not consistently adhere to this meaning, but it directly conflicts with the only approach he ever makes to a definition or an explanation of the term. We have seen him declaring that the Unconditioned is the genus of which the Infinite and the Absolute are the two species. But Things in themselves are not all of them infinite and absolute. Matter and Mind, as such, are neither the one nor the other. It is evident that Sir W. Hamilton had never decided what extent he intended giving to the term Unconditioned. Sometimes he gives it one degree of amplitude, sometimes another. Between the meanings in which he uses it there is undoubtedly a link of connexion; but this only makes the matter still worse than if there were none. The phrase has that most dangerous kind of ambiguity, in which the meanings, though essentially different, are so nearly allied that the thinker unconsciously interchanges them one with another.*

jThe probability is that when our author asserts that “to think is to Edition: current; Page: [56] condition,” he uses the word Condition in neither of these senses, but in a third meaning, equally familiar to him, and recurring constantly in such phrases as “the conditions of our thinking faculty,” “conditions of thought,” and the like. He means by Conditions something similar to Kant’s Forms of Sense and Categories of Understanding; a meaning more correctly expressed by another of his phrases, “Necessary Laws of Thought.” He is applying to the mind the scholastic maxim, “Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis.” He means that our perceptive and conceptive faculties have their own laws, which not only determine what we are capable of perceiving and conceiving, but put into our perceptions and conceptions elements not derived from the thing perceived or conceived, but from the mind itself: That, therefore, we cannot at once infer that whatever we find in our perception or conception of an object, has necessarily a prototype in the object itself: and that we must, in each instance, determine this question by philosophic investigation. According to this doctrine, which no fault can be found with our author for maintaining, though often for not carrying it far enough—the “conditions of thought” would mean the attributes with which, it is supposed, the mind cannot help investing every object of thought—the elements which, derived from its own structure, cannot but enter into every conception it is able to form; even if there should be nothing corresponding in the object which is the prototype of the conception: though our author, in most cases, (therein differing from Kant) believes that there is this correspondence.

We have here an intelligible meaning for the doctrine that to think is to conditionk; and as Mr. Mansel, in his reply, guarantees this as the true meaning of Sir W. Hamilton,[*] I will accept it as being so. If, then (which I do not here discuss), the philosophical doctrine be true, which was held partially by Sir W. Hamilton, and in a more thorough-going manner by Kant, viz. that, in the act of thought, the mind, by an à priori necessity, invests the object of thought with attributes which are not in itself, but are created by the mind’s own laws; and if we consent to call these necessities Edition: current; Page: [57] of thought the conditions of thought; then evidently to think is to condition, and to think the Unconditioned would be to think the unthinkable. But the Unconditioned, in this application of the term, is not identical with the Infinite plus the Absolute. The Infinite and the Absolute are not necessarily, in this sense, unconditioned. The words infinite and absolute, as I have already said, have no meaning save as expressing some concrete reality or supposed reality, possessing infinitely or absolutely attributes of some sort, which attributes, as finite and limited, we are able to think. In thinking these attributes, we are not able to divest ourselves of our mental conditions, but we can think the attributes as surpassing the conditions. “To condition,” and “to think under conditions,” are ambiguous phrases. An Infinite Being may be thought, and is thought, with reference to the conditions, but not as limited by them. The most familiar examples of the alleged necessary conditions of thought, are Time and Space: we cannot, it is affirmed, think anything, except in time and space. Now, an Infinite Being is not thought as in time and space, if this means as occupying a portion of time or a portion of space. But (substituting for Time the word Duration, to get rid of the theological antithesis of Time and Eternity) we do actually conceive God in reference to Duration and Extension, namely, as occupying lthe whole of both; and these being conceived as infinite, to conceive a Being as occupying the whole of them is to conceive that Being as infinite. If thinking God as eternal and omnipresent is thinking him in Space and Time, we do think God in Space and Time: if thinking him as eternal and omnipresent is not thinking him in Space and Time, we are capable of thinking something out of Space and Time. Mr. Mansel may make his choice between the two opinions. I have already shown that the ideas of infinite space and time are real and positive conceptions:[*] that of a Being who is in all Space and in all Time is no less so. To think anything, must of course be to condition it by attributes which are themselves thinkable; but not necessarily to condition it by a limited quantum of those attributes: on the contrary, we may think it under a degree of them greater than all limited degrees, and this is to think it as infinite.*kl

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If we now ask ourselves, as the result of this long discussion, what Sir W. Hamilton can be considered as having accomplished in this celebrated Essay, our answer must be: That he has established, more thoroughly perhaps than he intended, the futility of all speculation respecting those meaningless abstractions “The Infinite” and “The Absolute,” notions contradictory in themselves, and to which no corresponding realities do or can exist.*m Respecting the unknowableness, not of “the Infinite,” or “the Absolute,” but of concrete persons or things possessing infinitely or absolutely certain specific attributes, I cannot think that our author has proved anything; nor do I think it possible to prove them any otherwise unknowable, than that they can only be known in their relations to us, and not as Noumena, or Things in themselves. This, however, is true of the finite as well as of the infinite, of the imperfect as well as of the completed or Edition: current; Page: [59] absolute. Our author has merely proved the uncognoscibility of a being which is nothing but infinite, or nothing but absolute: and since nobody supposes that there is such a being, but only beings which are something positive carried to the infinite, or to the absolute, to have established this point cannot be regarded as any great achievement. He has not even refuted M. Cousin; whose doctrine of an intuitive cognition of the Deity,[*] like every other doctrine relating to intuition, can only be disproved by showing it to be a mistaken interpretation of facts; which, again, as we shall see hereafter, can only be done by pointing out in what other way the seeming perceptions may have originated, which are erroneously supposed to be intuitive.

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CHAPTER V: What is Rejected as Knowledge by Sir William Hamilton, Brought Back Under the Name of Belief

we have found Sir W. Hamilton maintaining with great earnestness, and taking as the basis of his philosophy, an opinion respecting the limitation of human knowledge, which, if he did not mean so much by it as the language in which he often clothed it seemed to imply, meant at least this, that the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned, are necessarily unknowable by us. I have discussed this opinion as a serious philosophical dogma, expressing a definite view of the relation between the universe and human apprehension, and fitted to guide us in distinguishing the questions which it is of any avail to ask, from those which are altogether closed to our investigations.

But had the doctrine, in the mind of Sir W. Hamilton, meant ten times more than it did—had he upheld the relativity of human knowledge in the fullest, instead of the scantiest meaning of which the words are susceptible—the question would still have been reduced to naught, or to a mere verbal controversy, by his admission of a second akinda of intellectual conviction called Belief; which is anterior to knowledge, is the foundation of it, and is not subject to its limitations; and through the medium of which we may have, and are justified in having, a full assurance of all the things which he has pronounced unknowable to us; and this not exclusively by revelation, that is, on the supposed testimony of a Being whom we have ground for trusting as veracious, but by our natural faculties.

From some philosophers, this distinction would have the appearance of a mere fetch—one of those transparent evasions which have sometimes been resorted to by the assailants of received opinions, that they might have an opportunity of ruining the rational foundations of a doctrine without exposing themselves to odium by its direct denial: as the writers against Christianity in the eighteenth century, after declaring some doctrine to be contradictory to reason, and exhibiting it in the absurdest possible light, were Edition: current; Page: [61] wont to add that this was not of the smallest consequence, religion being an affair of faith, not of reason. But Sir W. Hamilton evidently meant what he says; he was expressing a serious conviction, and one of the tenets of his philosophy: he really recognised bunder the name ofb Belief a substantive source, I was going to say, of knowledge; I may at all events say of trustworthy evidence. This appears in the following passages:

The sphere of our belief is much more extensive than the sphere of our knowledge, and therefore, when I deny that the Infinite can by us be known, I am far from denying that by us it is, must, and ought to be, believed. This I have indeed anxiously evinced, both by reasoning and authority.*

St. Austin accurately says, “We know, what rests upon reason; but believe, what rests upon authority.” But reason itself must rest at last upon authority; for the original data of reason do not rest on reason, but are necessarily accepted by reason on the authority of what is beyond itself. These data are, therefore, in rigid propriety, Beliefs or Trusts. Thus it is that in the last resort we must perforce philosophically admit, that belief is the primary condition of reason, and not reason the ultimate ground of belief. We are compelled to surrender the proud Intellige ut credas of Abelard, to content ourselves with the humble Crede ut intelligas of Anselm.

And in another part of the same Dissertation, (he is arguing that we do not believe, but know, the external world)—

If asked, indeed, how we know that we know it? how we know that what we apprehend in sensible perception is, as consciousness assures us, an object, external, extended, and numerically different from the conscious subject? how we know that this object is not a mere mode of mind, illusively presented to us as a mere mode of matter; then indeed we must reply that we do not in propriety know that what we are compelled to perceive as not-self is not a perception of self, and that we can only on reflection believe such to be the case, in reliance on the original necessity of so believing, imposed on us by our nature.

It thus appears that, in Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion, Belief is a cconviction of higher authorityc than Knowledge; Belief is ultimate, knowledge only derivative; Knowledge itself finally rests on Belief; natural beliefs are the Edition: current; Page: [62] sole warrant for all our knowledge. Knowledge, therefore, is an inferior ground of assurance to natural Belief; and as we have beliefs which tell us that we know, and without which we could not be assured of the truth of our knowledge, so we have, and are warranted in having, beliefs beyond our knowledge; beliefs respecting the Unconditioned—respecting that which is in itself unknowable.

I am not now considering what it is that, in our author’s opinion, we are bound to believe concerning the unknowable. What here concerns us is, the nullity to which this doctrine reduces the position to which our author seemed to cling so firmly—viz., that our knowledge is relative to ourselves, and that we can have no knowledge of the infinite and absolute. In telling us that it is impossible to the human faculties to know anything about Things in themselves, we naturally suppose he intends to warn us off the ground—to bid us understand that this subject of enquiry is closed to us, and exhort us to turn our attention elsewhere. It appears that nothing of the kind was intended: we are to understand, on the contrary, that we may have the best grounded and most complete assurance of the things which were declared unknowable—an assurance not only equal or greater in degree, but the same in nature, as we have for the truth of our knowledge: and that the matter dind dispute was only whether this assurance or conviction shall be called knowledge, or by another name. If this be all, I must say I think it not of the smallest consequence. If no more than this be intended by the “great axiom”[*] and the elaborate argument against Cousin, a great deal of trouble has been taken to very little purpose; and the subject would have been better left where Reid left it, who did not trouble himself with nice distinctions between belief and knowledge, but was content to consider us as knowing that which, by the constitution of our nature, we are forced, with entire conviction, to believe. According to Sir W. Hamilton, we believe premises, but know the conclusions from them. The ultimate facts of consciousness are “given less in the form of cognitions than of beliefs:” “Consciousness in its last analysis, in other words our primary experience, is a faith.”* But if we know the theorems of Euclid, and do not know the definitions and axioms on which they rest, the word knowledge, thus singularly applied, must be taken in a merely technical sense. eTo say that we believe the premises, but know the conclusion, would be understood by every one as meaning that we had other independent evidence of the conclusion. If we only know it through the premises, the same name ought Edition: current; Page: [63] in reason to be given to our assurance of both.*e In common language, when Belief and Knowledge are distinguished, Knowledge is understood to mean complete conviction, Belief a conviction somewhat short of complete; or else we are said to believe when the evidence is probable (as that of testimony), but to know, when it is intuitive, or demonstrative from intuitive premises: we believe, for example, that there is a Continent of America, but know that we are alive, that two and two make four, and that the sum of any two sides of a triangle is greater than the third side. This is a distinction of practical value: but in Sir W. Hamilton’s use of the term, it is the intuitive convictions that are the Beliefs, and those which are dependent and contingent upon them, compose our knowledge. Whether a particular portion of our convictions, which are not more certain, but if anything less certain, than the remainder, and according to our author rest on the same ultimate basis, shall in opposition to the common usage of mankind, receive exclusively the appellation of knowledge, is at the most a question of terminology, and can only be made to appear philosophically important by confounding difference of name with difference of fact. That anything capable of being said on such a subject should pass for a fundamental principle of philosophy, and be fone of the chief sourcesf of the reputation of a metaphysical system, is but an example how the mere forms of logic and metaphysics can blind mankind to the total absence of their substance.

gIt must not be supposed, from anything which has been here said, that I wish to abolish the distinction between Knowledge and Belief (meaning True Belief) or maintain that it is necessarily a distinction without a difference. Those terms are employed to denote more than one real difference, and neither of them can conveniently be dispensed with in philosophy. What concerns us in the present chapter is not the rationale of the distinction between knowledge and belief, but whether that distinction Edition: current; Page: [64] is relevant to the question between Sir W. Hamilton and M. Cousin about the Infinite and the Absolute; and whether Sir W. Hamilton is warranted in giving back under the name of Belief, the assurance or conviction respecting these objects which he refuses under the name of knowledge. My position is, that the Infinite and Absolute which Sir W. Hamilton has been proving to be unknowable, being made up of contradictions, are as incapable of being believed as of being known; that the only attitude in reference to them, of any intellect which apprehends the meaning of language, is that of disbelief. On the other hand, there are Infinites and Absolutes which, not being self-contradictory, admit of being believed, namely, concrete realities supposed to be infinite or absolute in respect of certain attributes: but Sir W. Hamilton, as I maintain, has done nothing towards proving that Edition: current; Page: [65] such concrete realities cannot be known, in the way in which we know other things, namely, in their relations to us. When, therefore, he affirms that though the Infinite cannot by us be known, “by us it is, must, and ought to be believed,”[*] I answer, that the Infinite which, as he has so laboriously proved, cannot be known, neither is, must, nor ought to be believed; not because it cannot be known, but because there exists no such thing for us to know; unless, with Hegel, we hold that the Absolute is not subject to the Law of Contradiction, but is at once a real existence and the synthesis of contradictories. And, on the other hand, the Infinite and Absolute which are really capable of being believed, are also, for anything Sir W. Hamilton has shown to the contrary, capable of being, in certain of their aspects, known.g

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CHAPTER VI: The Philosophy of the Conditioned

the “philosophy of the conditioned,” in its wider sense, includes all the doctrines that we have been discussing. In its narrower, it consists, I think, mainly of a single proposition, which Sir W. Hamilton often reiterates, and insists upon as a fundamental law of human intellect. Though suggested by Kant’s Antinomies of Speculative Reason, in the form which it bears in Sir W. Hamilton’s writings it belongs, I believe, originally to himself. No doctrine which he has anywhere laid down is more characteristic of his mode of thought, and none is more strongly associated with his fame.

For the better understanding of this theory, it is necessary to premise some explanations respecting another doctrine, which is also his, but not peculiar to him. He protests, frequently and with emphasis, against the notion that whatever is inconceivable must be false. “There is no ground,” he says, “for inferring a certain fact to be impossible, merely from our inability to conceive its possibility.”* I regard this opinion as perfectly just. It is one of the psychological truths, highly important, and by no means generally recognised, which frequently meet us in his writings, and which give them, in my eyes, most of their philosophical value. I am obliged to add, that though he often furnishes a powerful statement and vindication of such truths, he seldom or never consistently adheres to them. Too often what he has affirmed in generals is taken back in details, and arguments of his own are found to rest on philosophical commonplaces which he has himself repudiated and refuted. I am afraid that the present is one of these cases, and that Sir W. Hamilton will sometimes be found contending that a thing cannot possibly be true because we cannot conceive it: but at all events he disclaims any such inference, and broadly lays down, that things not only may be, but are, of which it is impossible for us to conceive even the possibility.

Before showing how this proposition is developed into the “Philosophy of the Conditioned,” let us make the ground safe before us, by bestowing a Edition: current; Page: [67] brief consideration upon the proposition itself, its meaning, and the foundations on which it rests.

We cannot conclude anything to be impossible, because its possibility is inconceivable to us; for two reasons. First; what seems to us inconceivable, and, so far as we are personally concerned, may really be so, usually owes its inconceivability only to a strong association. When, in a prolonged experience, we have often had a particular sensation or mental impression, and never without a certain other sensation or impression immediately accompanying it, there grows up so firm an adhesion between our ideas of the two, that we are unable to think of the former without thinking the latter in close combination with it. And unless other parts of our experience afford us some analogy to aid in disentangling the two ideas, our incapacity of imagining the one fact without the other grows, or is prone to grow, into a belief that the one cannot exist without the other. This is the law of Inseparable Association, an element of our nature of which few have realized to themselves the full power. It was for the first time largely applied to the explanation of the more complicated mental phænomena by Mr. James Mill;[*] and is, in an especial manner, the key to the phænomenon of inconceivability. As that phænomenon only exists because our powers of conception are determined by our limited experience, Inconceivables are incessantly becoming Conceivables as our experience becomes enlarged. There is no need to go farther for an example than the case of Antipodes. This physical fact was, to the early speculators, inconceivable: not, of course, the fact of persons in that position; this the mind could easily represent to itself; but the possibility that, being in that position, and not being nailed on, nor having any glutinous substance attached to their feet, they could help falling off. Here was an inseparable, though, as it proved to be, not an indissoluble association, which while it continued made a real fact what is called inconceivable; and because inconceivable, it was unhesitatingly believed to be impossible. Inconceivabilities of similar character have, at many periods, obstructed the reception of new scientific truths: the Newtonian system had to contend against several of them; and we are not warranted in assigning a different origin and character to those which still subsist, because the experience that would be capable of removing them has not occurred. If anything which is now inconceivable by us were shown to us as a fact, we should soon find ourselves able to conceive it. We should even be in danger of going over to the opposite error, and believing that the negation of it is inconceivable. There are many cases in the history Edition: current; Page: [68] of science (I have dilated on some of them in another work)[*] where something which had once been inconceivable, and which people had with great difficulty learnt to conceive, becoming itself fixed in the bonds of an inseparable association, scientific men came to think that it alone was conceivable, and that the conflicting hypothesis which all mankind had believed, and which a vast majority were probably believing still, was inconceivable. In Dr. Whewell’s writings on the Inductive Sciences, this transition of thought is not only exemplified but defended.[†] Inconceivability is thus a purely subjective thing, arising from the mental antecedents of the individual mind, or from those of the human mind generally at a particular period, and cannot give us any insight into the possibilities of Nature.

But, secondly, aeven assuminga that inconceivability is not solely the consequence of limited experience, but that some incapacities of conceiving are inherent in the mind, and inseparable from it; this would not entitle us to infer, that what we are thus incapable of conceiving cannot exist. Such an inference would only be warrantable, if we could know à priori that we must have been created capable of conceiving whatever is capable of existing: that the universe of thought and that of reality, the Microcosm and the Macrocosm (as they once were called) must have been framed in complete correspondence with one another. That this is really the case has been laid down expressly in some systems of philosophy, by implication in more, and is the foundation (among others) of the systems of Schelling and Hegel: but an assumption more destitute of evidence could scarcely be made, nor can one easily imagine any evidence that could prove it, unless it were revealed from above.

What is inconceivable, then, cannot therefore be inferred to be false. But let us vary the terms of the proposition, and express it thus: what is inconceivable, is not therefore incredible. We have now a statement, which may mean either exactly the same as the other, or more. It may mean only that our inability to conceive a thing, does not entitle us to deny its possibility, nor its existence. Or it may mean that a thing’s being inconceivable to us is no reason against our believing, and legitimately believing, that it actually is. This is a very different proposition from the preceding. Sir W. Edition: current; Page: [69] Hamilton, as we have said, goes this length. It is now necessary to enter more minutely than at first seemed needful, into the meaning of “inconceivable;” which, like almost all the metaphysical terms we are forced to make use of, is weighed down with ambiguities.

Reid pointed out and discriminated two meanings of the verb “to conceive,”* giving rise to two different meanings of inconceivable. But Sir W. Hamilton uses “to conceive” in three meanings, and has accordingly three meanings for Inconceivable; though he does not give the smallest hint to his readers, nor seems ever to suspect, that the three are not one and the same.

The first meaning of Inconceivable is, that of which the mind cannot form to itself any representation; either (as in the case of Noumena) because no attributes are given, out of which a representation could be framed, or because the attributes given are incompatible with one another—are such as the mind cannot put together in a single image. Of this last case numerous instances present themselves to the most cursory glance. The fundamental one is that of a simple contradiction. We cannot represent anything to ourselves as at once being something, and not being it; as at once having, and not having, a given attribute. The following are other examples. We cannot represent to ourselves time or space as having an end. We cannot represent to ourselves two and two as making five; nor two straight lines as Edition: current; Page: [70] enclosing a space. We cannot represent to ourselves a round square; bnorb a body all black, and at the same time all white.

These things are literally inconceivable to us, our minds and our experience being what they are. Whether they would be inconceivable if our minds were the same but our experience different, is open to discussion. A distinction may be made, which, I think, will be found pertinent to the question. That the same thing should at once be and not be—that identically the same statement should be both true and false—is not only inconceivable to us, but we cannot cimaginec that it could be made conceivable. We cannot attach sufficient meaning to the proposition, to be able to represent to ourselves the supposition of a different experience on this matter. We cannot therefore even entertain the question, whether the incompatibility is in the original structure of our minds, or is only put there by our experience. The case is otherwise in all the other examples of inconceivability. Our incapacity of conceiving the same thing as A and not A, may be primordial; but our inability to conceive A without B, is because A, by experience or teaching, has become inseparably associated with B: and our inability to conceive A with C, is, because, by experience or teaching, A has become inseparably associated with some mental representation which includes the negation of C. Thus all inconceivabilities may be reduced to inseparable association, combined with the original inconceivability of a direct contradiction. All the cases which I have cited as instances of inconceivability, and which are the strongest I could have chosen, may be resolved in this manner. We cannot conceive a round square, not merely because no such object has ever presented itself in our experience, for that would not be enough. Neither, for anything we know, are the two ideas in themselves incompatible. To conceive a round square, or to conceive a body all black and yet all white, would only be to conceive two different sensations as produced in us simultaneously by the same object; a conception familiar to our experience; and we should probably be as well able to conceive a round square as a hard square, or a heavy square, if it were not that, in our uniform experience, at the instant when a thing begins to be round it ceases to be square, so that the beginning of the one impression is inseparably associated with the departure or cessation of the other.* Thus our inability to form a conception always arises from our being compelled Edition: current; Page: [71] to form another contradictory to it. We cannot conceive time or space as having an end, because the idea of any portion whatever of time or space is inseparably associated with the idea of a time or space beyond it. We cannot conceive two and two as five, because an inseparable association compels us to conceive it as four; and it cannot be conceived as both, because four and five, like round and square, are so related in our experience, that each is associated with the cessation, or removal, of the other. We cannot conceive two straight lines as enclosing a space, because enclosing a space means approaching and meeting a second time; and the mental image of two straight lines which have once met is inseparably associated with the representation of them as diverging. Thus it is not wholly without ground that the notion of a round square, and the assertion that two and two make five, or that two straight lines can enclose a space, are said, in common and even in scientific parlance, to involve a contradiction. The statement is not logically correct, for contradiction is only between a positive representation and its negative. But the impossibility of uniting contradictory conceptions in the same representation, is the real ground of the inconceivability in these cases. And we should probably have no difficulty in putting together the two ideas supposed to be incompatible, if our experience had not first inseparably associated one of them with the contradictory of the other.*

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Thus far, of the first kind of Inconceivability; the first and most proper meaning in which the word is used. But there is another meaning, in which things are often said to be inconceivable which the mind is under no Edition: current; Page: [73] incapacity of representing to itself in an image. It is often said, that we are unable to conceive as possible that which, in itself, we are perfectly well able to conceive: we are able, it is admitted, to conceive it as an imaginary Edition: current; Page: [74] object, but unable to conceive it realized. This extends the term inconceivable to every combination of facts which to the mind simply contemplating it, appears incredible.* It was in this sense that Antipodes were inconceivable. They could be figured in imagination; they could even be painted, or Edition: current; Page: [75] modelled in clay. The mind could put the parts of the conception together, butg could not realize the combination as one which could exist in nature. The cause of the inability was the powerful tendency, generated by experience, to expect falling off, when a body, not of adhesive quality, was in contact only with the under side of another body. The association was not so powerful as to disable the mind from conceiving the body as holding on; doubtless because other facts of our experience afforded models on which such a conception could be framed. But though not disabled from conceiving the combination, the mind was disabled from believing it. The difference between belief and conception, and between the conditions of belief and those of simple conception, are psychological questions into which I do not enter. It is sufficient that inability to believe can coexist with ability to conceive, and that a mental association between two facts which is not intense enough to make their separation unimaginable, may yet create, and, if there are no counter associations, always does create, more or less of difficulty in believing that the two can exist apart: a difficulty often amounting to a local or temporary impossibility.

This is the second meaning of Inconceivability; which by Reid is carefully distinguished from the first,[*] but his editor Sir W. Hamilton employs the word in both senses indiscriminately.* How he came to miss the distinction is tolerably obvious to any one who is familiar with his writings, and especially with his theory of Judgment; but needs not be pointed out here. It is more remarkable that he gives itoi the term a third sense, Edition: current; Page: [76] answering to a third signification of the verb “to conceive.” To conceive any thing, has with him not only its two ordinary meanings—to represent the thing as an image, and to be able to realize it as possible—but an additional one, which he denotes by various phrases. One of his common expressions for it is, “to construe to the mind in thought.” This, he often says, can only be done “through a higher notion.” “We think, we conceive, we comprehend a thing only as we think it as within or under something else.”* So that a fact, or a supposition, is conceivable or comprehensible by us (conceive and comprehend being with him in this case synonymous) only by being reduced to some more general fact, as a particular case under it. Again, “to conceive the possibility” of a thing, is defined “conceiving it as the consequent of a certain reason.” The inconceivable, in this third sense, is simply the inexplicable. Accordingly all first truths are, according to Sir W. Hamilton, inconceivable. “The primary data of consciousness, as themselves the conditions under which all else is comprehended, are necessarily themselves incomprehensible . . . that is . . . we are unable to conceive through a higher notion how that is possible, which the deliverance avouches actually to be.” And we shall find him arguing things to be inconceivable, merely on the ground that we have no higher notion under which to class them. This use of the word inconceivable, being a complete perversion of it from its established meanings, I decline to recognise. If all the general truths which we are most certain of are to be called inconceivable, the word no longer serves any purpose. Inconceivable is not to be confounded with unprovable, or unanalysable. A truth which is not inconceivable in either of the received meanings of the term—a truth which is completely apprehended, and without difficulty believed, I cannot consent to call inconceivable merely because we cannot account for it, or deduce it from a higher truth.§

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These being Sir W. Hamilton’s three kinds of inconceivability; is the inconceivability of a proposition in any of these senses, consistent with believing it to be true? The third kind lis avowedly compatible not only with belief, but with our strongest and most natural beliefsl. An inconceivable Edition: current; Page: [78] of the second kind can not only be believed, but believed with full understanding. In this case we are perfectly able to represent to ourselves mentally what is said to be inconceivable; only, from an association in our mind, it does not look credible: but, this association being the result of experience or of teaching, contrary experience or teaching is able to dissolve it; and even before this has been done—while the thing still feels incredible, the intellect may, on sufficient evidence, accept it as true. An inconceivable of the first kind, inconceivable in the proper sense of the term—that which the mind is actually unable to put together in a representation—may nevertheless be believed, if we attach any meaning to it, but cannot be said to be believed with understanding. We cannot believe it on direct evidence, i.e. through its being presented in our experience, for if it were so presented it would immediately cease to be inconceivable. We may believe it because its falsity would be inconsistent with something which we otherwise know to be true. Or we may believe it because it is affirmed by some one wiser than ourselves, who, we suppose, may have had the experience which has not reached us, and to whom it may thus have become conceivable. But the belief is without understanding, for we form no mental picture of what we believe. We do not so much believe the fact, as believe that we should believe it if we could have the needful presentation in our experience; and that some other being has, or may have, had that presentation. Our inability to conceive it, is no argument whatever for its being false, and no hindrance to our believing it, to the above-mentioned extent.

But though facts, which we cannot join together in an image, may be united in the universe, and though we may have sufficient ground for believing that they are so united in point of fact, it is impossible to believe a proposition which conveys to us no meaning at all. If any one says to me, Humpty Dumpty is an Abracadabra, I neither knowing what is meant by an Abracadabra, nor what is meant by Humpty Dumpty, I may, if I have confidence in my informant, believe that he means something, and that the something which he means is probably true: but I do not believe the very thing which he means, since I am entirely ignorant what it is. Propositions of this kind, the unmeaningness of which lies in the subject or predicate, are not those generally described as inconceivable. The unmeaning propositions spoken of under that name, are usually those which involve contradictions. That the same thing is and is not—that it did and did not rain at the same time and place, that a man is both alive and not alive, are forms of words which carry no signification to my mind. As Sir W. Hamilton truly says,* one half of the statement simply sublates or takes away the meaning which the other half has laid down. The unmeaningness here resides in the Edition: current; Page: [79] copula. The word is has no meaning, except as exclusive of is not. The case is more hopeless than that of Humpty Dumpty, for no explanation by the speaker of what the words mean can make the assertion intelligible. Whatever may be meant by a man, and whatever may be meant by alive, the statement that a man can be alive and not alive is equally without meaning to me. I cannot make out anything which the speaker intends me to believe. The sentence affirms nothing of which my mind can take hold. Sir W. Hamilton, indeed, maintains the contrary. He says, “When we conceive the proposition that A is not A, we clearly comprehend the separate meaning on the terms A and not A, and also the import of the assertion of their identity.”* We comprehend the separate meaning of the terms, but as to the meaning of the assertion, I think we only comprehend what the same form of words would mean in another case. The very import of the form of words is inconsistent with its meaning anything when applied to terms of this particular kind. Let any one who doubts this, attempt to define what is meant by applying a predicate to a subject, when the predicate and the subject are the negation of one another. To make sense of the assertion, some new meaning must be attached to is or is not, and if this be done the proposition is no longer the one presented for our assent. Here, therefore, is one kind of inconceivable proposition which nothing whatever can make credible to us. Not being able to attach any meaning to the proposition, we are equally incompetent to assert that it is, or that it is not, possible in itself. But we have not the power of believing it; and there the matter must rest.

We are now prepared to enter on the peculiar doctrine of Sir W. Hamilton, called the Philosophy of the Conditioned. Not content with maintaining that things which from the natural and fundamental laws of the human mind are for ever inconceivable to us, may, for aught we know, be true, he goes farther, and says, we know that many such things are true. “Things there are which may, nay must, be true, of which the understanding is wholly unable to construe to itself the possibility.” Of what nature these things are, is declared in many parts of his writings, in the form of a general law. It is thus stated in the review of Cousin:

The Conditioned is the mean between the two extremes—two unconditionates, exclusive of each other, neither of which can be conceived as possible, but of which, on the principles of contradiction and excluded middle, one must be admitted as necessary. . . . The mind is not represented as conceiving two propositions subversive of each other as equally possible; but only, as unable to understand as possible, either of the extremes; one of which, however, on the ground of their mutual repugnance, it is compelled to recognise as true.

In the “Dissertations on Reid” he enunciates, in still more general terms, Edition: current; Page: [80] as “the Law of the Conditioned: That all positive thought lies between two extremes, neither of which we can conceive as possible, and yet as mutual contradictories, the one or the other we must recognise as necessary.” And it is (he says) “from this impotence of intellect” that “we are unable to think aught as absolute. Even absolute relativity is unthinkable.”*

The doctrine is more fully expanded in the Lectures on Logic, from which I shall quote at greater length.

All that we can positively think . . . lies between two opposite poles of thought, which, as exclusive of each other, cannot, on the principles of Identity and Contradiction, both be true, but of which, on the principle of Excluded Middle, one or the other must. Let us take, for example, any of the general objects of our knowledge. Let us take body, or rather, since body as extended is included under extension, let us take extension itself, or space. Now extension alone will exhibit to us two pairs of contradictory inconceivables, that is, in all, four incomprehensibles, but of which, though all are equally unthinkable . . . we are compelled, by the law of Excluded Middle, to admit some two as true and necessary.

Extension may be viewed either as a whole or as a part; and in each aspect it affords us two incogitable contradictions. 1st. Taking it as a whole: space, it is evident, must either be limited, that is, have an end, and circumference; or unlimited, that is, have no end, no circumference. These are contradictory suppositions; both, therefore, cannot, but one must, be true. Now let us try positively to comprehend, positively to conceive, the possibility of either of these two mutually exclusive alternatives. Can we represent, or realize in thought, extension as absolutely limited? in other words, can we mentally hedge round the whole of space, conceive§ it absolutely bounded, that is, so that beyond its boundary there is no outlying, no surrounding space? This is impossible. Whatever compass of space we may enclose by any limitation of thought, we shall find that we have no difficulty in transcending these limits. Nay, we shall find that we cannot but transcend them; for we are unable to think any extent of space except as within a still ulterior space, of which, let us think till the powers of thinking fail, we can never reach the circumference. It is thus impossible for us to think space as a totality, that is, as absolutely bounded, but all-containing. We may, therefore, lay down this first extreme as inconceivable. We cannot think space as limited.

Let us now consider its contradictory: can we comprehend the possibility of infinite or unlimited space? To suppose this is a direct contradiction in terms; it is to comprehend the incomprehensible. We think, we conceive, we comprehend a thing, only as we think it as within or under something else; but to do this of the infinite is to think the infinite as finite, which is contradictory and absurd.

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Now here it may be asked, how have we then the word infinite? How have we the notion which this word expresses? The answer to this question is contained in the distinction of positive and negative thought. We have a positive concept of a thing when we think it by the qualities of which it is the complement. But as the attribution of qualities is an affirmation, as affirmation and negation are relatives, and as relatives are known only in and through each other, we cannot, therefore, have a consciousness of the affirmation of any quality, without having at the same time the correlative consciousness of its negation. Now, the one consciousness is a positive, the other consciousness is a negative notion. But, in point of fact, a negative notion is only the negation of a notion; we think only by the attribution of certain qualities, and the negation of these qualities and of this attribution is simply, in so far, a denial of our thinking at all. As affirmation always suggests negation, every positive notion must likewise suggest a negative notion: and as language is the reflex of thought, the positive and negative notions are expressed by positive and negative names. Thus it is with the infinite. The finite is the only object of real or positive thought; it is that alone which we think by the attribution of determinate characters; the infinite, on the contrary, is conceived only by the thinking away of every character by which the finite was conceived: in other words, we conceive it only as inconceivable.* . . .

It is manifest that we can no more realize the thought or conception of infinite, unbounded, or unlimited space, than we can realize the conception of a finite or absolutely bounded space. But these two inconceivables are reciprocal contradictories: we are unable to comprehend the possibility of either, while, however, on the principle of Excluded Middle, one or other must be admitted. . . .

It is needless to show that the same result is given by the experiment made on extension considered as a part, as divisible. Here if we attempt to divide extension in thought, we shall neither, on the one hand, succeed in conceiving the possibility§ of an absolute minimum of space, that is, a minimum ex hypothesi extended, but which cannot be conceived as divisible into parts, nor, on the other, of carrying on this division to infinity. But as these are contradictory opposites,

one or the other of them must be true.

In other passages our author applies the same order of considerations to Time, saying that we can neither conceive an absolute commencement, nor an infinite regress; an absolute termination, nor a duration infinitely prolonged; though either the one or the other must be true. And again, of the Will: we cannot, he says, conceive the Will to be Free, because this would be to conceive an event uncaused, or, in other words, an absolute commencement: neither can we conceive the Will not to be Free, because this would be supposing an infinite regress from effect to cause. The will, however, must be either free or not free; and in this case, he thinks we have Edition: current; Page: [82] independent grounds for deciding one way, namely, that it is free, because if it were not, we could not be accountable for our actions, which our consciousness assures us that we are.[*]

This, then, is the Philosophy of the Conditioned: into the value of which it now remains to enquire.

In the case of each of the Antinomies which the author presents, he undertakes to establish two things: that neither of the rival hypotheses can be conceived by us as possible, and that we are nevertheless certain that one or the other of them is true.o

To begin with his first position, that we can neither conceive an end to space, nor space without end.

That we are unable to conceive an end to space I fully acknowledge. To account for this there needs no inherent incapacity. We are disabled from forming this conception, by known psychological laws. We have never perceived any object, or any portion of space, which had not other space beyond it. And we have been perceiving objects and portions of space from the moment of birth. How then could the idea of an object, or of a portion of space, escape becoming inseparably associated with the idea of additional space beyond? Every instant of our lives helps to rivet this association, and we never have had a single experience tending to disjoin it. The association, under the present constitution of our existence, is indissoluble. But we have no ground for believing that it is so from the original structure of our minds. We can suppose that in some other state of existence we might be transported to the end of space, when, being apprised of what had happened by some impression of a kind utterly unknown to us now, we should at the same instant become capable of conceiving the fact, and learn that it was true. After some experience of the new impression, the fact of an end to space would seem as natural to us as the revelations of sight to a person born blind, after he has been long enough couched to have become familiar with them. But as this cannot happen in our present state of existence, the experience which would render the association dissoluble is never obtained; and an end to space remains inconceivable.

One half, then, of our author’s first proposition, must be conceded. But the other half? Is it true that we are incapable of conceiving infinite space? I have already shown strong reasons for dissenting from this assertion: and those which our author, in this and other places, assigns in its support, seem to me quite untenable.

He says, “we think, we conceive, we comprehend, a thing, only as we think it as within or under something else. But to do this of the infinite is to Edition: current; Page: [83] think the infinite as finite, which is contradictory and absurd.” When we come to Sir W. Hamilton’s account of the Laws of Thought, we shall have some remarks to make on the phrase “to think one thing within or under another;” a favourite expression with the Transcendental school, one of whose characteristicsp is, that they are always using the prepositions in a metaphorical sense. But granting that to think a thing is to think it under something else, we must understand this statement as it is qinvariablyq interpreted by those who employ it. According to them, we think a thing when we make any affirmation respecting it, and we think it under the notion which we affirm of it. Whenever we judge, we think the subject under the predicate. Consequently when we say “God is good,” we think God under the notion “good.” Is this, in our author’s opinion, to think the infinite as finite, and hence “contradictory and absurd?”

If this doctrine hold, it follows that we cannot predicate anything of a subject which we regard as being in any of its attributes, infinite. We are unable, without falling into a contradiction, to assert anything not only of God, but of Time, and of Space. Considered as a reductio ad absurdum, this is sufficient. But we may go deeper into the matter, and deny the statement that to think anything “under” the notion expressed by a general term is to think it as finite. None of our general predicates are, in the proper sense of the term, finite; they are all, at least potentially, infinite. “Good” is not a name for the things or persons possessing that attribute which exist now, or at any other given moment, and which are only a finite aggregate. It is a name for all those which ever did, or ever will, or even in hypothesis or fiction can, possess the attribute. This is not a limited number. It is the very nature and constituent character of a general notion that its extension (as Sir W. Hamilton would say) is rwithout limitr.

But he might perhaps say, that though its extension, consisting of the possible individuals included in it, smays be infinite, its comprehension, the set of attributes contained in it (or as I prefer to say, connoted by its name) is a limited quantity. Undoubtedly it is. But see what follows. If, because the comprehension of a general notion is finite, anything infinite cannot without contradiction be thought under it, the consequence is, that a being possessing in an infinite degree a given attribute, cannot be thought under that very attribute. Infinite goodness cannot be thought as goodness, because that would be to think it as finite. Surely there must be some great confusion of ideas in the premises, when this comes out as the conclusion.

Our author goes on to repeat the argument used in his reply to Cousin, Edition: current; Page: [84] that Infinite Space is inconceivable, because all the conception we are able to form of it is negative, and a negative conception is the same as no conception. “The infinite is conceived only by the thinking away of every character by which the finite was conceived.” To this assertion I oppose my former reply. Instead of thinking away every character of the finite, we think away only the idea of an end, or a boundary. Sir W. Hamilton’s proposition is true of “The Infinite,” the meaningless abstraction; but it is not true of Infinite Space. In trying to form a conception of that, we do not think away its positive characters. We leave to it the character of Space; all that belongs to it as space; its three dimensions, with all their geometrical properties. We leave to it also a character which belongs to it as Infinite, that of being greater than any tfinitet space. If an object which has these well-marked positive attributes is unthinkable, because it has a negative attribute as well, the number of thinkable objects must be remarkably small. Nearly all our positive conceptions which are at all complex, include negative attributes. I do not mean merely the negatives which are implied in affirmatives, as in saying that snow is white we imply that it is not black; but independent negative attributes superadded to these, and which are so real that they are often the essential characters, or differentiæ, of classes. Our conception of dumb, is of something which cannot speak; of the brutes, as of creatures which have not reason; of the mineral kingdom, as the part of Nature which has not organization and life; of immortal, as that which never dies. Are all these examples of the Inconceivable? So false is it that to think a thing under a negation is to think it as unthinkable.

In other passages, Sir W. Hamilton argues that we cannot conceive infinite space, because we should require infinite time to do it in. It would of course require infinite time to carry our thoughts in succession over every part of infinite space. But on how many of our finite conceptions do we think it necessary to perform such an operation? Let us try the doctrine upon a complex whole, short of infinite; such as the number 695, 788. Sir W. Hamilton would not, I suppose, have maintained that this number is inconceivable. How long did he think it would take to go over every separate unit of this whole, so as to obtain a perfect knowledge of that exact sum, as different from all other sums, either greater or less? Would he have said that we could have no conception of the sum until this process had been gone through? We could not, indeed, have an adequate conception. Accordingly we never have an adequate conception of any real thing. But we have a real conception of an object if we conceive it by any of its attributes that are sufficient to distinguish it from all other things. We have a conception of any large number, when we have conceived it by some one of its modes of composition, such as that indicated by the position of its digits. We seldom Edition: current; Page: [85] get nearer than this to an adequate conception of any large number. But for all intellectual purposes, this limited conception is sufficient: for it not only enables us to avoid confounding the number, in our calculations, with any other numerical whole—even with those so nearly equal to it that no difference between them would be perceptible by sight or touch, unless the units were drawn up in a manner expressly adapted for displaying it—but we can also, by means of this attribute of the number, ascertain and add to our conception as many more of its properties as we please. If, then, we can obtain a real conception of a finite whole without going through all its component parts, why deny us a real conception of an infinite whole because to go through them all is impossible? Not to mention that even in the case of the finite number, though the units composing it are limited, yet, Number being infinite, the possible modes of deriving any given number from other numbers are numerically infinite; and as all these are necessary parts of an adequate conception of any number, to render our conception even of this finite whole perfectly adequate would also require an infinite time.*

But though our conception of infinite space can never be adequate, since we can never exhaust its parts, the conception, as far as it goes, is a real conception. Wex realize in imagination the various attributes composing it. We realize it as space. We realize it as greater than any given space. We even realize it as endless, in an intelligible manner, that is, we clearly represent to ourselves that however much of space has been already explored, and however much more of it we may imagine ourselves to traverse, we are no nearer to the end of it than we were at firsty; sincey, however often we repeat the process of imagining distance extending in any direction from us, that process is always susceptible of being carried further. This conception is both real and perfectly definite. zA merely negative notion may correspond to any number of the most heterogeneous positive things, but this notion corresponds to one thing only.z We possess Edition: current; Page: [86] it as completely as we possess any of our clearest conceptions, and can avail ourselves of it as well for ulterior mental operations. As regards the Extent of Space, therefore, Sir W. Hamilton ahas nota made out his point: one of the two contradictory hypotheses is not inconceivable.

The same thing may be said, equally decidedly, respecting the Divisibility of Space. According to our author, a minimum of divisibility, and a divisibility without limit, are both inconceivable. I venture to think, on the contrary, that both are conceivable. Divisibility, of course, does not here mean physical separability of parts, but their mere existence; and the question is, can we conceive a portion of extension so small as not to be composed of parts, and can we, on the other hand, conceive parts consisting of smaller parts, and these of still smaller, without end? As to the latter, smallness without limit is as positive a conception as greatness without limit. We have the idea of a portion of space, and to this we add that of being smaller than any given portion. The other side of the alternative is still more evidently conceivable. It is not denied that there is a portion of extension which to the naked eye appears an indivisible point; it has been called by philosophers the minimum visibile. This minimum we can indefinitely magnify by means of optical instruments, making visible the still smaller parts which compose it. In each successive experiment there is still a minimum visibile, anything less than which, cannot be discerned with that instrument, but can with one of a higher power. Suppose, now, that as we increase the magnifying bpowersb of our instruments, and before we have reached the limit of possible increase, we arrive at a stage at which that which seemed the smallest visible space under a given microscope, does not appear larger under one which, by its mechanical construction, is adapted to magnify more—but still remains apparently indivisible. I say, that if this happened, we should believe in a minimum of extension; cand as we should be unable to conceive, that is, to represent to ourselves in an image, anything smaller, any further divisibility would be as inconceivable to us as it would be unbelievablec.

There would be no difficulty in applying a similar line of argument to the case of Time, or to any other of the Antinomies, (there is a long list of them,* to some of which I shall have to return for another purpose,) but it would needlessly encumber our pages. In no one case mentioned by Sir W. Hamilton do I believe that he could substantiate his assertion, that “the Conditioned,” by which he means every object of human knowledge, lies Edition: current; Page: [87] between two “inconditionate” hypotheses, both of them inconceivable. Let me add, that even granting the inconceivability of the two opposite hypotheses, I cannot see that any distinct meaning is conveyed by the statement that the Conditioned is “the mean” between them, or that “all positive thought,” “all that we can positively think,” “lies between” these two “extremes,” these “two opposite poles of thought.” The extremes are, Space in the aggregate considered as having a limit, Space in the aggregate considered as having no limit. Neither of these, says Sir W. Hamilton, can we think. But what we can positively think (according to him) is not Space in the aggregate at all; it is some limited Space, and this we think as square, as circular, as triangular, or as elliptical. Are triangular and elliptical a mean between infinite and finite? They are, by the very meaning of the words, modes of the finite. So that it would be more like the truth to say that we think the pretended mean under one of the extremes; and if infinite and finite are “two opposite poles of thought,” then in this polar opposition, unlike voltaic polarity, all the matter is accumulated at one pole. But this counter-statement would be no more tenable than Sir W. Hamilton’s; for in reality, the thought which he affirms to be a medium between two extreme statements, has no correlation with those statements at all. It does not relate to the same object. The two counter-hypotheses are suppositions respecting Space at large, Space as a collective whole. The “conditioned” thinking, said to be the mean between them, relates to parts of Space, and classes of such parts: circles and triangles, or planetary and stellar distances. The alternative of opposite inconceivabilities never presents itself in regard to them; they are all finite, and are conceived and known as such. What the notion of extremes and a mean can signify, when applied to propositions in which different predicates are affirmed of different subjects, passes my comprehension: but it served to give greater apparent profundity to the “Fundamental Doctrine,” in the eyes not of disciples (for Sir W. Hamilton was wholly incapable of quackery) but of the teacher himself.

dIf these arguments are valid, the “Law of the Conditioned” rests on no rational foundation. The proposition that the Conditioned lies between two hypotheses concerning the Unconditioned, neither of which hypotheses Edition: current; Page: [88] we can conceive as possible,d must be placed in that numerous class of metaphysical doctrines, which have a magnificent sound, but are empty of the smallest substance.*

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CHAPTER VII: The Philosophy of the Conditioned, as Applied by Mr. Mansel to the Limits of Religious Thought

mr. mansel may be affirmed, by a fair application of the term, to be, in metaphysics, a pupil of Sir W. Hamilton. I do not mean that he agrees with him in all his opinions; for he avowedly dissents from the peculiar Hamiltonian theory of Cause: still less that he has learnt nothing from any other teacher, or from his own independent speculations. On the contrary, he has shown considerable power of original thought, both of a good and of what seems to me anot a gooda quality. But he is the admiring editor of Sir W. Hamilton’s Lectures; he invariably speaks of him with a deference which he pays to no other philosopher; he expressly accepts, in language identical with Sir W. Hamilton’s own, the doctrines regarded as specially characteristic of the Hamiltonian philosophy, and may with reason be considered as a representative of the same general mode of thought. Mr. Mansel has bestowed especial cultivation upon a province but slightly touched by his master—the application of the Philosophy of the Conditioned to the theological department of thought; the deduction of such of its corollaries and consequences as directly concern religion.

The premises from which Mr. Mansel reasons are those of Sir W. Hamilton. He maintains the necessary relativity of all our knowledge. He holds that the Absolute and the Infinite, or, to use a more significant expression, an Absolute and an Infinite Being, are inconceivable by us; and that when we strive to conceive what is thus inaccessible to our faculties, we fall into self-contradiction. That we are, nevertheless, warranted in believing, and bound to believe, the real existence of an absolute and infinite being, and that this being is God. God, therefore, is inconceivable and unknowable by us, and cannot even be thought of without self-contradiction; that is (for Mr. Mansel is careful thus to qualify the assertion), thought of as Absolute, and as Infinite. Through this inherent imposibility Edition: current; Page: [90] of our conceiving or knowing God’s essential attributes, we are disqualified from judging what is or is not consistent with them. If, then, a religion is presented to us, containing any particular doctrine respecting the Deity, our belief or rejection of the doctrine ought to depend exclusively upon the evidences which can be produced for the divine origin of the religion; and no argument grounded on the incredibility of the doctrine, as involving an intellectual absurdity, or on its moral badness as unworthy of a good or wise being, ought to have any weight, since of these things we are incompetent to judge. This, at least, is the drift of Mr. Mansel’s argument; but I am bound to admit that he affirms the conclusion with a certain limitation; for he acknowledges, that the moral character of the doctrines of a religion ought to count for something among the reasons for accepting or rejecting, as of divine origin, the religion as a whole. That it ought also to count for something in the interpretation of the religion when accepted, he neglects to say; but we must in fairness suppose that he would admit it. These concessions, however, to the moral feelings of mankind, are made at the expense of Mr. Mansel’s logic. If his theory is correct, he has no right to make either of them.

There is nothing new in this line of argument as applied to theology. That we cannot understand God; that his ways are not our ways; that we cannot scrutinize or judge his counsels—propositions which, in a reasonable sense of the terms, could not be denied by any Theist—have often before been tendered as reasons why we may assert any absurdities and any moral monstrosities concerning God, and miscall them Goodness and Wisdom. The novelty is in presenting this conclusion as a corollary from the most advanced doctrines of modern philosophy—from the true theory of the powers and limitations of the human mind, on religious and on all other subjects.

My opinion of this doctrine, in whatever way presented, is, that it is simply the most morally pernicious doctrine now current; and that the question it involves is, beyond all others which now engage speculative minds, the decisive one between moral good and evil for the Christian world. It is a momentous matter, therefore, to consider whether we are obliged to adopt it. Without holding Mr. Mansel accountable for the moral consequences of the doctrine, further than he himself accepts them, I think it supremely important to examine whether the doctrine itself is really the verdict of a sound metaphysic; and essential to a true estimation of Sir W. Hamilton’s philosophy to enquire, whether the conclusion thus drawn from his principal doctrine, is justly affiliated on it. I think it will appear that the conclusion not only does not follow from a true theory of the human faculties, but is not even correctly drawn from the premises from which Mr. Mansel infers it.

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We must have the premises distinctly before us as conceived by Mr. Mansel, since we have hitherto seen them only as taught by Sir W. Hamilton. Clearness and explicitness of statement being in the number of Mr. Mansel’s merits, it is easier to perceive the flaws in his arguments than in those of his master, because he often leaves us less in doubt what he means by his words.

To have “such a knowledge of the Divine Nature” as would enable human reason to judge of theology, would be, according to Mr. Mansel, “to conceive the Deity as he is.” This would be to “conceive him as First Cause, as Absolute, and as Infinite.”* The First Cause Mr. Mansel defines in the usual manner. About the meaning of Infinite there is no difficulty. But when we come to the Absolute we are on more slippery ground. Mr. Mansel, however, tells us his meaning plainly. By the Absolute, he does not mean what Sir W. Hamilton bprofesses always to mean by it, something which includes the idea of completed or finished. He adopts the other meaning, which Sir W. Hamilton mentions, but disclaims—b the opposite of Relative. “By the Absolute is meant that which exists in and by itself, having no necessary relation to any other Being.”[*]

This explanation by Mr. Mansel of Absolute in the sense in which it is opposed to Relative, is more definite in its terms than that which Sir W. Hamilton gives when attempting the same thing. For Sir W. Hamilton recognises (as already remarked) this second meaning of Absolute, and this is the account he gives of it: “Absolutum means what is freed or loosed; in which sense the Absolute will be what is aloof from relation, comparison, limitation, condition, dependence, &c., and thus is tantamount to τὸ ἀπόλυτον of the lower Greeks.” May it not be surmised that the vagueness in which the master here leaves the conception, was for the purpose of avoiding difficulties upon which the pupil, in his desire of greater precision, has unwarily run? Mr. Mansel certainly gains nothing by the more definite character of his language. The cwords, “having no necessary relation to any other Being,”c admit of two constructions. The words, in their natural sense, only mean, capable of existing out of relation to anything else. The Edition: current; Page: [92] argument requires that they should mean, incapable of existing in relation with anything else. Mr. Mansel cannot intend the latter. He cannot mean that the Absolute is incapable of entering into relation with any other being; for he would not affirm this of God; on the contrary, he is continually speaking of God’s relations to the world and to us. Moreover, he accepts, from dDr.d Calderwood, an interpretation inconsistent with this.* This, however, is the meaning necessary to support his case. For what is his first argument? That God cannot be known by us as Cause, as Absolute, and as Infinite, because these attributes are, to our conception, incompatible with one another. And why incompatible? Because “a Cause cannot, as such, be absolute; the Absolute cannot, as such, be a cause. The cause, as such, exists only in relation to its effect: the cause is a cause of the effect; the effect is an effect of the cause. On the other hand, the conception of the Absolute involves a possible existence out of all relation.” But in what manner is a possible existence out of all relation, incompatible with the notion of a cause? Have not causes a possible existence apart from their effects? Would the sun (for example) not exist if there were no earth or planets for it to illuminate? Mr. Mansel seems to think that what is capable of existing out of relation, cannot possibly be conceived or known in relation. But this is not so. Anything which is capable of existing in relation, is capable of being conceived or known in relation. If the Absolute Being cannot be conceived as Cause, it must be that he cannot exist as Cause; he must be incapable of causing. If he can be in any relation whatever to any finite thing, he is conceivable and knowable in that relation, if no otherwise. Freed from this confusion of ideas, Mr. Mansel’s argument resolves itself into this—The same Being cannot be thought by us both as Cause and as Absolute, because a Cause as such is not Absolute, and Absolute as such is not a Cause; which is exactly as if he had said that Newton cannot be thought by us both as an Englishman and as a mathematician, because an Englishman, as such, is not a mathematician, nor a mathematician, as such, an Englishman.

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Again, Mr. Mansel argues, that, “supposing the Absolute to become a cause,” since ex vi termini it is not necessitated to do so, it must be a voluntary agent, and therefore conscious; for “volition is only possible in a conscious being.”* But consciousness, again, is only conceivable as a relation; and any relation conflicts with the notion of the Absolute, since relatives are mutually dependent on one another. Here it comes out distinctly as a premise in the reasoning, that to be in a relation at all, even if only a relation to itself, the relation of being “conscious of itself,” is inconsistent with being the Absolute.

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Mr. Mansel, therefore, must alter his definition of the Absolute if he would maintain his argument. He must either fall back on the happy ambiguity of Sir W. Hamilton’s definition, “what is aloof from relation,” which does not decide whether the meaning is merely that it can exist out of relation, or that it is incapable of existing in it; or he must take courage, and affirm that an Absolute Being is incapable of all relation. But as he will certainly refuse to predicate this of God, the consequence follows, that God is not an Absolute Being.

The whole of Mr. Mansel’s argument for the inconceivability of the Infinite and of the Absolute is one long ignoratio elenchi. It has been pointed out in a former chapter that the words Absolute and Infinite have no real meaning, unless we understand by them that which is absolute or infinite in some given attribute; as space is called infinite, meaning that it is infinite in extension; and as God is termed infinite in the sense of possessing infinite power, and absolute in the sense of absolute goodness, or knowledge.[*] It has also been shown that Sir W. Hamilton’s arguments for the unknowableness of the Unconditioned, do not prove that we cannot know an object which is absolute or infinite in some specific attribute, but only that we cannot know an abstraction called “The Absolute” or “The Infinite,” which is supposed to have all attributes at once. The same remark is applicable to Mr. Mansel,* with only this difference, that he, with the laudable ambition I have already noticed of stating everything explicitly, Edition: current; Page: [95] draws this important distinction himself, and says, of his own motion, that the Absolute he means is the abstraction. He says, that the Absolute gand Infiniteg can be “nothing less than the sum of all reality,” the complex of all positive predicates, even those which are exclusive of one another: and expressly identifies it with Hegel’s Absolute Being, which contains in itself “all that is actual, even evil included.”* “That which is conceived as absolute and infinite,” says Mr. Mansel, “must be conceived as containing within itself the sum not only of all actual, but of all possible modes of being.” One may well agree with Mr. Mansel that this farrago of contradictory attributes cannot be conceived: but what shall we say of his equally positive averment that it must be believed? If this be what the Absolute is, what does he mean by saying that we must believe God to be the Absolute?

The remainder of Mr. Mansel’s argumentation is suitable to this commencement. The Absolute, as conceived, that is, as he defines it, cannot be “a whole composed of parts,” or “a substance consisting of attributes,” or

a conscious subject in antithesis to an object. For if there is in the absolute any principle of unity, distinct from the mere accumulation of parts or attributes, this principle alone is the true absolute. If, on the other hand, there is no such principle, then there is no absolute at all, but only a plurality of relatives. The almost unanimous voice of philosophy, in pronouncing that the absolute is both one and simple, must be accepted as the voice of reason also, so far as reason has any voice in the matter. But this absolute unity, as indifferent and containing no attributes, Edition: current; Page: [96] can neither be distinguished from the multiplicity of finite beings by any characteristic feature, nor be identified with them in their multiplicity.*

It will be noticed that the Absolute, which was just before defined as having all attributes, is here declared to have none: but this, Mr. Mansel would say, is merely one of the contradictions inherent in the attempt to conceive what is inconceivable.

Thus we are landed in an inextricable dilemma. The Absolute cannot be conceived as conscious, neither can it be conceived as unconscious: it cannot be conceived as complex, neither can it be conceived as simple: it cannot be conceived by difference, neither can it be conceived by the absence of difference: it cannot be identified with the universe, neither can it be distinguished from it.[*]

Is this chimerical abstraction the Absolute Being whom anybody need be concerned about, either as knowable or as unknowable? Is the inconceivableness of this impossible fiction any argument against the possibility of conceiving God, who is neither supposed to have no attributes nor to have all attributes, but to have good attributes? Is it any hindrance to our being able to conceive a Being absolutely just, for example, or absolutely wise? Yet it is of this that Mr. Mansel undertook to prove the impossibility.

Again, of the Infinite: according to Mr. Mansel, being “that than which a greater is inconceivable,” it “consequently can receive no additional attribute or mode of existence which it had not from all eternity.” It must therefore be the same complex of all possible predicates which the Absolute is, and all of them infinite in degree. It “cannot be regarded as consisting of a limited number of attributes, each unlimited in its kind. It cannot be conceived, for example, after the analogy of a line, infinite in length, but not in breadth; or of a surface, infinite in two dimensions of space, but bounded in the third; or of an intelligent being, possessing some one or more modes of consciousness in an infinite degree, but devoid of others.” This Infinite, which is infinite in all attributes, and not solely in those which it would be thought decent to predicate of God, cannot, as Mr. Mansel very truly says, be conceived. For

the Infinite, if it is to be conceived at all, must be conceived as potentially everything and actually nothing; for if there is anything general which it cannot become, it is thereby limited; and if there is anything in particular which it actually is, it is thereby excluded from being any other thing. But again, it must also be conceived as actually everything and potentially nothing; for an unrealized potentiality is likewise a limitation. If the infinite can be that which it is not, it is by that very possibility marked out as incomplete, and capable of a higher perfection. If it is actually everything, it possesses no characteristic feature by which it can be distinguished from anything else, and discerned as an object of consciousness.

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Here certainly is an Infinite whose infinity does not seem to be of much use to it. But can a writer be serious who bids us conjure up a conception of something which possesses infinitely all conflicting attributes, and because we cannot do this without contradiction, would have us believe that there is a contradiction in the idea of infinite goodness, or infinite wisdom? Instead of “the Infinite,” substitute “an infinitely good Being,” and Mr. Mansel’s argument reads thus: If there is anything which an infinitely good Being cannot become—if he cannot become bad—that is a limitation, and the goodness cannot be infinite. If there is anything which an infinitely good Being actually is (namely good), he is excluded from being any other thing, as from being wise or powerful. I hardly think that Sir W. Hamilton would patronize this logic, learnt though it be in his school.*

It cannot be necessary to follow up Mr. Mansel’s metaphysical dissertation any farther. It is all, as I have said, the same ignoratio elenchi. I have been able to find only one short passage in which he attempts to show that we are unable to represent in thought a particular attribute carried to the infinite. For the sake of fairness, I cite it in a note. All the argument that I Edition: current; Page: [98] can discover in it, I conceive that I have already answered, as stated much better by Sir W. Hamilton.

Mr. Mansel thinks it necessary to declare that the contradictions are not in “the nature of the Absolute” or Infinite “in itself, but only” in “our own conception of that nature.”* He did not mean to say that the Divine Nature is itself contradictory. But he says “We are compelled by the constitution of our minds, to believe in the existence of an Absolute and Infinite Being.” Such being the case, I ask, is the Being, whom we must believe to be infinite and absolute, infinite and absolute in the meaning which those terms bear in Mr. Mansel’s hdefinitionh of them? If not, he is bound to tell us in what other meaning. Believing God to be infinite and absolute must be believing something, and it must be possible to say what. If Mr. Mansel means that we must believe the reality of an Infinite and Absolute Being in some other sense than that in which he has proved such a Being to be inconceivable, his point is not made out, since he undertook to prove the inconceivability of the very Being in whose reality we are required to believe. But the truth is that the Infinite and Absolute which he says we must believe in, are the very Infinite and Absolute of his definitions. The Infinite is that which is opposed to the Finite; the Absolute, that which is opposed to the Relative. He has therefore either proved nothing, or vastly more than he intended. For the contradictions which he asserts to be involved in the notions, do not follow from an imperfect mode of apprehending the Infinite and Absolute, but lie in the definitions of them; in the meaning of the iphrasesi themselves. The contradictions are in the very object which we are called upon to believe. If, therefore, Mr. Mansel would escape from the conclusion that an Infinite and Absolute Being is intrinsically impossible, it must be by affirming, with Hegel, that the law of Contradiction does not apply to the Absolute; that, respecting the Absolute, contradictory propositions may both be true.

Let us now pass from Mr. Mansel’s metaphysical argumentation on an Edition: current; Page: [99] irrelevant issue, to jaj much more important subjectk, thatk of his practical conclusion, namely, that we cannot know the divine attributes in such a manner, as can entitle us to reject any statement respecting the Deity on the ground of its being inconsistent with his character. Let us examine whether Edition: current; Page: [100] this assertion is a legitimate corollary from the relativity of human knowledge, either as it really is, or as it is understood to be by Sir W. Hamilton and by Mr. Mansel.

The fundamental property of our knowledge of God, Mr. Mansel says, is that we do not and cannot know him as he is in himself: certain persons, therefore, whom he calls Rationalists, he condemns as unphilosophical, when they reject any statement as inconsistent with the character of God.[*] This is a valid answer, as far as words go, to some of the later Transcendentalists—to those who think that we have an intuition of the Divine Nature; though even as to them it would not be difficult to show that the answer is but skin-deep. But those “Rationalists” who hold, with Mr. Mansel himself, the relativity of human knowledge, are not touched by his reasoning. We cannot know God as he is in himself (they reply); granted: and what then? Can we know man as he is in himself, or matter as it is in itself? We do not claim any other knowledge of God than such as we have of man or of matter. Because I do not know my fellow-men, nor any of the powers of nature, as they are in themselves, am I therefore not at liberty to disbelieve anything I hear respecting them as being inconsistent with their character? I know something of Man and Nature, not as they are in themselves, but as they are relatively to us; and it is as relative to us, and not as he is in himself, that I suppose myself to know anything of God. The attributes which I ascribe to him, as goodness, knowledge, power, are all relative. They are attributes (says the rationalist) which my experience enables me to conceive, and which I consider as proved, not absolutely, by an intuition of God, but phænomenally, by his action on the creation, as known through my senses and my rational faculty. These relative attributes, each of them in an infinite degree, are all I pretend to predicate of God. When I reject a doctrine as inconsistent with God’s nature, it is not as being inconsistent with what God is in himself, but with what he is as manifested to us. If my knowledge of him is only phænomenal, the assertions which I reject are phænomenal too. If those assertions are inconsistent with my relative knowledge of him, it is no answer to say that all my knowledge of him is relative. That is no more a reason against disbelieving an alleged fact as unworthy of God, than against disbelieving another alleged fact as unworthy of Turgot, or of Washington, whom also I do not know as Noumena, but only as Phænomena.

There is but one way for Mr. Mansel out of this difficulty, and he adopts it. He must maintain, not merely that an Absolute Being is unknowable in himself, but that the Relative attributes of an Absolute Being are unknowable likewise. He must say that we do not know what Wisdom, Justice, Edition: current; Page: [101] Benevolence, Mercy, are, as they exist in God. Accordingly he does say so. The following are his direct utterances on the subject: as an implied doctrine, it pervades his whole argument.

It is a fact which experience forces upon us, and which it is useless, were it possible, to disguise, that the representation of God after the model of the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving, is not sufficient to account for all the phenomena exhibited by the course of his natural Providence. The infliction of physical suffering, the permission of moral evil, the adversity of the good, the prosperity of the wicked, the crimes of the guilty involving the misery of the innocent, the tardy appearance and partial distribution of moral and religious knowledge in the world—these are facts which no doubt are reconcilable, we know not how, with the Infinite Goodness of God, but which certainly are not to be explained on the supposition that its sole and sufficient type is to be found in the finite goodness of man.*

In other words, it is necessary to suppose that the infinite goodness ascribed to God is not the goodness which we know and love in our fellow-creatures, distinguished only as infinite in degree, but is different in kind, and another quality altogether. When we call the one finite goodness and the other infinite goodness, we do not mean what the words assert, but something else: we intentionally apply the same name to things which we regard as different.

Accordingly Mr. Mansel combats, as a heresy of his opponents, the opinion that infinite goodness differs only in degree from finite goodness. The notion “that the attributes of God differ from those of man in degree only, not in kind, and hence that certain mental and moral qualities of which we are immediately conscious in ourselves, furnish at the same time a true and adequate image of the infinite perfections of God,” (the word adequate must have slipped in by inadvertence, since otherwise it would be an inexcusable misrepresentation) he identifies with “the vulgar Rationalism which regards the reason of man, in its ordinary and normal operation, as the supreme criterion of religious truth.” And in characterizing the mode of arguing of this vulgar Rationalism, he declares its principles to be, that “all the excellences of which we are conscious in the creature, must necessarily exist in the same manner, though in a higher degree, in the Creator. God is indeed more wise, more just, more merciful, than man; but for that very reason, his wisdom and justice and mercy must contain nothing that is incompatible with the corresponding attributes in their human character.” It is against this doctrine that Mr. Mansel feels called on to make an emphatic protest.

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Here, then, I take my stand on the acknowledged principle of logic and of morality, that when we mean different things we have no right to call them by the same name, and to apply to them the same predicates, moral and intellectual. Language has no meaning for the words Just, Merciful, Benevolent, save that in which we predicate them of our fellow-creatures; and unless that is what we intend to express by them, we have no business to employ the words. If in affirming them of God we do not mean to affirm these very qualities, differing only as greater in degree, we are neither philosophically nor morally entitled to affirm them at all. If it be said that the qualities are the same, but that we cannot conceive them as they are when raised to the infinite, I grant that we cannot adequately conceive them in one of their elements, their infinity. But we can conceive them in their other elements, which are the very same in the infinite as in the finite development. Anything carried to the infinite must have all the properties of the same thing as finite, except those which depend upon the finiteness. Among the many who have said that we cannot conceive infinite space, did any one ever suppose that it is not space? that it does not possess all the properties by which space is characterized? Infinite Space cannot be cubical or spherical, because these are modes of being bounded: but does any one imagine that in ranging through it we might arrive at some region which was not extended; of which one part was not outside another; where, though no Body intervened, motion was impossible; or where the sum of two sides of a triangle was less than the third side? The parallel assertion may be made respecting infinite goodness. What belongs to it leither as Infinite or as Absolutel I do not pretend to know; but I know that infinite goodness must be goodness, and that what is not consistent with goodness, is not consistent with infinite goodness. If in ascribing goodness to God I do not mean what I mean by goodness; if I do not mean the goodness of which I have some knowledge, but an incomprehensible attribute of an incomprehensible substance, which for aught I know may be a totally different quality from that which I love and venerate—and even must, if Mr. Mansel is to be believed,[*] be in some important particulars opposed to this—what do I mean by calling it goodness? and what reason have I for venerating it? If I know nothing about what the attribute is, I cannot tell that it is a proper object of veneration. To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good? To assert in words what we do not think in meaning, is as suitable a definition as can be given of a moral falsehood. Besides, suppose that certain unknown attributes are Edition: current; Page: [103] ascribed to the Deity in a religion the external evidences of which are so conclusive to my mind, as effectually to convince me that it comes from God. Unless I believe God to possess the same moral attributes which I find, in however inferior a degree, in a good man, what ground of assurance have I of God’s veracity? All trust in a Revelation presupposes a conviction that God’s attributes are the same, in all but degree, with the best human attributes.

If, instead of the “glad tidings” that there exists a Being in whom all the excellences which the highest human mind can conceive, exist in a degree inconceivable to us, I am informed that the world is ruled by a being whose attributes are infinite, but what they are we cannot learn, not what are the principles of his government, except that “the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving”[*] does not sanction them; convince me of it, and I will bear my fate as I may. But when I am told that I must believe this, and at the same time call this being by the names which express and affirm the highest human morality, I say in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power such a being may have over me, there is one thing which he shall not do: he shall not compel me to worship him. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures;* and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.[†]

Neither is this to set up my own limited intellect as a criterion of divine or of any other wisdom. If a person is wiser and better than myself, not in some unknown and unknowable meaning of the terms, but in their known human acceptation, I am ready to believe that what this person thinks may be true, and that what he does may be right, when, but for the opinion I have of him, I should think otherwise. But this is because I believe that he and I have at bottom the same standard of truth and rule of right, and that he probably understands better than I the facts of the particular case. If I thought it not improbable that his notion of right might be my notion of wrong, I should not defer to his judgment. In like manner, one who sincerely believes in an absolutely good ruler of the world, is not warranted in disbelieving any act ascribed to him, merely because the very small part of its circumstances which we can possibly know does not sufficiently justify it. But if what I am told respecting him is of a kind which no facts that Edition: current; Page: [104] can be supposed added to my knowledge could make me perceive to be right; if his alleged ways of dealing with the world are such as no imaginable hypothesis respecting things known to him and unknown to me, could make consistent with the goodness and wisdom which I mean when I use the terms, but are in direct contradiction to their signification; then, if the law of contradiction is a law of human thought, I cannot both believe these things, and believe that God is a good and wise being. If I call any being wise or good, not meaning the only qualities which the words import, I am speaking insincerely; I am flattering him by epithets which I fancy that he likes to hear, in the hope of winning him over to my own objects. For it is worthy of remark that the doubt whether words applied to God have their human signification, is only felt when the words relate to his moral attributes; it is never heard of in regard to his power. We are never told that God’s omnipotence must not be supposed to mean an infinite degree of the power we know in man and nature, and that perhaps it does not mean that he is able to kill us, or consign us to eternal flames. The Divine Power is always interpreted in a completely human signification, but the Divine Goodness and Justice must be understood to be such only in an unintelligible sense. Is it unfair to surmise that this is because those who speak in the name of God, have need of the human conception of his power, since an idea which can overawe and enforce obedience must address itself to real feelings; but are content that his goodness should be conceived only as something inconceivable, because they are so often required to teach doctrines respecting him which conflict irreconcilably with all goodness that we can conceive?*

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I am anxious to say once more, that Mr. Mansel’s conclusions do not go the whole length of his arguments, and that he disavows the doctrine that God’s justice and goodness are wholly different from what human beings understand by the terms. He would, and does, admit that the qualities as conceived by us bear some likeness to the justice and goodness which Edition: current; Page: [106] belong to God, since man was made in God’s image. But such a semiconcession, which no Christian could avoid making, since without it the whole Christian scheme would be subverted, cannot save him; he is not relieved by it from any difficulties, while it destroys the whole fabric of his argument. The Divine goodness, which is said to be a different thing from human goodness, but of which the human conception of goodness is some imperfect reflexion or resemblance, does it agree with what men call Edition: current; Page: [107] goodness in the essence of the quality—in what constitutes it goodness? If it does, the “Rationalists” are right; it is not illicit to reason from the one to the other. If not, the divine attribute, whatever else it may be, is not goodness, and ought not to be called by the name. Unless there be some human conception which agrees with it, no human name can properly be applied to it; it is simply the unknown attribute of a thing unknown; it has no existence in relation to us, we can affirm nothing of it, and owe it no worship. Such is the inevitable alternative.*

To conclude: Mr. Mansel has not made out any connexion between his philosophical premises and his theological conclusion. The relativity of human knowledge, the uncognoscibility of the Absolute, and the contradictions Edition: current; Page: [108] which follow the attempt to conceive a Being with all or without any attributes, are no obstacles to our having the same kind of knowledge of God which we have of other things, namely not as they exist absolutely, but relatively. The proposition, that we cannot conceive the moral attributes of God in such a manner as to be able to affirm of any doctrine or assertion that it is inconsistent with them, has no foundation in the laws of the human mind: while, if admitted, it would not prove that we should ascribe to God attributes bearing the same name as human qualities, but not to be understood in the same sense; it would prove that we ought not to ascribe any moral attributes to God at all, inasmuch as no moral attributes known or conceivable by us are true of him, and we are condemned to absolute ignorance of him as a moral being.

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CHAPTER VIII: Of Consciousness, as Understood by Sir William Hamilton

in the discussion of the Relativity of human knowledge and the Philosophy of the Conditioned, we have brought under consideration those of Sir W. Hamilton’s metaphysical doctrines which have the greatest share in giving to his philosophy the colour of individuality which it possesses, and the most important of those which can be regarded as belonging specially to himself. On a certain number of minor points, and on one of primary importance, Causation, we shall again have to examine opinions of his which are original. But on most of the subjects which remain to be discussed, at least in the psychological department (as distinguished from the logical), Sir W. Hamilton is merely an eminent representative of one of the two great schools of metaphysical thought; that which derives its popular appellation from Scotland, and of which the founder and most celebrated champion was a philosopher whom, on the whole, Sir W. Hamilton seems to prefer to any other, Dr. Reid. For the future, therefore, we shall be concerned less with Sir W. Hamilton’s philosophy as such, than with the general mode of thought to which it belongs. We shall be engaged in criticizing doctrines common to him with many other thinkers; but in doing so we shall take his writings as text-books, and deal with the opinions chiefly in the form in which he presented them. No other course would be so fair to the opinions themselves: not only because they have not, within the last half century, had so able a teacher, and never one so well acquainted with the teachings of others, but also because he had the great advantage of coming last. All theories, at their commencement, bear the burthen of mistakes and inadvertences not inherent in the theories themselves, but either personal to their authors, or arising from the imperfect state of philosophical thought at the time of their origin. At a later period, the errors which accidentally adhered to the theory are stript off, the most obvious objections to it are perceived, and more or less successfully met, and it is rendered, at least apparently, consistent with such admitted truths as it at first seemed to contradict. One of the unfairest, though commonest tricks of controversy, is that of directing the attack exclusively against the Edition: current; Page: [110] first crude form of a doctrine.* Whoever should judge Locke’s philosophy as it is in Locke, Berkeley’s philosophy as it is in Berkeley, or Reid’s as it is in Reid, would often condemn them on the ground of incidental misapprehensions, which form no essential part of their doctrine, and from which its later adherents and expositors are free. Sir W. Hamilton’s is the latest form of the Reidian theory; and by no other of its supporters has that theory been so well guarded, or expressed in such discriminating terms, and with such studious precision. Though there are a few points on which the earlier philosopher seems to me nearer the truth, on the whole it is impossible to pass from Reid to Sir W. Hamilton, or from Sir W. Hamilton back to Reid, and not be struck with the immense progress which their common philosophy has made in the interval between them.

All theories of the human mind profess to be interpretations of Consciousness: the conclusions of all of them are supposed to rest on that ultimate evidence, either immediately or remotely. What Consciousness directly reveals, together with what can be legitimately inferred from its revelations, composes, by universal admission, all that we know of the mind, or indeed of any other thing. When we know what any philosopher considers to be revealed in Consciousness, we have the key to the entire character of his metaphysical system.

There are some peculiarities requiring notice, in Sir W. Hamilton’s mode of conceiving and defining Consciousness. The words of his definition do not, of themselves, indicate those peculiarities. Consciousness, he says, is “the recognition by the mind or ego of its own acts or affections;” and in this, as he truly observes, “all philosophers are agreed.” But all philosophers have not, by any means, meant the same thing by it. Most of them (including Reid and Stewart) have meant, as the words naturally mean, Self-consciousness. They have held, that we can be conscious only of some state of our own mind. The mind’s “own acts or affections” are in the mind itself, and not external to it: accordingly we have, in their opinion, the direct evidence of consciousness, only for the internal world. An external world is but an inference, which, according to most philosophers, is justified, or even, by our mental constitution, compelled: according to others, not justified.

Nothing, however, can be farther from Sir W. Hamilton’s mind than he declares this opinion to be. Though consciousness, according to him, is a recognition of the mind’s own acts and affections, we are nevertheless conscious of things outside the mind. Some of the mind’s acts are perceptions of outward objects; and we are, of course, conscious of those acts: Edition: current; Page: [111] now, to be conscious of a perception, necessarily implies being conscious of the thing perceived.

It is palpably impossible that we can be conscious of an act, without being conscious of the object to which that act is relative. This, however, is what Dr. Reid and Mr. Stewart maintain. They maintain that I can know that I know, without knowing what I know—or that I can know the knowledge without knowing what the knowledge is about: for example, that I am conscious of perceiving a book, without being conscious of the book perceived,—that I am conscious of remembering its contents without being conscious of these contents remembered—and so forth.*

An act of knowledge existing and being what it is only by relation to its object, it is manifest that the act can be known only through the object to which it is correlative; and Reid’s supposition that an operation can be known in consciousness to the exclusion of its object, is impossible. For example, I see the inkstand. How can I be conscious that my present modification exists,—that it is a perception and not another mental state,—that it is a perception of sight, to the exclusion of every other sense,—and finally, that it is a perception of the inkstand, and of the inkstand only,—unless my own consciousness comprehend within its sphere the object, which at once determines the existence of the act, qualifies its kind, and distinguishes its individuality? Annihilate the inkstand, you annihilate the perception; annihilate the consciousness of the object, you annihilate the consciousness of the operation. It undoubtedly sounds strange to say, I am conscious of the inkstand, instead of saying, I am conscious of the perception of the inkstand. This I admit, but the admission can avail nothing to Dr. Reid, for the apparent incongruity of the expression arises only from the prevalence of that doctrine of perception in the schools of philosophy, which it is his principal merit to have so vigorously assailed.

This is Sir W. Hamilton’s first difference, on the subject of Consciousness, from his predecessor, Reid. In being conscious of those of our mental operations which regard external objects, we are, according to Sir W. Hamilton, conscious of the objects. Consciousness, therefore, is not solely of the ego and its modifications, but also of the non-ego.

This first difference is not the only one. Consciousness, according to Sir W. Hamilton, may be of things external to self, but it can only be of things actually present. In the first place, they must be present in time. We are not conscious of the past. Thus far Sir W. Hamilton agrees with Reid, who holds that memory is of the past, consciousness only of the present. Reid, however, is of opinion that memory is an “immediate knowledge of the past,”[*] exactly as consciousness is an immediate knowledge of the present. Sir W. Hamilton contends that this opinion of Reid is “not only false,” but “involves a contradiction in terms.” Memory is an act, and an act “exists only in the now: it can therefore be cognizant only of what now is. In the case of memory, what now is, is not the thing remembered, but a Edition: current; Page: [112] present representation of it in the mind, which representation is the sole object of consciousness. We are aware of the past, not immediately, but mediately, through the representation.

An act of memory, is merely a present state of mind, which we are conscious of, not as absolute, but as relative to, and representing, another state of mind, and accompanied with the belief that the state of mind, as now represented, has actually been. . . . All that is immediately known in the act of memory, is the present mental modification; that is, the representation and concomitant belief. . . . So far is memory from being an immediate knowledge of the past, that it is at best only a mediate knowledge of the past; while in philosophical propriety, it is not a knowledge of the past at all, but a knowledge of the present, and a belief of the past. . . . We may doubt, we may deny that the representation and belief are true. We may assert that they represent what never was, and that all beyond their present mental existence is a delusion:[*]

but it is impossible for us to doubt or deny that of which we have immediate knowledge.

Again, that of which we are conscious must not only be present in time, it must also, if external to our minds, be present in place. It must be in direct contact with our bodily organs. We do not immediately perceive a distant object.

To say, for example, that we perceive by sight the sun or moon, is a false or an elliptical expression. We perceive nothing but certain modifications of light, in immediate relation to our organ of vision; and so far from Dr. Reid being philosophically correct when he says that “when ten men look at the sun or moon, they all see the same individual object,” the truth is that each of these persons sees a different object, because each person sees a different complement of rays, in relation to his individual organ:*

to which, in another place, he adds, that each individual sees two different objects, with his right and with his left eye.

It is not by perception, but by a process of reasoning, that we connect the objects of sense with existences beyond the sphere of immediate knowledge. It is enough that perception affords us the knowledge of the non-ego at the point of sense. To arrogate to it the power of immediately informing us of external things which are only the causes of the object we immediately perceive, is either positively erroneous, or a confusion of language arising from an inadequate discrimination of the phænomena.

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There can, I think, be no doubt that these remarks on knowledge of the past and perception of the distant, are correct, and a great improvement upon Reid.

It appears, then, that the true definition of Consciousness in Sir W. Hamilton’s use of the term, would be Immediate Knowledge. And he expressly says, “Consciousness and immediate knowledge are thus terms universally convertible: and if there be an immediate knowledge of things external, there is consequently the Consciousness of an outer world.”* Immediate knowledge, again, he treats as universally convertible with Intuitive knowledge: and the terms are really equivalent. We know intuitively, what we know by its own evidence—by direct apprehension of the fact, and not through the medium of a previous knowledge of something from which we infer it. Regarded in this light, our author’s difference with Reid as to our being conscious of outward objects, would appear, on his own showing, to be chiefly a dispute about words: for Reid also says that we have an immediate and intuitive knowledge of things without, aand (if Sir W. Hamilton understands him rightly) that it is immediate and intuitive in the same meaning and mode, as that claimed for us by Sir W. Hamiltona. Sir W. Hamilton stretches the word Consciousness so as to include this knowledge, while Reid, with greater regard for the origin and etymology of the word, restricts it to the cases in which the mind is “conscia sibi.[*] Sir W. Hamilton has a right to his own use of the term; but care must be taken that it do not serve as a means of knowingly or unknowingly begging any question. One of the most disputed questions in psychology is exactly this—Have we, or not, an immediate intuition of material objects? and this question must not be prejudged by affirming that those objects are in our consciousness. On the contrary, it is only allowable to say that they are in our consciousness, after it bhadb been already proved that we cognise them intuitively.

It is a little startling, after so much has been said of the limitation of Consciousness to immediate knowledge, to find Sir W. Hamilton, in the “Dissertations on Reid,” maintaining that “consciousness comprehends every cognitive act; in other words, whatever we are not conscious of, that we do not know.” If consciousness comprehends all our knowledge, but yet is limited to immediate knowledge, it follows that all our knowledge must be immediate, and that we have, therefore, no knowledge of the past or of the absent. Sir W. Hamilton might have cleared up this difficulty by Edition: current; Page: [114] saying, as he had already done, that our mediate cognitions—those of the past and the absent—though he never hesitates to call them knowledge, are in strict propriety Belief. We could then have understood his meaning. But the explanation he actually gives is quite different. It is, that “all our mediate cognitions are contained in our immediate.”[*] This is a manifest attempt to justify himself in calling them, not belief, but knowledge, like our immediate cognitions. But what is the meaning of “contained?” If it means that our mediate cognitions are part of our immediate, then they are themselves immediate, and we have no mediate cognitions. Sir W. Hamilton has told us, that in the case of a remembered fact, what we immediately cognise is but a present mental representation of it, “accompanied with the belief that the state of mind, as now represented, has actually been.”[†] Having said this, he also says that the past fact, which does not now exist, is “contained”[‡] in the representation and in the belief which do exist. But if it is contained in them, it must have a present existence too, and is not a past fact. Perhaps, however, by the word “contained,” all that is meant is, that it is implied in them; that it is a necessary or legitimate inference from them. But if it is only this, it remains absent in time; and what is absent in time, our author has said, is not a possible object of consciousness. If, therefore, a past fact is an object of knowledge, we can know what we are not conscious of; consciousness does not comprehend all our cognitions. To state the same thing in another manner; a remembered fact is either a part of our consciousness, or it is not. If it is, Sir W. Hamilton is wrong when he says that we are not conscious of the past. If not, he is wrong, either in saying that we can know the past, or in saying that what we are not conscious of, we do not know.

This inconsistency, which emerges only in the “Dissertations,” I shall not further dwell upon: it is chiefly important as showing that the most complicated and elaborate version of Sir W. Hamilton’s speculations is not always the freest from objection. The doctrine of his Lectures is, that a part of our knowledge—the knowledge of the past, the future, and the distant—is mediate and representative, but that such mediate knowledge is not Consciousness; consciousness and immediate knowledge being coextensive.

From our author’s different deliverances as above quoted, it appears that he gives two definitions of Consciousness. In the one, it is synonymous with direct, immediate, or intuitive knowledge; and we are conscious not only of ourselves but of outward objects, since, in our author’s opinion, we know these intuitively. According to the other definition, consciousness is Edition: current; Page: [115] the mind’s recognition of its own acts and affections. It is not at once obvious how these two definitions can be reconciled: for Sir W. Hamilton would have been the last person to say that the outward object is identical with the mental act or affection. He must have meant that consciousness is the mind’s recognition of its own acts and affections together with all that is therein implied, or as he would say, contained. But this involves him in a new inconsistency: for how can he then refuse the name of consciousness to our mediate knowledge—to our knowledge or belief (for instance) of the past? The past reality is certainly cimpliedc in the present recollection of which we are conscious: and our author has said that all our mediate knowledge is contained in our immediate, das he has elsewhere said thatd knowledge of the outward object is contained in our knowledge of the perception. If, then, we are conscious of the outward object, why not of the past sensation or impression?

From the definition of Consciousness as “the recognition by the mind or Ego of its own acts or affections,”[*] our author might be supposed to think (as has been actually thought by many philosophers) that consciousness is not the fact itself of knowing or feeling, but a subsequent operation by which we become aware of that fact. This however is not his opinion. By “the mind’s recognition of its acts and affections” he does not mean anything different from the acts and affections themselves. He denies that we have one faculty by which we know or feel, and another by which we know that we know, and by which we know that we feel. These are not, according to him, different facts, but the same fact seen under another point of view. And he takes this occasion for making a remark, of wide application in philosophy, which it would be of signal service to all students of metaphysics to keep constantly in mind; that difference of names often does not signify difference of things, but only difference in the particular easpecte under which a thing is considered.[†] On the real identity between our various mental states and our consciousness of them, he seems to be of the opinion which was maintained before him by Brown, and which is stated by Mr. James Mill, with his usual clearness and force, in the following passage:

Having a sensation, and having a feeling, are not two things. The thing is one, the names only are two. I am pricked by a pin. The sensation is one; but I may call it sensation, or a feeling, or a pain, as I please. Now, when, having the sensation, I say I feel the sensation, I only use a tautological expression; the sensation is not one thing, the feeling another; the sensation is the feeling. When instead of the word Edition: current; Page: [116] feeling, I use the word conscious, I do exactly the same thing—I merely use a tautological expression. To say I feel a sensation, is merely to say that I feel a feeling; which is an impropriety of speech. And to say I am conscious of a feeling, is merely to say that I feel it. To have a feeling is to be conscious; and to be conscious is to have a feeling. To be conscious of the prick of the pin, is merely to have the sensation. And though I have these various modes of naming my sensation, by saying, I feel the prick of a pin, I feel the pain of a prick, I have the sensation of a prick, I have the feeling of a prick, I am conscious of the feeling; the thing named in all these various ways is one and the same.

The same explanation will easily be seen to apply to ideas. Though at present I have not the sensation, called the prick of a pin, I have a distinct idea of it. The having an idea, and the not having it, are distinguished by the existence or nonexistence of a certain feeling. To have an idea, and the feeling of that idea, are not two things; they are one and the same thing. To feel an idea, and to be conscious of that feeling, are not two things; the feeling and the consciousness are but two names for the same thing. In the very word feeling, all that is implied in the word Consciousness is involved.

Those philosophers, therefore, who have spoken of Consciousness as a feeling distinct from all other feelings, committed a mistake, and one, the evil consequences of which have been most important; for, by combining a chimerical ingredient with the elements of thought, they involved their enquiries in confusion and mystery from the very commencement.

It is easy to see what is the nature of the terms Conscious and Consciousness, and what is the marking function which they are destined to perform. It was of great importance, for the purpose of naming, that we should not only have names to distinguish the different classes of our feelings, but also a name applicable equally to all those classes. This purpose is answered by the concrete term, Conscious, and the abstract of it, Consciousness. Thus, if we are in any way sentient; that is, have any of the feelings whatsoever of a living creature; the word Conscious is applicable to the feeler, and Consciousness to the feeling: that is to say, the words are Generical marks, under which all the names of the subordinate classes of the feelings of a sentient creature are included. When I smell a rose, I am conscious; when I have the idea of a fire, I am conscious; when I remember, I am conscious; when I reason, and when I believe, I am conscious; but believing and being conscious of belief, are not two things, they are the same thing: though this same thing I can name at one time without the aid of the generical mark, while at another time it suits me to employ the generical mark.*

Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrine is exactly this, except that he expresses the latter part of it in less perspicuous phraseology, saying that consciousness is “the fundamental form, the generic condition” of all the modes of our mental activity; “in fact, the general condition of their existence.” But, while holding the same theory with Brown andf Mill, he completes it by the addition that though our mental states and our consciousness of them are Edition: current; Page: [117] only the same fact, they are the same fact regarded in different relations. Considered in themselves, as acts and feelings, or considered in relation to the external object with which they are concerned, we do not call them consciousness. It is when these mental modifications are referred to a subject or ego, and looked at in relation to Self, that consciousness is the term used: consciousness being “the self-affirmation that certain modifications are known by me, and that these modifications are mine.” In this self-affirmation, however, no additional fact is introduced. It “is not to be viewed as anything different from” the “modifications themselves.”* There is but one mental phænomenon, the act of feeling: but as this implies an acting or feeling Self, we give it a name which connotes its relation to the Self, and that name is Consciousness. Thus, “consciousness and knowledge”—and I think he would have added feeling (the mind’s “affections”) as well as knowledge—

are not distinguished by different words as different things, but only as the same thing considered in different aspects. The verbal distinction is taken for the sake of brevity and precision, and its convenience warrants its establishment. . . . Though each term of a relation necessarily supposes the other, nevertheless one of these terms may be to us the more interesting, and we may consider that term as the principal, and view the other only as subordinate and correlative. Now, this is the case in the present instance. In an act of knowledge, my attention may be principally attracted either to the object known, or to myself, as the subject knowing; and in the latter case, although no new element be added to the act, the condition involved in it,—I know that I know, becomes the primary and permanent matter of consideration. And when, as in the philosophy of mind, the act of knowledge comes to be specially considered in relation to the knowing subject, it is, at last, in the progress of the science, found convenient, if not absolutely necessary, to possess a scientific word in which this point of view should be permanently and distinctively embodied.

If any doubt could have existed, after this passage, of Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion on the question, it would have been removed by one of the fragments recently published by his editors, in continuation of the “Dissertations on Reid.” I extract the words:

Consciousness is not to be regarded as aught different from the mental modes or movements themselves. It is not to be viewed as an illuminated place within which objects coming are presented to, and passing beyond are withdrawn from, observation; nor is it to be considered even as an observer—the mental modes as phænomena observed. Consciousness is just the movements themselves, rising above a certain degree of intensity. . . . It is only a comprehensive word for those mental movements which rise at once above a certain degree of intension.

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We now pass to a question which is of no little importance to the character of Sir W. Hamilton’s system of philosophy. We found, not long ago, that he makes between Knowledge and Belief a broad distinction, on which he lays great stress, and which plays a conspicuous part both in his own speculations and in those of some of his followers. Let us now look at this distinction in the light thrown upon it by those doctrines of Sir W. Hamilton which are the subject of the present chapter.

Though Sir W. Hamilton allows a mediate, or representative, knowledge of the past and the absent, he has told us that “in philosophical propriety” it ought not to be called knowledge, but belief. We do not, properly speaking, know a past event, but believe it, by reason of the present recollection which we immediately know. We do not, properly speaking, perceive or Edition: current; Page: [119] know the sun, but we perceive and know an image in contact with our organs, and believe the existence of the sun through “a process of reasoning,”[*] which connects the image that we directly perceive, with something else as its cause. Again, though we cannot know an Infinite or an Absolute Being, we may and ought to believe in the reality of such a Being. But in all these cases the belief itself, the conviction we feel of the existence of the sun, and of the reality of the past event, and which according to Sir W. Hamilton we ought to feel of the existence of ha Being who ish the Infinite and the Absolute—this belief is a fact present in time and in place—a phænomenon of our own mind; of this we are conscious; this we immediately know. Such, it is impossible to doubt, is Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion.

Let us now apply to this the general principle emphatically affirmed by him, and forming the basis of his argument against Reid and Stewart on the subject of Consciousness. “It is palpably impossible that we can be conscious of an act, without being conscious of the object to which that act is relative.”[†] “The knowledge of an operation necessarily involves the knowledge of its object.” “It is impossible to make consciousness conversant about the intellectual operations to the exclusion of their objects,”[‡] and therefore, since we are conscious of our perceptions, we must be conscious of the external objects perceived. Such is Sir W. Hamilton’s theory. But perceptions are not the only mental operations we are conscious of, which point to an external object. This is no less true of beliefs. We are conscious of belief in a past event, in the reality of a distant body, and (according to Sir W. Hamilton) in the existence of the Infinite and the Absolute. Consequently, on Sir W. Hamilton’s principle, we are conscious of the objects of those beliefs; conscious of the past event, conscious of the distant body, conscious of the Infinite and of the Absolute. To disclaim this conclusion would be to bring down upon himself the language in which he criticized Reid and Stewart; it would be to maintain “that I can know that I [believe] without knowing what I [believe]—or that I can know the [belief] without knowing what the [belief] is about: for example, that I am conscious of [remembering a past event] without being conscious of [the past event remembered]; that I am conscious of [believing in God], without being conscious of the [God believed in].”[§] If it be true that “an act of knowledge” exists, and is what it is, “only by relation to its object,” this must be equally true of an act of belief: and it must be as “manifest” of the one act as Edition: current; Page: [120] of the other, “that it can be known only through the object to which it is correlative.”[*] Therefore past events, distant objects, and the Absolute, inasmuch as they are believed, are as much objects of immediate knowledge as things finite and present: since they are presupposed and implicitly contained in the mental fact of belief, exactly as a present object is implicitly contained in the mental fact of perception. Either, therefore, Sir W. Hamilton was wrong in his doctrine that consciousness of our perceptions implies consciousness of their external object, or if he was right in this, the distinction between Belief and Knowledge collapses: all objects of Belief are objects of Knowledge: Belief and Knowledge are the same thing: and he was wrong in asserting that the Absolute ought to be believed, or wrong in maintaining against Cousin that it is incapable of being known.

Another reasoner might escape from this dilemma by saying that the knowledge of the object of belief, which is implied in knowledge of the belief itself, is not knowledge of the object as existing, but knowledge of it as believed—the mere knowledge what it is that we believe. And this is true; but it could not be said by Sir W. Hamilton; for he rejects the same reasonable explanation in the parallel case. He will not allow it to be said that when we have what we call a perception, and refer it to an external object, we are conscious not of the external object as existing, but of ourselves as inferring an external existence. He maintains that the actual outward existence of the object is a deliverance of consciousness, because “it is impossible that we can be conscious of an act without being conscious of the object to which that act is relative.”[†] He cannot, then, reject as applied to the act of Belief, a law which, when he has occasion for applying it to the acts of Perception and Knowledge, he affirms to be common to all our mental operations. If we can be conscious of an operation without being conscious of its object, the reality of an external world is not indeed subverted, but there is an end to Sir W. Hamilton’s theory of the mode in which it is known, and to his particular mode of proving it.

The difficulty in which Sir W. Hamilton is thus involved seems to have become, though very insufficiently, perceptible to himself. Towards the end of his Lectures on Logic, after saying that “we may be equally certain of what we believe as of what we know,” and that, “it has, not without ground, been maintained by many philosophers, both in ancient and modern times, that the certainty of all knowledge is, in its ultimate analysis, resolved into a certainty of belief,”* he adds, “But, on the other hand, the manifestation of this belief necessarily involves knowledge; for we cannot believe without some consciousness or knowledge of the belief, and consequently Edition: current; Page: [121] without some consciousness or knowledge of the object of the belief.” The remark which this tardy reflexion suggests to him is merely this: “The consideration, however, of the relation of Belief and Knowledge does not properly belong to Logic, except so far as it is necessary to explain the nature of Truth and Error. It is altogether a metaphysical discussion; and one of the most difficult problems of which Metaphysics attempts the solution.”* Accordingly, he takes the extremely unphilosophical liberty of leaving it unsolved. But when a thinker is compelled by one part of his philosophy to contradict another part, he cannot leave the conflicting assertions standing, and throw the responsibility of his scrape on the arduousness of the subject. A palpable self-contradiction is not one of the difficulties which can be adjourned, as belonging to a higher department of science. Though it may be a hard matter to find the truth, that is no reason for holding to what is self-convicted of error. If Sir W. Hamilton’s theory of consciousness is correct, it does not leave the difference between Belief and Knowledge in a state of obscurity, but abolishes that distinction entirely, and along with it a great part of his own philosophy. If his premises are true, we not only cannot believe what we do not know, but we cannot believe that of which we are not conscious; the distinction between our immediate and our mediate or representative cognitions, and the doctrine of things believable but not knowable, must both succumb; or if these can be saved, it must be by abandoning the proposition, which is at the root of so much of his philosophy, that consciousness of an operation is consciousness of the object of the operation.

But when Sir W. Hamilton began to perceive that if his theory is correct nothing can be believed except in so far as it is known, he did not therefore renounce the attempt to distinguish Belief from Knowledge. In the very same Lecture, he says, “Knowledge and Belief differ not only in degree but in kind. Knowledge is a certainty founded upon insight; Belief is a certainty founded upon feeling. The one is perspicuous and objective; the other is obscure and subjective. Each, however, supposes the other: and an assurance is said to be a knowledge or a belief, according as the one element or the other preponderates.” If Sir W. Hamilton had bestowed any sufficient consideration on the difficulty, he would hardly have consented to pay himself with such mere words. If each of his two certainties supposes the other, it follows that whenever we have a certainty founded upon feeling, we have a parallel certainty founded upon insight. We therefore have always insight when we are certain; and we are never certain except to the extent to which we have insight. It is not a case in which we can talk of one or the other element preponderating. They must be equal and coextensive. Edition: current; Page: [122] The whole of what we know we must believe; and the whole of what we believe we must know: for we know that we believe it, and the act of belief “can only be known through the object to which it is correlative.” Our conviction is not divided, in varying proportions, between knowledge and belief: the two must always keep abreast of one another.

All this follows, whatever may be the meaning of the “insight” which forms the distinction in kind between belief and knowledge. But what is this insight? “The immediate consciousness of an object” (he goes on to say) “is called an intuition, an insight.* So that if knowledge is distinguished from belief by being grounded on insight, it is distinguished by being grounded on immediate consciousness. But belief also supposes immediate consciousness, since “we cannot believe without some consciousness or knowledge of the belief, and consequently without some consciousness or knowledge of the object of the belief.” Not merely without some consciousness, but, if our author’s theory is correct, without a consciousness coextensive with the belief. As far as we believe, so far we are conscious of the belief, and so far, therefore, if the theory be true, we are conscious of the thing believed.

But though Sir W. Hamilton cannot extricate himself from this entanglement, having, by the premises he laid down, cut off his own retreat, other thinkers can find a way through it. For, in truth, what can be more absurd than the notion that belief of anything implies knowledge of the thing believed? Were this so, there could be no such thing as false belief. Every day’s experience shows that belief of the most peremptory kind—assurance founded on the most intense “feeling,” is compatible with total ignorance of the thing which is the object of belief; though of course not with ignorance of the belief itself. And this absurdity is a full refutation of the theory which leads to it—that consciousness of an operation involves consciousness of that about which the operation is conversant. The theory does not seem so absurd when affirmed of knowledge as of belief, because, (the term knowledge being only applied in common parlance to what is regarded as true, while belief may confessedly be false,) to say that if we are conscious of our knowledge, we must be conscious of that which we know, is not so manifestly ridiculous, as it is to affirm that if we are conscious of a mistaken belief, we must be conscious of a non-existent fact. Yet the one proposition must be equally true with the other, if consciousness of an act involves consciousness of the object of the act. It is over the ruins of this false theory that we must force our way out of the labyrinth in which Sir W. Hamilton has imprisoned us. It may be true, or it may not, that an external world is an object of immediate knowledge. But assuredly we cannot conclude that we have an immediate knowledge of external things, because Edition: current; Page: [123] we have an immediate knowledge of our cognitions of them; whether those cognitions are to be termed belief, with Reid, or knowledge, with Sir W. Hamilton.*

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CHAPTER IX: Of the Interpretation of Consciousness

according to all philosophers, the evidence of Consciousness, if only we can obtain it pure, is conclusive. This is an obvious, but by no means a mere identical proposition. If consciousness be defined as intuitive knowledge, it is indeed an identical proposition to say, that if we intuitively know anything, we do know it, and are sure of it. But the meaning lies in the implied assertion, that we do know some things immediately, or intuitively. That we must do so is evident, if we know anything; for what we know mediately, depends for its evidence on our previous knowledge of something else: unless, therefore, we knew something immediately, we could not know anything mediately, and consequently could not know anything at all. That imaginary being, a complete Sceptic, might be supposed to answer, that perhaps we do not know anything at all. I shall not reply to this problematical antagonist in the usual manner, by telling him that if he does not know anything, I do. I put to him the simplest case conceivable of immediate knowledge, and ask, if we ever feel anything? If so, then, at the moment of feeling, do we know that we feel? Or if he will not call this knowledge, will he deny that when we have a feeling, we have at least some sort of assurance, or conviction, of having it? This assurance or conviction is what other people mean by knowledge. If he dislikes the word, I am willing in discussing with him to employ some other. By whatever name this assurance is called, it is the test to which we bring all our other convictions. He may say it is not certain; but such as it may be, it is our model of certainty. We consider all our other assurances and convictions as more or less certain, according as they approach the standard of this. I have a conviction that there are icebergs in the Arctic seas. I have not had the evidence of my senses for it: I never saw an iceberg. Neither do I intuitively believe it by a law of my mind. My conviction is mediate, grounded on testimony, and on inferences from physical laws. When I say I am convinced of it, I mean that the evidence is equal to that of my senses. I am as certain of the fact as if I had seen it. And, on a more complete analysis, when I say I am convinced of it, what I am convinced of is that if I were in the Arctic seas I should see it. We mean by knowledge, and by certainty, an assurance similar and equal to that afforded by our senses: if the evidence Edition: current; Page: [126] in any other case can be brought up to this, we desire no more. If a person is not satisfied with this evidence, it is no concern of anybody but himself, nor, practically, of himself, since it is admitted that this evidence is what we must, and may with full confidence, act upon. Absolute scepticism, if there be such a thing, may be dismissed from discussion, as raising an irrelevant issue, for in denying all knowledge it denies none. The dogmatist may be quite satisfied if the doctrine he maintains can be attacked by no arguments but those which apply to the evidence of the senses. If his evidence is equal to that, he needs no more; nay, it is philosophically maintainable that by the laws of psychology we can conceive no more, and that this is the certainty which we call perfect.

The verdict, then, of consciousness, or, in other words, our immediate and intuitive conviction, is admitted, on all hands, to be a decision without appeal. The next question is, to what does consciousness bear witness? And here, at the outset, a distinction manifests itself, which is laid down by Sir W. Hamilton, and stated, in a very lucid manner, in the first volume of his Lectures. I give it in his own words.

A fact of consciousness is that whose existence is given and guaranteed by an original and necessary belief. But there is an important distinction to be here made, which has not only been overlooked by all philosophers, but has led some of the most distinguished into no inconsiderable errors.

The facts of consciousness are to be considered in two points of view; either as evidencing their own ideal or phænomenal existence, or as evidencing the objective existence of something else beyond them. A belief in the former is not identical with a belief in the latter. The one cannot, the other may possibly, be refused. In the case of a common witness, we cannot doubt the fact of his personal reality, nor the fact of his testimony as emitted,—but we can always doubt the truth of that which his testimony avers. So it is with consciousness. We cannot possibly refuse the fact of its evidence as given, but we may hesitate to admit that beyond itself of which it assures us. I shall explain by taking an example. In the act of External Perception, consciousness gives as a conjunct fact, the existence of Me or Self as perceiving, and the existence of something different from Me or Self as perceived. Now the reality of this, as a subjective datum—as an ideal phænomenon—it is absolutely impossible to doubt without doubting the existence of consciousness, for consciousness is itself this fact; and to doubt the existence of consciousness is absolutely impossible; for as such a doubt could not exist except in and through consciousness, it would, consequently, annihilate itself. We should doubt that we doubted. As contained—as given—in an act of consciousness, the contrast of mind knowing and matter known cannot be denied.

But the whole phænomenon as given in consciousness may be admitted, and yet its inference disputed. It may be said, consciousness gives the mental subject as perceiving an external object, contradistinguished from it as perceived: all this we do not, and cannot, deny. But consciousness is only a phænomenon;—the contrast between the subject and object may be only apparent, not real; the object given as an external reality, may only be a mental representation which the mind is, by an unknown law, determined unconsciously to produce, and to mistake for something Edition: current; Page: [127] different from itself. All this may be said and believed, without self-contradiction,—nay, all this has, by the immense majority of modern philosophers, been actually said and believed.

In like manner, in an act of Memory, consciousness connects a present existence with a past. I cannot deny the actual phænomenon, because my denial would be suicidal, but I can without self-contradiction assert that consciousness may be a false witness in regard to any former existence; and I may maintain, if I please, that the memory of the past, in consciousness, is nothing but a phænomenon, which has no reality beyond the present. There are many other facts of consciousness which we cannot but admit as ideal phænomena, but may discredit as guaranteeing aught beyond their phænomenal existence itself. The legality of this doubt I do not at present consider, but only its possibility; all that I have now in view being to show that we must not confound, as has been done, the double import of the facts, and the two degrees of evidence for their reality. This mistake has, among others, been made by Mr. Stewart. . . .

With all the respect to which the opinion of so distinguished a philosopher as Mr. Stewart is justly entitled, I must be permitted to say, that I cannot but regard his assertion that the present existence of the phænomena of consciousness and the reality of that to which these phænomena bear witness, rest on a foundation equally solid—as wholly untenable. The second fact, the fact testified to, may be worthy of all credit—as I agree with Mr. Stewart in thinking that it is; but still it does not rest on a foundation equally solid as the fact of the testimony itself. Mr. Stewart confesses that of the former no doubt had ever been suggested by the boldest sceptic; and the latter, in so far as it assures us of our having an immediate knowledge on the external world,—which is the case alleged by Mr. Stewart,—has been doubted, nay denied, not merely by sceptics, but by modern philosophers almost to a man. This historical circumstance, therefore, of itself, would create a strong presumption, that the two facts must stand on very different foundations; and this presumption is confirmed when we investigate what these foundations themselves are.

The one fact,—the fact of the testimony, is an act of consciousness itself; it cannot, therefore, be invalidated without self-contradiction. For, as we have frequently observed, to doubt of the reality of that of which we are conscious is impossible: for as we can only doubt through consciousness, to doubt of consciousness is to doubt of consciousness by consciousness. If, on the one hand, we affirm the reality of the doubt, we thereby explicitly affirm the reality of consciousness, and contradict our doubt; if, on the other hand, we deny the reality of consciousness, we implicitly deny the reality of our denial itself. Thus, in the act of perception, consciousness gives, as a conjunct fact, an ego or mind, and a non-ego or matter, known together, and contradistinguished from each other. Now, as a present phænomenon, this double fact cannot possibly be denied. I cannot, therefore, refuse the fact, that, in perception, I am conscious of a phænomenon which I am compelled to regard as the attribute of something different from my mind or self. This I must perforce admit, or run into self-contradiction. But admitting this, may I not still, without self-contradiction, maintain that what I am compelled to view as the phænomenon of something different from me is nevertheless (unknown to me) only a modification of my mind? In this I admit the fact of the testimony of consciousness as given, but deny the truth of its report. Whether this denial of the truth of consciousness as a witness is or is not legitimate, we are not, at this moment, to consider: all I have in view at present is, as I said, to show that we must Edition: current; Page: [128] distinguish in consciousness two kinds of facts,—the fact of consciousness testifying, and the fact of which consciousness testifies; and that we must not, as Mr. Stewart has done, hold that we can as little doubt of the fact of the existence of an external world, as of the fact that consciousness gives in mutual contrast, the phænomenon of self in contrast to the phænomenon of not-self.*

He adds, that since no doubt has been, or can be, entertained of the facts given in the act of consciousness itself, “it is only the authority of these facts as evidence of something beyond themselves,—that is, only the second class of facts,—which become matter of discussion; it is not the reality of consciousness that we have to prove, but its veracity.”[*]

By the conception and clear exposition of this distinction, Sir W. Hamilton has contributed materially to make the issues involved in the great question in hand, more intelligible; and the passage is a considerable item for the appreciation both of his philosophy and of his philosophical powers. It is one of the proofs that, whatever be the positive value of his achievements in metaphysics, he had a greater capacity for the subject than many metaphysicians of high reputation, and particularly than his two distinguished predecessors in the same school of thought, Reid and Stewart.

There are, however, some points in this long extract which are open to criticism. The distinction it draws, is, in the main, beyond question, just. Among the facts which Sir W. Hamilton considers as revelations of consciousness, there is one kind which, as he truly says, no one does or can doubt, another kind which they can and do. The facts which cannot be doubted are those to which the word consciousness is by most philosophers confined: the facts of internal consciousness; “the mind’s own acts and affections.”[†] What we feel, we cannot doubt that we feel. It is impossible to us to feel, and to think that perhaps we feel not, or to feel not, and think that perhaps we feel. What admits of being doubted, is the revelation which consciousness is supposed to make (and which our author considers as itself consciousness) of an external reality. But according to him, though we may doubt this external reality, we are compelled to admit that consciousness testifies to it. We may disbelieve our consciousness; but we cannot doubt what its testimony is. This assertion cannot be granted in the same unqualified manner as the others. It is true that I cannot doubt my present impression: I cannot doubt that when I perceive colour or weight, I perceive them as in an object. Neither can I doubt that when I look at two fields, I perceive which of them is the farthest off. The majority of philosophers, however, would not say that perception of distance by the Edition: current; Page: [129] eye is testified by consciousness; because although we really do so perceive distance, they believe it to be an acquired perception. It is at least possible to think that the reference of our sensible impressions to an external object is, in like manner, acquired; and if so, though a fact of our consciousness in its present artificial state, it would have no claim to the title of a fact of consciousness generally, aor to the unlimited credence given to what is originally consciousnessa. This point of psychology we shall have to discuss farther on.

Another remark needs to be made. All the world admits with our author, that it is impossible to doubt a fact of internal consciousness. To feel, and not to know that we feel, is an impossibility. But Sir W. Hamilton is not satisfied to let this truth rest on its own evidence. He wants a demonstration of it. As if it were not sufficiently proved by consciousness itself, he attempts to prove it by a reductio ad absurdum. No one, he says, can doubt consciousness, because, doubt being itself consciousness, to doubt consciousness would be to doubt that we doubt. He sets so high a value on this argument, that he is continually recurring to it in his writings; it actually amounts to a feature of his philosophy.* Yet it seems to me no better than a fallacy. It treats doubt as something positive, like certainty, forgetting that doubt is uncertainty. Doubt is not a state of consciousness, but the negation of a state of consciousness. Being nothing positive, but simply the absence of a belief, it seems to be the one intellectual fact which may be true without self-affirmation of its truth; without our either believing or disbelieving that we doubt. If doubt is anything other than merely negative, it means an insufficient assurance; a disposition to believe, with an inability to believe confidently. But there are degrees of insufficiency; and if we suppose, for argument’s sake, that it is possible to doubt consciousness, it may be possible to doubt different facts of consciousness in different degrees. The general uncertainty of consciousness might be the one fact that appeared least uncertain. The saying of Socrates, that the only thing he knew was Edition: current; Page: [130] that he knew nothing, expresses a conceivable and not inconsistent state of mind.[*] The only thing he felt perfectly sure of may have been that he was sure of nothing else. Omitting Socrates (who was no sceptic as to the reality of knowledge, but only as to its having yet been attained) and endeavouring to conceive the hazy state of mind of a person who doubts the evidence of his senses, it is quite possible to suppose him doubting even whether he doubts. Most people, I should think, must have found themselves in something like this predicament as to particular facts, of which their assurance is all but perfect; they are not quite certain that they are uncertain.*

But though our author’s proof of the position is as untenable as it is superfluous, all agree with him in the position itself, that a real fact of consciousness cannot be doubted or denied. Let us now, therefore, return to his distinction between the facts “given in the act of consciousness,”[†] and those “to the reality of which it only bears evidence.”[‡] These last, or, in other words, “the veracity of consciousness,” Sir W. Hamilton thinks it Edition: current; Page: [131] possible to doubt or deny; he even says, that such facts, more or fewer in number, have been doubted or denied by nearly the whole body of modern philosophers. But this is a statement of the point in issue between Sir W. Hamilton and modern philosophers, the correctness of which, I will venture to affirm that very few if any of them would admit. He represents “nearly the whole body of modern philosophers”[*] as in the peculiar and paradoxical position, of believing that consciousness declares to them and to all mankind the truth of certain facts, and then of disbelieving those facts. That great majority of philosophers of whom Sir W. Hamilton speaks, would, I apprehend, altogether deny this statement. They never dreamed of disputing the veracity of consciousness. They denied what Sir W. Hamilton thinks bitb impossible to deny; the fact of its testimony. They thought it did not testify to the facts to which he thinks it testifies. Had they thought as he does respecting the testimony, they would have thought as he does respecting the facts. As it is, many of them maintained that consciousness gives no testimony to anything beyond itself; that whatever knowledge we possess, or whatever belief we find in ourselves, of anything but the feelings and operations of our own minds, has been acquired subsequently to the first beginnings of our intellectual life, and was not witnessed to by consciousness when it received its first impressions. Others, again, did believe in a testimony of consciousness, but not in the testimony ascribed to it by Sir W. Hamilton. Facts, to which in his opinion it testifies, some of them did not believe at all, others did not believe them to be known intuitively; nay, many of them both believed the facts, and believed that they were known intuitively, and if they differed from Sir W. Hamilton, differed in the merest shadow of a shade; yet it is with these last, as we shall see, that he has his greatest quarrel. In his contest, therefore, with (as he says) the majority of philosophers, Sir W. Hamilton addresses his arguments to the wrong point. He thinks it needless to prove that the testimony to which he appeals, is really given by Consciousness, for that he regards as undenied and undeniable: but he is incessantly proving to us that we ought to believe our consciousness, a thing which few, if any, of his opponents denied.* It is true his appeal is always to the same argument, but that he is never tired of reiterating. It is stated the most systematically in the first Dissertation on Reid, that “on the Philosophy of Common Sense.” After Edition: current; Page: [132] saying that there are certain primary elements of cognition, manifesting themselves to us as facts of which consciousness assures us, he continues,

How, it is asked, do these primary propositions—these cognitions at first hand—these fundamental facts, feelings, beliefs, certify us of their own veracity? To this the only possible answer is, that as elements of our mental constitution—as the essential conditions of our knowledge, they must by us be accepted as true. To suppose their falsehood, is to suppose that we are created capable of intelligence, in order to be made the victims of delusion; that God is a deceiver, and the root of our nature a lie:*

that man is “organized for the attainment, and actuated by the love of truth, only to become the dupe and victim of a perfidious creator.” It appears, therefore, that the testimony of consciousness must be believed, because to disbelieve it, would be to impute mendacity and perfidy to the Creator.

But there is a preliminary difficulty to be here resolved, which may be stated without irreverence. If the proof of the trustworthiness of consciousness is the veracity of the Creator, on what does the Creator’s veracity itself rest? Is it not on the evidence of consciousness? The divine veracity can only be known in two ways, 1st, by intuition, or 2ndly, through evidence. If it is known by intuition, it is itself a fact of consciousness, and to have ground for believing it, we must assume that consciousness is trustworthy. Those who say that we have a direct intuition of God, are only saying in other words that consciousness testifies to him. If we hold, on the contrary, with our author, that God is not known by intuition, but proved by evidence, that evidence must rest, in the last resort, on consciousness. All proofs of religion, natural or revealed, must be derived either from the testimony of the senses, or from internal feelings of the mind, or from reasonings of which one or other of these sources supplied the premises. Religion, thus itself resting on the evidence of consciousness, cannot be invoked to prove that consciousness ought to be believed. We must already trust our consciousness, before we can have any evidence of the truth of religion.

I know not whether it is from an obscure sense of this objection to his argument, that Sir W. Hamilton adopts what, in every other point of view, is a very extraordinary limitation of it. After representing the veracity of the Creator as staked on the truth of the testimony of Consciousness, he is content to claim this argument as not amounting to proof, but only to a primâ facie presumption. “Such a supposition” as that of a perfidious creator, “if gratuitous, is manifestly illegitimate.” “The data of our original consciousness must, it is evident, in the first instance” (the italics are the Edition: current; Page: [133] author’s), “be presumed true. It is only if proved false,” which citc can only be by showing them to be inconsistent with one another, “that their authority can, in consequence of that proof, be, in the second instance, disallowed.”[*] “Neganti incumbit probatio. Nature is not gratuitously to be assumed to work, not only in vain, but in counteraction of herself; our faculty of knowledge is not, without a ground, to be supposed an instrument of illusion.”* It is making a very humble claim for the veracity of the Creator, that it should be held valid merely as a presumption, in the absence of contrary evidence; that the Divine Being, like a prisoner at the bar, should be presumed innocent until proved guilty. Far, however, from intending this remark in any invidious sense against Sir W. Hamilton, I regard it as one of his titles to honour, that he has not been afraid, as many men would have been, to subject a proposition surrounded by reverence to the same logical treatment as any other statement, and has not felt himself obliged, as a philosopher, to consider it from the first as final. My complaint dcould only bed, that his logic is not sufficiently consistente; and that thee divine veracity is entitled either to more or to less weight than he accords to it. He is bound by the laws of correct reasoning to prove his premise without the aid of the conclusion which he means to draw from it. If he can do this—if the divine veracity is certified by stronger evidence than the testimony of consciousness, it may be appealed to, not merely as a presumption, but as a proof. If not, it is entitled to no place in the discussion, even as a presumption. There is no intermediate position for it, good enough for the one purpose, but not good enough for the other. It would be a new view of the fallacy of petitio principii to contend that a conclusion is no proof of the premises from which it is deduced, but is primâ facie evidence of them.

Our author, however, cannot be convicted of petitio principii. Though he has not stated, I think he has enabled us to see, in what manner he avoided it. True, he has deduced the trustworthiness of consciousness from the veracity of the Deity; and the veracity of the Deity can only be known from the evidence of consciousness. But he may fall back upon the distinction between facts given in consciousness itself, and facts “to the reality of which it only bears evidence.”[†] It is for the trustworthiness of these last, that he assigns as presumptive evidence (which the absence of counter-evidence raises into proof) the divine veracity. That veracity itself, he may Edition: current; Page: [134] say, is proved by consciousness, but to prove it requires only the other class of facts of consciousness, those given in the act of consciousness itself. There are thus two steps in the argument. “The phænomena of consciousness considered merely in themselves,” with reference to which “scepticism is confessedly impossible,”* suffice (we must suppose him to think) for proving the divine veracity; and that veracity, being proved, is in its turn a reason for trusting the testimony which consciousness pronounces to facts without and beyond itself.

Unless, therefore, Sir W. Hamilton was guilty of a paralogism, by adducing religion in proof of what is necessary to the proof of religion, his opinion must have been that our knowledge of God rests upon the affirmation which Consciousness makes of itself, and not of anything beyond itself; that the divine existence and attributes may be proved without assuming that consciousness testifies to anything but our own feelings and mental operations. If this be so, we have Sir W. Hamilton’s authority for affirming, that even the most extreme form of philosophical scepticism, the Nihilism (as our author calls it)[*] of Hume, which denies the objective existence of both Matter and Mind, does not touch the evidences of Natural Religion. And it really does not touch any evidences but such as religion can well spare. But what a mass of religious prejudice has been directed against this philosophical doctrine, on the strength of what we have now Sir W. Hamilton’s authority for treating as a mere misapprehension.

But something more is necessary to render the divine veracity available in support of the testimony of consciousness, against those, if such there be, who admit the fact of the testimony, but hesitate to admit its truth. The divine veracity can only be implicated in the truth of anything, by proving that the Divine Being intended it to be believed. As it is not pretended that he has made any revelation in the matter, his intention can only be inferred from the fresultf: and our author draws the inference from his having made it an original and indestructible part of our nature that our consciousness should declare to us certain facts. Now this is what the philosophers who disbelieve the facts, would not, any of them, admit. Many indeed have Edition: current; Page: [135] admitted that we have a natural tendency to believe something which they considered to be an illusion: but it cannot be affirmed that God intended us to do whatever we have a natural tendency to. On every theory of the divine government, it is carried on, intellectually as well as morally, not by the mere indulgence of our natural tendencies, but by the regulation and control of them. One philosopher, Hume, has said that the tendency in question seems to be an “instinct,” and has called a psychological doctrine, which he regarded as groundless, as “universal and primary opinion of all men.” But he never dreamed of saying that we are compelled by our nature to believe it; on the contrary, he says that this illusive opinion “is soon destroyed by the slightest philosophy.”[*] Of all eminent thinkers, the one who comes nearest to our author’s description of those who reject the testimony of consciousness, is Kant. That philosopher did maintain that there is an illusion inherent in our constitution; that we cannot help conceiving as belonging to Things themselves, attributes with which they are only clothed by the laws of our sensitive and intellectual faculties.[†] But he gdrew a marked distinction between an illusion and a delusion. Heg did not believe in a mystification practised on us by the Supreme Being, nor would he have admitted that God intended us permanently to mistake the conditions of our mental conceptions for properties of the things themselves. If God has provided us with the means of correcting an error, it is probable that he does not intend us to be misled by it: and in matters speculative as well as practical, it surely is more religious to see the purposes of God in the dictates of our deliberate reason, than in those of a “blind and powerful instinct of nature.”[‡]

As regards almost all, however, if not all philosophers, it may truly be said, that the questions which have divided them have never turned on the veracity of consciousness. Consciousness, in the sense usually attached to it by philosophers,—consciousness of the mind’s own feelings and operations, cannot, as our author truly says, be disbelieved. The inward fact, the feeling in our own minds, was never doubted, since to do so would be to doubt that we feel what we feel. What our author calls the testimony of consciousness to something beyond itself, may be, and is, denied; but what is denied, has almost always been that consciousness gives the testimony; not that, if given, it must be believed.

At first sight it might seem as if there could not possibly be any doubt Edition: current; Page: [136] whether our consciousness does or does not affirm any given thing. Nor can there, if consciousness means, as it usually does, self-consciousness. If consciousness tells me that I have a certain thought or sensation, I assuredly have that thought or sensation. But if consciousness, as with Sir W. Hamilton, means a power which can tell me things that are not phænomena of my own mind, there is immediately the broadest divergence of opinion as to what are the things htoh which consciousness testifies. There is nothing which people do not think and say that they know by consciousness, provided they do not remember any time when they did not know or believe it, and are not aware in what manner they came by the belief. For Consciousness, in this extended sense, is, as iIi have so often observed, but another word for Intuitive Knowledge: and whatever other things we may know in that manner, we certainly do not know by intuition what knowledge is intuitive. It is a subject on which both the vulgar and the ablest thinkers are constantly making mistakes. No one is better aware of this than Sir W. Hamilton. I transcribe a few of the many passages in which he has acknowledged it. “Errors” may arise by attributing to “intelligence as necessary and original data, what are only contingent generalizations from experience, and consequently, make no part of its complement of native truths.”* And again: “Many philosophers have attempted to establish on the principles of common sense propositions which are not original data of consciousness; while the original data of consciousness, from which their propositions were derived, and to which they owed their whole necessity and truth—these data the same philosophers were (strange to say) not disposed to admit.” It fares still worse with the philosophers chargeable with this error, when Sir W. Hamilton comes into personal controversy with them. M. Cousin’s mode of proceeding, for example, he characterizes thus: “Assertion is substituted for proof; facts of consciousness are alleged, which consciousness never knew; and paradoxes that baffle argument, are promulgated as intuitive truths, above the necessity of confirmation.” M. Cousin’s particular misinterpretation of consciousness was, as we saw, that of supposing that each of its acts testifies to three things, of which three Edition: current; Page: [137] Sir W. Hamilton thinks that it testifies only to one. Besides the finite element, consisting of a Self and a Not-self, M. Cousin believes that there are directly revealed in Consciousness an Infinite (God) and a relation between this Infinite and the Finite.[*] But it is not only M. Cousin who, in our author’s opinion, mistakes the testimony of consciousness. He brings the same charge against a thinker with whom he agrees much oftener than with M. Cousin; against Reid. That philosopher, as we have seen, is of opinion, contrary to Sir W. Hamilton, that we have an immediate knowledge of things past. This is to be conscious of them in Sir W. Hamilton’s sense of the word, though not in Reid’s. Finally, Sir W. Hamilton imputes a similar error, no longer to any particular metaphysician, but to the world at large. He says that we do not see the sun, but only a luminous image, in immediate contiguity to the eye, and that no two persons see the same sun, but every person a different one. Now it is assuredly the universal belief of mankind that all of them see the same sun, and that this is the very sun which rises and sets, and which is 95 (or according to more recent researches 92) millions of miles distant from the earth. Nor can any of the appeals of Reid and Sir W. Hamilton from the sophistries of metaphysicians to Common Sense and the universal sentiment of mankind, be more emphatic than that to which Sir W. Hamilton here lays himself open from Reid and from the non-metaphysical world.*

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We see, therefore, that it is not enough to say that something is testified by Consciousness, and refer all dissentients to Consciousness to prove it. Substitute for Consciousness the equivalent phrase (in our author’s acceptation at least) Intuitive Knowledge, and it is seen that this is not a thing which can be proved by mere introspection of ourselves. Introspection can show us a present belief or conviction, attended with a greater or a less difficulty in accommodating the thoughts to a different view of the subject: but that this belief, or conviction, or knowledge, if we call it so, is intuitive, no mere introspection can ever show; unless we are at liberty to assume that every mental process which is now as unhesitating and as rapid as intuition, was intuitive at its outset. Reid, in his commencements at least, often expressed himself as if he believed this to be the case: Sir W. Hamilton, wiser than Reid, knew better. With him (at least in his better moments) the question, what is and is not revealed by Consciousness, is a question for philosophers. “The first problem of philosophy” is “to seek out, purify, and establish, by intellectual analysis and criticism, the elementary feelings or beliefs, in which are given the elementary truths of which all are in possession:” this problem, he admits, is “of no easy accomplishment;” and the “argument from common sense” is thus

manifestly dependent on philosophy as an art, as an acquired dexterity, and cannot, notwithstanding the errors which they have so frequently committed, be taken out of the hands of the philosophers. Common Sense is like Common Law. Each may be laid down as the general rule of decision; but in the one case it must be left to the Edition: current; Page: [139] jurist, in the other to the philosopher, to ascertain what are the contents of the rule; and though in both instances the common man may be cited as a witness for the custom or the fact, in neither can he be allowed to officiate as advocate or as judge.*

So far, good. But now, it being conceded that the question, what do we know intuitively, or, in Sir W. Hamilton’s phraseology, what does our consciousness testify, is not, as might be supposed, a matter of simple self-examination, but of science, it has still to be determined in what manner science should set about it. And here emerges the distinction between two different methods of studying the problems of metaphysics, forming the radical difference between the two great schools into which metaphysicians are fundamentally divided. One of these I shall call, for distinction, the introspective method; the other, the psychological.

The elaborate and acute criticism on the philosophy of Locke, which is perhaps the most striking portion of M. Cousin’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, sets out with a remark which sums up the characteristics of the two great schools of mental philosophy, by a summary description of their methods. M. Cousin observes, that Locke went wrong from the beginning, by placing before himself, as the question to be first resolved, the origin of our ideas.[*] This was commencing at the wrong end. The proper course would have been to begin by determining what the ideas now are; to ascertain what it is that consciousness actually tells us, postponing till afterwards the attempt to frame a theory concerning the origin of any of the mental phænomena.

I accept the question as M. Cousin states it, and I contend, that no attempt to determine what are the direct revelations of consciousness, can be successful, or entitled to any regard, unless preceded by what M. Cousin says ought only to follow it, an inquiry into the origin of our acquired ideas. For we have it not in our power to ascertain, by any direct process, what Consciousness told us at the time when its revelations were in their pristine purity. It only offers itself to our inspection as it exists now, when those original revelations are overlaid and buried under a mountainous heap of acquired notions and perceptions.

It seems to M. Cousin that if we examine, with care and minuteness, our present states of consciousness, distinguishing and defining every ingredient which we find to enter into them—every element that we seem to recognise as real, and cannot, by merely concentrating our attention upon it, analyse into anything simpler—we reach the ultimate and primary truths, which are the sources of all our knowledge, and which cannot be Edition: current; Page: [140] denied or doubted without denying or doubting the evidence of consciousness itself, that is, the only evidence which there is for anything. I maintain this to be a misapprehension of the conditions imposed on inquirers by the difficulties of psychological investigation. To begin the inquiry at the point where M. Cousin takes it up, is in fact to beg the question. For he must be aware, if not of the fact, at least of the belief of his opponents, that the laws of the mind—the laws of association according to one class of thinkers, the Categories of the Understanding according to another—are capable of creating, out of those data of consciousness which are uncontested, purely mental conceptions, which become so identified in thought with all our states of consciousness, that we seem, and cannot but seem, to receive them by direct intuition; and, for example, the belief in Matter, in the opinion of some of these thinkers, is, or at least may be, thus produced. Idealists, and Sceptics, contend that the belief in Matter is not an original fact of consciousness, as our sensations are, and is therefore wanting in the requisite which, in M. Cousin’s and Sir W. Hamilton’s opinion, gives to our subjective convictions objective authority. Now, be these persons right or wrong, they cannot be refuted in the mode in which M. Cousin and Sir W. Hamilton attempt to do so—by appealing to Consciousness itself. For we have no means of interrogating consciousness in the only circumstances in which it is possible for it to give a trustworthy answer. Could we try the experiment of the first consciousness in any infant—its first reception of the impressions which we call external; whatever was present in that first consciousness would be the genuine testimony of Consciousness, and would be as much entitled to credit, indeed there would be as little possibility of discrediting it, as our sensations themselves. But we have no means of now ascertaining, by direct evidence, whether we were conscious of outward and extended objects when we first opened our eyes to the light. That a belief or knowledge of such objects is in our consciousness now, whenever we use our eyes or our muscles, is no reason for concluding that it was there from the beginning, until we have settled the question whether it could possibly have been brought in since. If any mode can be pointed out in which within the compass of possibility it might have been brought in, the hypothesis must be examined and disproved before we are entitled to conclude that the conviction is an original deliverance of consciousness. The proof that any of the alleged Universal Beliefs, or Principles of Common Sense, are affirmations of consciousness, supposes two things; that the beliefs exist, and that lthere are no means by which they couldl have been acquired. The first is in most cases undisputed, but the second is a subject of inquiry which often taxes the utmost resources of psychology. Edition: current; Page: [141] Locke was therefore right in believing that “the origin of our ideas” is the main stress of the problem of mental science, and the subject which must be first considered in forming the theory of the Mind.[*] Being unable to examine the actual contents of our consciousness until our earliest, which are necessarily our most firmly knit associations, those which are most intimately interwoven with the original data of consciousness, are fully formed, we cannot study the original elements of mind in the facts of our present consciousness. Those original elements can only come to light as residual phænomena, by a previous study of the modes of generation of the mental facts which are confessedly not original; a study sufficiently thorough to enable us to apply its results to the convictions, beliefs, or supposed intuitions which seem to be original, and to determine whether some of them may not have been generated in the same modes, so early as to have become inseparable from our consciousness before the time mto which memory goes backm. This mode of ascertaining the original elements of mind I calln, for want of a better word,n the psychological, as distinguished from the simply introspective mode. It is the known and approved method of physical science, adapted to the necessities of psychology.*

It might be supposed from incidental expressions of Sir W. Hamilton, that he was alive to the need of a methodical scientific investigation, to determine what portion of our “natural beliefs” are really original, and what are inferences, or acquired impressions, mistakenly deemed intuitive. To the declarations already quoted to this effect, the following may be added. Speaking of Descartes’ plan, of commencing philosophy by a reconsideration Edition: current; Page: [142] of all our fundamental opinions,[*] he says, “There are among our prejudices, or pretended cognitions, a great many hasty conclusions, the investigation of which requires much profound thought, skill, and acquired knowledge. . . . To commence philosophy by such a review, it is necessary for a man to be a philosopher before he can attempt to become one.”* And he elsewhere bestows high praise upon Aristotle for not falling “into the error of many modern philosophers, in confounding the natural and necessary with the habitual and acquired connexions of thought,” nor attempting “to evolve the conditions under which we think from the tendencies generated by thinking;” a praise which cannot be bestowed on our author himself. But, notwithstanding the ample concession which he appeared to make when he admitted that the problem was one of extreme difficulty, essentially scientific, and ought to be reserved for philosophers, I regret to say that he as completely sets at naught the only possible method of solving it, as M. Cousin himself. He even expresses his contempt for that method. Speaking of Extension, he says, “It is truly an idle problem to attempt imagining the steps by which we may be supposed to have acquired the notion of Extension, when, in fact, we are unable to imagine to ourselves the possibility of that notion not being always in our possession.” That things which we “are unable to imagine to ourselves the possibility of,” may be, and many of them must be, true, was a doctrine which we thought we had learnt from the author of the Philosophy of the Conditioned. That we cannot imagine a time at which we had no knowledge of Extension, is no evidence that there has not been such a time. There are mental laws, recognised by Sir W. Hamilton himself, which would inevitably cause such a state of things to become inconceivable to us, even if it once existed. There are artificial inconceivabilities equal in strength to any natural. Indeed it is questionable if there are any natural inconceivabilities, or if anything is inconceivable to us for any other reason than because Nature does not afford the combinations in experience which are necessary to make it conceivable.

I do not think that there can be found, in all Sir W. Hamilton’s writings, a single instance in which, before registering a belief as a part of our consciousness from the beginning, he thinks it necessary to ascertain that it ocannoto have grown up subsequently. He demands, indeed, “that no fact be assumed as a fact of consciousness but what is ultimate and simple.” But Edition: current; Page: [143] to pronounce it ultimate, the only condition he requires is that we be not able to “reduce it to a generalization from experience.” This condition is realized by its possessing the “character of necessity.” “It must be impossible not to think it. In fact, by its necessity alone can we recognise it as an original datum of intelligence, and distinguish it from any mere result of generalization and custom.”* In this Sir W. Hamilton is at one with the whole of his own section of the philosophical world; with Reid, with Stewart, with Cousin, with Whewell, pand we may add, with Kantp. The test by which they all decide a belief to be a part of our primitive consciousness—an original intuition of the mind—is the necessity of thinking it. Their proof that we must always, from the beginning, have had the belief, is the impossibility of getting rid of it now. This argument, applied to any of the disputed questions of philosophy, is doubly illegitimate: neither the major nor the minor premise is admissible. For, in the first place, the very fact that the qquestions areq disputed, disproves the alleged impossibility. Those against rwhose dissentr it is needful to defend the belief which Edition: current; Page: [144] is affirmed to be necessary, are unmistakeable examples that it is not necessary. It may be a necessary belief to those who think it so; they may personally be quite incapable of not holding it. But even if this incapability extended to all mankind, it might be merely the effect of a strong association; Edition: current; Page: [145] like the impossibility of believing Antipodes; and it cannot be shown that even where the impossibility is, for the time, real, it might not, as in that case, be overcome. The history of science teems with inconceivabilities which have been conquered, and supposed necessary truths which have first ceased to be thought necessary, then to be thought true, and have finally come to be deemed impossible.* These philosophers, Edition: current; Page: [146] therefore, and among them Sir W. Hamilton, mistake altogether the true conditions of psychological investigation, when, instead of proving a belief to be an original fact of consciousness by showing that it scannot, by any known means,s have been acquired, they conclude that it was not acquired, for the reason, often false, and never sufficiently substantiated, that our consciousness cannot get rid of it now.

Since, then, Sir W. Hamilton not only neglects, but repudiates, the only scientific mode of ascertaining our original beliefs, what does he mean by Edition: current; Page: [147] treating the question as one of science, and in what manner does he apply science to it? Theoretically, he claims for science an exclusive jurisdiction over the whole domain, but practically he gives it nothing to do except to settle the relations of the supposed intuitive beliefs among themselves. It is the province of science, he thinks, to resolve some of these beliefs into others. He prescribes, as tat rule of judgment, what he calls “the Law of Parcimony.” No greater number of ultimate beliefs are to be postulated than is strictly indispensable. Where one such belief can be looked upon as a particular case of another—the belief in Matter, for instance, of the cognition of a Non-ego—the more special of the two necessities of thought merges in the more general one. This identification of two necessities of thought, and subsumption of one of them under the other, he is not wrong in regarding as a function of science. He affords an example of it, when, in a manner which we shall hereafter characterize, he denies to Causation the character, which philosophers of his school have commonly assigned to it, of an ultimate belief, and attempts to identify it with another and more general law of thought. This limited function is the only one which, it seems to me, is reserved for science in Sir W. Hamilton’s mode of studying the primary facts of consciousness. In the mode he practises of ascertaining them to be facts of consciousness, there is nothing for science to do. For, to call them so because in his opinion he himself, and those who agree with him, cannot get rid of the belief in them, does not seem exactly a scientific process.* It is, however, characteristic of what I have called the introspective, Edition: current; Page: [148] in contradistinction to the psychological, method of metaphysical inquiry. The difference between these methods will now be exemplified by showing them at work on a particular question, the most fundamental one in philosophy, the distinction between the Ego and the Non-ego.

We shall first examine what Sir W. Hamilton has done by his method, and shall afterwards attempt to exemplify the use which can be made of the other.

Edition: current; Page: [149]

CHAPTER X: Sir William Hamilton’s View of the Different Theories Respecting the Belief in an External World

sir w. hamilton brings a very serious charge against the great majority of philosophers. He accuses them of playing fast and loose with the testimony of consciousness; rejecting it when it is inconvenient, but appealing to it as conclusive when they have need of it to establish any of their opinions. “No philosopher has ever openly thrown off allegiance to the authority of consciousness.”* No one denies “that as all philosophy is evolved from consciousness, so, on the truth of consciousness, the possibility of all philosophy is dependent.” But if any testimony of consciousness be supposed false,

the truth of no other fact of consciousness can be maintained. The legal brocard, Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, is a rule not more applicable to other witnesses than to consciousness. Thus every system of philosophy which implies the negation of any fact of consciousness is not only necessarily unable, without self-contradiction, to establish its own truth by any appeal to consciousness; it is also unable, without self-contradiction, to appeal to consciousness against the falsehood of any other system. If the absolute and universal veracity of consciousness be once surrendered, every system is equally true, or rather all are equally false; philosophy is impossible, for it has now no instrument by which truth can be discovered, no standard by which it can be tried; the root of our nature is a lie. But though it is thus manifestly the common interest of every scheme of philosophy to preserve intact the integrity of consciousness, almost every scheme of philosophy is only another mode in which this integrity has been violated. If, therefore, I am able to prove the fact of this various violation, and to show that the facts of consciousness have never, or hardly ever, been fairly evolved, it will follow, as I said, that no reproach can be justly addressed to consciousness as an ill-informed, or vacillating, or perfidious witness, but to those only who were too proud or too negligent to accept its testimony, to employ its materials, and obey its laws.

That nearly all philosophers have merited this imputation, our author Edition: current; Page: [150] endeavours to show by a classified enumeration of the various theories which they have maintained respecting the perception of material objects. No instance can be better suited for trying the dispute. The question of an external world is the great battle-ground of metaphysics, not so much from its importance in itself, as because while it relates to the most familiar of all our mental acts, it forcibly illustrates the characteristic differences between the two metaphysical methods.

“We are immediately conscious in perception,” says Sir W. Hamilton,

of an ego and a non-ego, known together, and known in contrast to each other. This is the fact of the Duality of Consciousness. It is clear and manifest. When I concentrate my attention in the simplest act of perception, I return from my observation with the most irresistible conviction of two facts, or rather two branches of the same fact; that I am, and that something different from me exists. In this act I am conscious of myself as the perceiving subject, and of an external reality as the object perceived; and I am conscious of both existences in the same indivisible moment of intuition. The knowledge of the subject does not precede, nor follow, the knowledge of the object; neither determines, neither is determined by the other. Such is the fact of perception revealed in consciousness, and as it determines mankind in general in their almost equal assurance of the reality of an external world, as of the existence of our own minds.[*]

We may, therefore, lay it down as an undisputed truth, that consciousness gives, as an ultimate fact, a primitive duality; a knowledge of the ego in relation and contrast to the non-ego; and a knowledge of the non-ego in relation and contrast to the ego. The ego and non-ego are thus given in an original synthesis, as conjoined in the unity of knowledge, and in an original antithesis, as opposed in the contrariety of existence. In other words, we are conscious of them in an indivisible act of knowledge together and at once, but we are conscious of them as, in themselves, different and exclusive of each other.

Again, consciousness not only gives us a duality, but it gives its elements in equal counterpoise and independence. The ego and non-ego—mind and matter—are not only given together, but in absolute co-equality. The one does not precede, the other does not follow: and in their mutual relation, each is equally dependent, equally independent. Such is the fact as given in and by consciousness.

Or rather (he should have said) such is the answer we receive, when we examine and interrogate our present consciousness. To assert more than this, merely on this evidence, is to beg the question instead of solving it.

Philosophers have not, however, been content to accept the fact in its integrity, but have been pleased to accept it only under such qualifications as it suited their systems to devise. In truth, there are just as many different philosophical systems originating in this fact, as it admits of various possible modifications. An enumeration of these modifications, accordingly, affords an enumeration of philosophical theories.

In the first place, there is the grand division of philosophers into those who do, Edition: current; Page: [151] and those who do not, accept the fact in its integrity. Of modern philosophers, almost all are comprehended under the latter category, while of the former, if we do not remount to the schoolmen and the ancients, I am only aware of a single philosopher before Reid,[*] who did not reject, at least in part, the fact as consciousness affords it.

As it is always expedient to possess a precise name for a precise distinction, I would be inclined to denominate those who implicitly acquiesce in the primitive duality as given in consciousness, the Natural Realists, or Natural Dualists, and their doctrine, Natural Realism or Natural Dualism.

This is, of course, the author’s own doctrine.

In the second place, the philosophers who do not accept the fact, and the whole fact, may be divided and subdivided into various classes by various principles of distribution.

The first subdivision will be taken from the total, or partial, rejection of the import of the fact. I have previously shown that to deny any fact of consciousness as an actual phænomenon is utterly impossible.

(But it is very far from impossible to believe that something which we now confound with consciousness, may have been altogether foreign to consciousness awhen this was unmingled with acquired impressionsa.)

But though necessarily admitted as a present phænomenon, the import of this phænomenon—all beyond our actual consciousness of its existence—may be denied. We are able, without self-contradiction, to suppose, and consequently to assert, that all to which the phænomenon of which we are conscious refers, is a deception; [say rather, an unwarranted inference;] that for example, the past, to which an act of memory refers, is only an illusion involved in our consciousness of the present,—that the unknown subject to which every phænomenon of which we are conscious involves a reference, has no reality beyond this reference itself,—in short, that all our knowledge of mind or matter is only a consciousness of various bundles of baseless appearances. This doctrine, as refusing a substantial reality to the phænomenal existence of which we are conscious, is called Nihilism; and consequently, philosophers, as they affirm or deny the authority of consciousness in guaranteeing a substratum or substance to the manifestation of the ego and non-ego, are divided into Realists or Substantialists, and into Nihilists or Non-Substantialists. Of positive or dogmatic Nihilism there is no example in modern philosophy. . . . But as a sceptical conclusion from the premises of previous philosophers, we have an illustrious example of Nihilism in Hume; and the celebrated Fichte admits that the speculative principles of his own idealism would, unless corrected by his practical, terminate in this result.*

The Realists, or Substantialists, those who do believe in a substratum, but reject the testimony of consciousness to an immediate cognizance of an Edition: current; Page: [152] Ego and a Non-ego, our author divides into two classes, according as they admit the real existence of two substrata, or only of one. These last, whom he denominates Unitarians or Monists, either acknowledge the ego alone, or the non-ego alone, or regard the two as identical. Those who admit the ego alone, looking upon the non-ego as a product evolved from it (i.e. as something purely mental) are the Idealists. Those who admit the non-ego alone, and regard the ego as evolved from it (i.e. as purely material) are the Materialists. The third class acknowledge the equipoise of the two, but deny their antithesis, maintaining “that mind and matter are only phænomenal modifications of the same common substance. This is the doctrine of Absolute Identity, a doctrine of which the most illustrious representatives among recent philosophers are Schelling, Hegel, and Cousin.”*

There remain those who admit the coequal reality of the Ego and the Non-ego, of mind and matter, and also their distinctness from one another, but deny that they are known immediately. These are Dualists, but

are distinguished from the Natural Dualists of whom we formerly spoke, in this—that the latter establish the existence of the two worlds of mind and matter on the immediate knowledge we possess of both series of phænomena—a knowledge of which consciousness assures us; whereas the former, surrendering the veracity of consciousness to our immediate knowledge of material phænomena, and consequently, our immediate knowledge of the existence of matter, still endeavour, by various hypotheses and reasonings, to maintain the existence of an unknown external world. As we denominate those who maintain a Dualism as involved in the fact of consciousness, Natural Dualists; so we may style those dualists who deny the evidence of consciousness to our immediate knowledge of aught beyond the sphere of mind, Hypothetical Dualists, or Cosmothetic Idealists.

To the class of Cosmothetic Idealists, the great majority of modern philosophers are to be referred. Denying an immediate or intuitive knowledge of the external reality, whose existence they maintain, they, of course, hold a doctrine of mediate or representative perception; and, according to the various modifications of that doctrine, they are again subdivided into those who view, in the immediate object of perception, a representative entity present to the mind, but not a mere mental modification, and into those who hold that the immediate object is only a representative modification of the mind itself. It is not always easy to determine to which of these classes some philosophers belong. To the former, or class holding the cruder hypothesis of representation, certainly belong the followers of Democritus and Epicurus, those Aristotelians who held the vulgar doctrine of species (Aristotle himself was probably a natural dualist), and in recent times, among many others, Malebranche, Berkeley, Clarke, Newton, Abraham Tucker, &c. To these is also, but problematically, to be referred, Locke. To the second, or class holding the finer hypothesis of representation, belong, without any doubt, many of the Platonists, Leibnitz, Arnauld, Crousaz, Condillac, Kant, &c., and to this class is also probably to be referred Descartes.

In our own country the best known and typical specimen of this mode of Edition: current; Page: [153] thinking, is Brown; and it is upon him that our author discharges most of the shafts which this class of thinkers, as being the least distant from him of all his opponents, copiously receive from him.*

With regard to the various opinions thus enumerated, I shall first make a remark of general application, and shall then advert particularly to the objects of Sir W. Hamilton’s more especial animadversion, the Cosmothetic Idealists.

Concerning all these classes of thinkers, except the Natural Realists, Sir W. Hamilton’s statement is, that they deny some part of the testimony of consciousness, and by so doing invalidate the appeals which they nevertheless make to consciousness, as a voucher for their own doctrines. If he had said that they all run counter, in some particular, to the general sentiment of mankind—that they all deny some common opinion, some natural belief (meaning by natural, not one which rests on a necessity of our nature, but merely one which, in common with innumerable varieties of false opinion, mankind have a strong tendency to adopt); had he said only this, no one could have contested its truth; but it would not have been a reductio ad absurdum of his opponents. For all philosophers, Sir W. Hamilton as much as the rest, deny some common opinions, which others might call natural beliefs, but which those who deny them consider, and have a right to consider, as natural prejudices; held, nevertheless, by the generality of Edition: current; Page: [154] mankind in the persuasion of their being self-evident, or, in other words, intuitive, and deliverances of consciousness. Some of the points on which Sir W. Hamilton is at issue with natural beliefs, relate to the very subject in hand—the perception of external things. We have found him maintaining that we do not see the sun, but an image of it, and that no two persons see the same sun; in contradiction to as clear a case as could be given of natural belief. And we shall find him affirming, in opposition to an equally strong natural belief, that we immediately perceive extension only in our own organs, and not in the objects we see or touch. Beliefs, therefore, which seem among the most natural that can be entertained, are sometimes, in his opinion, delusive; and he has told us that to discriminate which these are, is not within the competence of everybody, but only of philosophers. He would say, of course, that the beliefs which he rejects were not in our consciousness originally. And nearly all his opponents say the same thing of those which they reject. Those, indeed, who, like Kant, believe that there are elements present, even at the first moment of internal consciousness, which do not exist in the object, but are derived from the mind’s own laws, are fairly open to Sir W. Hamilton’s criticism. It is not my business to justify, in point of consistency, any more than of conclusiveness, theb reasoning, by which Kant, after getting rid of the outward reality of all the attributes of Body, persuades himself that he demonstrates the externality of Body itself.* But, as regards all existing schools of thought not descended from Kant, Sir W. Hamilton’s accusation is without ground.

There is something more to be said respecting the mixed multitude of metaphysicians whom our author groups together under the title of Cosmothetic Idealists, and whose mode of thought he judges more harshly than that of any other school. He represents them as holding the doctrine that we perceive external objects, not by an immediate, but by a mediate or representative perception. And he recognises three divisions of them, according to three different forms in which this hypothesis may be entertained. The supposed representative object may be regarded, first, as not a Edition: current; Page: [155] state of mind, but something else; either external to the mind, like the species sensibiles of some of the ancients, and the “motions of the brain” of some of the early moderns;[*] or in the mind, like the Ideas of Berkeley. Secondly, it may be regarded as a state of mind, but a state different from the mind’s act in perceiving or being conscious of it: of this kind, perhaps, are the Ideas of Locke. Or, thirdly, as a state of mind identical with the act by which we are said to perceive it. This last is the form in which, as Sir W. Hamilton truly says, the doctrine was held by Brown.*

Now, the first two of these three opinions may fairly be called what our author calls them—theories of mediate or representative perception. The object which, in these theories, the mind is supposed directly to perceive, is a tertium quid, which by the one theory is, and by the other is not, a state or modification of mind, but in both is distinct equally from the act of perception, and from the external object: and the mind is cognizant of the external object vicariously, through this third thing, of which alone it has immediate cognizance—of which alone, therefore, it is, in Sir W. Hamilton’s sense of the word, conscious. Against both these theories Reid, Stewart, and our author, are completely triumphant, and I am in no way interested in pressing for a rehearing of the cause.

But the third opinion, which is Brown’s, cannot with any justness of thought or propriety of language be called a theory of mediate or representative perception. Had Sir W. Hamilton taken half the pains to understand Brown which he took to understand far inferior thinkers, he never would have described Brown’s doctrine in terms so inappropriate.

Representative knowledge is always understood by our author to be knowledge of a thing by means of an image of it; by means of something which is like the thing itself. “Representative knowledge,” he says, “is only deserving of the name of knowledge in so far as it is conformable with the intuitions which it represents.” The representation must stand in a relation to what it represents, like that of a picture to its original: as the representation in memory of a past impression of sense, does to that past impression; as a representation in imagination does to a supposed possible presentation of sense; and as the Ideas of the earlier Cosmothetic Idealists were supposed to do to the outward objects of which they were the image or impress. But the Mental Modifications of Brown and those who think with him, are not supposed to bear any resemblance to the objects which excite them.[†] These objects are supposed to be unknown to us, except as the causes of the mental modifications. The only relation between the two is Edition: current; Page: [156] that of cause and effect. Brown, being free from the vulgar errord that a cause must be like its effect, and admitting no knowledge of the cause (beyond its bare existence) except the effect itself, naturally found nothing in it which it was possible to compare with the effect, or in virtue of which any resemblance could be affirmed to exist between the two. In another place, Sir W. Hamilton makes an ostensible distinction between the fact of resembling, and that of truly representing, the objects; but defines the last expression to mean, affording us “such a knowledge of their nature as we should have were an immediate intuition of the reality in itself competent to man.”* No one who is at all acquainted with Brown’s opinions will pretend him to have maintained that we have anything of this sort. He did not believe that the mental modification afforded us any knowledge whatever of the nature of the external object. There is no need to quote passages in proof of this; it is a fact patent to whoever reads his Lectures.[*] It is the more strange that Sir W. Hamilton should have failed to recognise this opinion of Brown, because it is exactly the opinion which he himself holds respecting our knowledge of objects in respect of their Secondary Qualities. These, he says, are “in their own nature occult and inconceivable,” and are known only in their effects on us, that is, by the mental modifications which they produce.

Further, Brown’s is not only not a theory of representative perception, but it is not even a theory of mediate perception. He assumes no tertium quid, no object of thought intermediate between the mind and the outward object. He recognises only the perceptive act; which with him means, and is always declared to mean, the mind itself perceiving. It will hardly be pretended that the mind itself is the “representative object” interposed by him between itself and the outward thing which is acting upon it; and if it is not, there certainly is no other. But if Brown’s theory is not a theory of mediate perception, it loses all that essentially distinguishes it from Sir W. Hamilton’s own doctrine. For Brown, also, thinks that we have, on the occasion of certain sensations, an instantaneous and irresistible conviction of an outward object. And if this conviction is immediate, and necessitated by the constitution of our nature, in what does it differ from our author’s direct consciousness? Consciousness, immediate knowledge, and intuitive knowledge, are, Sir W. Hamilton tells us, convertible expressions; and if it be granted that whenever our senses are affected by a material object, we immediately and intuitively recognise that object as existing and distinct Edition: current; Page: [157] from us, it requires a great deal of ingenuity to make out any substantial difference between this immediate intuition of an external world, and Sir W. Hamilton’s direct perception of it.

The distinction which our author makes, resolves itself, as explained by him, into the difference of which he has said so much, but of which he seemed to have so confused an idea, between Belief and Knowledge. In Brown’s opinion,[*] and I will add, in Reid’s, the mental modification which we experience from the presence of an object, raises in us an irresistible belief that the object exists. No, says Sir W. Hamilton: it is not a belief, but a knowledge: we have indeed a belief, and our knowledge is certified by the belief; but this belief of ours regarding the object is a belief that we know it.

In perception, consciousness gives, as an ultimate fact, a belief of the knowledge of the existence of something different from self. As ultimate, this belief cannot be reduced to a higher principle; neither can it be truly analysed into a double element. We only believe that this something exists, because we believe that we know (are conscious of) this something as existing; the belief of the existence is necessarily involved in the belief of the knowledge of the existence. Both are original, or neither. Does consciousness deceive us in the latter, it necessarily deludes us in the former; and if the former, though a fact of consciousness, is false, the latter, because a fact of consciousness, is not true. The beliefs contained in the two propositions,

1°. I believe that a material world exists;

2°. I believe that I immediately know a material world existing (in other words, I believe that the external reality itself is the object of which I am conscious in perception),

though distinguished by philosophers, are thus virtually identical. The belief of an external world was too powerful, not to compel an acquiescence in its truth. But the philosophers yielded to nature, only in so far as to coincide in the dominant result. They falsely discriminated the belief in the existence, from the belief in the knowledge. With a few exceptions, they held fast by the truth of the first; but they concurred, with singular unanimity, in abjuring the second.*

Accordingly, Brown is rebuked because, while rejecting our natural belief that we know the external object, he yet accepts our natural belief that it exists as a sufficient warrant for its existence. But what real distinction is there between Brown’s intuitive belief of the existence of the object, and Sir W. Hamilton’s intuitive knowledge of it? Just three pages previous, Sir W. Hamilton had said, “Our knowledge rests ultimately on certain facts of consciousness, which as primitive, and consequently incomprehensible, are given less in the form of cognitions than of beliefs.” The consciousness of an external world is, on his own showing, primitive and incomprehensible; it therefore is less a cognition than a belief. But if we do not so much Edition: current; Page: [158] know as believe an external world, what is meant by saying that we believe that we know it? Either we do not know, but only believe it, and if so, Brown and the other philosophers assailed were right; or knowledge and belief, in the case of ultimate facts, are identical, and then, believing that we know is only believing that we believe, which according to our author’s and to all rational principles, is but another word for simple believing.

It would not be fair, however, to hold our author to his own confused use of the terms Belief and Knowledge. He never succeeds in making anything like an intelligible distinction between these two notions considered generally, but in particular cases we may be able to find something which he is attempting to express by them. In the present case his meaning seems to be, that Brown’s Belief in an external object, though instantaneous and irresistible, was supposed to be suggested to the mind by its own sensation; ewhich suggestion Brown regarded as a case of a more general law,[*] whereby every fact suggests the intuitive belief of a cause or antecedent with which it is invariably connected:e while Sir W. Hamilton’s Knowledge of the object is supposed to arise along with the sensation, and to be co-ordinate with it. And this is what Sir W. Hamilton means by calling Brown’s a mediate, his own an immediate cognition of the object: the real difference being that, on Sir W. Hamilton’s theory, the cognition of the ego or foff its modification, and that of the non-ego, are simultaneous, while on Brown’s the one immediately precedes the other. Our author expresses this meaning, though much less clearly, when he declares Brown’s theory to be “that in perception, the external reality is not the immediate object of consciousness, but that the ego is only determined in some unknown manner to represent the non-ego, which representation, though only a modification of mind or self, we are compelled by an illusion of our nature, to mistake for a modification of matter, or non-self.”* This being our author’s conception of the doctrine which he has to refute, let us see in what manner he proceeds to refute it.

“You will remark,” he says,

that Brown (and Brown only speaks the language of all the philosophers who do not allow the mind a consciousness of aught beyond its own states,) misstates the phænomenon when he asserts that, in perception, there is a reference from the internal to the external, from the known to the unknown. That this is not the fact, our observation of the phænomenon will at once convince you. In an act of perception, I am conscious of something as self and of something as not self: this is the simple fact. The philosophers, on the contrary, who will not accept this fact, Edition: current; Page: [159] misstate it. They say that we are conscious of nothing but a certain modification of mind; but this modification involves a reference to,—in other words, a representation of,—something external as its object. Now this is untrue. We are conscious of no reference, of no representation: we believe that the object of which we are conscious is the object which exists.

To this argument (of the worth of which something has been said already) I shall return presently. But he subjoins a second.

Nor could there possibly be such reference or representation; for reference or representation supposes a knowledge already possessed of the object referred to or represented; but perception is the faculty by which our first knowledge is acquired, and therefore cannot suppose a previous knowledge as its condition.”*

And further on:

Mark the vice of the procedure. We can only, 1°, assert the existence of an external world inasmuch as we know it to exist; and we can only, 2°, assert that one thing is representative of another, inasmuch as the thing represented is known, independently of the representation. But how does the hypothesis of a representative perception proceed? It actually converts the fact into an hypothesis: actually converts the hypothesis into a fact. On this theory, we do not know the existence of an external world, except on the supposition that that which we do know, truly represents it as existing. The hypothetical realist cannot, therefore, establish the fact of the external world, except upon the fact of its representation. This is manifest. We have, therefore, next to ask him, how he knows the fact, that the external world is actually represented. A representation supposes something represented, and the representation of the external world supposes the existence of that world. Now the hypothetical realist, when asked how he proves the reality of the outer world, which, ex hypothesi, he does not know, can only say that he infers its existence from the fact of its representation. But the fact of the representation of an external world supposes the existence of that world; therefore he is again at the point from which he started. He has been arguing in a circle.

Let me first remark that this reasoning assumes the whole point in dispute; it presupposes that the supposition which it is brought to disprove is impossible. The theory of the third form of Cosmothetic Idealism is, that though we are conscious only of the sensations which an object gives us, we are determined by a necessity of our nature, which some call an instinct, others an intuition, others a fundamental law of belief, to ascribe these sensations to something external, as their substratum, or as their cause. There is surely nothing à priori impossible in this supposition. The supposed instinct or intuition seems to be of the same family with many other Laws of Thought, or Natural Beliefs, which our author not only admits without scruple, but enjoins obedience to, under the usual sanction, that otherwise our intelligence must be a lie. In the present case, however, he, Edition: current; Page: [160] without the smallest warrant, excludes this from the list of possible hypotheses. He says that we cannot infer a reality from a mental representation, unless we already know the reality independently of the mental representation. Now he could hardly help being aware that this is the very matter in dispute. Those who hold the opinion he argues against, do not admit the premise upon which he argues. They say that we may be, and are, necessitated to infer a cause, of which we know nothing whatever except its effect. And why not? Sir W. Hamilton thinks us entitled to infer a substance from attributes, though he allows that we know nothing of the substance except its attributes.

But this is not the worst, and there are few specimens of our author in which his deficiencies as a philosopher stand out in a stronger light. As Burke in politics, so Sir W. Hamilton in metaphysics, was too often a polemic rather than a connected thinker: the generalizations of both, often extremely valuable, seem less the matured convictions of a scientific mind, than weapons snatched up for the service of a particular quarrel. If Sir W. Hamilton can only seize upon something which will strike a hard blow at an opponent, he seldom troubles himself how much of his own edifice may be knocked down by the shock. Had he examined the argument he here uses, sufficiently to determine whether he could stand by it as a deliberate opinion, he would have perceived that it committed him to the doctrine that there is no such thing as representative knowledge. But it is one of Sir W. Hamilton’s most positive tenets that there is representative knowledge, and that Memory, among other things, is an example of it. Let us turn back to his discussion of that subject, and see what he, at that time, considered representative knowledge to be.

Every act, and consequently every act of knowledge, exists only as it now exists; and as it exists only in the Now, it can be cognizant only of a now-existent object. But the object known in memory is, ex hypothesi, past; consequently, we are reduced to the dilemma, either of refusing a past object to be known in memory at all, or of admitting it to be only mediately known, in and through a present object. That the latter alternative is the true one, it will require a very few explanatory words to convince you. What are the contents of an act of memory? An act of memory is merely a present state of mind which we are conscious of not as absolute, but as relative to, and representing, another state of mind, and accompanied with the belief that the state of mind, as now represented, has actually been. I remember an event I saw—the landing of George IV at Leith. This remembrance is only a consciousness of certain imaginations, involving the conviction that these imaginations now represent ideally what I formerly really experienced. All that is immediately known in the act of memory, is the present mental modification, that is, the representation and concomitant belief. Beyond this mental modification we know nothing; and this mental modification is not only known to consciousness, but only exists in and by consciousness. Of any past object, real or ideal, the mind knows and can know nothing, for, ex hypothesi, no such object now exists; or if it be Edition: current; Page: [161] said to know such an object, it can only be said to know it mediately, as represented in the present mental modification. Properly speaking, however, we know only the actual and present, and all real knowledge is an immediate knowledge. What is said to be mediately known, is, in truth, not known to be, but only believed to be: for its existence is only an inference resting on the belief, that the mental modification truly represents what is in itself beyond the sphere of knowledge.*

Had Sir W. Hamilton totally forgotten all this, when a few lectures afterwards, having then in front of him a set of antagonists who needed the theory here laid down, he repudiated it—denying altogether the possibility of the mental state so truly and clearly expressed in this passage, and affirming that we cannot possibly recognise a mental modification to be representative of something else, unless we have a present knowledge of that something else, otherwise obtained?[*] With merely the alteration of putting instead of a past state of mind, a present external object, the Cosmothetic Idealists might borrow his language down to the minutest detail. They, too, believe that the mental modification is a present state of mind, which we are conscious of, not as absolute, but as relative to, and representing, “an external object, and accompanied with the belief that the object as now represented, actually” is: that we know something (viz. matter) only “as represented in the present mental modification,” and that “its existence is only an inference, resting on the belief that the mental modification truly represents what is in itself beyond the sphere of knowledge.” They do not, strictly speaking, require quite so much as this: for the word “represents,” especially with “truly” joined to it, suggests the idea of a resemblance, such as does, in reality, exist between the picture of a fact in memory, and the present impression to which it corresponds; but the Cosmothetic Idealists only maintain that the mental modification arises from something, and that the reality of this unknown something is testified by a natural belief. That they apply to one case the same theory which our author applies to another, does not, of course, prove them to be right; but it proves the suicidal character (to use one of his favourite expressions)[†] of our author’s argument, when he scouts the supposition of an instinctive inference from a known effect to an unknown cause, as an hypothesis which can in no possible case be legitimate; forgetful that its legitimacy is required by his own psychology, one of the leading doctrines of which is entirely grounded on it.

It is not only in treating of Memory, that Sir W. Hamilton requires a process of thought precisely similar to that which, when employed by opponents, he declares to be radically illegitimate. I have already mentioned[*] Edition: current; Page: [162] that in his opinion our perceptions of sight are not perceptions of the outward object, but of its image, a “modification of light in immediate relation to our organ of vision,” and that no two persons see the same sun; propositions in direct conflict with the “natural beliefs” to which he so often refers, and to which Reid, not without reason, appeals in this instance;[†] for assuredly people in general are as firmly convinced that what they see is the real sun, as that what they touch is the real table. Let us hear Sir W. Hamilton once more on this subject.

It is not by perception, but by a process of reasoning, that we connect the objects of sense with existences beyond the sphere of immediate knowledge. It is enough that perception affords us the knowledge of the non-ego at the point of sense. To arrogate to it the power of immediately informing us of external things, which are only the causes of the object we immediately perceive, is either positively erroneous, or a confusion of language arising from an inadequate discrimination of the phænomenon.*

Here is a case in which we know something to be a representation, though, in our author’s opinion, that which it represents not only is not, at the present time, known to us, but never was, and never will be so. The Cosmothetic Idealists desire only the same liberty which Sir W. Hamilton here exercises, of concluding from a phænomenon directly known, to something unknown which is the cause of the phænomenon. They postulate the possibility that what our author holds to be true of the non-ego at a distance, may be true of the non-ego at the point of sense, namely, that it is not known immediately, but as a necessary inference from what is known. To shut the door upon this supposition as inherently inadmissible, and make an exactly similar one ourselves as often as our system requires it, does not befit a philosopher, or a critic of philosophers.

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In the controversy with Brown, which forms the second paper in the Discussions,[*] and much of which his reproduced verbatim inh our author’s Lectures,[†] the argument which I have now examined does not iappear.i In the room of it, we have the following argument. If Brown is right, “the mind either knows the reality of what it represents, or it does not.” The first supposition is dismissed for the absurdities it involves, and because it is inconsistent with Brown’s doctrine. But if the mind does not know the reality of what it represents, the “alternative remains, that the mind is blindly determined to represent, and truly to represent, the reality which it does not know.” And if so, the mind “either blindly determines itself” or “is blindly determined” by a supernatural power. The latter supposition he rejects because it involves a standing miracle; the former as “utterly irrational, Edition: current; Page: [164] inasmuch as it would explain an effect, by a cause wholly inadequate to its production. On this alternative, knowledge is supposed to be the effect of ignorance,—intelligence of stupidity—life of death.”* All this artillery is directed against the simple supposition that by a law of our nature, a modification of our own minds may assure us of the existence of an unknown cause. The author’s persistent ignorance of Brown’s opinion isj surprising. Brown knows nothing of the mental modification as truly representing the unknown reality; he claims no knowledge as arising out of ignorance, no intelligence growing out of stupidity. He claims only an instinctive belief implanted by nature; and the menacing alternative, that the mind must either determine itself to this belief, or be determined to it by a special interference of Providence, could be applied with exactly as much justice to the earth’s motion. But though Sir W. Hamilton’s weapon falls harmless upon Brown, it recoils with terrible effect upon his own theories of representative cognition. A remembrance, for example, does represent, and truly represent, the past fact remembered: and we do, through that representation, mediately know the past fact, which in any other sense of the word, according to our author, we do not know. Although therefore the conclusion “that the mind is blindly determined to represent, and truly to represent, the reality which it does not know,” is not obligatory upon Brown, it is upon Sir W. Hamilton. On his own showing he has to choose between the absurdity that the mind “blindly determines itself,” and the perpetual miracle of its being determined by divine interference. This is one of the weakest exhibitions of Sir W. Hamilton that I have met with in his writings. For the difficulty by which he thought to overwhelm Brown, and which does not touch Brown, but falls back upon himself, is no difficulty at all, but the merest moonshine. The transcendent absurdity, as he considers it, that the mind should be blindly determined to represent, and truly to represent, the reality which “it does not know,” instead of an absurdity, is the exact expression of a fact. It is a literal description of what takes place in an act of memory. As often as we recollect a past event, and on the faith of that recollection, believe or know that the event really happened, the mind, by its constitution, is “blindly determined to represent, and truly to represent” a fact which, except as witnessed by that representation, “it does not know.”

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It may generally, I think, be observed of Sir W. Hamilton, that his most recherché arguments are his weakest: they certainly are so in the present case. It would have been wiser in him to have been contented with his first and simpler argument, that Brown’s doctrine conflicts with consciousness, Edition: current; Page: [166] inasmuch as “we are conscious of no reference, of no representation:”[*] or, to speak more clearly, we are not aware that the existence of an external reality is suggested to us by our sensations. We seem to become aware of both at once.

The fact is as alleged, but it proves nothing, being consistent with Brown’s doctrine. Whether the belief in a non-ego arose in our first act of perception, simultaneously with the sensation, or not until suggested by the sensation, we have, as I before remarked, no means of directly ascertaining.[†] As far as depends on direct evidence, the subject is inscrutable. But this we may know, that even if the suggestion theory were true, the belief suggested would by the laws of association become so intimately blended with the sensation suggesting it, that long before we were able to reflect on our mental operations, we should have become entirely incapable of thinking of the two things as other than simultaneous. An appeal to consciousness avails nothing, when, even though the doctrine opposed were true, the appeal might equally, and with the same plausibility, be made. The facts are Edition: current; Page: [167] alike consistent with both opinions, and, for aught that appears, Brown’s is as likely to be true as Sir W. Hamilton’s. The difference between them, as already observed, is extremely small, and I will add, supremely unimportant. If the reality of matter is certified to us by an irresistible belief, it matters little whether we reach the belief by two steps, or by only one.

The really important difference of opinion on the subject of Perception, between Brown and Sir W. Hamilton, is far other than this. It is, that Sir W. Hamilton believes us to have a direct intuition not solely of the reality of matter, but also of its primary qualities, Extension, Solidity, Figure, &c., which, according to him, we know as in the material object, and not as modifications of ourselves: while Brown believed that matter is suggested to us only as an unknown something, all whose attributes, as known or conceived by us, are resolvable into affections of our senses. In Brown’s opinion we are cognizant of a non-ego in the perceptive act, only in the indefinite form of something external; all else we are able to know of it is only that it produces certain affections in us: which is also our author’s opinion as regards the Secondary Qualities. The difference therefore, between Brown and Sir W. Hamilton, is not of the kind which Sir W. Hamilton considers it to be, but consists mainly in this, that Brown really held what Sir W. Hamilton held only verbally, the doctrine of the Relativity ofn our knowledge. I shall attempt, further on, to show that on the point on which they really differed, Brown was right, and Sir W. Hamilton totally wrong.*

The considerations which have now been adduced are subversive of a great mass of triumphant animadversion by our author on the ignorance Edition: current; Page: [168] and carelessness of Brown, and some milder criticism on Reid. Sir W. Hamilton thinks it astonishing that neither of these philosophers should have recognised Natural Realism, and the third form of Cosmothetic Idealism, as two different modes of thought. Reid, whom he makes a great point of claiming as a Natural Realist, was, he says, quite unaware of the possibility of the other opinion, and did not guard against it by his language, leaving it, therefore, open to dispute whether, instead of being a Natural Realist, he was not, like Brown, a Cosmothetic Idealist of the third class; while Brown, on the other hand, never conceived Natural Realism, nor thought it possible that Reid held any other than his own opinion, as he invariably affirms him to have done.[*] I apprehend that both philosophers are entirely clear of the blame thus imputed to them. Reid never imagined Brown’s doctrine, nor Brown Reid’s, as anything different from his own, because in truth they were not different. If the distinction between a Natural Realist and a Cosmothetic Idealist of the third class, be that the latter believes the existence of the external object to be inferred from, or suggested by, our sensations, while the former holds it to be neither the one nor the other, but to be apprehended in consciousness simultaneously and co-ordinately with the sensations, Reid was as much a Cosmothetic Idealist as Brownp. The question does not concern philosophy, but the history of philosophy, which is Sir W. Hamilton’s strongest point, and was not at all a strong point with either Brown or Reid; but the matter of fact is worth the few pages necessary for clearing it up, because Sir W. Hamilton’s vast and accurate learning goes near to obtaining for his statements, on any such matter, implicit confidence, and it is therefore important to show that even where he is strongest, he is sometimes wrong.

In the severe criticism on Brown from which I have quoted, and which, though in some respects unjust, in others I cannot deny to be well merited, some of the strongest expressions have reference to the gross misunderstanding of Reid, of which Brown is alleged to have been guilty in not perceiving him to have been a Natural Realist. “We proceed,” says our author,

to consider the greatest of all Brown’s errors, in itself and in its consequences, his misconception of the cardinal position of Reid’s philosophy, in supposing that philosopher as a hypothetical realist, to hold with himself the third form of the representative hypothesis, and not, as a natural realist, the doctrine of an intuitive Perception.*

Brown’s transmutation of Reid from a natural to a hypothetical realist, as a misconception of the grand and distinctive tenet of a school by one even of its Edition: current; Page: [169] disciples, is without a parallel in the whole history of philosophy; and this portentous error is prolific; chimæra chimæram parit. Were the evidence of the mistake less unambiguous, we should be disposed rather to question our own perspicacity than to tax so subtle an intellect with so gross a blunder.*

And he did, in time, feel some misgiving as to his “own perspicacity.” When, in preparing an edition of Reid, he was obliged to look more closely into that author’s statements, we find a remarkable lowering of the high tone of these sentences; and he felt obliged, in revising the paper for the Discussions, to write “This is too strong,” after a passage in which he had said that “Brown’s interpretation of the fundamental tenet of Reid’s philosophy is not a simple misconception, but an absolute reversal of its real and even unambiguous import.” Well would it have been for Brown’s reputation if all Sir W. Hamilton’s attempts to bring home blunders to him, had been as little successful as this.

In the work in which Reid first brought his opinions before the world, the Inquiry into the Human Mind, his language is so unequivocally that of a Cosmothetic Idealist, that it admits of no mistake. It is almost more unambiguous than that of Brown himself. The external object is always said to be perceived through the medium of “natural signs:” these signs being our sensations, interpreted by a natural instinct. Our sensations, he says, belong to that

class of natural signs which . . . though we never before had any notion or conception of the thing signified, do suggest it, or conjure it up, as it were, by a natural kind of magic, and at once give us a conception and create a belief of it.

I take it for granted that the notion of hardness, and the belief of it, is first got by means of that particular sensation which, as far back as we can remember, does invariably suggest it, and that, if we had never had such a feeling, we should never have had our notion of hardness.§


when a coloured body is presented, there is a certain apparition to the eye, or to the mind, which we have called the appearance of colour. Mr. Locke calls it an idea, and, indeed, it may be called so with the greatest propriety. This idea can have no existence but when it is perceived. It is a kind of thought, and can only be the act of a percipient or thinking being. By the constitution of our nature, we are led to conceive this idea as a sign of something external, and are impatient till we learn its meaning.

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I must be excused if I am studious to prove, by an accumulation of citations, that these are not passing expressions of Reid, but the deliberate doctrine of his treatise.

I think it appears from what hath been said, that there are natural suggestions; particularly, that sensation suggests the notion of present existence, and the belief that what we perceive or feel does now exist. . . . And, in like manner, certain sensations of touch, by the constitution of our nature, suggest to us extension, solidity, and motion.*

By an original principle of our constitution, a certain sensation of touch both suggests to the mind the conception of hardness, and creates the belief of it: or, in other words, this sensation is a natural sign of hardness.

The word gold has no similitude to the substance signified by it; nor is it in its own nature more fit to signify this than any other substance; yet, by habit and custom, it suggests this and no other. In like manner, a sensation of touch suggests hardness, although it hath neither similitude to hardness, nor, as far as we can perceive, any necessary connexion with it. The difference betwixt these two signs lies only in this—that, in the first, the suggestion is the effect of habit and custom; in the second, it is not the effect of habit, but of the original constitution of our minds.

Extension, therefore, seems to be a quality suggested to us [the italics are Reid’s] by the very same sensations which suggest the other qualities above mentioned. When I grasp a ball in my hand, I perceive it at once hard, figured, and extended. The feeling is very simple, and hath not the least resemblance to any quality of body. Yet it suggests to us three primary qualities perfectly distinct from one another, as well as from the sensation which indicates them. When I move my hand along the table, the feeling is so simple that I find it difficult to distinguish it into things of different natures, yet it immediately suggests hardness, smoothness, extension, and motion—things of very different natures, and all of them as distinctly understood as the feeling which suggests them.§

The feelings of touch, which suggest primary qualities, have no names, nor are they ever reflected upon. They pass through the mind instantaneously, and serve only to introduce the notion and belief of external things, which by our constitution, are connected with them. They are natural signs, and the mind immediately passes to the thing signified, without making the least reflection upon the sign, or observing that there was any such thing.

This passage, with many others of like import, Sir W. Hamilton might usefully have meditated on, before he laid so much stress on the testimony of consciousness that the apprehension is not through the medium of a sign.

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Let a man press his hand against the table—he feels it hard. But what is the meaning of this? The meaning undoubtedly is, that he hath a certain feeling of touch, from which he concludes, without any reasoning or comparing ideas, that there is something external really existing, whose parts stick so firmly together, that they cannot be displaced without considerable force. There is here a feeling, and a conclusion drawn from it, or some way suggested by it. . . . The hardness of the table is the conclusion, the feeling is the medium by which we are led to that conclusion.*

How a sensation should instantly make us conceive and believe the existence of an external thing altogether unlike to it, I do not pretend to know; and when I say that the one suggests the other, I mean not to explain the manner of their connexion, but to express a fact, which every one may be conscious of, namely, that by a law of our nature, such a conception and belief constantly and immediately follow the sensation.

There are three ways in which the mind passes from the appearance of a natural sign to the conception and belief of the thing signified—by original principles of our constitution, by custom, and by reasoning. Our original perceptions are got in the first of these ways. . . . In the first of these ways, Nature, by means of the sensations of touch, informs us of the hardness and softness of bodies; of their extension, figure, and motion; and of that space in which they move and are placed.

In the testimony of Nature given by the senses, as well as in human testimony given by language, things are signified to us by signs: and in one as well as the other, the mind, either by original principles or by custom, passes from the sign to the conception and belief of the things signified. . . . The signs in original perceptions are sensations, of which Nature hath given us a great variety, suited to the variety of the things signified by them. Nature hath established a real connexion between the signs and the things signified, and Nature hath also taught us the interpretation of the signs—so that, previous to experience, the sign suggests the thing signified, and creates the belief of it.§

It is by one particular principle of our constitution that certain features express anger; and by another particular principle, that certain features express benevolence. It is, in like manner, by one particular principle of our constitution that a certain sensation signifies hardness in the body which I handle; and it is by another particular principle that a certain sensation signifies motion in that body.

I doubt if it would be possible to extract from Brown himself an equal number of passagesq expressing as clearly and positively, and in terms as irreconcilable with any other opinion, the doctrine which our author terms the third form of Cosmothetic Idealism; in the exact shape, too, in which Edition: current; Page: [172] Brown held it, unencumbered by the gratuitous addition which Sir W. Hamilton fastens on him, that the sign must “truly represent” the thing signified,—a notion which Reid takes good care that he shall not be supposed to entertain, since he repeatedly declares that there is no resemblance between them. That Reid, at least when he wrote the Inquiry, was a Cosmothetic Idealist; that up to that time it had never occurred to him that the rconvictionsr of the existence and qualities of external objects could be regarded as anything but suggestions by, and conclusions from, our sensations—is too obvious to be questioned by any one who has the text fresh in his recollection. Accordingly Sir W. Hamilton acknowledges as much in his edition of Reid, both in the foot-notes and in the appended “Dissertations.” After restating his own doctrine, that our natural beliefs assure us of outward objects, only by assuring us that we are immediately conscious of them, he adds, “Reid himself seems to have become obscurely aware of this condition: and though he never retracted his doctrine concerning the mere suggestion of extension, we find in his Essays on the Intellectual Powers assertions in regard to the immediate perception of external things, which would tend to show that his later views were more in unison with the necessary convictions of mankind.”* And in another place he says of the doctrine maintained by Reid “in his earlier work,” that it is one which “if he did not formally retract in his later writings, he did not continue to profess.” It is hard that Brown should be charged with blundering to a degree which is “portentous” and “without a parallel in the whole history of philosophy,” for attributing to Reid an opinion which Sir W. Hamilton confesses that Reid maintained in one of his only two important writings, and did not retract in the other. But Sir W. Hamilton is still more wrong than he confesses. He is in a mistake when he says that Reid, though he did not retract the opinion, did not continue to profess it. For some reason, not apparent, he did cease to employ the word Suggestion. But he continued to use terms equivalent to it.

Every different perception is conjoined with a sensation that is proper to it. The one is the sign, the other thing signified.

I touch the table gently with my hand, and I feel it to be smooth, hard, and cold. These are qualities of the table perceived by touch: but I perceive them by means of a sensation which indicates them.§

Observing that the agreeable sensation is raised when the rose is near, and ceases when it is removed, I am led by my nature to conclude some quality to be in the rose, Edition: current; Page: [173] which is the cause of this sensation. This quality in the rose is the object perceived; and that act of my mind by which I have the conviction and belief of this quality, is what in this case I call perception.*

Of this passage even Sir W. Hamilton honestly says in a foot-note, that it “appears to be an explicit disavowal of the doctrine of an intuitive or immediate perception.”[*] Again:

When a primary quality is perceived, the sensation immediately leads our thought to the quality signified by it, and is itself forgot. . . . The sensations belonging to primary qualities . . . carry the thought to the external object, and immediately disappear and are forgot. Nature intended them only as signs; and when they have served that purpose they vanish.

Nature has connected our perception of external objects with certain sensations. If the sensation is produced, the corresponding perception follows, even when there is no object, and in that case is apt to deceive us.

In perception, whether original or acquired, there is something which may be called the sign, and something which is signified to us, or brought to our knowledge by that sign. In original perception, the signs are the various sensations which are produced by the impressions made upon our organs. The things signified, are the objects perceived in consequence of those sensations, by the original constitution of our nature. Thus, when I grasp an ivory ball in my hand, I have a certain sensation of touch. Although this sensation be in the mind, and have no similitude to anything material; yet, by the laws of my constitution, it is immediately followed by the conception and belief, that there is in my hand a hard smooth body of a spherical figure, and about an inch and a half in diameter. This belief is grounded neither upon reasoning, nor upon experience; it is the immediate effect of my constitution, and this I call original perception.§

All these are as unequivocal, and the last passage as full and precise a statement of Cosmothetic Idealism, as any in the Inquiry. In the “Dissertations” appended to Reid, Sir W. Hamilton, who never fails in candour, acknowledges in the fullest manner the inferences which may be drawn from passages like these, but thinks that they are balanced by others which “seem to harmonize exclusively with the conditions of natural presentationism,” and on the whole is “decidedly of opinion that, as the great end—the governing principle of Reid’s doctrine was to reconcile philosophy with the necessary convictions of mankind, he intended a doctrine of natural, consequently a doctrine of presentative, realism; and that he would have at once surrendered, as erroneous, every statement Edition: current; Page: [174] which was found at variance with such a doctrine.”* But it is clear that the doctrine of perception through natural signs did not, in Reid’s opinion, contradict “the necessary convictions of mankind;” being brought into harmony with them by his doctrine, that the signs, after they have served their purpose, are “forgot,” which, as he conclusively shows in many places, it was both natural and inevitable that they should be. The passages which Sir W. Hamilton cites as inconsistent with any doctrine but Natural Realism,[*] are those in which Reid affirms that we perceive objects immediately, and that the external things which really exist are the very ones which we perceive. But Reid evidently did not think these expressions inconsistent with the doctrine that the notion and belief of external objects are irresistibly suggested through natural signs. Having this notion and belief irresistibly suggested, is what he means by perceiving the external object. He says so in more than one of the passages I have just quoted: and neither in his chapter on Perception, nor anywhere else, does he speak of perception as implying anything more. In that chapter he says, “If we attend to that act of our mind which we call the perception of an external object of sense, we shall find in it these three things: First, some conception or notion of the object perceived; Secondly, a strong and irresistible conviction and belief of its present existence; and, Thirdly, that this conviction and belief are immediate, and not the effect of reasoning.” We see in this as in a hundred other places, what Reid meant when he said that our perception of outward objects is immediate. He did not mean that it is not a conviction suggested by something else, but only that the conviction is not the effect of reasoning. “This conviction is not only irresistible, but it is immediate; that is, it is not by a train of reasoning and argumentation that we come to be convinced of the existence of what we perceive.” As Nature has given us the signs, so it is by an original law of our nature that we are enabled to interpret them. When Reid means anything but this in contending for an immediate perception of objects, he merely means to deny that it takes place through an image in the brain or in the mind, as maintained by Cosmothetic Idealists of the first or the second class.

The only plausible argument produced by Sir W. Hamilton in proof of Reid’s Natural Realism, and against his having held, as Brown thought,[†] Brown’s own opinion, is, that when in the speculations of Arnauld he had before him exactly the same opinion, he failed to recognise it.§ But on a Edition: current; Page: [175] careful examination of Reid’s criticism on Arnauld, it will be seen, that as long as Reid had to do with Arnauld’s direct statement of his opinion, he found nothing sin it differents from his own; but was puzzled, and thought that Arnauld attempted to unite inconsistent opinions, because, after throwing over the “ideal theory,” and saying that the only real ideas are our perceptions, he maintained that it is still true, in a sense, that we do not perceive things directly, but through our ideas. What! asks Reid, do we perceive things through our perceptions? But if we merely put the word sensations instead of perceptions, the doctrine is exactly that of Reid in the Inquiry—that we perceive things through our sensations. Most probably Arnauld meant this, but was not so understood by Reid. If he meant anything else, his opinion was not the same as Reid’s, and we need no explanation of Reid’s not recognising it.[*]

One of the collateral indications that Reid’s opinion agreed with Brown’s, and not with Sir W. Hamilton’s, is that in treating this question he seldom or never uses the word Knowledge, but only Belief. On Sir W. Hamilton’s doctrine, the distinction between these two terms, however vaguely and mistily conceived by him, is indispensable. The total absence of any recognition of it in Reid, shows that of the two opinions, if there was one which he had never conceived the possibility of, it was not Brown’s, as Sir W. Hamilton supposes, but Sir W. Hamilton’s. In our author’s mind this indication ought to have decided the question: for in the case of another philosopher he, on precisely the same evidence, brings in a verdict of Cosmothetic Idealism. Krug’s system, he says, as first promulgated, “was, like Kant’s, a mere Cosmothetic Idealism; for while he allowed a knowledge of the internal world, he only allowed a belief of the external.”*

It is true, Reid did not believe in what our author terms “representative perception,” if by this be meant perception through an image in the mind, supposed, like the picture of a fact in memory, to be like its original. But neither (as I have repeatedly observed) did Brown. What Brown held was exactly the doctrine of Reid in the passages that I have extracted. He thought that certain sensations, irresistibly, and by a law of our nature, suggest, without any process of reasoning, and without the intervention of any tertium quid, the notion of something external, and an invincible belief in its real existence. If representative perception be this, both Reid and Brown believed in it: if anything else, Brown believed tint it no more than Reid. Not only was Reid a Cosmothetic Idealist of Brown’s exact type, but Edition: current; Page: [176] in stating his own doctrine, he has furnished, as far as I am aware, the clearest and best statement extant of their common opinion. They differed, indeed, as to our having, in this or in any other manner, an intuitive perception of any of the attributes of objects; Reid, like Sir W. Hamilton, affirming, while Brown denied, that we have a direct intuition of the Primary Qualities of bodies. But Brown did not deny, nor would Sir W. Hamilton accuse him of denying, the wide difference between his opinion and Reid’s on this latter point.

Before closing this chapter, I will notice the curious fact, that after insisting with so much emphasis upon the recognition of an Ego and a Non-ego as an element in all consciousness, Sir W. Hamilton is obliged to admit that the distinction is in certain cases a mistake, and that our consciousness sometimes recognises a Non-ego where there is only an Ego. It is a doctrine of his, repeated in many parts of his works, that in our internal consciousness there is no non-ego. Even the remembrance of a past fact, or the mental image of an absent object, is not a thing separable or distinguishable from the mind’s act in remembering, but is another name for that act itself. Now it is certain, that in thinking of an absent or an imaginary object, we naturally imagine ourselves to be thinking of an objective something, distinguishable from the thinking act. Sir W. Hamilton, being obliged to acknowledge this, resolves the difficulty in the very manner for which he so often rebukes other thinkers—by representing this apparent testimony of consciousness as a kind of illusion. “The object,” he says, “is in this case given as really identical with the conscious ego, but still consciousness distinguishes it, as an accident, from the ego, as the subject of that accident: it projects, as it were, this subjective phænomenon from itself,—views it at a distance,—in a word, objectifies it.”* But if, in one half of the domain of consciousness—the internal half—it is in the power of consciousness to “project” out of itself what is merely one of its own acts, and regard it as external and a non-ego, why are those accused of declaring consciousness a lie, who think that this may possibly be the case with the other half of its domain also, and that the non-ego altogether may be but a mode in which the mind represents to itself the possible modifications of the ego? How the truth stands in respect to this matter I will endeavour, in the following chapter, to investigate. For the present, I content myself with asking, why the same liberty in the interpretation of Consciousness, which Sir W. Hamilton’s own doctrine cannot dispense with, should be held to be an insurmountable objection to the ucounter-doctrine.u

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CHAPTER XI: The Psychological Theory of the Belief in an External World

we have seen Sir W. Hamilton at work on the question of the reality of Matter, by the introspective method, and, as it seems, with little result. Let us now approach the same subject by the psychological. I proceed, therefore, to state the case of those who hold that the belief in an external world is not intuitive, but an acquired product.

This theory postulates the following psychological truths, all of which are proved by experience, and are not contested, though their force is seldom adequately felt, by Sir W. Hamilton and the other thinkers of the introspective school.

It postulates, first, that the human mind is capable of Expectation. In other words, that after having had actual sensations, we are capable of forming the conception of Possible sensations; sensations which we are not feeling at the present moment, but which we might feel, and should feel if certain conditions were present, the nature of which conditions we have, in many cases, learnt by experience.

It postulates, secondly, the laws of the Association of Ideas. So far as we are here concerned, these laws are the following: 1st. Similar phænomena tend to be thought of together. 2nd. Phænomena which have either been experienced or conceived in close contiguity to one another, tend to be thought of together. The contiguity is of two kinds; simultaneity, and immediate succession. Facts which have been experienced or thought of simultaneously, recall the thought of one another. Of facts which have been experienced or thought of in immediate succession, the antecedent, or the thought of it, recalls the thought of the consequent, but not conversely. 3rd. Associations produced by contiguity become more certain and rapid by repetition. When two phænomena have been very often experienced in conjunction, and have not, in any single instance, occurred separately either in experience or in thought, there is produced between them what has been called Inseparable, or less correctly, Indissoluble Association: by which is not meant that the association must inevitably last to the end of life—that no subsequent experience or process of thought can possibly Edition: current; Page: [178] avail to dissolve it; but only that as long as no such experience or process of thought has taken place, the association is irresistible; it is impossible for us to think the one thing disjoined from the other. 4th. When an association has acquired this character of inseparability—when the bond between the two ideas has been thus firmly riveted, not only does the idea called up by association become, in our consciousness, inseparable from the idea which suggested it, but the facts or phænomena answering to those ideas come at last to seem inseparable in existence: things which we are unable to conceive apart, appear incapable of existing apart; and the belief we have in their coexistence, though really a product of experience, seems intuitive. Innumerable examples might be given of this law. One of the most familiar, as well as the most striking, is that of our acquired perceptions of sight. Even those who, with Mr. Bailey, consider the perception of distance by the eye as not acquired, but intuitive, admit that there are many perceptions of sight which, though instantaneous and unhesitating, are not intuitive.[*] What we see is a very minute fragment of what we think we see. We see artificially that one thing is hard, another soft. We see artificially that one thing is hot, another cold. We see artificially that what we see is a book, or a stone, each of these being not merely an inference, but a heap of inferences, from the signs which we see, to things not visible. aWe see, and cannot help seeing, what we have learnt to infer, even when we know that the inference is erroneous, and that the apparent perception is deceptive. We cannot help seeing the moon larger when near the horizon, though we know that she is of precisely her usual size. We cannot help seeing a mountain as nearer to us and of less height, when we see it through a more than ordinarily transparent atmosphere.a

Setting out from these premises, the Psychological Theory maintains, that there are associations naturally and even necessarily generated by the order of our sensations and of our reminiscences of sensation, which, supposing no intuition of an external world to have existed in consciousness, would inevitably generate the belief, and would cause it to be regarded as an intuition.

What is it we meanb, or what is it which leads us to say, that the objects we perceive areb external to us, and not a part of our own thoughts? We mean, that there cis concernedc in our perceptions something which exists when we are not thinking of it; which existed before we had ever thought of Edition: current; Page: [179] it, and would exist if we were annihilated; and further, that there exist things which we never saw, touched, or otherwise perceived, and things which never have been perceived by man. This idea of something which is distinguished from our fleeting impressions by what, in Kantian language, is called Perdurability; something which is fixed and the same, while our impressions vary; something which exists whether we are aware of it or not, and which is always square (or of some other given figure) whether it appears to us square or round—constitutes altogether our idea of external substance. Whoever can assign an origin to this complex conception, has accounted for what we mean by the belief in matter. Now all this, according to the Psychological Theory, is but the form impressed by the known laws of association, upon the conception or notion, obtained by experience, of Contingent Sensations; by which are meant, sensations that are not in our present consciousness, and dindividuallyd never were in our consciousness at all, but which in virtue of the laws to which we have learnt by experience that our sensations are subject, we know that we should have felt under given supposable circumstances, and under these same circumstances, might still feel.

I see a piece of white paper on a table. I go into another roome. If the phænomenon always followed me, or if, when it did not follow me, I believed it to disappear è rerum naturâ, I should not believe it to be an external object. I should consider it as a phantom—a mere affection of my senses: I should not believe that there had been any Body there. But,e though I have ceased to see it, I am persuaded that the paper is still there. I no longer have the sensations which it gave me; but I believe that when I again place myself in the circumstances in which I had those sensations, that is, when I go again into the room, I shall again have them; and further, that there has been no intervening moment at which this would not have been the case. Owing to this fpropertyf of my mind, my conception of the world at any given instant consists, in only a small proportion, of present sensations. Of these I may at the time have none at all, and they are in any case a most insignificant portion of the whole which I apprehend. The conception I form of the world existing at any moment, comprises, along with the sensations I am feeling, a countless variety of possibilities of sensation: namely, the whole of those which past observation tells me that I could, under any supposable circumstances, experience at this moment, together with an indefinite and illimitable multitude of others which though I do not know that I could, yet it is possible that I might, experience in circumstances not known to me. These various possibilities are the important Edition: current; Page: [180] thing to me in the world. My present sensations are generally of little importance, and are moreover fugitive: the possibilities, on the contrary, are permanent, which is the character that mainly distinguishes our idea of Substance or Matter from our notion of sensation. These possibilities, which are conditional certainties, need a special name to distinguish them from mere vague possibilities, which experience gives no warrant for reckoning upon. Now, as soon as a distinguishing name is given, though it be only to the same thing regarded in a different aspect, one of the most familiar experiences of our mental nature teaches us, that the different name comes to be considered as the name of a different thing.

There is another important peculiarity of these certified or guaranteed possibilities of sensation; namely, that they have reference, not to single sensations, but to sensations joined together in groups. When we think of anything as a material substance, or body, we either have had, or we think that on some given supposition we should have, not some one sensation, but a great and even an indefinite number and variety of sensations, generally belonging to different senses, but so linked together, that the presence of one announces the possible presence at the very same instant of any or all of the rest. In our mind, therefore, not only is this particular Possibility of sensation invested with the quality of permanence when we are not actually feeling any of the sensations at all; but when we are feeling some of them, the remaining sensations of the group are conceived by us in the form of Present Possibilities, which might be realized at the very moment. And as this happens in turn to all of them, the group as a whole presents itself to the mind as permanent, in contrast not solely with the temporariness of my bodily presence, but also with the temporary character of each of the sensations composing the group; in other words, as a kind of permanent substratum, under a set of passing experiences or manifestations: which is another leading character of our idea of substance or matter, as distinguished from sensation.

Let us now take into consideration another of the general characters of our experience, namely, that in addition to fixed groups, we also recognise a fixed Order in our sensations; an Order of succession, which, when ascertained by observation, gives rise to the ideas of Cause and Effect, according to what I hold to be the true theory of that relation, and is gon any theoryg the source of all our knowledge hwhath causes produce what effects. Now, of what nature is this fixed order among our sensations? It is a constancy of antecedence and sequence. But the constant antecedence and sequence do not generally exist between one actual sensation and another. Very few such sequences are presented to us by experience. In almost all Edition: current; Page: [181] the constant sequences which occur in Nature, the antecedence and consequence do not obtain between sensations, but between the groups we have been speaking about, of which a very small portion is actual sensation, the greater part being permanent possibilities of sensation, evidenced to us by a small and variable number of sensations actually present. Hence, our ideas of causation, power, activity, do not become connected in thought with our sensations as actual at all, save in the few physiological cases where these figure by themselves as the antecedents in some uniform sequence. Those ideas become connected, not with sensations, but with groups of possibilities of sensation. The sensations conceived do not, to our habitual thoughts, present themselves as sensations actually experienced, inasmuch as not only any one or any number of them may be supposed absent, but none of them need be present. We find that the modifications which are taking place more or less regularly in our possibilities of sensation, are mostly quite independent of our consciousness, and of our presence or absence. Whether we are asleep or awake the fire goes out, and puts an end to one particular possibility of warmth and light. Whether we are present or absent the corn ripens, and brings a new possibility of food. Hence we speedily learn to think of Nature as made up solely of these groups of possibilities, and the active force in Nature as manifested in the modification of some of these by others. The sensations, though the original foundation of the whole, come to be looked upon as a sort of accident depending on us, and the possibilities as much more real than the actual sensations, nay, as the very realities of which these are only the representations, appearances, or effects. When this state of mind has been arrived at, then, and from that time forward, we are never conscious of a present sensation without instantaneously referring it to some one of the groups of possibilities into which a sensation of that particular description enters; and if we do not yet know to what group to refer it, we at least feel an irresistible conviction that it must belong to some group or other; i.e. that its presence proves the existence, here and now, of a great number and variety of possibilities of sensation, without which it would not have been. The whole set of sensations as possible, form a permanent background to any one or more of them that are, at a given moment, actual; and the possibilities are conceived as standing to the actual sensations in the relation of a cause to its effects, or of canvas to the figures painted on it, or of a root to the trunk, leaves, and flowers, or of a substratum to that which is spread over it, or, in transcendental language, of Matter to Form.

When this point has been reached, the Permanent Possibilities in question have assumed such unlikeness of aspect, and such difference of iapparent Edition: current; Page: [182] relationi to us, from any sensations, that it would be contrary to all we know of the constitution of human nature that they should not be conceived as, and believed to be, at least as different from sensations as sensations are from one another. Their groundwork in sensation is forgotten, and they are supposed to be something intrinsically distinct from it. We can withdraw ourselves from any of our (external) sensations, or we can be withdrawn from them by some other agency. But though the sensations cease, the possibilities remain in existence; they are independent of our will, our presence, and everything which belongs to us. We find, too, that they belong as much to other human or sentient beings as to ourselves. We find other people grounding their expectations and conduct upon the same permanent possibilities on which we ground ours. But we do not find them experiencing the same actual sensations. Other people do not have our sensations exactly when and as we have them: but they have our possibilities of sensation; whatever indicates a present possibility of sensations to ourselves, indicates a present possibility of similar sensations to them, except so far as their organs of sensation may vary from the type of ours. This puts the final seal to our conception of the groups of possibilities as the fundamental reality in Nature. The permanent possibilities are common to us and to our fellow-creatures; the actual sensations are not. That which other people become aware of when, and on the same grounds, as I do, seems more real to me than that which they do not know of unless I tell them. The world of Possible Sensations succeeding one another according to laws, is as much in other beings as it is in me; it has therefore an existence outside me; it is an External World.

If this explanation of the origin and growth of the idea of Matter, or External Nature, contains nothing at variance with natural laws, it is at least an admissible supposition, that the element of Non-ego which Sir W. Hamilton regards as an original datum of consciousness, and which we certainly do find in jwhat we now call ourj consciousness, may not be one of its primitive elements—may not have existed at all in its first manifestations. But if this supposition be admissible, it ought, on Sir W. Hamilton’s principles, to be received as true. The first of the laws laid down by him for the interpretation of Consciousness, the law (as he terms it) of Parcimony, forbids to suppose an original principle of our nature in order to account for phænomena which admit of possible explanation from known causes. If the supposed ingredient of consciousness be one which might grow up (though we cannot prove that it did grow up) through later experience; and if, when it had so grown up, it would, by known laws of our nature, appear as completely intuitive as our sensations themselves; we are bound, according to Sir W. Hamilton’s and all sound philosophy, to assign to it that origin. Edition: current; Page: [183] Where there is a known cause adequate to account for a phænomenon, there is no justification for ascribing it to an unknown one. And what evidence does Consciousness furnish of the intuitiveness of an impression, except instantaneousness, apparent simplicity, and unconsciousness on our part of how the impression came into our minds? These features can only prove the impression to be intuitive, on the hypothesis that there are no means of accounting for them otherwise. If they not only might, but naturally would, exist, even on the supposition that it is not intuitive, we must accept the conclusion to which we are led by the Psychological Method, and which the Introspective Method furnishes absolutely nothing to contradict.

Matter, then, may be defined, a Permanent Possibility of Sensation. If I am asked, whether I believe in matter, I ask whether the questioner accepts this definition of it. If he does, I believe in matter: and so do all Berkeleians. In any other sense than this, I do not. But I affirm with confidence, that this conception of Matter includes the whole meaning attached to it by the common world, apart from philosophical, and sometimes from theological, theories. The reliance of mankind on the real existence of visible and tangible objects, means reliance on the reality and permanence of Possibilities of visual and tactual sensations, when no such sensations are actually experienced. We are warranted in believing that this is the meaning of Matter in the minds of many of its most esteemed metaphysical champions, though they themselves would not admit as much: for example, of Reid, Stewart, and Brown. For these three philosophers alleged that all mankind, including Berkeley and Hume, really believed in Matter, inasmuch as unless they did, they would not have turned aside to save themselves from running against a post. Now all which this manœuvre really proved is, that they believed in Permanent Possibilities of Sensation. We have therefore the kunintentionalk sanction of these three eminent defenders of the existence of matter, for affirming, that to believe in Permanent Possibilities of Sensation lisl believing in Matter. It is hardly necessary, after such authorities, to mention Dr. Johnson,[*] or any one else who resorts to the argumentum baculinum of knocking a stick against the ground. Sir W. Hamilton, a far subtler thinker than any of these, never reasons in this manner. He never supposes that a disbeliever in what he means by Matter, ought in consistency to act in any different mode from those who believe in it. He knew that the belief on which all the practical consequences depend, is the belief in Permanent Possibilities of Sensation, Edition: current; Page: [184] and that if nobody believed in a material universe in any other sense, life would go on exactly as it now does. He, however, did believe in more than this, but, I think, only because it had never occurred to him that mere Possibilities of Sensation could, to our artificialized consciousness, present the character of objectivity which, as we have now shown, they not only can, but unless the known laws of the human mind were suspended, must necessarily, present.

Perhaps it may be objected, that the very possibility of framing such a notion of Matter as Sir W. Hamilton’s—the capacity in the human mind of imagining an external world which is anything more than what the Psychological Theory makes it—amounts to a disproof of the theory. If (it may be said) we had no revelation in consciousness, of a world which is not in some way or other identified with sensation, we should be unable to have the notion of such a world. If the only ideas we had of external objects were ideas of our sensations, supplemented by an acquired notion of permanent possibilities of sensation, we must (it is thought) be incapable of conceiving, and therefore still more incapable of fancying that we perceive, things which are not sensations at all. It being evident however that some philosophers believe this, and it being maintainable that the mass of mankind do so, the existence of a perdurable basis of sensations, distinct from sensations themselves, is proved, it might be said, by the possibility of believing it.

Let me first restate what I apprehend the belief to be. We believe that we perceive a something closely related to all our sensations, but different from those which we are feeling at any particular minute; and distinguished from sensations altogether, by being permanent and always the same, while these are fugitive, variable, and alternately displace one another. But these attributes of the object of perception are properties belonging to all the possibilities of sensation which experience guarantees. The belief in such permanent possibilities seems to me to include all that is essential or characteristic in the belief in substance. I believe that Calcutta exists, though I do not perceive it, and that it would still exist if every percipient inhabitant were suddenly to leave the place, or be struck dead. But when I analyse the belief, all I find in it is, that were these events to take place, the Permanent Possibility of Sensation which I call Calcutta would still remain; that if I were suddenly transported to the banks of the Hoogly, I should still have the sensations which, if now present, would lead me to affirm that Calcutta exists here and now. We may infer, therefore, that both philosophers and the world at large, when they think of matter, conceive it really as a Permanent Possibility of Sensation. But the majority of philosophers fancy that it is something more; and the world at large, though they have really, as I conceive, nothing in their minds but a Permanent Possibility of Sensation, would, if asked the question, undoubtedly agree Edition: current; Page: [185] with the philosophers: and though this is sufficiently explained by the tendency of the human mind to infer difference of things from difference of names, I acknowledge the obligation of showing how it can be possible to believe in an existence transcending all possibilities of sensation, unless on the hypothesis that such an existence actually is, and that we actually perceive it.

The explanation, however, is not difficult. It is an admitted fact, that we are capable of all conceptions which can be formed by generalizing from the observed laws of our sensations. Whatever relation we find to exist between any one of our sensations and something different from it, that same relation we have no difficulty in conceiving to exist between the sum of all our sensations and something different from them. The differences which our consciousness recognises between one sensation and another, give us the general notion of difference, and inseparably associate with every sensation we have, the feeling of its being different from other things: and when once this association has been formed, we can no longer conceive anything, without being able, and even being compelled, to form also the conception of something different from it. This familiarity with the idea of something different from each thing we know, makes it natural and easy to form the notion of something different from all things that we know, collectively as well as individually. It is true we can form no conception of what such a thing can be; our notion of it is merely negative; but the idea of ma substance, apart from its relation to the impressions which we conceive it as makingm on our senses, is a merely negative one. There is thus no psychological obstacle to our forming the notion of a something which is neither a sensation nor a possibility of sensation, even if our consciousness does not testify to it; and nothing is more likely than that the Permanent Possibilities of sensation, to which our consciousness does testify, should be confounded in our minds with this imaginary conception. All experience attests the strength of the tendency to mistake mental abstractions, even negative ones, for substantive realities; and the Permanent Possibilities of sensation which experience guarantees, are so extremely unlike in many of their properties to actual sensations, that since we are capable of imagining something which transcends sensation, there is a great natural probability that we should suppose these to be it.

But this natural probability is converted into certainty, when we take into consideration that universal law of our experience which is termed the law of Causation, and which makes us nmentally connect with the beginning of everything, somen antecedent condition, or Cause. The case of Causation is one of the most marked of all the cases in which we extend to the sum total of our consciousness, a notion derived from its parts. It is a striking Edition: current; Page: [186] example of our power to conceive, and our tendency to believe, that a relation which subsists between every individual item of our experience and some other item, subsists also between our experience as a whole, and something not within the sphere of experience. By this extension to the sum of all our experiences, of the internal relations obtaining between its several parts, we are led to consider sensation itself—the aggregate whole of our sensations—as deriving its origin from antecedent existences transcending sensation. That we should do this, is a consequence of the particular character of the uniform sequences, which experience discloses to us among our sensations. As already remarked, the constant antecedent of a sensation is seldom another sensation, or set of sensations, actually felt. It is much oftener the existence of a group of possibilities, not necessarily including any actual sensations, except such as are required to show that the possibilities are really present. Nor are actual sensations indispensable even for this purpose; for the presence of the object (which is nothing more than the immediate presence of the possibilities) may be made known to us by the very sensation which we refer to it as its effect. Thus, the real antecedent of an effect—the only antecedent which, being invariable and unconditional, we consider to be the cause—may be, not any sensation really felt, but solely the presence, at that or the immediately preceding moment, of a group of possibilities of sensation. Hence it is not with sensations as actually experienced, but with their Permanent Possibilities, that the idea of Cause comes to be identified: and we, by one and the same process, acquire the habit of regarding Sensation in general, like all our individual sensations, as an Effect, and also that of conceiving as the causes of most of our individual sensations, not other sensations, but general possibilities of sensation. If all these considerations put together do not completely explain and account for our conceiving these Possibilities as a class of independent and substantive entities, I know not what psychological analysis can be conclusive.

It may perhaps be said, that the preceding theory gives, indeed, some account of the idea of Permanent Existence which forms part of our conception of matter, but gives no explanation of our believing these permanent objects to be external, or out of ourselves. I apprehend, on the contrary, that the very idea of anything out of ourselves is derived solely from the knowledge experience gives us of the Permanent Possibilities. Our sensations we carry with us wherever we go, and they never exist where we are not; but when we change our place we do not carry away with us the Permanent Possibilities of Sensation: they remain until we return, or arise and cease under conditions with which our presence has in general nothing to do. And more than all—they are, and will be after we have ceased to feel, Permanent Possibilities of sensation to other beings than ourselves. Thus our actual sensations and the permanent possibilities of sensation, stand Edition: current; Page: [187] out in obtrusive contrast to one another: and when the idea of Cause has been acquired, and extended by generalization from the parts of our experience to its aggregate whole, nothing can be more natural than that the Permanent Possibilities should be classed by us as existences generically distinct from our sensations, but of which our sensations are the effect.*

The same theory which accounts for our ascribing to an aggregate of possibilities of sensation, a permanent existence which our sensations themselves do not possess, and consequently a greater reality than belongs to our sensations, also explains our attributing greater objectivity to the Primary Qualities of bodies than to the Secondary. For the sensations which correspond to what are called the Primary Qualities (as soon at least as we come to apprehend them by two senses, the eye as well as the touch) are always present when any part of the group is so. But colours, tastes, smells, and the like, being, in comparison, fugacious, are not, in the same degree, conceived as being always there, even when nobody is present to perceive them. The sensations answering to the Secondary Qualities are only occasional, those to the Primary, constant. The Secondary, moreover, vary with different persons, and with the temporary sensibility of our organs; the Primary, when perceived at all, are, as far as we know, the same to all persons and at all times.

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CHAPTER XII: The Psychological Theory of the Belief in Matter, How Far Applicable to Mind

if the deductions in the preceding chapter are correctly drawn from known and admitted laws of the human mind, the doctrine which forms the basis of Sir W. Hamilton’s system of psychology, that Mind and Matter, an ego and a non-ego, are original data of consciousness, is deprived of its foundation. Although these two elements, an Ego and a Non-ego, are in a(what we call)a our consciousness now, and are, or seem to be, inseparable from it, there is no reason for believing that the latter of them, the non-ego, was in consciousness from the beginning; since, even if it was not, we can perceive a way in which it not only might, but must have grown up. We can see that, supposing it absent in the first instance, it would inevitably be present now, not as a deliverance of consciousness in Sir W. Hamilton’s sense, for to call it so is to beg the question; but as an instantaneous and irresistible suggestion and inference, which has become by long repetition undistinguishable from a direct intuition. I now propose to carry the inquiry a step farther, and to examine whether the Ego, as a deliverance of consciousness, stands onb firmer ground than the Non-ego; whether, at the first moment of our experience, we already have in our consciousness the conception of Self as a permanent existence; or whether it is formed subsequently, and admits of a similar analysis to that which we have found that the notion of Not-self is susceptible of.

It is evident, in the first place, that our knowledge of mind, like that of matter, is entirely relative; Sir W. Hamilton indeed affirms this of mind, in can evenc more unqualified manner than he believes it of matter, making no ddistinction between Primary and Secondaryd Qualities.

In so far as mind is the common name for the states of knowing, willing, feeling, desiring, &c., of which I am conscious, it is only the name for a certain series of connected phænomena or qualities, and consequently expresses only what is Edition: current; Page: [189] known. But in so far as it denotes that subject or substance in which the phænomena of knowing, willing, &c., inhere—something behind or under these phænomena—it expresses what, in itself, or in its absolute existence, is unknown.*

We have no conception of Mind itself, as distinguished from its conscious manifestations. We neither know nor can imagine it, except as represented by the succession of manifold feelings which metaphysicians call by the name of States or Modifications of Mind. It is nevertheless true that our notion of Mind, as well as of Matter, is the notion of a permanent something, contrasted with the perpetual flux of the sensations and other feelings or mental states which we refer to it; a something which we figure as remaining the same, while the particular feelings through which it reveals its existence, change. This attribute of Permanence, supposing that there were nothing else to be considered, would admit of the same explanation when predicated of Mind, as of Matter. The belief I entertain that my mind exists when it is not feeling, nor thinking, nor conscious of its own existence, resolves itself into the belief of a Permanent Possibility of these states. If I think of myself as in dreamless sleep, or in the sleep of death, and believe that I, or in other words my mind, is or will be existing through these states, though not in conscious feeling, the most scrupulous examination of my belief will not detect in it any fact actually believed, except that my capability of feeling is not, in that interval, permanently destroyed, and is suspended only because it does not meet with the combination of econditionse which would call it into action: the moment it did meet with that combination it would revive, and remains, therefore, a Permanent Possibility. Thus far, there seems no hindrance to our regarding Mind as nothing but the series of our sensations (to which must now be added our internal feelings), as they actually occur, with the addition of infinite possibilities of feeling requiring for their actual realization conditions which may or may not take place, but which as possibilities are always in existence, and many of them present.f

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In order to the further understanding of the bearings of this theory of the Ego, it is advisable to consider it in its relation to three questions, which may very naturally be asked with reference to it, and which often have been asked, and sometimes answered very erroneously. If the theory is correct, and my Mind is but a series of feelings, or, as it has been called, a thread of consciousness, however supplemented by believed Possibilities of consciousness which are not, though they might be, realized; if this is all that Mind, or Myself, amounts to, what evidence have I (it is asked) of the existence of my fellow-creatures? What evidence of a hyperphysical world, or, in one word, of God? and, lastly, what evidence of immortality?

Dr. Reid unhesitatingly answers, None.[*] If the doctrine is true, I am alone in the universe.

I hold this to be one of Reid’s most palpable mistakes. Whatever evidence to each of the three points there is on the ordinary theory, exactly that same evidence is there on this.

In the first place, as to my fellow-creatures. Reid seems to have imagined that if I myself am only a series of feelings, the proposition that I have any fellow-creatures, or that there are any Selves except mine, is but words without a meaning. But this is a misapprehension. All that I am compelled to admit if I receive this theory, is that other people’s Selves also are but series of feelings, like my own. Though my Mind, as I am capable of conceiving it, be nothing but the succession of my feelings, and though Mind itself may be merely a possibility of feelings, there is nothing in that doctrine to prevent my conceiving, and believing, that there are other successions of feelings besides those of which I am conscious, and that these are as real as my own. The belief is completely consistent with the metaphysical theory. Let us now see whether the theory takes away the grounds of it.

What are those grounds? By what evidence do I know, or by what considerations am I led to believe, that there exist other sentient creatures; that the walking and speaking figures which I see and hear, have sensations and thoughts, or in other words, possess Minds? The most strenuous Intuitionist does not include this among the things that I know by direct intuition. I conclude it from certain things, which my experience of my own Edition: current; Page: [191] states of feeling proves to me to be marks of it. These marks are of two kinds, antecedent and subsequent; the previous conditions requisite for feeling, and the effects or consequences of it. I conclude that other human beings have feelings like me, because, first, they have bodies like me, which I know, in my own case, to be the antecedent condition of feelings; and because, secondly, they exhibit the acts, and other outward signs, which in my own case I know by experience to be caused by feelings. I am conscious in myself of a series of facts connected by an uniform sequence, of which the beginning is modifications of my body, the middle is feelings, the end is outward demeanour. In the case of other human beings I have the evidence of my senses for the first and last links of the series, but not for the intermediate link. I find, however, that the sequence between the first and last is as regular and constant in those other cases as it is in mine. In my own case I know that the first link produces the last through the intermediate link, and could not produce it without. Experience, therefore, obliges me to conclude that there must be an intermediate link; which must either be the same in others as in myself, or a different one: I must either believe them to be alive, or to be automatons: and by believing them to be alive, that is, by supposing the link to be of the same nature as in the case of which I have experience, and which is in all other respects similar, I bring other human beings, as phænomena, under the same generalizations which I know by experience to be the true theory of my own existence. And in doing so I conform to the legitimate rules of experimental enquiry. The process is exactly parallel to that by which Newton proved that the force which keeps the planets in their orbits is identical with that by which an apple falls to the ground. It was not incumbent on Newton to prove the impossibility of its being any other force; he was thought to have made out his point when he had simply shown, that no other force need be supposed. We know the existence of other beings by generalization from the knowledge of our own: the generalization merely postulates that what experience shows to be a mark of the existence of something within the sphere of our consciousness, may be concluded to be a mark of the same thing beyond that sphere.

This logical process loses none of its legitimacy on the supposition that neither Mind nor Matter is anything but a permanent possibility of feeling. Whatever sensation I have, I at once refer it to one of the permanent groups of possibilities of sensation which I call material objects. But among these groups I find there is one (my own body) which is not only composed, like the rest, of a mixed multitude of sensations and possibilities of sensation, but is also connected, in a peculiar manner, with all my sensations. Not only is this special group always present as an antecedent condition of every sensation I have, but the other groups are only enabled to convert their respective possibilities of sensation into actual sensations, by means Edition: current; Page: [192] of some previous change in that particular one. I look about me, and though there is only one group (or body) which is connected with all my sensations in this peculiar manner, I observe that there is a great multitude of other bodies, closely resembling in their sensible properties (in the sensations composing them as groups) this particular one, but whose modifications do not call up, as those of my own body do, a world of sensations in my consciousness. Since they do not do so in my consciousness, I infer that they do it out of my consciousness, and that to each of them belongs a world of consciousness of its own, to which it stands in the same relation in which what I call my own body stands to mine. And having made this generalization, I find that all other facts within my reach gaccordg with it. Each of these bodies exhibits to my senses a set of phænomena (composed of acts and other manifestations) such as I know, in my own case, to be effects of consciousness, and such as might be looked for if each of the bodies has really in connexion with it a world of consciousness. All this is as good and genuine an inductive process on the theory we are discussing, as it is on the common theory. Any objection to it in the one case would be an equal objection in the other. I have stated the postulate required by the one theory: the common theory is in need of the same. If I could not, from my personal knowledge of one succession of feelings, infer the existence of other successions of feelings, when manifested by the same outward signs, I could just as little, from my personal knowledge of a single spiritual substance, infer by generalization, when I find the same outward indications, the existence of other spiritual substances.

As the theory leaves the evidence of the existence of my fellow-creatures exactly as it was before, so does it also with that of the existence of God. Supposing me to believe that the Divine Mind is simply the series of the Divine thoughts and feelings prolonged through eternity, that would be, at any rate, believing God’s existence to be as real as my own. And as for evidence, the argument of Paley’s Natural Theology, or, for that matter, of his Evidences of Christianity, would stand exactly where it does.[*] The Design argument is drawn from the analogy of human experience. From the relation which human works bear to human thoughts and feelings, it infers a corresponding relation between works, more or less similar but superhuman, and superhuman thoughts and feelings. If it proves these, nobody but a metaphysician needs care whether or not it proves a mysterious Edition: current; Page: [193] substratum for them. Again, the arguments for Revelation undertake to prove by testimony, that within the sphere of human experience works were done requiring a greater than human power, and words said requiring a greater than human wisdom. These positions, and the evidences of them, neither lose nor gain anything by our supposing that the wisdom only means wise thoughts and volitions, and that the power means thoughts and volitions followed by imposing phænomena.

As to immortality, it is precisely as easy to conceive that a succession of feelings, a thread of consciousness, may be prolonged to eternity, as that a spiritual substance for ever continues to exist: and any evidence which would prove the one, will prove the other. Metaphysical theologians may lose the à priori argument by which they have sometimes flattered themselves with having proved that a spiritual substance, by the essential constitution of its nature, cannot perish. But they had better drop this argument in any case. To do them justice, they seldom insist on it now.

The notion that metaphysical Scepticism, even at the utmost length to which it ever has been, or is capable of being, carried, has for its logical consequence atheism, is grounded on an entire misapprehension of the Sceptical argument, and has no locus standi except for persons who think that whatever accustoms people to a rigid scrutiny of evidence is unfavourable to religious belief. This is the opinion, doubtless, of those who do not believe in any religion, and seemingly of a great number who do: but it is not the opinion of Sir W. Hamilton, who says that “religious disbelief and philosophical scepticism are not merely not the same, but have no natural connexion;”* and who, as we have seen, makes use of the veracity of the Deity as his principal argument for trusting the testimony of consciousness to the substantiality of Matter and of Mind, which would have been a gross petitio principii if he had thought that our assurance of the divine attributes required that the objective existence of Matter and Mind should be first recognised.

The theory, therefore, which resolves Mind into a series of feelings, with a background of possibilities of feeling, can effectually withstand the most invidious of the arguments directed against it. But, groundless as are the extrinsic objections, the theory has intrinsic difficulties which we have not yet set forth, and which it seems to me beyond the power of metaphysical analysis to remove. Besides present feelings, and possibilities of present feeling, there is another class of phænomena to be included in an enumeration of the elements making up our conception of Mind. The thread of consciousness which composes the mind’s phænomenal life, consists not Edition: current; Page: [194] only of present sensations, but likewise, in part, of memories and expectations. Now what are these? In themselves, they are present feelings, states of present consciousness, and in that respect not distinguished from sensations. They all, moreover, resemble some given sensations or feelings, of which we have previously had experience. But they are attended with the peculiarity, that each of them involves a belief in more than its own present existence. A sensation involves only this: but a remembrance of sensation, even if not referred to any particular date, involves the suggestion and belief that a sensation, of which it is a copy or representation, actually existed in the past: and an expectation involves the belief, more or less positive, that a sensation or other feeling to which it directly refers, will exist in the future. Nor can the phænomena involved in these two states of consciousness be adequately expressed, without saying that the belief they include is, that I myself formerly had, or that I myself, and no other, shall hereafter have, the sensations remembered or expected. The fact believed is, that the sensations did actually form, or will hereafter form, part of the self-same series of states, or thread of consciousness, of which the remembrance or expectation of those sensations is the part now present. If, therefore, we speak of the Mind as a series of feelings, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series of feelings which is aware of itself as past and future; and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the Mind, or Ego, is something different from any series of feelings, or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox, that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series.

The truth is, that we are here face to face with that final inexplicability, at which, as Sir W. Hamilton observes, we inevitably arrive when we reach ultimate facts; and in general, one mode of stating it only appears more incomprehensible than another, because the whole of human language is accommodated to the one, and is so incongruous with the other, that it cannot be expressed in any terms which do not deny its truth. The real stumbling block is perhaps not in any theory of the fact, but in the fact itself. The true incomprehensibility perhaps is, that something which has ceased, or is not yet in existence, can still be, in a manner, present: that a series of feelings, the infinitely greater part of which is past or future, can be gathered up, as it were, into a single present conception, accompanied by a belief of reality. I think, by far the wisest thing we can do, is to accept the inexplicable fact, without any theory of how it takes place; and when we are obliged to speak of it in terms which assume a theory, to use them with a reservation as to their meaning.

I have stated the difficulties attending the attempt to frame a theory of Mind, or the Ego, similar to what I have called the Psychological Theory of Edition: current; Page: [195] Matter, or the Non-ego. No such difficulties attend the theory in its application to Matter; and I leave it, as set forth, to pass for whatever it is worth as an antagonist doctrine to that of Sir W. Hamilton and the Scottish School, respecting the non-ego as a deliverance of consciousness.*

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This attempt to bring out into distinctness the mode in which the notions of Matter and Mind, considered as Substances, may have been generated in us by the mere order of our sensations, has naturally received from those whose metaphysical opinions were already made up, a much greater amount of opposition than of assent. I think I have observed, however, that the repugnance shown to it by writers has been in tolerably correct proportion to the evidence they give of deficiency in that indispensable aptitude of a metaphysician, facility in placing himself at the point of view of a theory different from his own: and that those who have ever (if the expression may be pardoned) thought themselves into the Berkeleian or any other Idealistic scheme of philosophy, however little favourable towards other parts of the present volume, have either let this part of it alone, or expressed more or less approbation of it. Those who are completely satisfied with the popular every-day notion of Matter, or whose metaphysics have been adopted from any of the Realistic thinkers who undertake to legitimate that common notion, are usually content with going round the counter-theory on the outside, and seldom place themselves sufficiently at the centre of it to perceive what a person ought to think or do, who occupies that position. They no longer, indeed, commit so gross a blunder as that which, not very long ago, even Reid, Stewart, and Brown rushed blindly into—that of charging a Berkeleian with inconsistency if he did not walk into the water or into the fire. Acquaintance with the German metaphysicians, and (it is but just to add) the teachings of Sir W. Hamilton, have had that much of beneficial result. But if such thinkers as these three could pass judgment on Berkeley’s doctrine while showing by such conclusive proof that they had never understood its very alphabet—that, however much consideration they may have given to the mere arguments of Berkeley, they had not begun to realize his doctrine in their own minds—to look at the sensible universe as he saw it, and see what consequences would follow; it is not wonderful that those who have got on a few steps further than this, have still much to do, before they are able to accommodate their conceptive faculties to the conditions of what I have called the Psychological Theory, and follow that theory correctly into the ramification of its applications.

In principle, I must admit that my opponents, as a body, have referred the Psychological Theory to the right test. They have aimed at showing that its attempt to account for the belief in Matter (I say Matter only, because I do not profess to have adequately accounted for the belief in Mind) implies or requires that the belief should already exist, as a condition of its own Edition: current; Page: [197] production. The objection, if true, is conclusive; but they are not very particular about the proof of its truth. They, one and all, think their case made out, if I employ, in any part of the exposition, the language of common life—a language constructed on the basis of the notions into the origin of which I am inquiring. If I say, that after we have seen a piece of paper on a table, our belief that it is still there during our absence means a belief that if we went again into the room we should see it, they cry out, Here is belief in Matter already assumed; the idea of going into a room implies belief in matter. If, as a proof that modifications may take place in our possibilities of sensation while the sensations are not in actual consciousness, I say that whether we are asleep or awake the fire goes out, I am told that I am assuming a knowledge of ourselves as a substance, and of the difference between being asleep and awake. They forget that to go into a room, to be asleep or awake, are expressions which have a meaning in the Psychological Theory as well as in theirs; that every assertion that can be made about the external world, which means anything on the Realistic theory, has a parallel meaning on the Psychological. Going into a room, on the Psychological theory, is a mere series of sensations felt, and possibilities of sensation inferred,* but distinguishable from every other combination of sensations and possibilities, and which, with others like to itself, forms as vast and variegated a picture of the universe as can be had on the other theory; indeed, as I maintain, the very same picture. The Psychological theory requires that we should have a conception of this series of actual and contingent sensations, as distinct from any other; but it does not require that we should have referred these sensations to a substance ulterior to all sensation or possibility of sensation. To suppose so, is to commit the same kind of misapprehension, though in a less extreme degree, which Reid, Stewart, and Brown committed.

When, in attempting an intelligible discussion of an abstruse metaphysical question, I have occasion to speak of any combination of physical facts, I must speak of it by the only names there are for it. I must employ language, every word of which expresses, not things as we perceive them, or as we may have conceived them originally, but things as we conceive them now. I was addressing readers, all of whom had the acquired notion of Matter, and nearly all of them the belief in it: and it was my business to show, to these believers in Matter, a possible mode in which the notion and belief of it might have been acquired, even if Matter, in the metaphysical meaning of the term, did not exist. In endeavouring to point out to them, by what facts the notion might have been generated, it was competent to me to Edition: current; Page: [198] state those facts in the language which was not only the most intelligible, but, to the minds I was addressing, the truest. The real paralogism would have been, if I had said anything implying, not the existence of Matter, but that the belief in it or the notion of it was part of the facts by which I was maintaining that this belief and notion may have been generated. But in no single instance have any adversaries whom I am aware of, been able to show this: and if they fairly placed themselves at the point of view of the Psychological explanation, they would see that I could not, in any circumstances whatever, have been reduced to this necessity: because there is, as I have said, for every statement which can be made concerning material phænomena in terms of the Realistic theory, an equivalent meaning in terms of Sensation and Possibilities of Sensation alone, and a meaning which would justify all the same processes of thought.[*] In fact, almost all philosophers who have narrowly examined the subject, have decided that Substance need only be postulated as a support for phænomena, or as a bond of connexion to hold a group or series of otherwise unconnected phænomena together: let us only, then, think away the support, and suppose the phænomena to remain, and to be held together in the same groups and series by some other agency, or without any agency but an internal law, and every consequence follows without Substance, for the sake of which Substance was assumed. The Hindoos thought that the earth required to be supported by an elephant; but the earth turned out quite capable of supporting itself, and “hanging self-balanced” on its own “centre.”[†] Descartes thought that a material medium filling the whole space between the earth and the sun, was required to enable them to act on one another;[‡] but it has been found sufficient to suppose an immaterial law of attraction, and the medium and its vortices dropped off as superfluities.

To dispel some of the haze which seems still to hang about the data assumed by the Psychological theory of the belief in Matter, it will be well that, as I have stated what laws and capacities, in one word what conditions, that theory postulates in the mind itself, I should also state what conditions it postulates in Nature; in that which, to use the Kantian phraseology, is given to the mind, as distinguished from the mind’s own constitution.

First, then, it postulates Sensations; and a certain Order among sensations. And the Order postulated, is of more kinds than one.

In the first place, there is the mere fact of succession. Sensations exist before and after one another. This is as much a primordial fact as sensation itself; it is a feature always present in sensation, and we have the strongest Edition: current; Page: [199] ground that can ever be had for regarding it as ultimate, because every genesis we assign to any other fact of perception or thought, includes it as a condition. I shall be told, that this is postulating the reality of Time: and it is so, if by Time be understood an indefinite succession of successions, unequal in rapidity. But an entity called Time, and regarded as not a succession of successions, but as something in which the successions take place, I do not and need not postulate.* Neither do I decide whether this inseparable attribute of our sensations is annexed to them by the laws of mind, or given in the sensations themselves; nor whether, at this great height of abstraction, the distinction does not disappear. Let me say also, that I have never pretended to account by association for the idea of Time. It is the seeming infinity of Time, as of Space, which, after Mr. James Mill,[*] I have tendered that explanation of: and that of this it is the true and sufficient one, is to me obvious.

Sensations are not only successive, they are also simultaneous: it often happens that several of them are felt, apparently at the same instant. This attribute of sensations is not so evidently primordial as their succession. There are philosophers who think that the sensations deemed simultaneous are very rapidly successive, their distinction from other cases of succession being that they may succeed one another in any order. I do not agree in this opinion; but, even supposing it correct, we should equally have to postulate the distinction. We should have to assume that plurality of sensations exists in two modes, one consciously successive, the other felt as simultaneous, and that the mind is able to distinguish between the one sort and the other.

Besides this twofold order inherent in sensations, of being either successive or simultaneous, there is an order within that order: they are successive or simultaneous in constant combinations. The same antecedent sensation is followed by the same consequent sensation; the same sensation is accompanied by the same set of simultaneous sensations. I use these expressions for shortness, for the uniformity of order is not quite so simple as this. The consequent sensation is not always actually felt after the Edition: current; Page: [200] antecedent, nor are all the synchronous sensations actually felt whenever one of them is felt. But the one which is felt gives us assurance, grounded on experience, that each of the others, if not felt, is feelable, i.e., will be felt if the other facts be present which are the known antecedent conditions of such a sensation as it is. For example, I have the sensations of colour and of a visible disk, which are parts of our present conception of a cast-iron ball. I infer that there are, now or presently to be had by me, simultaneously with those visual sensations, another feeling, called the sensation of hardness. But I do not have this last sensation inevitably and at once. Why? Because (as I also know by experience) no sensation of hardness is ever felt unless preceded by a condition, the same in all cases, but itself sensational, the sensations of muscular exertion and pressure. The visual sensation is synchronous, not necessarily with the actual sensation of hardness, but with a present possibility of that sensation. When we feel the one, we are not always feeling the other, but we know that it is to be felt on the ordinary terms: we know that so soon as the muscular sensations take place which are the observed preliminary to every sensation of hardness, that particular sensation of hardness will certainly be had, simultaneously with the visual sensation. This is what is meant by saying that a Body is a group of simultaneous possibilities of sensation, not of simultaneous sensations. It rarely happens that the sensations which enter into the group can all be experienced at once; because many of them are never had without a long series of antecedent sensations, including volitions, which may be incompatible with the sensations and volitions necessary for having others. The sensations which we receive when we study the internal structure of a closed body, are not to be obtained without having previously the complex series of sensations and volitions concerned in the operation of opening it. The sensations we receive from the complicated process by which food nourishes us, must be long waited for after our first sight of the food, and many of them are not even then to be had without our being led up to them through a long series of muscular and other sensations. But the very first sensations we have, that are sufficient to identify the group, guarantee to us the possibility or potentiality of all the others. The potentiality becomes actuality on the occurrence of certain known conditions sine quâ non of each, which are conditions not of having that particular sensation at a given moment, but of having any sensation of that kind; conditions which, when analysed, are themselves also merely sensational. Any one who had thrown his mind, by an act of imagination, into the Psychological theory, would see at a glance all these applications and developments of it, even if he did not follow them out into detail. But men will not, and mostly cannot, throw their minds into any theory with which they are not familiar; and the bearings and consequences of the Psychological theory will have to be Edition: current; Page: [201] developed and minutely expounded innumerable times, before it will be seen as it is, and have whatever chance it deserves of being accepted as true.

I have postulated, first, Sensations; secondly, succession and simultaneousness of sensations; thirdly, an uniform order in their succession and simultaneousness, such that they are united in groups, the component sensations of which are in such a relation to one another, that when we experience one, we are authorized to expect all the rest, conditionally on certain antecedent sensations called organic, belonging to the kind of each. This is all we need postulate with regard to the groups, considered in themselves, or considered in relation to the perceiving Subject. Let us examine whether it is necessary to postulate anything additional respecting the groups considered in relation to one another.

In Dr. M‘Cosh’s opinion, the Psychological theory overlooks this part of the subject.* In quoting the analysis of our conception of Matter into Resistance, Extension, and Figure, together with miscellaneous powers of exciting other sensations, he observes, “There is a palpable omission here, for it omits those powers by which one body operates upon another; thus the sun has a power to make wax white, and fire to make lead fluid.”[*] If Dr. M‘Cosh had entered even a very little way into the mode of thought which he is combating, he must have seen that after mentioning the attribute of exciting sensations, it could not be necessary to add that of making something else excite sensations. If Body altogether is only conceived as a power of exciting sensations, the action of one body upon another is simply the modification by one such power, of the sensations excited by another; or, to use a different expression, the joint action of two powers of exciting sensations. It is easy for any one competent to such enquiries who will make the attempt, to understand how one group of Possibilities of Sensation can be conceived as destroying or modifying another such group.

Let there be granted a synchronous group, connected by the contingent simultaneousness already described, which renders each of the component sensations a mark of the possibility of having all the others; while each, independently of the others, has conditions sine quâ non of its own, also sensational, but of the kind which, in common language, we call organic, and refer to an internal sense. Let us suppose that these organic conditions, Edition: current; Page: [202] instead of existing for one or more sensations of the group and not for the rest, do not at present exist for any of them. The whole of the possibilities of sensation which form the group, and which mutually testify to each other’s presence, are now dormant: but they are ready to start into actuality at any moment, when the conditions sine quâ non which belong to them separately are realized: and whenever any of them thus starts up, it informs us (so far as our experience happens to have reached) what others are ready to do so in the same manner. This dormancy of all the possibilities, while, as real possibilities guaranteeing one another, they continue to exist, constitutes, on the Psychological theory, the fact which is at the bottom of the assertion that the body is in existence when we are not perceiving it. This fact is all that we need postulate to account for our conceiving the groups of Possibilities of Sensation as permanent and independent of us; for our projecting them into objectivity; and for our conceiving them as perhaps capable of being Possibilities of Sensation to other beings in like manner as to ourselves, as soon as we have conceived the idea of other sentient beings than ourselves. And since we do actually recognise other sentient beings as existing, and receive impressions from them which entirely accord with this hypothesis, we accept the hypothesis as a truth, and believe that the Permanent Possibilities of Sensation really are common to ourselves and other beings.

Having thus arrived at the conception of an absent group of Possibilities, there is surely no more difficulty in conceiving the annihilation or alteration of the Possibilities while absent, than of the sensations themselves when present. The log which I saw on the fire an hour ago, has been consumed and has disappeared when I look again; the Possibilities of Sensation which I called by that name, are possibilities no longer. The ice which I placed in front of the fire at the same time, is now water; such Possibilities of Sensation as form part of the groups called ice and not of the groups called water, have ceased and given place to others. All this is intelligible without supposing the wood, the ice, or the water, to be anything underneath or beyond Permanent Possibilities of Sensation. Why, then, when I ascribe the disappearance of the wood, and the conversion of the ice into water, to the presence of the fire, must I suppose the fire to be something underneath a Possibility of Sensation? My experience informs me that those other Possibilities of Sensation do not vanish or change in the manner mentioned, unless another Possibility of Sensation known by the name of fire, has existed immediately before, and continued to exist simultaneously with the change. Changes in the Permanent Possibilities I find to have always for their antecedent conditions, other Permanent Possibilities, and to be connected with them by an order or law, as uniform as that which connects the elements of each group with one another; indeed by a still stricter order, for Edition: current; Page: [203] the laws of succession, those of Cause and Effect, are laws of more rigid precision than those of simultaneousness. But the facts, between which the observed uniformities of succession exist, are facts of sense; that is, either actual sensations, or possibilities of sensation inferred from the actual. Thus the whole variety of the facts of nature as we know it, is given in the mere existence of our sensations, and in the laws or order of their occurrence.*

I have now given an exposition of the Psychological Theory, and of the mode in which it accounts for what is supposed to be our natural conviction of the existence of Matter, from the objective point of view, as I had previously done from the subjective; and I think it will be found that the exposition does not presuppose anything which I have not expressly postulated, and that I have not postulated any of the facts or notions which I undertake to explain. It may be said that I postulate an Ego—the sentient Subject of the sensations. I have stated what subjective, as well as what objective data I postulate. Expectation being one of these, in so far as reference to an Ego is implied in Expectation I do postulate an Ego. But I am entitled to do so, for up to this stage it is not Self, but Body, that I have been endeavouring to trace to its origin as an acquired notion.

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I now pass to this very subject, the Ego, and to the objections which have been made against the manner in which it is treated in the preceding chapter.

Having shown that in order to account for the belief in Matter, or, in other words, in a non-ego supposed to be presented in or along with sensation, it is not necessary to suppose anything but sensations and possibilities of sensation connected in groups; it was natural and necessary to enquire whether the Ego, supposed to be presented in or along with all consciousness whatever, is also an acquired notion, explicable in the same manner. I therefore stated this phænomenal theory of the Ego; freed it from the prejudice which attaches to it on the score of consequences to which it does not lead, the non-existence, first, of our fellow-creatures, and secondly, of God;* but showed that it has intrinsic difficulties, which no Edition: current; Page: [205] one has been able to remove; since certain of the attributes comprised in our notion of the Ego, and which are at the very foundation of it, namely Memory and Expectation, have no equivalent in Matter, and cannot be reduced to any elements similar to those into which Matter is resolved by the Psychological theory. Having stated these facts, as inexplicable by the Psychological theory, I left them to stand as facts, without any theory whatever: not adopting the Permanent Possibility hypothesis as a sufficient theory of Self in spite of the objections to it, as some of my critics have Edition: current; Page: [206] imagined, and have wasted no small amount of argument and sarcasm in exposing the untenability of such a position: neither, on the other hand, did I, as others have supposed, accept the common theory of Mind, as a so-called Substance. Since the state in which I profess to leave the question has been so ill understood, it is incumbent on me to explain myself more fully.

Since the fact which alone necessitates the belief in an Ego, the one fact which the Psychological theory cannot explain, is the fact of Memory (for Edition: current; Page: [207] Expectation I hold to be, both psychologically and logically, a consequence of Memory), I see no reason to think that there is any cognizance of an Ego until Memory commences. There seems no ground for believing, with Sir W. Hamilton and Mr. Mansel, that the Ego is an original presentation of consciousness; that the mere impression on our senses involves, or carries with it, any consciousness of a Self, any more than I believe it to do of a Not-self. Our very notion of a Self takes its commencement i(there is every reason to suppose)i from the representation of a sensation in memory, when awakened by the only thing there is to awaken it before any associations have been formed, namely, the occurrence of a subsequent sensation similar to the former one. The fact of recognising a sensation, of being reminded of it, and, as we say, remembering that it has been felt before, is the simplest and most elementary fact of memory: and the inexplicable tie, or law, the organic union (as Professor Masson calls it)[*] which connects the present consciousness with the past one, of which it reminds me, is as near as I think we can get to a positive conception of Self. That there is something real in this tie, real as the sensations themselves, and not a mere product of the laws of thought without any fact corresponding to it, I hold to be indubitable. The precise nature of the process by which we cognise it, is open to much dispute. Whether we are directly conscious of it in the act of remembrance, as we are of succession in the fact of having successive sensations, or whether, according to the opinion of Kant, we are not conscious of a Self at all, but are compelled to assume it as a necessary condition of Memory,* I do not undertake to decide. But this original Edition: current; Page: [208] element, which has no community of nature with any of the things answering to our names, and to which we cannot give any name but its own peculiar one without implying some false or ungrounded theory, is the Ego, or Self. As such, I ascribe a reality to the Ego—to my own Mind—different from that real existence as a Permanent Possibility, which is the only reality I acknowledge in Matter: and by fair experiential inference from that one Ego, I ascribe the same reality to other Egoes, or Minds.

Having thus, as I hope, more clearly defined my position in regard to the reality of the Ego, considered as a question of Ontology, I return to my first starting point, the Relativity of human knowledge, and affirm (being here in entire accordance with Sir W. Hamilton) that whatever be the nature of the real existence we are compelled to acknowledge in Mind, the Mind is only known to itself phænomenally, as the series of its feelings of consciousnesses. We are forced to apprehend every part of the series as linked with the other parts by something in common, which is not the feelings themselves, any more than the succession of the feelings is the feelings themselves: and as that which is the same in the first as in the second, in the second as in the third, in the third as in the fourth, and so on, must be the same in the first and in the fiftieth, this common element is a permanent element. But beyond this, we can affirm nothing of it except the states of consciousness themselves. The feelings or consciousnesses which belong or have belonged to it, and its possibilities of having more, are the only facts there are to be asserted of Self—the only positive attributes, except permanence, which we can ascribe to it. In consequence of this, I occasionally use the words “mind” and “thread of consciousness” interchangeably, and treat Mind as existing, and Mind as known to itself, as convertible: but this is only for brevity, and the explanations which I have now given must always be taken as implied.h*

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CHAPTER XIII: The Psychological Theory of the Primary Qualities of Matter

for the reasons which have been set forth, I conceive Sir W. Hamilton to be wrong in his statement that a Self and a Not-self are immediately apprehended in our primitive consciousness. We have, in all probability, no notion of Not-self, until after considerable experience of the recurrence of sensations according to fixed laws, and in groups.* aNor is ita credible that the first sensation which we experience awakens in us any notion of an Ego or Self. To refer it to an Ego is to consider it as part of a series of states of consciousness, some portion of which is already past. The identification of a present state with a remembered state cognised as past, is what, to my thinking, constitutes the cognition that it is I who feel it. “I” means he who saw, touched, or felt something yesterday or the day before. No single sensation can suggest personal identity: this requires a series of sensations, thought of as forming a line of succession, and summed up in thought into a Unity.

But (however this may be) throughout the whole of our sensitive life except its first beginnings, we unquestionably refer our sensations to a me and a not-me. As soon as I have formed, on the one hand, the notion of Permanent Possibilities of Sensation, and on the other, of that continued series of feelings which I call my life, both these notions are, by an irresistible association, recalled by every sensation I have. They represent two things, with both of which the sensation of the moment, be it what it may, stands in relation, and I cannot be conscious of the sensation without being conscious of it as related to these two things. They have accordingly Edition: current; Page: [211] received relative names, expressive of the double relation in question. The thread of consciousness which I apprehend the sensation as a part of, is the subject of the sensation. The group of Permanent Possibilities of Sensation to which I refer it, and which is partially realized and actualized in it, is the object of the sensation. The sensation itself ought to have a correlative name; or rather, ought to have two such names, one denoting the sensation as opposed to its Subject, the other denoting it as opposed to its Object. But it is a remarkable fact, that this necessity has not been felt, and that the need of a correlative name to every relative one has been considered to be satisfied by the terms Object and Subject themselves; the object and the subject not being attended to in the relation which they respectively bear to the sensation, but being regarded as directly correlated with one another. It is true that they are related to one another, but only through the sensation: their relation to each other consists in the peculiar and different relation in which they severally stand to the sensation. We have no conception of either Subject or Object, either Mind or Matter, except as something to which we refer our sensations, and whatever other feelings we are conscious of. The very existence of them both, so far as cognisable by us, consists only in the relation they respectively bear to our states of feeling. Their relation to each other is only the relation between those two relations. The immediate correlatives are not the pair, Object, Subject, but the two pairs, Object, Sensation objectively considered; Subject, Sensation subjectively considered. The reason why this is overlooked, might easily be shown, and would furnish a good illustration of that important part of the Laws of Association which may be termed the Laws of Obliviscence.

I have next to speak of a psychological fact, also a consequence of the Laws of Association, and without a full appreciation of which, the idea of Matter can only be understood in its original groundwork, but not in the superstructure which the laws of our actual experience have raised upon it. There are certain of our sensations which we are accustomed principally to consider subjectively, and others which we are principally accustomed to consider objectively. In the case of the first, the relation in which we most frequently, most habitually, and therefore most easily consider them, is their relation to the series of feelings of which they form a part, and which, consolidated by thought into a single conception, is termed the Subject. In the case of the second, the relation in which we by preference contemplate them is their relation to some group, or some kind of group, of Permanent Possibilities of Sensation, the present existence of which is certified to us by the sensation we are at the moment feeling—and which is termed the Object. The difference between these two classes of our sensations, answers to the distinction made by the majority of philosophers between the Primary and the Secondary Qualities of Matter.

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We can, of course, think of all or any of our sensations in relation to their Objects, that is, to the permanent groups of possibilities of sensation to which we mentally refer them. This is the main distinction between our sensations, and what we regard as our purely mental feelings. These we do not refer to any groups of Permanent Possibilities; and in regard to them the distinction of Subject and Object is merely nominal. These feelings have no Objects, except by metaphor. There is nothing but the feeling and its Subject. Metaphysicians are obliged to call the feeling itself the object. Our sensations, on the contrary, have all of them objects; they all are capable of being classed under some group of Permanent Possibilities, and being referred to the presence of that particular set of possibilities as the antecedent condition or cause of their own existence. There are, however, some of our sensations, in our consciousness of which the reference to their Object does not play so conspicuous and predominant a part as in others. This is particularly the case with sensations which are highly interesting to us on their own account, and on which we willingly dwell, or which by their intensity compel us to concentrate our attention on them. These are, of course, our pleasures and pains. In the case of these, our attention is naturally given in a greater degree to the sensations themselves, and only in a less degree to that whose existence they are marks of. And of the two conceptions to which they stand in relation, the one to which we have most tendency to refer them is the Subject; because our pleasures and pains are of no more importance as marks than any of our other sensations, but are of very much more importance than any others as parts of the thread of consciousness which constitutes our sentient life. Many indeed of our internal bodily pains we should hardly refer to an Object at all, were it not for the knowledge, late and slowly acquired, that they are always connected with a local organic disturbance, of which we have no present consciousness, and which is therefore a mere Possibility of Sensation. Those of our sensations, on the contrary, which are almost indifferent in themselves, our attention does not dwell on; our consciousness of them is too momentary to be distinct, and we pass on from them to the Permanent Possibilities of Sensation which they are the signs of, and which alone are important to us. We hardly notice the relation between these sensations and the subjective chain of consciousness of which they form so extremely insignificant a part: the sensation is hardly anything to us but the link which draws into our consciousness a group of Permanent Possibilities; this group is the only thing distinctly present to our thoughts. The unimpressive organic sensation merges in the mere mental suggestion, and we seem to cognise directly that which we think of only by association, and know only by inference. Sensation is in a manner blotted out, and Perception seems to be installed in its place. This truth is expressed, though not with sufficient Edition: current; Page: [213] distinctness, in a favourite doctrine of Sir W. Hamilton, that in the operations of our senses Sensation is greatest when Perception is least, and least when it is greatest; or, as he, by a very inaccurate use of mathematical language, expresses it, Sensation and Perception are in the inverse ratio of one another.

With regard to those sensations which, without being absolutely indifferent, are not, in any absorbing degree, painful or pleasurable, we habitually think of them only as connected with, or proceeding from, Objects. And I am disposed to believe, contrary to the opinion of many philosophers, that any of our senses, or at all events any combination of more than one sense, would have been sufficient to give us some idea of Matter. If we had only the senses of smell, taste, and hearing, but had the sensations according to fixed laws of coexistence so that whenever we had any one of them it marked to us a present possibility of having all the others, I am inclined to think that we should have formed the notion of groups of possibilities of sensation, and should have referred every particular sensation to one of these groups, which, in relation to all the sensations so referred to it, would have become an Object, and would have been invested in our thoughts with the permanency and externality which belong to Matter. But though we might, in this supposed case, have had an idea of Matter, that idea would necessarily have been of a very different complexion from what we now have. For, as we are actually constituted, our sensations of smell, taste, and hearing, and bas I believe (with the great majority ofb philosophers) those of sight also, are not grouped together directly, but through the connexion which they all have, by laws of coexistence or of causation, with the sensations which are referable to the sense of touch and to the muscles; those which answer to the terms Resistance, Extension, and Figure. These, therefore, become the leading and conspicuous elements in all the groups: where these are, the group is: every other member of the group presents itself to our thoughts, less as what it is in itself, than as a mark of these. As the entire group stands in the relation of Object to any one of the component sensations which is realized at a given moment, so do these special parts of the group become, in a manner, Object, in relation not only to actual sensations, but to all the remaining Possibilities of Sensation which the group includes. The Permanent Possibilities of sensations of touch and of the muscles, form a group within the group—a sort of inner nucleus, conceived as more fundamental than the rest, on which all the other possibilities of sensation included in the group seem to depend; these being regarded, in one point of view, as effects, of which that nucleus is the cause, in another as attributes, of which it is the substratum or substance. Edition: current; Page: [214] In this manner our conception of Matter comes ultimately to consist of Resistance, Extension, and Figure, together with miscellaneous powers of exciting other sensations. These three attributes become its essential constituents, and where these are not found, we hesitate to apply the name.

Of these properties, which are consequently termed the Primary Qualities of Matter, the most fundamental is Resistance: as is proved by numberous scientific controversies. When the question arises whether something which affects our senses in a peculiar way, as for instance whether Heat, or Light, or Electricity, is or is not Matter, what seems always to be meant is, does it offer any, however trifling, resistance to motion? If it were shown that it did, this would at once terminate all doubt. That Resistance is only another name for a sensation of our muscular frame, combined with one of touch, has been pointed out by many philosophers, and can scarcely any longer be questioned. When we contract the muscles of our arm, either by an exertion of will, or by an involuntary discharge of our spontaneous nervous activity, the contraction is accompanied by a state of sensation, which is different according as the locomotion consequent on the muscular contraction continues freely, or meets with an impediment. In the former case, the sensation is that of motion through empty space. After having had (let us suppose) this experience several times repeated, we suddenly have a different experience: the series of sensations accompanying the motion of our arm is brought, without intention or expectation on our part, to an abrupt close. This interruption would not, of itself, necessarily suggest the belief in an external obstacle. The hindrance might be in our organs; it might arise from paralysis, or simple loss of power through fatigue. But in either of these cases, the muscles would not have been contracted, and we should not have had the sensation which accompanies their contraction. We may have had the will to exert our muscular force, but the exertion has not taken place.* If it does take place, and is accompanied by the usual muscular sensation, but the cdistinctive feeling which I have called the Edition: current; Page: [215] sensation of motion in empty spacec does not follow, we have what is called the feeling of Resistance, or in other words, of muscular dactiond impeded; and that feeling is the fundamental element in the notion of Matter which results from our common experience. But simultaneously with this feeling of Resistance, we have also feelings of touch; sensations of which the organs are not the nerves diffused through our muscles, but those which form a network under the skin; the sensations which are produced by passive contact with bodies, without muscular action. As these skin sensations of simple contact invariably accompany the muscular sensation of resistance—for we must touch the object before we can feel it resisting our pressure—there is early formed an inseparable association between them. Whenever we feel resistance we have first felt contacte. Whenevere we feel contact, we know that were we to exercise muscular action, we should feel more or less resistance. In this manner is formed the first fundamental group of Permanent Possibilities of Sensation; and as we in time recognise that all our other sensations are connected in point of fact with Permanent Possibilities of resistance—that in coexistence with them we should always, by sufficient search, encounter something which would give us the feeling of contact combined with the muscular sensation of resistance; our idea of Matter, as a Resisting Cause of miscellaneous sensations, is now constituted.

Let us observe, in passing, the elementary example here afforded of the Law of Inseparable Association, and the efficacy of that law to construct what, after it has been constructed, is undistinguishable, by any direct interrogation of consciousness, from an intuition. The sensation produced by the simple contact of an object with the skin, without any pressure—or even with pressure, but without any muscular reaction against it—is no more likely than a sensation of warmth or cold would be, to be spontaneously referred to any cause external to ourselves. But when the constant coexistence, in experience, of this sensation of contact with that of Resistance to our muscular effort whenever such effort is made, has erected the former sensation into a mark or sign of a Permanent Possibility of the latter; from that time forward, no sooner do we have the skin sensation which we call a sensation of contact, than we cognise, or, as we call it, perceive, something external, corresponding to the idea we now form of Matter as a resisting object. Our sensations of touch have become representative of the sensations of resistance with which they habitually coexist: just as philosophers have shown that the sensations of different shades of colour given by our sense of sight, and the muscular sensations accompanying the Edition: current; Page: [216] various movements of the eye, become representative of those sensations of touch and of the muscles of locomotion, which are the only real meaning of what we term the distance of a body from us.*

The next of the primary qualities of Body is Extension; which has long been considered as one of the principal stumbling blocks of the Psychological Theory. Reid and Stewart were willing to let the whole question of the intuitive character of our knowledge of Matter, depend on the inability of psychologists to assign any origin to the idea of Extension, or analyse it into any combination of sensations and reminiscences of sensation. Sir W. Hamilton follows their example in laying great stress on this point.

The answer of the opposite school I will present in its latest and most improved form, as given by Professor Bain,f in the First Part of his great work on the Mind.

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Mr. Bain recognises two principal kinds or modes of discriminative sensibility in the muscular sense: the one corresponding to the degree of intensity of the muscular effort—the amount of energy put forth; the other corresponding to the duration—the longer or shorter continuance of the same effort. The first makes us acquainted with degrees of resistance: which we estimate by the intensity of the muscular energy required to overcome it. To the second we owe, in Mr. Bain’s opinion, our idea of Extension.

When a muscle begins to contract, or a limb to bend, we have a distinct sense of how far the contraction and the bending are carried; there is something in the special sensibility that makes one mode of feeling for half-contraction, another mode for three-fourths, and another for total contraction. Our feeling of moving organs, or of contracting muscles, has been already affirmed to be different from our feeling of dead tension—something more intense, keen, and exciting; and I am now led to assert, from my best observations and by inference from acknowledged facts, that the extent of range of a movement, the degree of shortening of a muscle, is a matter of discriminative sensibility. I believe it to be much less pronounced, less exact, than the sense of resistance above described, but to be not the less real and demonstrable.

If we suppose a weight raised, by the flexing of the arm, first four inches, and then eight inches, it is obvious that the mere amount of exertion or expended power will be greater, and the sensibility increased in proportion. In this view, the sense of range would simply be the sense of a greater or less continuance of the same effort, that effort being expended in movement. We can have no difficulty in believing that there should be a discriminating sensibility in this case; it seems very natural that we should be differently affected by an action continued four or five times longer than another. If this be admitted, as true to observation, and as inevitably arising from the existence of any discrimination whatsoever of degrees of expended power, everything is granted that is contended for at present. It is not meant to affirm that at each degree of shortening of a muscle, or each intermediate attitude of a limb, there is an impression made on the centres that can be distinguished from the impression Edition: current; Page: [218] of every other position or degree of shortening; it is enough to require that the range or amount of movement gone over should be a matter of distinct perception, through the sensibility to the amount of force expended in time, the degree of effort being the same. The sensibility now in question differs from the former (from sensibility to the intensity of effort) chiefly in making the degree turn upon duration, and not upon the amount expended each instant; and it seems to me impossible to deny that force increased or diminished simply as regards continuance, is as much a subject of discriminative sensibility as force increased or diminished in the intensity of the sustained effort. . . .

If the sense of degrees of range be thus admitted as a genuine muscular determination, its functions in outward perception are very important. The attributes of extension and space fall under its scope. In the first place, it gives the feeling of linear extension, inasmuch as this is measured by the sweep of a limb, or other organ moved by muscles. The difference between six inches and eighteen inches is expressed to us by the different degrees of contraction of some one group of muscles; those, for example, that flex the arm, or, in walking, those that flex or extend the lower limb. The inward impression corresponding to the outward fact of six inches in length, is an impression arising from the continued shortening of a muscle, a true muscular sensibility. It is the impression of a muscular effort having a certain continuance; a greater length produces a greater continuance (or a more rapid movement) and in consequence an increased feeling of expended power.

The discrimination of length in any one direction includes extension in any direction. Whether it be length, breadth, or height, the perception has precisely the same character. Hence superficial and solid dimensions, the size or magnitude of a solid object, come to be felt in a similar manner. . . .

It will be obvious that what is called situation or Locality must come under the same head, as these are measured by distance taken along with direction; direction being itself estimated by distance, both in common observation and in mathematical theory. In like manner, form or shape is ascertained through the same primitive sensibility to extension or range.

By the muscular sensibility thus associated with prolonged contraction we can therefore compare different degrees of the attribute of space, in other words, difference of length, surface, situation, and form. When comparing two different lengths we can feel which is the greater, just as in comparing two different weights or resistances. We can also, as in the case of weight, acquire some absolute standard of comparison, through the permanency of impressions sufficiently often repeated. We can engrain the feeling of contraction of the muscles of the lower limb due to a pace of thirty inches, and can say that some one given pace is less or more than this amount. According to the delicacy of the muscular tissue we can, by shorter or longer practice, acquire distinct impressions for every standard dimension, and can decide at once whether a given length is four inches or four and a half, nine or ten, twenty or twenty-one. This sensibility to size, enabling us to dispense with the use of measures of length, is an acquirement suited to many mechanical operations. In drawing, painting, and engraving, and in the plastic arts, the engrained discrimination of the most delicate differences is an indispensable qualification.

The third attribute of muscular discrimination is the velocity or speed of the movement. It is difficult to separate this from the foregoing. In the feeling of range, velocity answers the same purpose as continuance; both imply an enhancement of Edition: current; Page: [219] effort, or of expended power, different in its nature from the increase of dead effort in one fixed situation. We must learn to feel that a slow motion for a long time is the same as a quicker motion with less duration; which we can easily do by seeing that they both produce the same effect in exhausting the full range of a limb. If we experiment upon the different ways of accomplishing a total sweep of the arm, we shall find that the slow movements long continued are equal to quick motions of short continuance, and we are thus able by either course to acquire to ourselves a measure of range and lineal extension. . . .

We would thus trace the perception of the mathematical and mechanical properties of matter to the muscular sensibility alone. We admit that this perception is by no means very accurate if we exclude the special senses, but we are bound to show at the outset that these senses are not essential to the perception, as we shall afterwards show that it is to the muscular apparatus associated with the senses that their more exalted sensibility must be also ascribed. The space moved through by the foot in pacing may be appreciated solely through the muscles of the limb, as well as by the movements of the touching hand or the seeing eye. Whence we may accede to the assertion sometimes made, that the properties of space might be conceived, or felt, in the absence of an external world, or of any other matter than that composing the body of the percipient being; for the body’s own movements in empty space would suffice to make the very same impressions on the mind as the movements excited by outward objects. A perception of length, or height, or speed, is the mental impression, or state of consciousness, accompanying some mode of muscular movement, and this movement may be generated from within as well as from without; in both cases the state of consciousness is exactly the same.

A theory of Extension somewhat similar, though less clearly unfolded, was advanced by Brown,[*] and as it stands in his statement, fell under the criticism of Sir W. Hamilton; who gives it, as he thinks, a short and crushing refutation, as follows:

As far as I can find his meaning in his cloud of words, he argues thus:—The notion of Time or succession being supposed, that of longitudinal extension is given in the succession of feelings which accompanies the gradual contraction of a muscle; the notion of this succession constitutes, ipso facto, the notion of a certain length; and the notion of this length (he quietly takes for granted) is the notion of longitudinal extension sought. The paralogism here is transparent. Length is an ambiguous term; and it is length in space, extensive length, and not length in time, protensive length, whose notion it is the problem to evolve. To convert, therefore, the notion of a certain kind of length (and that certain kind being also confessedly only length in time) into the notion of a length in space, is at best an idle begging of the question—Is it not? Then I would ask, whether the series of feelings of which we are aware in the gradual contraction of a muscle, involves the consciousness of being a succession in length, (1) in time alone? or (2) in space alone? or (3) in time and space together? These three cases will be allowed to be exhaustive. If the first be affirmed; if the succession appear in consciousness a succession in time exclusively, then nothing has been accomplished; for the notion of extension or space is in no way contained in the notion of duration or time. Again, if the second or third is affirmed; Edition: current; Page: [220] if the series appear to consciousness a succession in length, either in space alone, or in space and time together, then is the notion it behoved to generate employed to generate itself.*

The dilemma looks formidable, but one of its horns is blunt; for the very assertion of Brown, and of all who hold the Psychological theory, is that the notion of length in space, not being in our consciousness originally, is constructed by the mind’s laws out of the notion of length in time. Their argument is not, as Sir W. Hamilton fancied, a fallacious confusion between two different meanings of the word lengthi; they maintain the one to be a product of the otheri. Sir W. Hamilton did not fully understand the argument. He saw that a succession of feelings, such as that which Brown spoke of, could not possibly give us the idea of simultaneous existence. But he was mistaken in supposing that Brown’s argument implied this absurdity. The notion of simultaneity must be supposed to have been already acquired; as it necessarily would be at the very earliest period, from the familiar fact that we often have sensations simultaneously. What Brown had to show was, that the idea of the particular mode of simultaneous existence called Extension, might arise, not certainly out of a mere succession of muscular sensations, but out of that added to the knowledge already possessed that sensations of touch may be simultaneous. Suppose two small bodies, A and B, sufficiently near together to admit of their being touched simultaneously, one with the right hand, the other with the left. Here are two tactual sensations which are simultaneous, just as a sensation of colour and one of odour might be; and this makes us cognise the two objects of touch as both existing at once. The question then is, what have we in our minds, when we represent to ourselves the relation between these two objects already known to be simultaneous, in the form of Extension, or intervening Space—a relation which we do not suppose to exist between the colour and the odour. Now those who agree with Brown, say that whatever the notion of Extension may be, we acquire it by passing our hand or some other organ of touch, in a longitudinal direction from A to B: that this process, as far as we are conscious of it, consists of a series of varied muscular sensations, differing according to the amount of muscular effort, and, the effort being given, differing in length of time. When we say that there is a space between A and B, we mean that some amount of these muscular sensations must intervene; and when we say that the space is greater or less, we mean that the series of sensations (amount of muscular effort being given) is longer or shorter. If another object, C, is farther off in the same line, we judge its distance to be greater, because to reach it, the Edition: current; Page: [221] series of muscular sensations must be further prolonged, or else there must be the increase of effort which corresponds to augmented velocity. Now this, which is jnot denied to bej the mode in which we become kawarek of extension, lby any other sense than sight,l is considered by the psychologists in question to be extension. The idea of Extended Body they consider to be that of a variety of resisting points, existing simultaneously, but which can be perceived by the same tactile organ only successively, at the end of a series of muscular sensations which constitutes their mdistancem; and are said to be at different distances from one another because the series of intervening muscular sensations is longer in some cases than in others.*

The theory may be recapitulated as follows. The sensation of muscular motion unimpeded constitutes our notion of empty space, and the sensation of muscular motion impeded constitutes that of filled space. Space is Room—room for movement; which its German name, Raum, distinctly confirms. We have a sensation which accompanies the free movement of our organs, say for instance of our arm. This sensation is variously modified by the direction, and by the amount of the movement. We have different states of muscular sensation corresponding to the movements of the arm upward, downward, to right, to left, or in any radius whatever of a sphere of which the joint, that the arm revolves round, forms the centre. Edition: current; Page: [222] We have also different states of muscular sensation according as the arm is moved more; whether this consists in its being moved with greater velocity, or with the same velocity during a longer time: and the equivalence of these two is speedily learnt, by nfinding that a greater effort conducts the hand in a shorter time from the same point to the same point; from the tactual impression A to the tactual impression Bn. These different kinds and qualities of muscular sensation, experienced in getting from one point to another (that is, obtaining in succession two sensations of touch and resistance, the objects of which are regarded as simultaneous) are all we mean by saying that the points are separated by spaces, that they are at different distances, and in different directions. An intervening series of muscular sensations before the one object can be reached from the other, is the only peculiarity which (according to this theory) distinguishes simultaneity in space, from the simultaneity which may exist between a taste and a colour, or a taste and a smell: and we have no reason for believing that Space or Extension in itself, is anything different from that which we recognise it by. It appears to me that this doctrine is sound, and that the muscular sensations in question are the sources of all the notion of Extension which we should ever obtain from the tactual and muscular senses without the assistance of the eye.

But the participation of the eye in generating our actual notion of Extension, very much alters its character, and is, I think, the main cause of the difficulty felt in believing that Extension derives its meaning to us from a phænomenon which is not synchronous but successive. The fact is, that the conception we now have of Extension or Space is an eye picture, and comprehends a great number of parts of Extension at once, or in a succession so rapid that our consciousness confounds it with simultaneity. How, then (it is naturally asked) can this vast collection of consciousnesses which are sensibly simultaneous, be generated by the mind out of its consciousness of a succession—the succession of muscular feelings? An experiment may be conceived, which would throw great light on this subject, but which unfortunately is more easily imagined than obtained. There have been persons born blind who were mathematicians, and I believe even naturalists; and it is not impossible that one day a person born blind may be a metaphysician. The first who is so, will be able to enlighten us on this point. For he will be an experimentum crucis[*] on the mode in which extension is conceived and known, independently of the eye. Not having the assistance of that organ, a person blind from birth must necessarily Edition: current; Page: [223] perceive the parts of extension—the parts of a line, of a surface, or of a solid—in conscious succession. He perceives them by passing his hand along them, if small, or by walking over them if great. The parts of extension which it is possible for him to perceive simultaneously, are only very small parts, almost the minima of extension. Hence, if the Psychological theory of the idea of extension is true, the blind metaphysician would feel very little of the difficulty which seeing metaphysicians feel, in admitting that the idea of Space is, at bottom, one of time—and that the notion of extension or distance, is that of a motion of the muscles continued for a longer or a shorter duration. If this analysis of extension appeared as paradoxical to the metaphysician born blind, as it does to Sir W. Hamilton, this would be a strong argument against the Psychological theory. But if, on the contrary, it did not at all startle him, that theory would be very strikingly corroborated.

We have no experiment directly in point. But we have one which is the very next thing to it. We have not the perceptions and feelings of a metaphysician blind from birth, told and interpreted by himself. But we have those of an ordinary person blind from birth, told and interpreted for him by a metaphysician. And the English reader is indebted for them to Sir W. Hamilton. Platner, “a man no less celebrated as an acute philosopher than as a learned physician and an elegant scholar,”[*] endeavoured to ascertain by observation what notion of extension was possessed by a person born blind, and made known the result in words which Sir W. Hamilton has rendered into his clear English.

In regard to the visionless representation of space or extension, the attentive observation of a person born blind, which I formerly instituted in the year 1785, and again, in relation to the point in question, have continued for three whole weeks—this observation, I say, has convinced me, that the sense of touch, by itself, is altogether incompetent to afford us the representation of extension and space, and is not even cognisant of local exteriority; in a word, that a man deprived of sight has absolutely no perception of an outer world, beyond the existence of something effective, different from his own feeling of passivity, and in general only of the numerical diversity—shall I say of impressions, or of things? In fact, to those born blind, time serves instead of space. Vicinity and distance means in their mouths nothing more than the shorter or longer time, the smaller or greater number of feelings, which they find necessary to attain from some one feeling to another. That a person blind from birth employs the language of vision—that may occasion considerable error; and did, indeed, at the commencement of my observations, lead me wrong; but, in point of fact, he knows nothing of things as existing out of each other; and (this in particular I have very clearly remarked) if objects, and the parts of his body touched by them, did not make different kinds of impression on his nerves of sensation, he would take everything external for one and the same. In his own body, he absolutely did not discriminate head and foot at all by their distance, Edition: current; Page: [224] but merely by the difference of the feelings (and his perception of such differences was incredibly fine) which he experienced from the one and from the other, and moreover through time. In like manner, in external bodies, he distinguished their figure, merely by the varieties of impressed feelings; inasmuch, for example, as the cube, by its angles, affected his feeling differently from the sphere.*

The highly instructive representation here given by Platner, of this person’s state of mind, is exactly that which we have just read in Mr. Bain, and which that philosopher holds to be the primitive conception of extension by all of us, before the wonderful power of sight and its associations, in abridging the mental processes, has come into play. The conclusion which, as we have seen, Platner draws from the case, is that we obtain the idea of extension solely from sight; and even Sir W. Hamilton is staggered in his belief of the contrary. But Platner, though unintentionally, puts a false colour on the matter when he says that his patient had no perception of extension. He used the terms expressive of it with such propriety and discrimination, that Platner, by his own account, did not at first suspect him of not meaning by those terms all that is meant by persons who can see. He therefore meant something; he had impressions which the words expressed to his mind; he had conceptions of extension, after his own manner. But his idea of degrees of extension was but the idea of a greater or smaller number of sensations experienced in succession “to attain from some one feeling to another;” that is, it was exactly what, according to Brown’s and Mr. Bain’s theory, it ought to have been. And, the sense of touch and of the muscles not being aided by sight, the sensations continued to be conceived by him only as successive: his mental representation of them remained a conception of a series, not of a coexistent group. Though he must have had experience of simultaneity, for no being who has a plurality of senses can be without it, he does not seem to have thoroughly realized the conception of the parts of space as simultaneous. Since what was thus wanting to him, is the principal feature of the conception as it is in us, he seemed to Platner to have no notion of extension. But Platner, fortunately, being a man who could both observe, and express his observations precisely, has been able to convey to our minds the conception which his patient really had of extension; and we find that it was the same as our own, with the exception of the element which, if the Psychological theory be true, was certain to be added to it by the sense of sight. For, when this sense is awakened, and its sensations of colour have become representative of the tactual and muscular sensations with which they are coexistent, the fact that we can receive a vast number of sensations of colour at the same instant (or what appears such to our consciousness) puts us in the same position as if we had been Edition: current; Page: [225] able to receive that number of tactual and muscular sensations in a single instant. The ideas of all the successive tactual and muscular feelings which accompany the passage of the hand over the whole of the coloured surface, are made to flash on the mind at once: and impressions which were successive in sensation become coexistent in thought. From that time we do with perfect facility, and are even compelled to do, what Platner’s patient never completely succeeded in doing, namely, to think all the parts of extension as coexisting, and to believe that we perceive them as such. And if the laws of inseparable association, which are already admitted as the basis of other acquired perceptions of sight, are considered in their application to this case, it is certain that this apparent perception of successive elements as simultaneous owouldo be generated and would supply all that there is in our idea of extension, more than there was in that of Platner’s patient.*

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I shall quote, in continuation, part of the exposition by Mr. Bain, of the machinery by which our consciousness of Extension becomes an appendage of our sensations of Sight. It is a striking example of the commanding influence of that sense; which, though it has no greater variety of original impressions than our other special senses, yet owing to the two properties, of being able to receive a great number of its impressions at once, and to receive them from all distances, takes the lead altogether from the sense of touch: and is not only the organ by which we read countless possibilities of tactual and muscular sensations which can never, to us, become realities, but substitutes itself for our touch and our muscles even where we can use them—causes their actual use as avenues to knowledge, to become, in many cases, obsolete,—the sensations themselves to be little heeded and very indistinctly remembered,—and communicates its own prerogative of simultaneousness to impressions and conceptions originating in other senses, which it could never have given, but only suggests, through visible marks associated with them by experience.

“The distinctive impressibility of the eye,” says Mr. Bain,

is for Colour. This is the effect specific to it as a sense. But the feeling of Colour by itself, implies no knowledge of any outward object, as a cause or a thing wherein the colour inheres. It is simply a mental effect or influence, a feeling or conscious state, which we should be able to distinguish from other conscious states, as for example, a smell or a sound. We should also be able to mark the difference between it and others of the same kind, more or less vivid, more or less enduring, more or less voluminous. So we should distinguish the qualitative differences between one colour and another. Pleasure or pain, with discrimination of intensity and of duration, would attach to the mere sensation of colour. Knowledge or belief in an external or material coloured body, there would be none.

But when we add the active or muscular sensibility of the eye, we obtain new products. The sweep of the eye over the coloured field gives a feeling of a definite amount of action, an exercise of internal power, which is something totally different from the passive feeling of light. This action has many various modes, all of the same quality, but all distinctively felt and recognised by us. Thus the movements may be in any direction—horizontal, vertical, or slanting; and every one of these movements is felt as different from every other. In addition to these, we have the movements of adjustment of the eye, brought on by differences in the remoteness of objects. We have distinctive feelings belonging to these different adjustments, just as we have towards the different movements across the field of view. If the eyes are adjusted, first to clear vision for an object six inches from the eye, and afterwards change their adjustment to suit an object six feet distant, we are distinctly conscious of the change, and of the degree or amount of it; we know that the change is greater than in extending the adjustment to a three-feet object, while it is less than we should have to go through for a twenty-feet object. Thus in the alterations of the eyes for near and far, we have a distinctive consciousness of amount or degree, no less than in the movements for right and left, up and down. Feelings with the character of activity are thus incorporated with the sensibility to colour; the luminous impression is associated with exertion on our part, and is no longer a Edition: current; Page: [227] purely passive state. We find that the light changes as our activity changes, we recognise in it a certain connexion with our movements; and association springs up between the passive feeling and the active energy of the visible [“visual”] organ, or rather of the body generally; for the changes of view are owing to movements of the head and trunk, as well as to the sweep of the eye within its own orbit. . . .

When, along with a forward movement, we behold a steadily varying change of appearance in the objects before us, we associate the change with the locomotive effort, and after many repetitions, we firmly connect the one with the other. We then know what is implied in a certain feeling in the eye, a certain adjustment of the lenses and a certain inclination of the axes, of all of which we are conscious; we know that these things are connected with the further experience of a definite locomotive energy needing to be expended, in order to alter this consciousness to some other consciousness. Apart from this association, the eye-feeling might be recognised as differing from other eye-feelings, but there could be no other perception in the case. Experience connects these differences of ocular adjustment with the various exertions of the body at large, and the one can then imply and reveal the others. The feeling that we have when the eyes are parallel and vision distinct, is associated with a great and prolonged effort of walking, in other words, with a long distance. An inclination of the eyes of two degrees, is associated with two paces to bring us up to the nearest limit of vision, or with a stretch of some other kind, measured in the last resort by pacing, or by passing the hand along the object. The change from an inclination of 30° to an inclination of 10°, is associated with a given sweep of the arm, carrying the hand forward over eight inches and a half.*

These slight changes in the action of the muscles that move the eye, habitually effected in a time too short for computation, are the means by which our visual impressions from the whole of that portion of the universe which is visible from the position where we stand, may be concentrated within an interval of time so small that we are scarcely conscious of any interval; and they are, in my apprehension, the generating cause of all that we have in our notion of extension over and above what Platner’s patient had in his. He had to conceive two or any number of bodies (or resisting objects) with a long train of sensations of muscular contraction filling up the interval between them: while we, on the contrary, think of them as rushing upon our sight, many of them at the same instant, all of them at what is scarcely distinguishable from the same instant; and this visual imagery effaces from our minds any distinct consciousness of the series of muscular sensations of which it has become representative. The simultaneous visual sensations are to us symbols of tactual and muscular ones which were slowly successive.

This symbolic relation being far briefer, is habitually thought of in place of that it symbolizes: and by the continued use of such symbols, and the union of them into more complex ones, are generated our ideas of visible extension—ideas which, like Edition: current; Page: [228] those of the algebraist working out an equation, are wholly unlike the ideas symbolized; and which yet, like his, occupy the mind to the entire exclusion of the ideas symbolized.

This last extract is from Mr. Herbert Spencer,* whose Principles of Psychology, in spite of some doctrines which he holds in common with the intuitive school, are on the whole one of the finest examples we possess of the Psychological Method in its full power. His treatment of this subject, and Mr. Bain’s, are at once corroborative and supplementary of one another: and to them I must refer the reader who desires an ampler elucidation of the general question. The remainder of this chapter will be devoted to the examination of some peculiarities in Sir W. Hamilton’s treatment of it.

Sir W. Hamilton relies mainly upon one argument to prove that Vision, without the aid of Touch, gives an immediate knowledge of Extension: which argument had been anticipated in a passage which he quotes from D’Alembert. The following is his own statement of it.

It can easily be shown that the perception of colour involves the perception of extension. It is admitted that we have by sight a perception of colours, consequently a perception of the difference of colours. But a perception of the distinction of colours necessarily involves the perception of a discriminating line; for if one colour be laid beside or upon another, we only distinguish them as different by perceiving that they limit each other, which limitation necessarily affords a breadthless line,—a line of demarcation. One colour laid upon another, in fact, gives a line returning upon itself, that is, a figure. But a line and a figure are modifications of extension. The perception of extension, therefore, is necessarily given in the perception of colours.

And farther on:

All parties are, of course, at one in regard to the fact that we see colour. Those who hold that we see extension, admit that we see it only as coloured; and those who deny us any vision of extension, make colour the exclusive object of sight. In regard to this first position, all are, therefore, agreed. Nor are they less harmonious in reference to the second;—that the power of perceiving colour involves the power of perceiving the differences of colours. By sight we, therefore, perceive colour, and discriminate one colour, that is, one coloured body,—one sensation of colour, from another. This is admitted. A third position will also be denied by none, that the colours discriminated in vision, are, or may be, placed side by side in immediate juxtaposition; or, one may limit another by being superinduced partially over it. A fourth position is equally indisputable; that the contrasted colours, thus bounding Edition: current; Page: [229] each other, will form by their meeting a visible line, and that, if the superinduced colour be surrounded by the other, this line will return upon itself, and thus constitute the outline of a visible figure. These four positions command a peremptory assent; they are all self-evident. But their admission at once explodes the paradox under discussion [—that extension cannot be cognised by sight alone]. And thus: A line is extension in one dimension,—length; a figure is extension in two,—length and breadth. Therefore, the vision of a line is a vision of extension in length; the vision of a figure, the vision of extension in length and breadth.*

I must acknowledge that I cannot make the answer to this argument as thorough and conclusive as I could wish; for we have not the power of making an experiment, the completing converse of Platner’s. There is no example of a person born with the sense of sight, but without those of touch and the muscles: and nothing less than this would enable us to define precisely the extent and limits of the conceptions which sight is capable of giving, qindependentlyq of association with impressions of another sense. There are, however, considerations well adapted to moderate the extreme confidence which Sir W. Hamilton places in this argument. First, it must be observed that when the eye, at present, takes cognizance of rar visible figure, it does not cognise it by means of colour alone, but by all those motions and modifications of the muscles connected with the eye, which have so great a share in giving us our acquired perceptions of sight. To determine what can be cognised by sight alone, we must suppose an eye incapable of these changes; which can neither have the curvature of its lenses modified nor the direction of its axis changed by any mode of muscular action; which cannot, therefore, travel along the boundary line that separates two colours, but must remain fixed with a steady gaze on a definite spot. If we once allow the eye to follow the direction of a line or the periphery of a figure, we have no longer merely sight, but important muscular sensations superadded. Now there is nothing more certain than that an eye with its axis immovably fixed in one direction, gives a full and clear vision of but a small portion of space, that to which the axis directly points, and only a faint and indistinct one of the other points surrounding it. When we are able to see any considerable portion of a surface so as to form a distinct idea of it, we do so by passing the eye over and about it, changing slightly the direction of the axis many times in a second. When the eye is pointed directly to one spot, the faint perceptions we have of others are barely sufficient to serve as indications for directing the axis of the eye to each of them in turn, when withdrawn from the first. Physiologists have explained this by the fact, that the centre of the retina is furnished with a Edition: current; Page: [230] prodigiously greater number of nervous papillæ, much finer and more delicate individually, and crowded closer together, than any other part. Whatever be its explanation, the fact itself is indubitable; and seems to warrant the conclusion that if the axis of the eye were immovable, and we were without the muscular sensations which accompany and guide its movement, the impression we should have of a boundary between two colours would be so vague and indistinct as to be merely rudimentary.

A rudimentary conception must be allowed, for it is evident that even without moving the eye we are capable of having two sensations of colour at once, and that the boundary which separates the colours must give some specific affection of sight, otherwise we should have no discriminative impressions capable of afterwards becoming, by association, representative of the cognitions of lines and figures which we owe to the tactual and the muscular sense. But to confer on these discriminative impressions the name which denotes our matured and perfected cognition of Extension, or even to assume that they have in their nature anything in common with it, seems to be going beyond the evidence. sBerkeley acknowledged a very considerable amount of perception by the eye alone, of something which it was possible to call by the name of extension; and that which is so perceived has, since his time, been known to philosophers as Visible Extension, in contradistinction to Tangible.[*] But Berkeley maintained that Visible Extension not only is not the same thing as Tangible Extension, but has not the smallest likeness to it, and that a person born with only one of the two senses, and afterwards acquiring the other, would, until there had been time to learn their mutual relation by experience, never suspect that there was any connexion between them.[†] In point of fact, those who are born blind and afterwards acquire sight, know by the information of others that the eye pictures and the tactual sensations come from the same objects: yet even with that help it is always a work of time and difficulty to connect the one with the other.s Sir W. Hamilton appears to think that extension as revealed by the eye, is identical with the extension which we know by touch, except that it is only in two dimensions. “It is not,” he says, “all kind of extension and form that is attributed to sight. It is not figured extension in all the three dimensions, but only extension as involved in plane figures; that is, only length and breadth.”* But to have the notion of extension even in length and breadth as we have it, is to have it in such a manner that we might know certain muscular facts without having tried: as, Edition: current; Page: [231] for instance, that if we placed our finger on the spot corresponding to one end of a line, or boundary of a surface, we should have to go through a muscular motion before we could place it on the other. Is there the smallest reason to suppose that on the evidence of sight alone, we could arrive at this conclusion in anticipation of the sense of touch? I cannot admit that we could have what is meant by a perception of superficial space, unless we conceived it as something which the hand could be moved across; and, whatever may be the retinal impression conveyed by the line which bounds two colours, I see no ground for thinking that by the eye alone we could acquire the conception of what we now mean when we say that one of the colours is outside the other.* On this point I may again quote Mr. Bain.

I do not see how one sensation can be felt as out of another, without already supposing that we have a feeling of space. If I see two distinct objects before me, as Edition: current; Page: [232] two candle flames, I apprehend them as different objects, and as distant from one another by an interval of space; but this apprehension presupposes an independent experience and knowledge of lineal extension. There is no evidence to show that, at the first sight of these objects, and before any association is formed between visible appearances and other movements, I should be able to apprehend in the double appearance a difference of place. I feel a distinctness of impression, undoubtedly, partly optical and partly muscular, but in order that this distinctness may mean to Edition: current; Page: [233] me a difference of position in space, it must reveal the additional fact, that a certain movement of my arm would carry my hand from the one flame to the other; or that some other movement of mine would change by a definite amount the appearance I now see. If no information is conveyed respecting the possibility of movements of the body generally, no idea of space is given, for we never consider that we have a notion of space, unless we distinctly recognise this possibility. But how a vision to Edition: current; Page: [234] the eye can reveal beforehand what would be the experience of the hand or the other moving members, I am unable to understand.*

Sir W. Hamilton does not limit the perception of Extension to sight and touch, either separately or combined with one another. “The opinions,” he says,

so generally prevalent, that through touch, or touch and muscular feeling, or touch Edition: current; Page: [235] and sight, or touch, muscular feeling, and sight,—that through these senses, exclusively, we are percipient of extension, &c., I do not admit. On the contrary, I hold that all sensations whatsoever of which we are conscious as one out of another, eo ipso afford us the condition of immediately and necessarily apprehending extension; for in the consciousness itself of such reciprocal outness is actually involved a perception of difference of place in space, and, consequently, of the extended.*

It may safely be admitted that whenever we are conscious of two sensations as “one out of another,” in the sense of locality, we have a perception of space; for the two expressions are equivalent. But to have a consciousness of difference between two sensations which are felt simultaneously, is not to feel them as “one out of another” in this sense; and the very question to be decided is, whether any of our senses, apart from feelings of muscular motion, gives us the notion of “one out of another” in the sense necessary to support the idea of Extension.

Sir W. Hamilton thinks that whenever two different nervous filaments are simultaneously affected at their extremities, the sensations received through them are felt as one out of the other. It is extremely probable that the affection of two distinct nervous filaments is the condition of the discriminative sensibility which furnishes us with sensations capable of becoming representative of objects one out of the other. But that is a different thing from giving us the perception directly. Undoubtedly we recognise difference of place in the objects which affect our senses, whenever we are aware that those objects affect different parts of our organism. But when we are aware of this, we already have the notion of Place. We must be aware of the different parts of our body as one out of another, before we can use this knowledge as a means of cognising a similar fact in regard to other material objects. This Sir W. Hamilton admits; and what, therefore, he is bound to prove is, that the very first time we received an impression of touch, or of any other sense, affecting more than one nervous filament, we were conscious of being affected in a plurality of places. This he does not even attempt to do; and direct proof is palpably unattainable. As a matter of indirect evidence, we may oppose to this theory Mr. Bain’s, according to which, apart from association, we should not have any impression of xthisx kind, and should in general be conscious only of a greater mass or “volume”[*] of sensation when we were affected in two places, than when only in one; like the more massive sensation of heat which we feel when our bodies are immersed in a warm bath, compared with that which we feel when heat of the same, or even of greater intensity, is applied only to our hands or feet. Mr. Bain’s doctrine, being as consistent Edition: current; Page: [236] with the admitted facts of the case as Sir W. Hamilton’s, has a good claim, on his own law of Parcimony, to be preferred to it. But, besides, there are recorded facts which agree with Mr. Bain’s theory, and are quite irreconcilable with Sir W. Hamilton’s; and to find such we need not travel beyond Sir W. Hamilton’s own pages.

One of them is the very case we have already had before us, that recorded by Platner. The facts of this case are quite inconsistent with the opinion, that we have a direct perception of extension when an object touches us in more than one place, including the extremities of more than one nervous filament. Platner expressly says that his patient, when an object touched a considerable part of the surface of his body, but without exciting more than one kind of sensation, was conscious of no local difference—no “outness” of one part of the sensation in relation to another part—but only (we may presume) of a greater quantity of sensation; as Mr. Bain would call it, a greater yvolumey. As Platner expresses it, “if objects and the parts of his body touched by them, did not make different kinds of impression on his nerves of sensation, he would take everything external for one and the same. In his own body, he absolutely did not discriminate head and foot at all by their distance, but merely by the difference of the feelings.”[*] Such an experiment, reported by a competent observer, is of itself almost enough to overthrow Sir W. Hamilton’s theory.

In like manner, the patient in Cheselden’s celebrated case, after his second eye was couched, described himself as seeing objects twice as large with both eyes as with one only;[†] that is, he had a double quantity, or double volume of sensation, which suggested to his mind the idea of a double size.*

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Another case, for the knowledge of which I am also indebted to Sir W. Hamilton—who knew it through an abstract given by M. Maine de Biran[*] of the original report “by M. Rey Régis, a medical observer, in his Histoire naturelle de l’âme[†]—is as incompatible with Sir W. Hamilton’s theory as Platner’s case. It is the case of a patient who lost the power of movement in one-half of his body, apparently from temporary paralysis of the motory nerves, while the functions of the sensory nerves seemed unimpaired. This patient, it was found, had lost the power of localizing his sensations.

Experiments, various and repeated, were made to ascertain with accuracy, whether the loss of motive faculty had occasioned any alteration in the capacity of feeling; and it was found that the patient, though as acutely alive as ever to the sense of pain, felt, when this was secretly inflicted, as by compression of his hand under the bedclothes, a sensation of suffering or uneasiness, by which, when the pressure became strong, he was compelled lustily to cry out; but a sensation merely general, he being altogether unable to localize the feeling, or to say whence the pain proceeded. . . . The patient, as he gradually recovered the use of his limbs, gradually also recovered the power of localizing his sensations.*

It would be premature to establish a scientific inference upon a single experiment: but if confirmed by repetition, this is an experimentum crucis.[‡] So far as one experiment can avail, ita proves, that sensation without motion does not give the perception of difference of place in our bodily organs (not to speak of outward objects), and that this perception is even now entirely an inference, dependent on the muscular feelings.