Jacques Maritain Center : The First Principles of Knowledge

Chapter XII.
The Rejection of Various Theories about the Ultimate Criterion of Certitude.


  1. Blind impulse to believe.
  2. Verification by the senses.
  3. Traditionalism.
  4. Some sort of vision of things in God, or in divinely communicated ideas.
  5. Clear and distinct ideas as asserted by Descartes.
  6. Consistency.
  7. Inconceivability of the opposite.
  8. Concluding remarks.

As builders clear the ground before they begin to build, so we shall do well to start by putting out of the way certain proposed criteria of truth, which either we cannot accept as criteria at all, or else not as ultimate criteria.

Some philosophers, often more in appearance than in reality, or more as an occasional aberration than as an opinion steadily maintained throughout, represent the cause of our assents to be, in last analysis, a blind instinct to believe. What is true in their doctrine is, that we cannot penetrate the secret of the intellectual act, and see bow it is that this most wonderful act, the act of knowledge, is elicited from the faculty. The conscious process we are aware of because it is conscious; but the physical process, so to term it, we do not comprehend. When we think of the marvellousness of intelligence, we are quite lost in the mystery of the process, and almost feel inclined to doubt whether our knowledge is not illusion. To this extent intelligence gives no explanation of itself. But to say that we assent by a blind instinct, is to take out of the assent its percipient character, to render it non-intellectual, to make it a contradiction in terms. Allowing, therefore, that the manner in which we understand is impenetrably dark, we cannot allow that the understanding itself acts in the dark, by means of blind instinct. Its essence is to see its way as it goes.

2. The first proposal can hardly be called that of a criterion, for a criterion supposes something genuinely intellectual; but the second proposal does offer something which, at least, is in the cognitive order, though in the lowest grade of cognition. The criterion is verification by the senses. Lewes, who, in his Problems of Life and Mind, is one of its strong advocates, insists that the great mass of our thoughts, being abstract, generalized products, are only symbolic of the real, and must be reduced to their first origin in sensation, if their value is to be tested. Our sensations are as the arithmetic of objects, our conceptions are as the algebra, that is, symbolic expressions. Besides the criterion of sense, however, he allows a secondary, derivative criterion, which consists in reduction to intellectual intuition, Mill cannot quite be put in the same class with Lewes, for he speaks of the necessity we are under to accept all averments of consciousness, provided that they can be shown to belong to its pure, primitive state. Still the following passage will show how inclined he was to make sensation a sort of ultimate test: "When I say that I am convinced there are icebergs in the Arctic sea, 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 that I am convinced of it, what I am convinced of is, that if I were on the Arctic seas I should see it. We mean by knowledge and by certainty an assurance similar and equal to that effected by our senses. If the evidence can in any case be brought up to this, we desire no more."{1}

Here Mill evidently is speaking, not of mere sensation, but of intellectual perceptions following after sensations. However, the precise nature of neither his doctrine nor of that of Lewes need trouble us at present; for we want no accurate estimates of different philosophies, but only a refutation of the broad proposition, that the ultimate criterion of truth is verification by the senses. Now a sufficient objection to this view is the two-fold fact, that a more sensation, as such, cannot be the direct criterion for an intellectual faculty, and that we have many certitudes about objects which are supra-sensible. What, however, we may allow to verification by the senses is, that often a physical theory, carried through several steps by the mere reasoning process, requires to be brought to the test of observation or experiment, in order to make sure that the reasoning is consecutive and leaves out none of the involved data. Thus it was right to look actually with the telescope for the planet, the position of which Adams and Leverrier had mathematically calculated. But in all cases alike certitude itself is intellectual, and must have a criterion directly intellectual.

3. Distrustful of self, man is inclined to make his last appeal to his fellows, especially to the majority of men; and more especially to the majority, if they are supposed to be the divinely appointed custodians of a primitive revelation. Thus we have the appeal to Tradition as an ultimate criterion of truth. Traditionalism is a doctrine which has had some vogue in France. Long ago our own John of Salisbury had written: "As both the senses and human reason frequently go astray, God has laid in faith the first foundation for the knowledge of truth."{2} A sober interpretation may be given to a sentence like this, but Bayle was outraging alike God and man, when he pretended utterly to discredit human reason, in order to make way for the sole reign of faith. "Human reason is a principle of destruction, not of construction; it is capable solely of raising questions, and of doubling about to make a controversy endless. The best use that can be made of philosophy is to acknowledge that it can but set us astray, and that we must seek another guide, which is the light of Revelation."{3}

In recent times the principle here enunciate has been taken up by men far more earnest than Bayle, but all their earnestness has failed to make a dangerous doctrine safe. The pith of De Bonald' teaching is given in a single sentence of his: "This . . . proposition, Thought can be known but by it expression, that is, by speech, sums up the whole science of man."{4} Taking up the idea of De Bonald, De Lamennais, in his famous Essai sur l'Indifférence dans la Matière de Religion, elaborated a scheme of traditionalism. He supposed a primitive communication of truth from above to the race. Then, working on a principle which Aristotle mentions but does not sanction, and which Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in his treatise De Veritate, had adopted, namely, "What appears to all men, that is true," he embraced it to the extent of affirming that the consent of the majority determines what is the authentic tradition, or, in other words, what is the truth.

A most glaring objection to the theory starts up at once in the shape of the obviously raised question, "If the consent of mankind is the ultimate test of truth, how do we know that such is the fact, and how do we judge, in any particular case, what is the view of the majority?" De Lamennais himself acknowleged his inability to furnish a precise reply; but all the same he adhered to his traditionalism." The first man receives the primary truths on the testimony of God, the highest Reason. These truths are preserved for mankind, as being ever set forth by universal testimony, which is the expression of general reason, of common sense."{5} Whence he argued that the first act of intelligence is an act of faith; so necessarily, that unless a man will begin with "I believe," he will never arrive at "I know."

With a view to giving his opinion an air of reality, De Lamennais laboriously collected, from many languages, testimonies to the opinion that primitive man drew from divine sources, and that present controversies are to be settled by reference to what has been taught from the beginning. In its right place the principle of tradition is sound enough, and that right place is pre-eminently the position of the depositum fidei, the body of revealed truths committed by Christ to the keeping of His Church; but De Lamennais puts the principle into a wrong place altogether. It is impossible that man should ever give, as the ultimate reason of his belief, "Because I was told;" when and why be should accept what he is told, is always a question going deeper down.

Apart from any faith in a revelation, some might urge the consent of the majority of men as a natural rule of truth. Against them it suffices to say that such rule, for the most part, cannot be reduced to practice, and is sometimes fallible, never ultimate. Yet there is a great truth hinted at, namely, the impossibility of any one man discovering everything for himself by independent research, without the aid of the accumulated treasures of the age. What could Newton have done, had he been born into an age when the simple rules of arithmetic formed all that was known of mathematics? An important' condition of progress is, that knowledge should accumulate; and a sufficient cause of unprogressiveness in animal intelligence is its want of power properly to preserve and build upon a tradition. There is, of course, among the lower animals some sort of heredity in matter of transmitted experiences; but there is not, in the human sense, a power of tradition and development. Man has this power, and it is his wisdom not to sacrifice it by self- isolation.

<4. Blind instinct we have rejected as being outside the pale of knowledge altogether; verification by the senses as being the lowest grade of cognition, so long as it means mere sensitive knowledge; tradition as being inadequate and never ultimate; and now we come to a pretended vision of things in God, or in divinely infused ideas, which also we must reject. The chief arguments of those who hold such opinions, run on the lines that without Divine aid we could not have the knowledge of which we find ourselves possessed. The best mode of replying to the so-called demonstrations, is to show that they amount to no more than so many ways of re-stating the dangerous assumption, that human faculties have not the natural power of intelligence, but must, at least to a large extent, have their work done for them by their Creator. No such helplessness can be proved, and the assertion of it sounds more injurious than honourable to God. Our experience is, not that we descend from ideas or principles which are a gift, down to our own concrete applications of them, but that we ascend from concrete facts to abstract ideas and principles; nor that we travel from a knowledge of the divine to knowledge of the created, but that our course lies from the created to the divine. The fewness of the supporters of what may be called the view of Malebranche, makes it unnecessary to go at length into the two charges against it, which are that it brings no proof and goes contrary to rightly interpreted experience.{6}

5.To assert that clear and distinct ideas are the ultimate test of truth, might be correct if the clearness and distinctness were sufficiently shown to be more than subjective feeling, and to be founded on objective evidence. What has been explained of the system of Descartes was enough to make manifest his great shortcomings in this particular; nor does Spinoza give a more satisfactory shape to the theory when he teaches that true ideas are guaranteed by the consciousness of truth wherewith they are accompanied. Of course from the subjective side our certainty is our consciousness that we are certain; but the objective side also needs to be fully stated, whereas both by Descartes and Spinoza it is neglected. In the next chapter it will form the main subject of inquiry.

6. As truth can never conflict with truth, what proves inconsistent in its parts cannot, as a whole, be true. As a secondary test of truth, therefore, consistency is useful; but it cannot be made the ultimate criterion, for there may be consistency in error. The wider and the more varied is the range of the consistent statements, the higher, caeteris paribus, is the probability of their being true; still if we allow that consistency throughout our judgments is all we can produce in proof, while we can never tie down the consistent whole of our thoughts to objective reality, our ideas are still a floating mass, well compacted together, but anchored safely to nothing substantial. We may have a beautiful arch, key-stone included, but what if there are no pillars for it to rest on?

It is, therefore, lamentable to find so many writers declaring the inability of man to get anything beyond consistency as a basis of certitude. Of necessity they must speak thus who push the doctrine of relativity to extremes; but others adopt the criterion under less pressure from their system: "We cannot," says Mansel, "know what truth is in relation to a non-human intellect; and truth in man admits of no other test than the harmonious consent of all the human faculties." This must be interpreted in conformity with the principles laid down by the author,{7} that we cannot test the absolute validity of our own mental laws, but that we must trust our Creator for having given us powers sufficient for our present state of probation, and rely upon it "that the portion of knowledge of which our limited faculties are permitted to attain to here may indeed, in the eves of a higher Intelligence, be but partial truth, but cannot be absolute falsehood. But believing this, we desert the evidence of reason to rest on that of faith; and of the principles on which reason itself depends it is obviously impossible to have any other guarantee." Thus we are left with the incomplete result "that the laws to which our faculties are subjected, though not absolutely binding on things in themselves, are binding upon our mode of contemplating them:" a conclusion which leaves us open to many of Kant's sceptical difficulties. Again, Mr. Spencer,{8} whose further test, from the inconceivability of the opposite, will be considered presently, thus expresses himself: "There is no mode of establishing any belief, except that of showing its entire congruity with the other beliefs. Debarred as we are from anything beyond the relative, truth raised to its highest form can be for us nothing more than perfect agreement, throughout the whole range of our experience, between those representations of things which we distinguish as real. lishment of congruity throughout the whole of our cognitions constitutes philosophy." Thus with Mr. Spencer the avowed process is to assume provisionally the simple states of consciousness; upon these to elaborate a system; and in the end to claim acceptance for it on the plea of the complete congruity which has resulted from philosophizing with the assumed elements for starting-points. Two more instances shall be borrowed from quite a different school of thought to that of Mr. Spencer. "The ultimate test of each truth," writes Mr. Caird, in his work on Kant, "a test which at the same time fixes the limit of its validity, lies in the exhibition of its relation to other truths in a system. Thus philosophy is a kind of reasoning in a circle; but this is no argument against it, for it is the circle beyond which nothing lies. The ultimate unity of knowledge must be that in which all the elements of knowledge are reflected into each other; in which the parts cannot be apprehended except as merging in the whole, and the whole cannot be apprehended except as necessarily differentiating itself into parts. The essential presupposition of all philosophy is, that the world is an intelligible system, and therefore capable of being understood and explained." This view becomes all the more intelligible if read in the light of a Hegelian principle which Mr.Wallace, at the beginning of his work on The Logic of Hegel, thus enunciates: "All the objects of science, all terms of knowledge, lead out of themselves, and seek for a centre and resting- point. They are severally inadequate and partial, and crave adequacy and completeness. They tend to organize themselves, and so to constitute a system or universe, and in this tendency to unity consists their truth: their untruth lies in isolation and pretended independence. This completed unity in which all things receive their entireness and become adequate is their truth: and the truth as known in religious language is God."

If consistency throughout the entire body of truths were the only criterion, even the most learned man could never make use of it, for he never knows all truths; and the man of little education could hardly claim any certitude, for his knowledge is so limited, and he has done nothing to harmonize the different parts of his slender stock. On the other hand, as a fact, the ablest thinker among men may, on secure grounds, hold truths, the consistency of which he fails to perceive, though of course he perceives no positive inconsistency. When further we repeat that consistency alone, without a guarantee of objectivity, is insufficient, we have given reasons enough for rejecting the proposed criterion. A consistent novel is not history, and a consistent account of the evolution of the universe is not proved true till it be connected with reality. A theory like that of La Place might be possible, without being verified in fact.

Still consistency is an excellent test in its own sphere, and Mr. Spencer might have been saved some of the chapters which he has unfortunately written had he been more alive to the use of his own criterion, consistency. For example, Part I. of his First Principles is largely employed in drawing up a list of antinomies, which, on his theory of knowledge, are forced upon the human mind. Now these antinomies are not saved from being inconsistencies of assertion, by his adroit distinction between knowledge and indefinite consciousness. Verbiage apart, it is inconsistent to maintain that we must firmly believe the existence of the Absolute, but must deem it quite unknowable; that we must believe in the Non-Relative, but confine our knowledge to the Relative. Just what Mr. Spencer wants is escape from his doctrine of Relativity.

7. inconceivability being itself a negative term, does not promise well, at first sight, to be a good ultimate criterion; while it has the additional misfortune to be a term which is used with varieties of meanings.{9} To clear up the case, it is quite necessary to start with a distinction between what can be represented by the sensitive imagination and what can be represented by the intellect strictly so called. (a) As regards the sensitive imagination, what cannot be pictured by it need not, on that account, be impossible or untrue; else all our highest truths would straightway be undone. Contrariwise, what can be roughly pictured by the imagination may, as a concrete fact, be quite incapable of realization. A chillagon, the square Of 123456789, a mathematical straight line, the morality of an act, are all objects with which the intellect may most accurately deal; but they all baffle accurate imagination by the sensitive faculty. On the other side, in a rough way, the imagination can form a sort of outline picture of a man standing on a single hair of his head, of Atlas supporting the world, of the cow jumping over the moon, all which feats the intelligence pronounces physically impossible. They ought not, therefore, to be called without qualification, as they sometimes are, conceivable; for the conception never traces out the whole details, or it would find itself brought across absurdities. It follows that the possibility or the impossibility of picturing the opposite will not serve as the last, universal criterion of truth, -- a conclusion for which we have already found sufficient reason, when we were considering the criterion afforded by verification through the senses.

Nevertheless, just as verification through the senses, in its own order, is an excellent and practically indispensable test of scientific theory, yet never so that mere sensation is the ultimate criterion of intellectual truth; in like manner all that Mr. Tyndall has eloquently uttered about the scientific use of the imagination in visualizing the minute processes of nature, must be granted to the full measure of the truth contained in his declarations. But sensitive imagination is not the last test of certainty of the universal proposition in its universality, of the spiritual truth in its spirituality, nay, not even of the sensitive fact as stated in strict propositional form. A highly important consequence is the revelation of the truth, that with many persons their so-called intellectual difficulties against the Trinity, the existence of the soul, and the life after death, are not really intellectual difficulties at all, but difficulties of the imagination in its vain effort to picture the unpicturable. The proof is, that such people have no arguments to plead; only a baffled imagination.{10}

(b) The question must now be narrowed down to intellectual inconceivability; in which shape it calls for yet another distinction. If inconceivability of the opposite is taken negatively, for a mere impotence, it is not the ultimate criterion; for obviously the mere inability of a finite mind to see how a thing could be otherwise than as conceived by it, is no proof that the thing could not be otherwise. The simple incompetence of the spectators to conceive how a conjurer can do otherwise than betray certain indications, in some piece of sleight of hand, does not prove that he cannot avoid the betrayal. The point is too clear to allow of serious dispute, unless a man has the self-assurance to fancy, that there is no possibility beyond his Powers of conception. We are left, therefore, to deal with positive inconceivability. What for positive reasons is seen to be such that its contradictory is impossible, implies more than a mere impotence to conceive: it implies a power to perceive that something cannot be. That must be true, the opposite of which is thus seen to be inconceivable. But it is a clumsy choice to pick out precisely the inconceivability as the ultimate criterion; for the more important element is the positive conceivability, or the evidence that something is as we see it to be. Whoever judges that something certainly is, implicitly judges that under the circumstances the opposite is inconceivable; the thing must be so and cannot be otherwise, however contingent may have been the fact of its realization. Here, however, what best deserves to be called the criterion of the judgment is its objective evidence. It is not primarily because we cannot conceive the opposite, that we believe that two and two make four; but because we perceive the necessary identity between twice two and four. Even when a proposition is said to be proven negatively, the case is the same. In the reductio ad absurdum, and in the proof by exclusion of all hypotheses but one, positive conceivability is still the guide; evidence is the criterion.{11}

Inasmuch, then, as Mr. Spencer's criterion agrees with the one to be advocated in the next chapter, there is nothing to dispute with him; inasmuch as it is vague, inadequate, and incorrect, it is to be repudiated. Besides those already indicated, one great flaw in it is its admitted fallibility, on account of which the author affirms that the less frequently his "universal postulate" enters into an argument, the better, for the less is the liability to error. Every use of the criterion is a fresh possibility of mistake. This premised, his rule is: Reduce any proposition to its simplest statements; then apply to each the test of the inconceivability of the opposite: the result is the nearest approach you can make to truth, while your dangers of having gone wrong are to be estimated by the number of times you have had to use your criterion."{12}

8. Here must end the review of criteria to be rejected; and from what has been seen, one conclusion impressed upon us should be, that the real criterion will have to accord with what we know to be the real nature of human intelligence. If a man steadily refuses to rise above the standard of associated sensations and their residues, if he will not ascend beyond the conception of L'Homme Machine, he can never hope to find a test of genuine certitude, for be is tied down to mere empiricism, or the doctrine which builds up knowledge out of mere associated ideas of experience, without any substantial soul that has an active power of intelligence. In a good sense we are all empiricists. The schoolmen admit no innate ideas, no knowledge which has not an origin experience; yet they are not what we call pure empiricists. They strongly maintain that the Leibnitzian salvo to a famous empirical rule is not mere verbiage, but expresses an important fact. As every one knows, to "Nought is in the mind which was not previously in the senses,"{13} Leibnitz added, "Save the mind itself,"{14} a most substantial addition against those who speak as though mind were a mere series of phenomenal states inherent in no substance. What seems a truism becomes really an important truth in opposition to those who deny it either formally or equivalently. The schoolmen make much of the doctrine that the intellect is no "mere abstraction turned into an entity," is not a mere name for the aggregate of all our ideas, but a principle of action, present from earliest infancy, though not ready to come into proper play till certain material conditions leave been developed. In its activity, however, human intellect is subject to a condition analogous to that inertia, whereby matter does not act unless acted upon. Mind cannot act without some initiation on the part of the senses. Many points are left obscure, but what we gather with certainty from the interpretation of experience is, that the same soul which shares in eliciting the sensation, on the occurrence of the sensation frequently proceeds to a corresponding act of intelligence; and that intelligence, once possessed of ideas, has a large fund of power peculiar to itself, whereby it is enabled to push its knowledge far beyond the bare sensitive data. No doubt these data always form some limit to intellect, in such sort that the physicist must be perpetually feeding his mind with new observations; but on this account to deny the special power of intellect to enlarge upon its original data, is simply preposterous.

Consider the case of a man who has been a great observer, but not much of a thinker: if suddenly he becomes blind, and spends the rest of a long life in elaborating his acquired materials, what vast progress he may make in real science! Consider, again, the ample and objectively valid results due to geometry, synthetic and analytic; to mathematics generally; to mental and moral philosophy; and it will appear how mighty is that action of thought which supervenes upon sensation, and carries its conquests into regions not less real because their objects are not able to act on the sense organs. As the acute disciple may pass in thought beyond what his duller teacher tells him, so and still more may intellect pass beyond its source in sensation. It is, therefore, the veriest perversity to limit reality to the data of sense, and to declare all besides to be mere "symbolism," of no value except so far as it can be reduced back again to its sensible beginnings. Intellect is always valid so long as it proceeds in the only way which is intelligent, namely, not by blind mechanism or instinct alone, but with insight, seeing its way as it goes. Viewing it thus, we shall reach a criterion of certitude.

But for pure empiricists, with all their boasted adherence to the most literal realities, there is nothing left but that blank result, which Mr. Huxley says cannot be disproved -- an empty idealism with no assured basis of reality. Their "objective and subjective sides," their "phenomena of the ego and phenomena of the non- ego," their "faint and vivid aggregates," all turn out to be mere shadowsshadows of the Unknowable, that is, of the Unthinkable, that is, of Nothing. Brahm, or Buthos, or Chaos, or the Mundane Egg, were names accounting for the universe of which we are conscious just as validly as do some recent speculations, which are supposed by their authors to be far above the old mythologies. In face of such disastrous philosophizing, we may well be moved to search after some really valid criterion of truth.


(1)It would be small satisfaction to be told, that the laws of our nature are such as to compel us to accept certain propositions, if meanwhile our enforced belief could not be shown to rest on any rational grounds. Falstaff would "give no man reasons on compulsion;" and the mind equally objects to take compulsions for reasons. Are the Scottish school guilty of attempting this violence? Reid is not unfrequently accused of basing science on common sense, and common sense on blind instinct; but it is far from correct to say that this is his doctrine throughout his works. Many passages undoubtedly there are, which naturally enough lead to the unfavourable interpretation, and which, if they were not counterbalanced and even retracted by opposite declarations, would deservedly bring his system under absolute condemnation. Neglecting what cannot be approved, let us, at present, show Reid on his commendable side; in places, at any rate, he asserts, not simply necessity, but mental necessity, which latter is a very different thing from blind necessity.

In the chapter on Common Sense,{a} passages like the following are found to redeem the author's reputation. "The same degree of understanding, which makes a man capable of acting with common prudence in the conduct of life, makes him capable of discovering what is true and what is false in matters that are self-evident, and which he distinctly apprehends." This contrasts strongly for the better with Hume's doctrine, that our faculties suffice for guidance in practical life, but not for the acquisition of rational truth. Reid continues: "All knowledge and all science must be built upon principles that are self-evident, and of such principles every man who has common sense is a competent judge, when he conceives them distinctly. We ascribe to reason two offices or two degrees: the first is to judge of things self-evident, the second to draw conclusions about things that are not self-evident from those that are. The first of these is the province, and the sole province, of common sense." And in the opening chapter of the Second Essay he had said: "Evidence is the ground of judgment, and when we see evidence it is impossible not to judge."

To declare, therefore, without large qualification, that Reid ultimately makes intelligence an unintelligent impulse to believe, is an unguarded criticism, which has been written too exclusively on the strength of some passages that we must now consider.

The grounds for misconceiving Reid are not hard to find; a specimen of them may be seen in Essay ii. ch. xx. What he there calls dark and inscrutable is, not the act of belief itself, but the nature of this act -- how it is that we have faculties at all, and that they can do such a wonderful thing as is involved in knowing? Blind belief, and blindness to the mode of working in the faculties -- these are two vastly different things: the latter of which, not the former, is what Reid really wants to assert. The process, so far as conscious, is intelligent: its nature considered as something, in the broad sense of the word, physical, is beyond the grasp of consciousness.

But, unfortunately, Reid has gone too far in setting forth the mystery of knowledge, thereby giving to his adversaries some foundation for the worst charges they bring against his doctrine. For instead of regarding the process as one competent to nature, he signifies that sensation, and its consequent idea, may have no more connexion than the will of the Creator that one should follow the other in definite order. "Whether they are connected by any necessary tie, or only conjoined in our constitution by the will of Heaven, we know not." No doubt this suggestion of occasionalism, or of the doctrine that definite conjunctions of created objects are merely the occasions upon which God acts on them in definite ways, is to be regretted; for it shows a readiness to take knowledge out of the sphere of natural causation, whereas we have good reason to regard it as a natural product. Reid, however, does not allow that his teaching thus removes knowledge from the domain of nature, but herein he is hardly consistent. We cannot more favourably take our leave of him, than when he is speaking so thoroughly in accord with our own doctrine as are, these words of his; "That there are just grounds for belief may be doubted by no man who is not a sceptic. We give the name of evidence to whatever is a ground of belief. To believe without evidence is a weakness which every man is concerned to avoid. Nor is it in a man's power to believe anything, longer than he thinks he has evidence. What this evidence is, is more easily felt than described. It is the business of the logician to explain its nature, but any man of understanding can judge of it, and commonly judges of it right, when the evidence is fairly laid before him, and his mind is free from prejudice."{b}

Another representative of the Scotch school, Brown,{c} has expressions which some might seize upon to justify the common accusation that belief is made matter of blind impulse. "All belief," he says, "must ultimately be traced to some primary proposition, which we admit for the evidence contained in itself, or to speak more accurately, from the mere impossibility of our disbelieving it, because the admission is a necessary part of our intellectual constitution." What is here called "speaking more accurately" is at least speaking more ambiguously, and is open to a construction which would make the doctrine condemnable. Perhaps the error is redeemed by referring the necessity to our "intellectual constitution:" for if the necessity is truly intellectual, it is not blind, but the effect of compelling evidence. Still Brown's case is rendered all the more suspicious because he denies the principle of efficient causality; and asserts, for such causality as he does admit, grounds which by his use of the word "intuition," and by his reference of this "intuition" to the bounty of the Creator, are rendered very insecure.{d} "We believe," he writes, "in the uniformity of nature, not because we can demonstrate it to others or to ourselves, but because it is impossible for us to disbelieve it. The belief is in every instance an intuition, and intuition does not stand in need of argument." Undoubtedly real intuition is immediate, not reached through the medium of argument; but Brown's view of intuition is peculiar.

If Brown is unsatisfactory, so too is Hamilton.{e} He teaches that knowledge rests on insight, belief on feeling; that the one cannot exist without the other; and that any definite act takes one name or the other from the element which is predominant. But lie puzzles us when he goes on to say: "What is given as an ultimate principle of knowledge is given as a fact, the existence of which we must admit, but the reason of whose existence we cannot know." So far we might interpret him benignantly; but the next sentence is hard to take in good part." Such an admission, as it is not knowledge, must be a belief: and thus it is that all our knowledge is, in its root blind, a passive faith, in other words, a feeling." This apparent basing of the element of insight on the element of "blind feeling" is very misleading and the difficulty is increased by all that Hamilton has written about a belief of ours, the object of which he regards as inconceivable, involving not a conception, but a negation or impotence of conception, e.g., "the infinite is conceived only by thinking away every character by which the finite was conceived: we conceive it only as inconceivable."{f}

Those who wish to see some defence of this writer may consult Professor Veitch's Hamilton, and Mansel's Philosophy of the Conditioned. The latter offers, as a key to a large part of the position, the following suggestions: "To conceive a thing as possible, we must conceive the manner in which it is possible; but we may believe in the fact without being able to conceive the manner. Had Hamilton distinctly expressed this, he might have avoided some very groundless criticisms, with which be has been assailed, for maintaining a distinction between the provinces of conception and belief." This hardly accounts for such a notion as we have of the infinite being called a mere "impotence of thought," "the negation of a conception:" nor is that account fully rendered even when we have further taken into consideration Hamilton's doctrine, that to conceive is to comprehend under a class.

On the whole, the Scottish school cannot be acquitted of blame, yet are perhaps less blameworthy than some of its critics have supposed. What it is popularly taken to teach, but what is not exactly its doctrine, is the suicidal theory, that there is a practical common sense, which sets reason at defiance, and is rightly thus defiant. Pascal expresses the same opinion in his famous sentence: "Nature confounds the Pyrrhonists and reason the dogmatists. Our inability to prove a truth is such as no dogmatism can overcome; and we have an apprehension of the truth such as no Pyrrhonism can overcome."

(2) When it is said that not many philosophers in this country regard our knowledge as due to ideas communicated from above, it is to be remembered that the late Professor Green of Oxford, and some other kindred thinkers, depart from what we may call the natural tradition as founded by Locke, and approach nearer to Malebranche. As a specimen, take the theory of Professor Green,{g} which it is difficult to give very intelligibly; but a few hints will suffice. He describes our process of learning as a gradual realizing of "the universal mind" in the "finite mind." First there is "a spiritual activity," which produces nature as a system of knowable and known relations, which relations cannot exist except as objects of consciousness. Then, part of this universal system of relations, known to the Universal Consciousness, also becomes known to finite intelligences, which "are limited modes of the worldconsciousness," in some non-pantheistic sense of the terms. "The source of the uniform relation between phenomena and the source of our knowledge of them, is one and the same. The question, how it is that the order of nature answers to our conception of it, is answered by the recognition of the fact, that our conceptions of the order of nature and the relations which form that order, have a common spiritual source."{h}

(3) In denying to consistency the rank of the ultimate criterion of certitude, we must not in any way detract from its real dignity. Rather we ought to do our best to assert its true rank, in these days when system and coherence are often despaired of, and the best we can do is supposed to be to lay hold of a few vital ideas." It is a sign of the times that a prophet in America could coolly write to a prophet in England, as Emerson{i} to Carlyle, in strains so characteristic, and so little scandalizing to a large body of admirers: "Here I sit, and read and write with very little system, and as far as regards composition with the most fragmentary result, paragraphs incomprehensible, each sentence an infinitely repellent particle."{j} The same author records in his journal: "I hate preaching; it and I wish to say what I feel and think a proviso that to-morrow, perhaps, I shall all."{k} Speaking apologetically, he says: "It strikes me as very odd, that good and wise men of raising me into an object of criticism. I have always been, from my very incapacity of methodical writing, a chartered libertine, free to worship and free to rail, lucky when I could make myself understood, but never esteemed near enough to the institutions and mind of society, to deserve the notice of literature and religion. I well know there is no scholar less willing and less able than myself to be a polemic. I could not give an account of myself if challenged. I could not possibly give you the arguments you so cruelly hint at, on which any doctrine of mine stands." {l} His method of composition answered to the rest of man. His habit was to go out almost daily and hunt after a thought; then coming back to record the day's capture in a book. So day by day he added to his list of stray ideas. When the time came to deliver a lecture, he went to his thought-record, strung a lot together like beads on a thread, with little care for definite harmonious result. The picture of tone who so little valued consistent wholes is worth warning to the present generation, in which so many, despairing of the reduction of their ideas to unity, set little store by consistent, systematic thought. Provided a man is clever, bold, and outspoken, he may pass for a great thinker; as is the case with many a mischief- worker like Diderot, of whom De Lamennais testifies, Il nie tout, croit tout, et doute de tout, au gré de son imagination ardente et mobile.

It is notable that Emerson was one of the first to hail Walt Whitman as a great poet, no doubt for verses like these which are culled from various "poems" in Rosetti's collection for English readers:

I make the poem of evil also, I commemorate that part also.
I am just as much evil as good, and my nation is.
And I say there is in fact no evil;
or if there is, I say it is just as important to you, to the law, or to me as anything else.
And I will show there is no imperfection in the present and can be none in the future.
What will be, will be well -- for what is, is well.
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion.
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is to good.
The whole universe indicates that it is to good.
To me there is just as much in ugliness as there is in beauty.
Of criminals, to me any judge or any juror is equally criminal, -- and any respectable person is also -- and the President is also.

Some may say the context will explain all these utterances: but that is not a plain man's experience, who finds one of the most intelligible and truthful of the verses to be this:

Now I perceive I have not understood anything -- not a single object -- and that no man can.

Unfortunately, there are those other declarations to be got over, that obscure the little bit that seemed so obvious:

As for me (lorn, stormy, even as I, amid these vehement days),
I have the idea of all, and am all, and believe in all:
I adopt each theory, myth, God, and demigod:
I believe materialism is true, and spiritualism is true -- I reject no part.
I see that the old accounts, Bibles, genealogies, are true without exception.
I assert that all past days are what they should have been,
And that they could nohow have been better than they were,
And that to-day is what it should be.

One reason for insisting on the First Principles of Knowledge is to prevent men like Walt Whitman from becoming the poets either of the future or of the present.

{1} Examination, c. ix. in initio.

{2} "Quia tum sensus quum ratio humana frequenter errant, ad intelligentiam veritatis primum fundamentum locavit Deus in fide." (Metalogicus, Lib. IV. cap. xiiii.)

{3} "La raison humaine est un principe de destruction, et non pas d'édification; elle n'est pas propre qu'à droit et à guache pour éterniser une dispute. Le meilleur usage qu'on puisse faire de la philosophie est de connaître qu'elle est une voie d'égarement et que nous devions chercher un autre guide, qui est la lumière révélée."

{4} "Cette proposition rationelle, la pensée ne peut être connue que par son expression, ou la parole, enferme toute la science de l'homme."

{5} "Le premier homme reçoit les premières vérités sur le témoignage de Dieu, raison supréme, et elles se conservent, parmi les hommes, perpétuellement manifestées par le témoignage universel, expression de la raison générale."

{6} See Part II. c. ii. Addenda (3).

{7} Prologomena Logica, c. iii. pp. 73-77. Compare Professor Veitch's Institutes of Logic, § 43, p. 29.

{8} First Principles, Part II, c. ii, § 40; Psychology, Part VII. c. i.

{9} Hamilton's Reid, Intellectual Powers,Essay iv. c. iii. p. 377; Mill, Examination, c. vi.; Logic, Bk. III. c. vii.; Spencer, Psychology, Part VII. c. xi.; Balfour, Philosophic Doubt, c. x.

{10} Hume is of some use here: "A future state is so far removed from our comprehension, and we have so obscure an idea of the manner in which we shall exist after the dissolution of the body, that all the reasons we can invent, however strong in themselves, and however much assisted by education, are never able with slow imaginations to surmount this difficulty, or to bestow a sufficient authority and force on the idea.... Except those few, who upon cool relexion on the importance of the subject, have taken care by repeated meditation to imprint upon their minds the arguments for a future state, there scarcely are any who believe the immortality of the soul with a true and established judgment," say rather, with a conviction which they can defend in set terms. (Treatise, Part III. sec. ix.)

{11} Mr. Bosanquet argues elaborately for a certain priority of the affirmative over the negative judgment (Logic, pp. 294-297).

{12} Compare with this theory Hume's view, that in strict reasoning every successive revision, by the mind, of its own fallible judgment, ought to reduce the mere probability with which it started to less and less dimensions, till nothing is left. (Treatise, Part IV. sec. i.)

{13} "Nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensibus."

{14} "Nisi intellectus ipse."

{a} Intellectual Powers, Essay vi. c. ii.

{b} Intellectual Powers, Essay ii. c. xx.

{c} Human Mind, Lect. xiii. xiv.

{d} Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect, Part I, sec. ii.

{e} Logic, Lect. xxvii. Note A on Reid, p. 760; Discussions, p. 86.

{f} Logic, Lecture vi.

{g} See more on the subject, Bk. II. c. ii. Addenda (3).

{h} Green's view may be seen compendiously in his Introduction to Hume's Works, § 146 and § 152.

{i} Ralph Waldo Emerson: a Biographical Sketch. By A. Ireland, pp. 27, 30, 110, 111, 124-129.

{j} Ib. pp. 27, 30.

{k} Ib. p. 110.

{l} Ib. p. 124-129.

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