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ARTICLE VI.-HERBERT SPENCER ON ULTIMATE RELIGIOUS IDEAS.
MR. HERBERT SPENCER has been an occasional contributor to the Westminster and other British Reviews, and is known to the public as the author of several works already completed, among which may be mentioned his "Social Statics," "Principles of Psychology," and "Education." He has recently initiated a much larger undertaking, which reminds us, in its proposed dimensions, of the ambitious historical attempt in which the late Henry Thomas Buckle was cut short by his death; being no less than a "System of Philosophy," which is to occupy at least ten volumes, and to cover the whole ground of Biology, Psychology, Sociology, and Morality. It is proper to state, however, that Mr. Spencer anticipates the obvious criticism that his scheme is too extensive, by remarking that he does not intend an exhaustive treatment of each topie, but "simply the establishment of principles, with such illustrations as are needful to make their bearings fully understood." Seve ral years have been devoted to the preparation of materials, and some parts of the plan are already in a great measure executed. As yet, the publication of the work, which was com menced in 1860, and was designed to be in quarterly numbers of about eighty pages each, has made rather slow progress, partly owing, we believe, to an illness of the author. Eight numbers, however, have appeared, six of them constituting the first volume, which is a general introduction to the work, and is entitled "First Principles."* It is divided into two parts: I. "The Unknowable;" II. "Laws of the Knowable."
*First Principles. By HERBERT SPENCER, author of "Social Statics," "The Principles of Psychology," "Essays: Scientific, Political, and Speculative," " Education," etc. London: Williams and Norgate, 14 Henrietta street, Covent Gar den. 1862. Pp. 503. The work may be had of D. Appleton & Co., New York, whose imprint appears upon the cover of each number.
It is to the First Part, or "The Unknowable," that our remarks in this Article will be chiefly devoted; inasmuch as, in this part, the author treats of the connection between Science and Religion, and discusses the great questions of a First Cause, and of the nature and authority of the Religious Element in man's constitution, as answering to that First Cause. A passing reference only can be made to the contents of the Second Part, where the "Laws of the Knowable" are defined and explained, with a great variety of apt illustration, and the "first principles" of nature are traced through their involved workings in the phenomena of matter and mind. Though we find here some unwarranted assumptions, as well as some grave omissions, yet this part may be considered, upon the whole, as a fine specimen of scientific reasoning. Considerable space is devoted to the Law of Evolution," the discovery of which is the author's chief claim to originality, and certainly evinces great power of generalization. To quote the abstract definition, given on page 216, without a full statement of the inductions from which it is derived, would convey no fair impression of the breadth and strength of the thought which it epitomizes.
Of Mr. Spencer's general characteristics as a writer, we may observe that his style is marked by great purity, clearness, and force-though it is somewhat diffuse, and the abstruse nature of some of his topics occasionally renders the thought difficult of apprehension. His treatment of his subjects is generally thorough, and sometimes exhaustive; his arguments are always ingenious, if not always convincing; his illustrations are drawn from almost every conceivable field of human knowledge, and his method of "putting things" is such as to make the most of his materials. He is undoubtedly entitled to a high rank among the speculative and philosophic writers of the present day.
The spirit of his philosophy is evidently that of the so-called Positive Method, which has now many partial disciples, as well as some zealous adherents, among the thinkers of England, and is exerting, in various indirect ways, a great and increasing influence upon the opinions of the masses in that country.
The leading conceptions of this method, as developed by its great originator, the Frenchman, Auguste Comte, are, perhaps, too well known to require special mention. So far as it teaches man to arrive at the knowledge of general laws by an accurate investigation and classification of facts, it is little more than a re-assertion of the method of the Novum Organum; as M. Comte, indeed, admits, by tracing it back to the time of Bacon. But when M. Comte takes it for granted that the facts to be observed are wholly of the outward world, and that even man's knowledge of his own mind must be obtained by a process of physiological and historical induction, since the consciousness of self is unreliable, he makes a most unwarranted assumption, which he is compelled tacitly to repudiate in the construction of his own system.* Consistent with this feature of Positivism is another assumption, viz.: that there can be no knowledge of efficient or final causes; from which it follows that theology is a mere chimera of the human mind in the infancy of its development, destined to be swept away by the progress of exact science. That which specially distinguishes M. Comte as a philosopher, is his theory of the three phases or stages of man's intellectual evolution, discoverable in the history of the individual and of the race,— the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive,—the last of which, when properly attained, entirely excludes the other two. Consequently there can be no theology in the positive stage; and religion, so far as it is connected with a belief in the supernatural, is also done away. Accordingly, Comte taught no higher religion than that which consists in the cultivation of the domestic and social affections, and a kind of apotheosis of woman; while his ridicule of the Psalmist's declaration, that "the heavens declare the glory of God," is well known. Positivism is essentially atheistic, in that it "ignores" God and all supersensible realities, and, notwith
*This is well shown by Mr. Morell, in his History of Speculative Philosophy, p. 358, Am. ed. Mr. J. S. Mill, himself a Positivist, has pointed out the error of Comte in assuming the impossibility of a distinct Science of Mind. Logie, Book VI., chap. IV., § 2.
standing its professions of humility, virtually deifies humanity; thus coinciding, in result, with the "extreme Left" Hegelianism, so different in its first principles, which declares that "the beginning, middle, and end of Religion is man." That the brilliant genius of M. Comte, so manifest in his six-fold "Hierarchy of the Positive Sciences," and in many of his minor scientific researches, should have failed to look beyond the sphere of sensuous intuition, may, perhaps, be partially accounted for by the deficiencies of his early "Polytechnic education, with its exclusive devotion to the mathematical and physical sciences. It is certainly charitable to seek no other cause for this failure than his worship of the spirit of system, or some such "idol of the tribe."
The English admirers and disciples of the great Positivist, since they are not generally his blind adherents, should not be charged indiscriminately with atheism, or irreligion. Indeed, the system of Positivism does not forbid the exercise of some kind of faith, provided it be kept entirely out of the sphere of philosophy. Nevertheless, the spirit of the master may sometimes be detected even in those of his pupils who follow him afar off; and it is not uncommon to find indications of hostility, or at least of indifference, to religious ideas, in works from writers of this school, upon subjects having but slight connection with religion. Occasion is taken to insinuate the futility of all theological investigations; and Comte's theory of intellectual development is assumed as a well-established law, whereas it is built upon an imperfect generalization, and has, at best, only a very partial truth, since it is inconsistent with many facts of history and of individual experience.
In Mr. Spencer we have an example of a Positivist who does not treat the subject of religion with supercilious neglect, and who illustrates, by his own method of reasoning upon the highest objects of human thought, the value of those metaphysical studies which it is so much the fashion of his school to decry. For both these reasons the volume which we now propose to examine deserves the careful attention of the theologian who desires to know what one of the strongest thinkers of this school, commonly thought atheistic in its tendencies,
can say in behalf of our Ultimate Religious Ideas. For, if we mistake not, in spite of the very negative character of his own results, he has furnished some strong arguments for the doctrines of a "positive" Christian theology.
As a preliminary to his investigation into the "Laws of the Knowable," or the principles of the universe which are discoverable by man, he thinks it proper to point out the limits between what may be known and what can never be known by the human mind,-between the Knowable and the Unknowable. Hence, Part I. is entitled "The Unknowable." We may readily imagine that, among the things which are unknowable, the author, as a genuine Positivist, will class the objects of religious faith and theological science. Yet we shall be mistaken if we expect to find him carelessly passing these matters by, as in all respects beyond knowledge, and of no practical concern. On the contrary, he gives them profound attention, and arrives at conclusions, in regard to them, which even the Christian theologian must allow to contain a large measure of truth. While showing the unsearchable nature of the ultimate facts on which religion depends, he demonstrates their real existence and their great importance.*
He also frames an argument for the reconciliation of Relig ion and Science, by showing that they both teach, ultimately, the same great truth. But let us briefly trace his line of thought, which needs, however, to be carefully studied from his own pages, in order to be fully appreciated.
He begins by remarking, that, as there is "a soul of goodness in things evil," so there is generally a soul of truth in things erroneous. Applying this remark to the subject of religion, he proceeds to argue at length, and with convincing force, that the constant, universal, and persistent phenomenon of religious belief, among mankind, in some form or other, however false or absurd, is an evidence that religion is based
*He professes, in this argument, to be "carrying a step further the doctrine put into shape by Hamilton and Mansel." The language is significant, in more than one respect, of the use to which Mr. Spencer puts the "Philosophy of the Conditioned."