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And here we may note, what has often been noted before, that the peculiar philosophy of Sir William Hamilton, both as stated in his own words and as expressed in some parts of the writings of Mr. Mansel, is inconsistent with itself, and is very liable to be perverted to uses far different from those intended by its author. Himself a Christian theist, and therefore a believer in the existence of the absolute First Cause, Hamilton has yet failed, in his argument against the conceivability of the Unconditioned, to show us on what ground we can build any reliable knowledge or belief even of its existence. His language is that "the Unconditioned is incognizable and inconceivable ;" and this he explains to mean that it is entirely beyond the sphere of knowledge and of thought; yet he would have us accept that "wonderful revelation" of it, which "inspires" us with "faith" through the very consciousness of our mental imbecility. But how can we be inspired, or in any way forced, to believe that, which is, in all respects, beyond thought? Surely there is room for the charge which Professor Ferrier, in the racy introduction to his Institutes of Metaphysic, has brought against the Scotch philosophers in general, but with evident special reference to Sir William Hamilton,—that they "call upon us to think a thing to exist, which, in the same breath, they tell us we cannot think at all. In a word," he continues, "they tell us that we can think what they tell us we cannot think; and what is that but making game of the laws of thought, and turning the whole code into ridicule ?” *
Mr. Mansel has qualified considerably the Hamiltonian philosophy; and its development in his "Limits of Religious Thought," and in the Article " Metaphysics," in the Encyclopædia Britannica, is free from some of the faults belonging to its original form; so that we can by no means subscribe to the
*In the same connection, Mr. Ferrier ridicules that division of thinking into positive and negative, exhibited by Hamilton in his "Alphabet of Human Thought," which confounds, and "slumps together in the same general category," "the simply inconceivable, by us, and the absolutely inconceivable” (Nohil cogitabile and Nihil purum); and he humorously shows how, on a similar principle of division, Ben Lomond may be classed with the "imponderables." pp. 61, 62, Institutes of Metaphysic.
opinion of Dr. Gerhart and others, that the first mentioned work, not long since given to the public, is likely to prove a blind surrender of the citadel of Christian truth into the hands of its foes. Nevertheless, some of Mansel's statements are as sweeping and unguarded as any of Hamilton's; as when he says that "the Absolute and the Infinite, like the Inconceivable and the Imperceptible, are names, indicating not an object of thought or consciousness at all, but the mere absence of the conditions under which thought is possible." + True, this is said in connection with an argument to prove that "it is a duty enjoined by reason itself, to believe in that which we are unable to comprehend;" but the question recurs, How can it be a duty to believe that which is not a possible object of thought, or consciousness, in any sense?
Mr. Spencer well points out the "grave error" which would result from a literal acceptance of the language of Hamilton and Mansel. He shows that, while, in the merely logical aspect of the question, it is perfectly true that we can know only the conditioned-since every complete thought which belongs to that definite consciousness of which logic formulates the laws, must, from the nature of the case, be limited or conditioned—yet, in the more general or psychological aspect of the question, this is an imperfect statement of the truth, since there is an indefinite consciousness which logic cannot formulate. Besides complete thoughts, and those which, though incomplete, admit of completion, there are thoughts which it is impossible to complete, and yet which are real, in the sense that they are normal affections of the mind. Such is our thought of the Absolute.
"Every one of the arguments by which the relativity of our knowledge is demonstrated, distinctly postulates the positive existence of something beyond the relative. To say that we cannot know the Absolute, is, by implication, to affirm that there is an Absolute. In the very denial of our power to learn what the Absolute is, there lies hidden the assumption that it is; and the making of this assumption proves that the Absolute has been present to the mind, not as a nothing, but as a something. Similarly with every step in the reasoning by which this doctrine is upheld. The Noumenon, everywhere named as the antithesis of
* Mercersburg Rev., April, 1860.
Limits of Religious Thought; Lect. III., p. 110, Am. ed.
the Phenomenon, is throughout necessarily thought of as an actuality. It is rigorously impossible to conceive that our knowledge is a knowledge of appearances only, without at the same time conceiving a Reality of which they are appearances; for appearance without reality is unthinkable.
Truly to realize in thought any one of the propositions of which the argument consists, the Unconditioned must be represented as positive and not negative. How then can it be a legitimate conclusion from the argument, that our consciousness of it is negative? An argument, the very construction of which assigns to a certain term a certain meaning, but which ends in showing that this term has no such meaning, is simply an elaborate suicide. Clearly, then, the very demonstration that a definite consciousness of the Absolute is impossible to us, unavoidably presupposes an indefinite consciousness of it." p. 88.
In answer to the assertion of Hamilton,-that the correlative character of the terms employed, to denote the Conditioned and the Unconditioned, proves nothing as to their correality, since, of these contradictories, the negative is only an abstraction of the positive, which alone is real,-Mr. Spencer replies that it is not true that the negative is "only an abstraction" of the positive notion:
"In such correlatives as Equal and Unequal, it is obvious enough that the neg ative concept contains something besides the negation of the positive one; for the things of which equality is denied are not abolished from consciousness by the denial. And the fact overlooked by Sir William Hamilton is, that the like holds even of those correlatives of which the negative is inconceivable, in the strict sense of the word. Take, for example, the Limited and the Unlimited. Our notion of the Limited is composed, first, of the consciousness of some kind of being, and secondly, of a consciousness of the limits under which it is known. In the antithetical notion of the unlimited, the consciousness of limits is abolished, but not the consciousness of some kind of being. It is quite true that, in the abscence of conceived limits, this consciousness ceases to be a concept properly so called; but it is none the less true that it remains as a mode of conciousness. If, in such cases, the negative contradictory were, as alleged, nothing else than the negation of the other, and, therefore, a mere non-entity, then it would clearly
* Mr. Spencer does not appear to notice the precise language of Sir William Hamilton, in this strange passage of the criticism on Cousin (Discussions, p. 34, Am. ed.), which has puzzled more than one reviewer. Fully interpreted, it seems to us to contain other errors, besides the one here pointed out. For instance, Hamilton says that "the reality of one contradictory, so far from guaranteeing the reality of the other, is nothing else than its negation.' Now it is perfectly true that contradictories cannot both be real in the same case; and therefore if, in any given case, one of two contradictories is known or thought as real, the other is necessarily thought as unreal, in that case. But this does not hinder us from thinking that each of two contradictories is equally real in different cases; and
follow that negative contradictories could be used interchangeably: the Unlimited might be thought of as antithetical to the Divisible, and the Indivisible as antithetical to the Limited. While the fact that they cannot be so used proves that in consciousness the Unlimited and the Indivisible are qualitatively distinct, and therefore positive or real; since distinction cannot exist between nothings. The error (very naturally fallen into by philosophers intent on demonstrating the limits and conditions of consciousness) consists in assuming that consciousness contains nothing but limits and conditions; to the entire neglect of that which is limited and conditioned. It is forgotten that there is something which alike forms the raw material of definite thought, and remains after the definiteness which thinking gave to it has been destroyed. Now all this applies by change of terms, to the last and highest of these antinomies-that between the Relative and the Non-relative. We are conscious of the Relative as existence under conditions and limits; it is impossible that these conditions and limits can be thought of apart from something to which they give the form; the abstraction of these conditions and limits is, by the hypothesis, the abstraction of them only; consequently there must be a residuary consciousness of something which filled up their outlines; and this indefinite something constitutes our consciousness of the Non-relative or Absolute. Impossible though it is to give to this consciousness any qualitative or quantitative expression whatever, it is not the less certain that it remains with us as a positive and indestructible element of thought." pp. 89-91.
The positive character of our notion of the Absolute is further shown by Mr. Spencer, in various ways, to which we can barely allude.
He argues, that if this notion were a pure negation, our conception of the Relative must itself disappear; since this is known only by its antithesis to the Absolute. He points out the fact that both Sir William Hamilton and Mr. Mansel do sometimes distinctly imply that our consciousness of the Absolute, indefinite though it is, is positive and not negative. He analyzes the process of thought, showing how its momentum
we take it that, unless we had some sort of notion of each contradictory, as more than a mere negation, we could have no positive notion of either-on a principle similar to that which Hamilton approvingly quotes from Hobbes, in regard to perception-" Sentire semper idem, et non sentire, ad idem recidunt." Even the Inconceivable is not "an abstraction of thought itself," but is apprehended as something which cannot be conceived. For the important distinction between apprehension and comprehension, see Trench on the Study of Words, p. 185, Am. ed. Cudworth says, speaking of the Divine Nature: "Truth is bigger than our minds, and we are not the same with it, but have a lower participation only of the intellectual nature, and are rather apprehenders than comprehenders thereof." Intellectual System, Chap. V., vol. II., p. 39, Andover edition.
inevitably carries us beyond conditioned existence to unconditioned existence, whether we contemplate Space, Time, or Cause, so that there is produced, as the result of many mental acts, a conviction of absolute reality which metaphysical criticisms cannot for a moment shake. He concludes that, while, by the laws of thought, we are rigorously prevented from forming a conception of absolute existence, we are, by the laws of thought, equally prevented from ridding ourselves of the consciousness of absolute existence,this consciousness being the "obverse of our self-consciousness." The sum of the whole argument may be stated thus, in Mr. Spencer's own words:
We have seen how, in the assertion that all our knowledge, properly so called, is Relative, there is involved, the assertion that there exists a Non-relative. We have seen how, in each step of the argument by which this doctrine is established, the same assumption is made. We have seen how, from the very necessity of thinking in relations, it follows that the Relative is itself inconceivable, except as related to a real Non-relative. We have seen that unless a real Non-relative or Absolute be postulated, the Relative itself becomes absolute, and so brings the argument to a contradiction. And, on contemplating the process of thought, we have equally seen how impossible it is to get rid of the consciousness of an actuality lying behind appearances; and how, from this impossibility, results our indestructible belief in that actuality." p. 96.
These conclusions may be regarded as satisfactorily established by Mr. Spencer, and as coinciding with the results of all the best criticisms upon Hamilton's philosophy. The reasonings by which they are supported have much of the freshness of originality, and are so generally correct that we need not stop to criticise details. Yet, while we gladly accept the arguments of such a writer, of such a school, for the neces sity and validity of our belief in the reality of something which transcends conception, we think that the vindication has been more thoroughly accomplished by writers who have devoted themselves more strictly to logical and metaphysical studies; from some of whom able refutations of the errors of Sir William Hamilton have appeared, both in Great Britain and in Germany, as well as in this country.*
* Of those published in this country, we may mention a review of Hamilton's Lectures on Metaphysics, in the Christian Review, January, 1860; also Dr.