M. Cousin's Course of Philosophy
|M. Cousin's Course of Philosophy (1829)
|Published in Edinburgh Review Vol. 50 No. 99 (Oct., 1829): pp. 194-221.|
THE delivery of these Lectures excited an unexampled sensation in Paris. Condemned to silence during the reign of Jesuit ascendency, M. Cousin, after eight years of honourable retirement, had again ascended the Chair of Philosophy; and the splendour with which he recommenced his academical career, more than justified the expectation which his recent reputation as a writer, and the memory of his earlier lectures, had inspired. Two thousand auditors listened, in admiration, to the eloquent exposition of doctrines unintelligible to the many; and the oral discussion of philosophy awakened in Paris, and in France, an interest unexampled since the days of Abelard. The daily journals found it necessary to gratify, by their earlier analyses, the impatient curiosity of the public; and the lectures themselves, taken in short-hand, and corrected by the Professor, propagated weekly the influence of his instruction to the remotest provinces of the kingdom.
Nor are the pretensions of his doctrine disproportioned to the attention it has engaged. It professes nothing less than to be the complement and conciliation of all philosophical opinion; and its author claims the glory of placing the key-stone in the arch of science, by the discovery of elements hitherto unobserved among the phenomena of consciousness.
Before proceeding to consider the pretensions of M. Cousin to originality, and of his doctrine to truth, it is necessary to say a few words on the state and relations of philosophy in France.
After the philosophy of Descartes and Malebranche had sunk into oblivion, and from the time that Condillac, exaggerating the too partial principles of Locke, had analysed all knowledge into sensation; Sensualism, as a philosophical theory, became, in France, not only the dominant, but almost the one exclusive opinion. It was believed that reality and truth were limited to experience, and experience was limited to the sphere of sense; while the higher faculties of reflection and reason were thought adequately explained as perceptions, elaborated, purified, sublimated, and transformed. From the mechanical relations of sense with its objects, it was attempted to explain the mysteries of intelligence; the philosophy of mind was soon viewed as a correlative to the philosophy of organisation. The moral nature of man was at last identified with his physical; mind was a reflex of matter,—thought a secretion of the brain.
A philosophy so melancholy in its consequences, and founded on principles thus partial and exaggerated, could not be permanent: a reaction was inevitable. The recoil, which began about twenty years ago, has been gradually increasing; and now it is perhaps even to be apprehended, that its intensity may become excessive. As the poison was of foreign growth, so also has been the antidote. The doctrine of Condillac was a corruption of the doctrine of Locke; and, in returning to a better philosophy, the French are still obeying an impulsion communicated from without. This impulsion may be traced to two different sources,—to the philosophy of Scotland, and to the philosophy of Germany.
In Scotland, a philosophy had sprung up, which, though professing, equally with the doctrine of Condillac, to build only on experience, did not, like that doctrine, limit experience to the relations of sense and its objects. Without vindicating to man more than a relative knowledge of existence, and restricting the science of mind to an observation of the fact of consciousness, it, however, analysed that fact into a greater number of more important elements than had been recognised in the school of Condillac. It showed that phenomena were revealed in thought which could not be resolved into any modification of sense. It proved that intelligence supposed principles, which, as the conditions of its activity, could not be the results of its operation; and that the mind contained notions, which, as primitive, necessary, and universal, were not to be explained as generalizations from the contingent and particular, about which alone our external experience was conversant. The phenomena of mind were thus distinguished from the phenomena of matter; and if the impossibility of materialism were not demonstrated, there was, at least, demonstrated the impossibility of its proof.
This philosophy, and still more the spirit of this philosophy, was calculated to exert a salutary influence on the French. And such an influence it did exert. For a time, indeed, the truth operated in silence; and Reid and Stewart had already modified the philosophy of France, before the French were content to acknowledge themselves their disciples. In the works of Degerando and Laromiguière, may be traced the influence of the Scottish philosophy; but it is to Royer-Collard, and, more recently, to Jouffroy, that our countrymen are indebted for a full acknowledgment of their merits, and for the high and increasing estimation in which their doctrines are now held in France. M. Royer-Collard, whose authority has, in every relation, been exerted only for the benefit of his country, and who, once great as a professor, is now not less illustrious as a statesman, in his lectures, advocated with distinguished ability the principles of the Scottish school; modestly content to follow, while no one was more entitled to lead. M. Jouffroy, by his recent translation of the works of Dr Reid, and by the excellent preface to his version of Mr Dugald Stewart's Outlines of Moral Philosophy, has likewise powerfully co-operated to the establishment, in France, of a philosophy equally opposed to the exclusive Sensualism of Condillac, and to the exclusive Rationalism of the new German school.
Germany may be regarded as the intellectual antipodes of France. The comprehensive and original genius of Leibnitz, itself the ideal abstract of the Teutonic character, had reacted powerfully on the minds of his countrymen, and Rationalism has, from his time, always remained the favourite philosophy of the Germans. On the principle of this doctrine, it is in Reason alone that truth and reality are to be found. Experience affords only the occasions on which intelligence reveals to us the necessary and universal notions of which it is the complement; and these notions afford at once the foundation of all reasoning, and the guarantee of our knowledge of existence. Kant, indeed, pronounced the philosophy of Rationalism to be a mere fabric of delusion. He declared that a science of existence was beyond the compass of our faculties; that pure reason, as purely subjective, was conscious of nothing but itself, and was unable to demonstrate the reality of aught beyond the phenomena of its personal modifications. But scarcely had the critical philosopher accomplished the recognition of this important principle, the result of which was, to circumscribe the field of speculation by very narrow bounds; than from the very disciples of his school there arose philosophers, who, despising the contracted limits, and the humble results, of a philosophy of observation, re-established, as the predominant opinion, a bolder and more uncompromising Rationalism than any that had ever previously obtained for their countrymen the character of philosophic visionaries—
Reason, or intelligence, has three integrant elements, three regulative principles, which at once constitute its nature, and govern its manifestations; these three ideas severally suppose each other, and, as inseparable, are equally essential and equally primitive. These ideas are recognised by Aristotle and by Kant, in their several attempts to analyse intelligence into its principles; but though the categories of both philosophers comprise all the elements, in neither list are these elements naturally co-arranged, or reduced to an ultimate simplicity.
The first of these ideas, principles, or elements, though fundamentally one, is variously expressed, under the terms unity, identity, substance, absolute cause, the infinite, pure thought, &c.; we would briefly call it the unconditioned. The second, he denominates plurality, difference, phenomenon, relative cause, the finite, determined thought, &c.; we would term it the conditioned. These two elements are relative and correlative. The first, though absolute, is not conceived as existing absolutely in itself; it is conceived as an absolute cause, as a cause which cannot but pass into operation; in other words, the first element must manifest itself in the second. The two ideas are thus connected together as cause and effect; each is only realised through the other; and this their connexion constitutes the third integrant element of intelligence.
Reason, or intelligence, in which these ideas appear, and which, in fact, they constitute and determine, is not individual, is not ours, is not even human; it is absolute, it is divine. What is personal to us, is our free and voluntary activity; what is not free and not voluntary, is adventitious to man, and does not constitute an integrant part of his individuality. Intelligence is conversant with truth; truth, as necessary and universal, is not the creature of my volition; and reason, which, as the subject of truth, is also universal and necessary, is consequently impersonal. We see, therefore, by a light which is not ours, and reason is a revelation of God in man. The ideas, therefore, of which we are conscious, belong not to us, but to absolute intelligence. They constitute, in fact, the very mode and manner of its existence. For consciousness is only possible under plurality and difference, and intelligence is only possible through consciousness.
The divine nature is essentially comprehensible. For the three ideas constitute the nature of the Deity, and the nature of ideas is to be conceived. God, in fact, exists to us only in so far as he is known, and the degree of our knowledge must always determine the measure of our faith. The relation of God to the universe is therefore manifest, and the creation easily understood. To create, is not to make something out of nothing, for this is contradictory, but to originate from self. We create so often as we exert our free causality, and something is created by us when something begins to be by virtue of the free causality which belongs to us. To create is, therefore, to cause, not with nothing, but with the very essence of our being—with our force, our will, our personality. The divine creation is of the same character. God, as he is a cause, is able to create; as he is an absolute cause, he cannot but create. In creating the universe, he does not draw it from nothing; he draws it from himself. The creation of the universe is thus necessary; it is a manifestation of the Deity, but not the Deity absolutely in himself; it is God passing into activity, but not exhausted in the act.
The universe created, the principles which determined the creation are found still to govern the worlds of matter and mind. Two ideas and their connexion explain the intelligence of God; two laws in their counterpoise explain the material universe. The law of expansion is the movement of unity to variety; the law of attraction, the return of variety to unity.
In the world of mind the same analogy is apparent. The study of consciousness is psychology. Man is the microcosm of existence; consciousness, within a narrow focus, concentrates a knowledge of the universe and of God; psychology is thus the abstract of all science, human and divine. As in the external world the action and reaction of all phenomena may be reduced to two great laws; so, in the internal, all the facts of consciousness may be reduced to one fundamental fact, comprising in like manner two principles and their correlation; and these principles are again the one or the infinite, the many or the finite, and the connexion of the infinite and finite.
In every act of consciousness we distinguish a self or ego, and something different from self, a non-ego; each limited and modified by the other. These, together, constitute the finite element. But at the same instant that we are conscious of these existences, plural, relative, and contingent, we are conscious likewise of a superior unity in which they are contained, and by which they are explained;—a unity absolute as they are conditioned, substantive as they are phenomenal, and an infinite cause as they are finite causes. This unity is God. The fact of consciousness is thus a complex phenomenon, comprehending three several terms; 1. The idea of the ego and non-ego as finite; 2. The idea of something else as infinite; and, 3. The idea of the relation of the finite element to the infinite. These elements are revealed in themselves and in their relations, in every act of primitive or spontaneous consciousness. They can also be reviewed by reflection in a voluntary act; but here reflection distinguishes, it does not create. The three ideas, the three categories of intelligence, are given in the original act of instinctive apperception, obscurely, indeed, and without contrast. Reflection analyses and discriminates the elements of this primary synthesis; and as will is the condition of reflection, and will at the same time is personal, the categories, as obtained through reflection, have consequently the appearance of being also personal and subjective. It was this personality of reflection that misled Kant; caused him to overlook or misinterpret the fact of spontaneous consciousness,—to individualize intelligence, and to refer to this personal reason all that is conceived by us as necessary and universal. But as, in the spontaneous intuition of reason, there is nothing voluntary, and consequently nothing personal; and as the truths which intelligence here discovers, come not from ourselves; we have a right, up to a certain point, to impose these truths on others as revelations from on high: while, on the contrary, reflection being wholly personal, it would be absurd to impose on others, what is the fruit of our individual operations. Spontaneity is the principle of religion; reflection of philosophy. Men agree in spontaneity; they differ in reflection. The former is necessarily veracious; the latter is naturally delusive.
The condition of reflection is separation; it illustrates by distinguishing; it considers the different elements apart, and while it contemplates one, it necessarily throws the others out of view. Hence, not only the possibility, but the necessity, of error. The primitive unity, supposing no distinction, admits of no error; reflection in discriminating the elements of thought, and in considering one to the exclusion of others, occasions error, and a variety in error. He who exclusively contemplates the element of the infinite, despises him who is occupied with the idea of the finite; and vice versa. It is the wayward developement of the various elements of intelligence, that determines the imperfections and varieties of individual character. Men under this partial and exclusive developement, are but fragments of that humanity which can only be fully realized in the harmonious evolution of all its principles. What reflection is to the individual, history is to the human race. The difference of an epoch consists exclusively in the partial developement of some one element of intelligence in a prominent portion of mankind; and as there are only three such elements, so there are only three grand epochs in the history of man.
A knowledge of the elements of reason, of their relations and of their laws, constitutes not merely philosophy, but the conditions of a history of philosophy. The history of human reason, or the history of philosophy, must be rational and philosophic. It must be philosophy itself, with all its elements, with all their relations, and with all their laws, represented in striking characters by the hands of time and of history, in the visible progress of the human mind. The discovery and enumeration of all the elements of intelligence enables us to survey the progress of speculation from the loftiest vantage ground; it discovers to us the laws by which the developement of reflection or philosophy is determined; and it supplies us with a canon by which the approximation of the different systems to the truth may be finally ascertained. And what are the results? Sensualism, idealism, scepticism, mysticism, are all partial and exclusive views of the elements of intelligence. But each is false only as it is incomplete. They are all true in what they affirm—all erroneous in what they deny. Though hitherto opposed, they are consequently not incapable of coalition; and, in fact, can only obtain their consummation in a powerful Eclecticism, which shall comprehend them all. This Eclecticism is contained in the system previously developed; and the possibility of such a universal philosophy was first afforded by the discovery of M. Cousin, in the year 1817, 'that consciousness contained many more phenomena than had previously been suspected.'
The present work is at once an exposition of these principles, as a true theory of philosophy, and an illustration of the mode in which this theory is to be applied, as a rule of criticism in the history of philosophical opinion. As the justice of the application must be always subordinate to the truth of the principle, we shall confine ourselves exclusively to a consideration of M. Cousin's system, viewed absolutely in itself. This, indeed, we are afraid will prove comparatively irksome; and we must solicit indulgence not only for the unpopular nature of the discussion, but for the employment of language which, from the total neglect of these speculations in Britain, will necessarily appear abstruse to the general reader.
Now, it is manifest that the whole doctrine of M. Cousin is involved in the proposition, that the unconditioned, the absolute, the infinite, is immediately known in consciousness by difference, plurality, and relation. The unconditioned, as an original element of knowledge, is the generative principle of his system; the mode in which the possibility of this knowledge is explained, affords its discriminating peculiarity. The other positions of his theory, as deduced from this assumption, may indeed be disputed, even if the antecedent be allowed; but this assumption disproved, every consequent in his theory is at once annihilated. The recognition of the absolute as a constitutive principle of intelligence, our author regards as at once the condition and the end of philosophy; and it is on the discovery of this principle in the fact of consciousness, that he vindicates to himself the glory of being the founder of the eclectic, or one catholic philosophy. The determination of this cardinal point will thus satisfy us at once touching the pretensions of the system. To explain the nature of the problem itself, and the character of the solution propounded by M. Cousin, it is necessary to premise a statement of the opinions that may be entertained regarding the unconditioned, as an immediate object of knowledge and of thought.
These opinions may be reduced to four:—1. The unconditioned is incognisable and inconceivable; its notion being only negative of the conditioned, which last can alone be positively known or conceived. 2. It is not an object of knowledge; but its notion, as a regulative principle of the mind itself, is more than a mere negation of the conditioned. 3. It is cognisable, but not conceivable; it can be known by a sinking back into identity with the absolute, but is incomprehensible by consciousness and reflection, which are only of the relative and the different. 4. It is cognisable and conceivable by consciousness and reflection, under relation, difference, and plurality.
The first of these opinions we regard as true; the second is held by Kant; the third by Schelling; and the last by our author.
1. In our opinion, the mind can conceive, and consequently can know, only the limited, and the conditionally limited. The unconditionally unlimited, or the infinite, the unconditionally limited, or the absolute, cannot positively be construed to the mind; they can be conceived at all only by a thinking away, 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 to the mind 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.
As the conditionally limited (which we may briefly call the conditioned) is thus the only object of knowledge and of positive thought—thought necessarily supposes conditions; to think is therefore to condition, and conditional limitation is the fundamental law of the possibility of thought. 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 different, of the modified, of the phenomenal. 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:—Cognoscendo ignorari, et ignorando cognosci.
The conditioned is the mean between two extremes, exclusive of each other, neither of which can be conceived as possible, but of which, on the principle of contradiction, one must be admitted as necessary. On this opinion, therefore, reason is 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 contradiction, it is compelled to recognise as true. We are thus taught the salutary lesson, that the capacity of thought is not to be constituted into the measure of existence; and are warned from recognising the domain of our knowledge as necessarily co-extensive with the horizon of our faith. And by a wonderful revelation, we are thus, in the very consciousness of our inability to conceive aught beyond the relative and finite, inspired with a belief in the existence of something unconditioned beyond the sphere of all comprehensible reality.
2. The second opinion, that of Kant, is fundamentally the same as the preceding. Metaphysic, strictly so denominated, is the doctrine of the unconditioned. From Xenophanes to Leibnitz, the infinite, the absolute, formed the highest principle of speculation; but from the dawn of philosophy in the school of Elis till the rise of the Kantian philosophy, no serious attempt was made to investigate the nature and origin of this notion as a psychological phenomenon. Before Kant, philosophy was rather a deduction from principles, than an enquiry concerning principles themselves. At the head of every system a notion figured, which the philosopher assumed in conformity to his views; but it was rarely considered necessary, and still more rarely attempted, to ascertain the genesis, or to determine the domain, of the notion, previous to its application. In his Critique, Kant undertakes a regular survey of consciousness. He professes to analyse the conditions of human knowledge—to mete out its limits—to indicate its point of departure,—and to determine its possibility. That Kant accomplished much, it would be prejudice to deny; nor is his service to philosophy the less, that his success has been more decided in the subversion of error than in the establishment of truth. 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. Existence was revealed to us only under specific modifications, and these were known only under the conditions of our faculties of knowledge. 'Things in themselves,' mind, matter, God,—all, in short, that was not particular, relative, and phenomenal, as bearing no analogy to our faculties, was beyond the verge of our knowledge. Philosophy was thus restricted to the observation and analysis of the phenomena of consciousness; and what was not explicitly or implicitly given in a fact of consciousness, transcended the sphere of a legitimate speculation. A knowledge of the unconditioned was impossible, either immediately as a notion, or mediately as an inference. A demonstration of the absolute from the relative was logically absurd; as in such a syllogism we must collect in the conclusion what is not distributed in the premises. An immediate knowledge of the unconditioned was equally impossible: But here we think his reasoning complicated, and his reduction incomplete. We must explain ourselves.
While we regard as conclusive, Kant's analysis of time and space into mere conditions of thought, we cannot help viewing his deduction of the categories of understanding, and the ideas of speculative reason, as the work of a great but perverse ingenuity. The categories of the understanding are merely subordinate forms of the conditioned. Why not, therefore, generalize the conditioned as the one category of thought?—and if it were necessary to analyse this form into its subaltern applications, why not develope these immediately out of the generic principle, instead of preposterously, and by a forced and partial analogy, deducing the laws of the understanding from a questionable division, of logical propositions? Why distinguish Reason (Vernunft) from Understanding (Verstand,) simply on the ground that the former is conversant about, or rather tends towards, the unconditioned; when it is sufficiently apparent, that the unconditioned is conceived only as the negation of the conditioned, and also that the conception of contraries is one? In the Kantian philosophy both faculties perform the same function, both seek the one in the many;—the Idea (Idee) is only the Conception (Begriff) sublimated into the inconceivable; Reason only the Understanding which has 'overleaped itself.' 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 their common character of incomprehensibility. And while he appropriated Reason as a specific faculty to take cognisance of these negations, hypostatized as positive, under the Platonic name of Ideas; so also, as a pendant to his deduction of the categories of Understanding from the logical division of propositions, he deduced the classification and number of these ideas of Reason from the logical division of syllogisms. Kant thus stands intermediate between those who view the notion of the absolute as the instinctive affirmation of an encentric consciousness, and those who regard it as the factitious negative of an eccentric generalization.
Were we to adopt from the Critical Philosophy the idea of analysing thought into its fundamental conditions, and were we to carry the reduction of Kant to what we think its ultimate simplicity, we would discriminate thought into positive and negative, according as it is conversant about the conditioned or unconditioned. This, however, would constitute a logical, not a psychological distinction; as positive and negative in thought are known at once, and by the same intellectual act. The twelve categories of the understanding would be thus included under the former; the three ideas of reason under the latter; and to this intent the contrast between understanding and reason would disappear. Finally, rejecting the arbitrary limitation of time and space to the sphere of sense, we would express under the formula of—the Conditioned in Time and Space—a definition of the conceivable, and an enumeration of the three categories of thought.
The imperfection and partiality of Kant's analysis are betrayed in its consequences. His doctrine leads to absolute scepticism. Speculative reason, on Kant's own admission, is an organ of mere delusion. The idea of the unconditioned, about which it is conversant, is shown to involve insoluble contradictions, and yet to be the legitimate product of intelligence. Hume has well observed, that it is of little consequence whether we possess a false reason, or no reason at all. 'If the light that leads astray be light from heaven,' what are we to believe? If our intellectual nature be perfidious in one revelation, it must be presumed deceitful in all; nor is it possible for Kant to establish the existence of God, freedom, and immortality, on the presumed veracity of practical reason, after having himself disproved the credibility of speculative reason.
Kant had annihilated the older metaphysic, but the germ of a more visionary doctrine of the absolute, than any of those he had refuted, was contained in the bosom of his own philosophy. He had slain the body, but had not exorcised the spectre of the absolute; and this spectre has continued to haunt the schools of Germany even to the present day. The philosophers were not content to abandon their metaphysic; to limit philosophy to an observation of phenomena, and to the generalization of these phenomena into laws. The theories of Bouterwek, (in his earlier works,) of Bardili, of Reinhold, of Fichte, of Schelling, of Hegel, are so many endeavours, of greater or less ability, to fix the absolute as a positive in knowledge; but the absolute, like the water in the sieves of the Danaides, has always hitherto run through as a negative into the abyss of nothing.
3. Of these theories, that of Schelling is the only one in regard to which it is necessary to say any thing. His opinion constitutes the third of those we have enumerated touching the knowledge of the absolute; and the following is a brief statement of its principal positions.
While the lower sciences are of the relative and conditioned, Philosophy, as the science of sciences, must be of the absolute and unconditioned. Philosophy, therefore, supposes a science of the absolute. If the absolute is beyond our knowledge, philosophy is itself impossible.
But how, it is objected, can the absolute be known? The absolute, as unconditioned, identical, and one, cannot be known, under conditions, by difference and plurality. It cannot, therefore be known, if the subject of knowledge be distinguished from the object of knowledge; in the knowledge of the absolute, existence and knowledge must be identical; the absolute can only be known, if adequately known, by the absolute itself. But is this possible? We are wholly ignorant of existence in itself,—the mind knows nothing, except by quality, difference, and relation; consciousness supposes the subject contradistinguished from the object of thought; the abstraction of this contrast is a negation of consciousness; and the negation of consciousness is the annihilation of thought itself. The alternative is therefore unavoidable; either in finding the absolute, we lose ourselves; retaining our individual unity, we cannot reach the absolute.
All this Schelling candidly admits. He admits that a knowledge of the absolute is impossible, in a personal consciousness; he admits that, as the understanding knows, and can know, only by difference, it can conceive only the conditioned; and he admits that, only if man be himself the infinite, can the infinite be known by him:
But he contends that there is a capacity of knowledge above consciousness, and higher than the understanding, and that this knowledge is competent to human reason, as identical with the absolute itself. In this act of knowledge, which, after Fichte, Schelling calls the Intellectual Intuition, there exists no distinction of subject and object,—no contrast of knowledge and existence,—all difference is lost in absolute indifference,—all plurality in absolute unity. The intuition itself—reason—and the absolute—are identical. The absolute exists only as known by reason, and reason knows only as being itself the absolute.
This act is necessarily ineffable:
The vision and the faculty divine,
Out of Laputa or the Empire it would be idle to enter into an articulate refutation of a theory which founds philosophy on the annihilation of consciousness. The intuition of the absolute is manifestly the work of an arbitrary abstraction, and of a self-delusive imagination. To reach the point of indifference by abstraction, we annihilate the object, and we annihilate the subject, of consciousness. But what remains?—Nothing. We then hypostatize the zero; we baptize it with the name of Absolute, and imagine that we contemplate absolute existence, when we only speculate absolute privation. This truth has been indeed virtually confessed by the two most distinguished followers of Schelling. Hegel at last abandons the intuition regarding 'pure or undetermined existence' as convertible with 'pure nothing;' while Oken, if he adheres to the intuition, intrepidly identifies God or the Absolute with zero. Nor has the negative chimera proved less fruitful than the positive; and Schelling has found it as difficult to evolve the one into the many, as Oken to deduce the universe and its contents from the first self-affirmation of the 'primeval nothing.'
Schelling has, indeed, found it impossible, without gratuitous and even contradictory assumptions, to explain the deduction of the finite from the infinite. By no salto mortale has he been able to clear the magic circle in which he had enclosed himself. Unable to connect the absolute and the conditioned by any natural relation, he has variously attempted to account for the phenomenon of the universe, either by imposing a necessity of self-manifestation on the absolute, i.e. by conditioning the unconditioned; or by postulating a fall of the finite from the infinite, i.e. by begging the very phenomenon which his hypothesis professed its exclusive ability to explain. The great problem is still unresolved; and the question proposed by Orpheus at the dawn of speculation will probably remain unanswered till its decline,
Πῶς δέ μοι ἕν τι τὰ πάντ’ ἕσαι καί χωρίς ἕκασον;
In like manner, annihilating consciousness in order to reconstruct it, Schelling has never yet been able to connect the faculties conversant about the conditioned, with the faculty of absolute knowledge. One simple objection strikes us as decisive, although we do not remember to have seen it alleged. 'We awaken,' says Schelling, 'from the intellectual intuition as from 'the state of death, we awaken through reflection.' We cannot, at the same moment, be in the intellectual intuition and in common consciousness; we must therefore be able to connect them by an act of memory. But how can there be a memory of the absolute and its intuition? As out of time, and space, and relation, and difference, it is admitted that the absolute cannot be construed to the understanding? But as memory is only possible under the conditions of the understanding, it is consequently impossible to remember anything anterior to the moment when we awaken into consciousness; and the clairvoyance of the absolute, even granting its reality, is, after its conclusion, as if it had never been.
4. What we have now stated may in some degree enable the reader to apprehend the relations under which our author stands, both to those who deny and to those who admit a knowledge of the absolute. If we compare the philosophy of Cousin with the philosophy of Schelling, we at once perceive that the former is a disciple, though not a servile disciple, of the latter. But the scholar, though enamoured with his master's system as a whole, is sufficiently aware of the two insuperable difficulties of that theory. He saw, that if he pitched the absolute so high, it was impossible to deduce from it the relative; and he felt that the intellectual intuition—a stumbling-block to himself—would be arrant foolishness in the eyes of his countrymen. Cousin and Schelling agree, that as philosophy is the science of the unconditioned, the unconditioned must be within the compass of science. They agree that the unconditioned is known, and immediately known; and they agree that intelligence as competent to the unconditioned, is impersonal, infinite, divine. But while they coincide in the fact of the absolute as known, they are diametrically opposed as to the mode in which they attempt to realize this knowledge; each regarding, as the climax of absurdity and contradiction, the manner in which the other endeavours to bring human reason and the absolute into proportion. According to Schelling, Cousin's absolute is only a relative; according to Cousin, Schelling's knowledge of the absolute is a negation of thought itself. The latter is aware that the condition of all knowledge is plurality and difference; and the former, that the one condition, under which a knowledge of the absolute is possible, is indifference and unity. The one denies a notion of the absolute to consciousness; the other affirms that consciousness is implied in every act of intelligence. And truly we conceive that each is triumphant over the other; and the result of this mutual neutralization is, that the absolute is incognisable.
In these circumstances, it might reasonably have been expected that our author should have stated the difficulties to which his theory was exposed on one side and on the other; and endeavoured to obviate the objections, both of his brother absolutists, and of those who altogether deny a philosophy of the unconditioned. This he has not done. The possibility of reducing the notion of the absolute to a negative conception is never once supposed; and if one or two mysterious (and not always correct) allusions are made to his doctrine, the name of Schelling does not occur, we believe, in the whole compass of these lectures. Difficulties, by which either the doctrine of the absolute in general, or his own particular modification of that doctrine, may be assailed, are studiously eluded, or solved only by still greater. Assertion is substituted for argument; facts of consciousness are alleged which consciousness never knew; and paradoxes that baffle argument are promulgated as intuitive truths, above the necessity of confirmation. With every feeling of respect for M. Cousin as a man of learning and genius, we must regard the grounds on which he endeavours to establish his doctrine as erroneous, inconsequent, and assumptive. In vindicating the truth of this statement, we shall show, in the first place, that M. Cousin is at fault in all the authorities he quotes in favour of the opinion that the absolute, infinite, unconditioned, is a primitive notion, cognisable by the intellect; in the second, that his argument to prove the co-reality of his three ideas proves directly the reverse; in the third, that the conditions under which alone he allows intelligence to be possible, necessarily exclude the possibility of a knowledge of the absolute; and in the fourth, that the absolute, as defined by him, is only a relative and a conditioned.
In the first place, then, M. Cousin supposes that Aristotle and Kant, in their several categories, equally proposed an analysis of the constituent elements of intelligence; and he also supposes that each, like himself, recognised among these elements the notion of the infinite or absolute. In both these suppositions he is wrong.
It is a serious error in a historian of philosophy to imagine that, in his categories, Aristotle proposed, like Kant, 'an analysis of the elements of human reason.' It is just, however, to mention, that in this mistake M. Cousin has been preceded by Kant himself. The ends proposed by the two philosophers were different, even opposed. In their several categories, Aristotle attempted a synthesis of things in their multiplicity,—a classification of objects real, but in relation to thought;—Kant, an analysis of mind in its unity,—a dissection of thought, pure, but in relation to its objects. The predicaments of Aristotle are thus objective, of things as understood; those of Kant subjective, of the mind as understanding. The former are results a posteriori—the creations of abstraction and generalisation; the latter, anticipations a priori—the conditions of those acts themselves. It is true, that as the one scheme exhibits the unity of thought diverging into plurality, in appliance to its objects, and as the other exhibits the multiplicity of these objects converging towards unity by the collective determination of thought; while, at the same time, language usually confounds the subjective and objective under a common term;—it is certainly true, that some elements in the one table coincide in name with some elements in the other. This coincidence is, however, only equivocal. In reality, the whole Kantian categories must be excluded from the Aristotelic list, as entia rationis, as notiones secundæ—in short, as determinations of thought, and not genera of real things; while the several elements would be specially excluded, as partial, privative, transcendent, &c. But if it would be unjust to criticise the categories of Kant in whole, or in part, by the Aristotelic canon, what must we think of Kant, who, after magnifying the idea of investigating the forms of pure intellect as worthy of the mighty genius of the Stagyrite, proceeds on this false hypothesis to blame the execution as rhapsodic, as incomplete, as confounding derivative with simple notions; nay, even on the narrow principles of his own Critique, as mixing the forms of pure sense with the forms of pure understanding? If M. Cousin were correct in his supposition that Aristotle and his followers had viewed his categories as an analysis of the regulative forms of thought, he would find his own reduction of the elements of reason to a double principle anticipated in the scholastic division of existence into ens per se and ens per accidens.
Nor is our author correct in thinking that the categories of Aristotle and Kant are complete, inasmuch as they are co-extensive with his own. As to the former, if the infinite were not excluded, on what would rest the scholastic distinction of ens categoricum and ens transcendens? The logicians require that predicamental matter shall be of a limited and finite nature: God, as infinite, is thus excluded; and as it is evident from the whole context of his book of categories, that Aristotle there only contemplated a distribution of the finite, so, in other works, he more than once emphatically denies the infinite as an object not only of knowledge, but of thought:—τὸ ἃπειρον ἃγνωσον η ἃπειρον—τὸ ἃπειρον ουτε νοητὸν, ουτε ἀισθήτον. And while Aristotle thus regards the infinite as beyond the compass of thought, Kant views it as at least beyond the sphere of knowledge. If M. Cousin indeed employed the term category in relation to the Kantian philosophy in the Kantian acceptation, he would be as erroneous in regard to Kant as he is in regard to Aristotle; but we presume that he wishes, under that term, to include not only the 'Categories of Understanding,' but the 'Ideas of Reason.' Kant limits knowledge to experience, and experience to the categories of the understanding, which, in reality, are only so many forms of the conditioned; and allows to the notion of the unconditioned (corresponding to the ideas of reason) no objective reality, regarding it merely as a regulative principle in the arrangement of our thoughts. M. Cousin is thus totally wrong in regard to the one, and wrong in part in relation to the other.
In the second place, our author asserts that the idea of the infinite, the absolute, &c, and the idea of the finite, the conditioned, &c., are equally real, because the notion of the one necessarily suggests the conception of the other.
Correlatives certainly suggest each other, but correlatives may, or may not, be equally real and positive. Contradictories necessarily imply each other, for the knowledge of contraries is one. But the reality of one contradictory, so far from guaranteeing the reality of the other, is nothing else than its negation. Thus every positive notion (the knowledge of a thing by what it is) suggests a negative notion (the knowledge of a thing by what it is not); and the highest positive notion, the notion of the conceivable, is not without its corresponding negative in the notion of the inconceivable. But though these mutually suggest each other, the positive alone is real; the negative is only an abstraction of the other, and in the highest generalisation is even an abstraction of thought itself. It therefore behoved M. Cousin, instead of assuming the co-reality of his two elements on the fact of their correlation, to have suspected, on this very ground, that the reality of the one was inconsistent with the reality of the other. In fact, upon examination, it will be found that his two primitive ideas are nothing more than contradictory relatives. These, consequently, of their very nature, imply each other; but they imply each other only as affirmation and negation of the same.
We have already shown, that though the conditioned (conditionally limited) be one, what is opposed to it as the unconditioned, is plural; that the unconditional negation of limitation gives one unconditioned, the infinite; while the unconditional affirmation of limitation affords another, the absolute. And this coincides with the opinion, that the unconditioned is positively inconceivable. But those who, with M. Cousin, regard the notion of the unconditioned as a positive and real knowledge of existence in its all-comprehensive unity, and who consequently employ the terms absolute, infinite, unconditioned, as only various expressions for the same identity, are bound to prove that their idea of unity corresponds—either with that unconditioned we have distinguished as the absolute,—or with that unconditioned we have distinguished as the infinite,—or that it includes both,—or that it excludes both. This they have not done, and, we suspect, have never attempted to do.
Our author maintains, that the unconditioned is known under the laws of consciousness; and does not, like Schelling, pretend to an intuition of existence beyond the bounds of space and time. Indeed, he himself expressly predicates the absolute and infinite of these forms. But is the absolute conceivable of time? Can we conceive time as unconditionally limited? We can easily represent to ourselves time under any relative limitation of commencement and termination; but we are conscious to ourselves of nothing more clearly, than that it would be equally possible to think without thought, as to construe to the mind an absolute commencement, or an absolute termination, of time; that is, a beginning and an end, beyond which, time is conceived as nonexistent. Stretch imagination to the utmost, it still sinks paralysed within the bounds of time, and time survives as the condition of the thought itself in which we annihilate the universe:
'Sur les mondes détruits le Temps dort immobile.'
The conditioned is, therefore, that only which can be positively conceived; the absolute and infinite are conceived only as negations of the conditioned in its opposite poles.
Now, as we observed, M. Cousin, and those who confound the absolute and infinite, and regard the unconditioned as a positive and indivisible notion, must show that this notion coincides either, 1st, with the notion of the absolute, to the exclusion of the infinite; or 2d, with the notion of the infinite to the exclusion of the absolute; or 3d, that it includes both as true, carrying them up to indifference; or 4th, that it excludes both as false. The last two alternatives are impossible, as either would be subversive of the highest principle of reason, which asserts, that of two contradictories, both cannot, but one must, be true. It only, therefore, remains to identify the unity of the unconditioned with the infinite, or with the absolute—with either, to the exclusion of the other. But while every one must be intimately conscious of the impossibility of this, the very fact that our author and other philosophers a priori have constantly found it necessary to confound these contradictions, sufficiently proves that neither term has a right to represent the unity of the unconditioned, to the prejudice of the other.
The unconditioned is, therefore, not a positive conception; nor has it even a real or intrinsic unity; for it only combines the absolute and the infinite, contradictory in themselves, into a unity relative to us by the negative bond of their inconceivability. It is on this mistake of the relative for the intrinsic, of the negative for the positive, that M. Cousin's theory is founded: And it is not difficult to understand how the mistake originated.
This reduction of M. Cousin's two ideas of the infinite and finite into one positive conception and its negative, implicitly annihilates also the third idea, devised by him as a connexion between his two substantive ideas; and which he marvellously identifies with the relation of cause and effect. Before leaving this part of our subject, we may observe, that the very simplicity of our analysis is a presumption in favour of its truth. A plurality of causes is not to be postulated, where one is sufficient to account for the phenomena: entia non sunt multiplicanda præter necessitatem. And M. Cousin, in supposing three positive ideas, where only one is necessary, arrays every rule of philosophy against his hypothesis, even before its unsoundness is definitely brought to light.
In the third place, the restrictions to which our author subjects intelligence, divine and human, implicitly deny a knowledge of the absolute, both to God and man. 'The condition of intelligence,' says Cousin, 'is difference; and an act of knowledge is only possible where there exists a plurality of terms. Unity does not suffice for conception; variety is necessary; nay more, not only is variety necessary, there must likewise subsist an intimate relation between the principles of unity and variety; without which, the variety not being perceived by the unity, the one is as if it could not perceive, and the other, as if it could not be perceived. Look back for a moment into yourselves, and you will find, that what constitutes intelligence in our feeble consciousness, is, that there are there several terms, of which the one perceives the other, of which the other is perceived by the first: in this consists self-knowledge,—in this consists self-comprehension,—in this consists intelligence: intelligence without consciousness is the abstract possibility of intelligence, not intelligence in the act; and consciousness implies diversity and difference. Transfer all this from human to absolute intelligence—that is to say, refer the ideas to the only intelligence to which they can belong—you have thus, if I may so express myself, the life of absolute intelligence; you have this intelligence with the complete developement of the elements which are necessary for it to be a true intelligence; you have all the momenta whose relation and motion constitute the reality of knowledge.' In all this, so far as human intelligence is concerned, we cordially agree; or a more complete admission could not be imagined, not only that a knowledge of the absolute is impossible for man, but that we are unable to conceive the possibility of such a knowledge, even in the Deity, without contradicting our human conceptions of the possibility of intelligence itself. Our author, however, perceives no contradiction; and, without argument or explanation, accords a knowledge of that which can only be known under the negation of all difference and plurality, to that which can only know under the affirmation of both.
If a knowledge of the absolute were possible under these conditions, it may excite our wonder that other philosophers should have viewed the supposition as the merest absurdity; and that Schelling, whose acuteness was never questioned, should have exposed himself gratuitously to the reproach of mysticism by his postulating for a few, and through a faculty above the reach of consciousness, a knowledge already given to all in the fact of consciousness itself. Monstrous as is the postulate of the intellectual intuition, we freely confess that it is only through such a faculty that we can imagine the possibility of a science of the absolute; and have no hesitation in acknowledging, that if Schelling's hypothesis appear to us indemonstrable, that of Cousin is seen to be self-contradictory.
Our author admits, and must admit, that the absolute is absolutely one: and absolute unity is convertible with the absolute negation of plurality and difference: the absolute, and the knowledge of the absolute, are therefore identical. But knowledge, or intelligence, it is asserted by M. Cousin, supposes a plurality of terms—the plurality of subject and object. Intelligence, whose essence is plurality, cannot therefore be identified with the absolute, whose essence is unity; and if known, the absolute, as known, must be different from the absolute, as existing; that is, there must be two absolutes—an absolute in knowledge, and an absolute in existence, which is doubly contradictory.
But waiving this contradiction, and allowing the non-identity of knowledge and existence, the absolute as known must be known under the conditions of the absolute as existing, that is, as absolute unity. But, on the other hand, it is asserted, that the condition of intelligence as knowing, is plurality and difference; consequently 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, First, with the subject; or, Second, with the object of intelligence; or, Third, with the indifference of both. The first hypothesis, and the second, are contradictory of that of the absolute; for in these the absolute is supposed to be known, either as contradistinguished from the subject, or as contradistinguished from the object, of thought; in other words, it 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 knowledge itself. 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 at all, or our author is wrong in subjecting thought to the conditions of plurality and difference. It was the iron necessity of the alternative that constrained Schelling to resort to the hypothesis of a knowledge in identity through the intellectual intuition; and it could only be from an oversight of the main difficulties of the problem that M. Cousin, in abandoning the intellectual intuition, did not abandon the absolute itself. For how that whose essence is all-comprehensive unity, can be known by the negation of that unity under the condition of plurality;—how that which exists only as the identity of all difference can be known under the negation of that identity in the antithesis of subject and object, of knowledge and of existence,—these are contradictions which M. Cousin has not attempted to solve;—contradictions which he has not even ventured to state.
In the fourth place.—The objection of the inconceivable nature of Schelling's intellectual intuition, and of a knowledge of the absolute in identity, apparently determined our author to adopt the opposite, but suicidal alternative, of a knowledge of the absolute in consciousness, and by difference. The equally insuperable objection, that from the absolute defined as absolute, Schelling had not been able, without inconsequence, to deduce the conditioned, seems in like manner to have influenced M. Cousin to define the absolute by a relative; not aware, it would appear, that though he thus facilitated the derivation of the conditioned, he annihilated in reality the absolute itself. By the former proceeding, our author virtually denies the possibility of the absolute in knowledge; by the latter, the possibility of the absolute in existence.
The absolute is defined by our author 'an absolute cause—a cause which cannot but pass into act.' Now, it is sufficiently manifest that a thing existing absolutely, (i.e. not under relation,) and a thing existing absolutely as a cause, are contradictory. The former is the absolute negation of all relation, the latter is the absolute affirmation of a particular relation. A cause is a relative, and what exists absolutely as a cause, exists absolutely under relation. Schelling has justly observed, that 'he would deviate as wide as the poles from the idea of the absolute, who would think of defining its nature by the notion of activity.' But he who would define the absolute by the notion of a cause, would deviate still more widely from its nature; inasmuch as the notion of a cause involves not only the notion of a determination to activity, but of a determination to a dependent kind of activity—an activity not immanent, but transient. 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; and in the accomplishment of that end, it consummates its own perfection. Abstractly considered, the effect is therefore superior to the cause. A cause, as cause, may indeed be better than any given number of its effects; but the total complement of the effects of what exists only as a cause, is better than that which, ex hypothesi, exists only for the sake of their production. But an absolute cause is not only dependent on the effect for its perfection—it is dependent on it 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; for to that extent it is dependent on the effect, as on the condition through which alone it realizes its existence; and what exists absolutely 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.
The definition of the absolute by absolute cause is, therefore, tantamount to a negation of itself; for it defines by relation and conditions, that which is conceived only as exclusive of both. The same is true of the definition of the absolute by substance.
The vice of M. Cousin's definition of the absolute by absolute cause, is manifested likewise in its applications. Our author vaunts that his theory can alone explain the nature and relations of the Deity; and on its absolute incompetency to fulfil the conditions of a rational theism, we are willing to rest a demonstration of its futility.
'God,' says our author, 'creates; he creates in virtue of his creative power, and he draws the universe, not from nonentity, but from himself, who is absolute existence. His distinguishing characteristic being an absolute creative force, which cannot but pass into activity, it follows, not that the creation is possible, but that it is necessary.'
We must be very brief. The subjection of the Deity to a necessity—a necessity of self-manifestation identical with the creation of the universe, is contradictory of the fundamental postulates of a divine nature. On this hypothesis, God is not distinct from the world; the creature is a modification of the creator. Now, without objecting that the simple subordination of the Deity to necessity, is in itself tantamount to his dethronement, let us see to what consequences this necessity, on the hypothesis of our author, inevitably leads. On this hypothesis, one of two alternatives must be admitted. God, as necessarily determined to pass from absolute essence to relative manifestation, is determined to pass either from the better to the worse, or from the worse to the better. A third possibility, that both states are equal, as contradictory in itself, and as contradicted by our author, it is not necessary to consider.
The first supposition must be rejected. The necessity in this case determines God to pass from the better to the worse; that is, operates to his partial annihilation. The force which compels this must be external and hostile, for nothing operates to its own deterioration; and, as superior to the pretended God, is either itself the real deity, if an intelligent cause, or a negation of all deity, if a blind force or fate.
The second is equally inadmissible—that God, passing into the universe, passes from a state of comparative imperfection, into a state of comparative perfection. The divine nature is identical with the most perfect nature, and is also identical with the first cause. If the first cause be not identical with the most perfect nature, there is no God, for the two essential conditions of his existence are not in combination. Now, on the present supposition, the most perfect nature is the derived; that is, the universe in relation to its cause, is the real, the actual, the οντως ον. It would also be the divine, but that divinity supposes also the notion of cause, while the universe, ex hypothesi, is only an effect.
It is no answer to these difficulties for M. Cousin to say, that the Deity, though a cause which cannot choose but create, is not however exhausted in the act; and though passing with all the elements of his being into the universe, that he remains entire in his essence, and with all the superiority of the cause over the effect. The dilemma is unavoidable—either the Deity is independent of the universe for his being or his perfection; on which alternative our author must abandon his theory of God and the creation: Or the Deity is dependent on his manifestation in the universe for his existence or his perfection; on which alternative, his doctrine is assailed by the difficulties previously stated.
The length to which the preceding observations have extended, prevents us from adverting to many other opinions of our author, which we conceive to be equally unfounded. For example, to say nothing of his proof of the impersonality of intelligence, because, forsooth, truth is not subject to our will, what can be conceived more self-contradictory than his theory of liberty? Divorcing liberty from intelligence, but connecting it with personality, he defines it to be a cause which is determined to act only by its proper energy. But (to say nothing of remoter difficulties) how liberty can be conceived (supposing always a plurality of modes of activity) without a knowledge of that plurality,—how a faculty can resolve to act by preference in a particular manner, and not determine itself by final causes,—how intelligence can influence a blind power without operating as an efficient cause—or how, in fine, morality can be founded on a liberty which, at best, only escapes necessity by taking refuge with chance—these are problems which M. Cousin, in none of his works, has stated, and which we are confident he is unable to solve.
After the tenor of our previous observations, it is needless to say that we regard M. Cousin's attempt to establish a general peace among philosophers, by the promulgation of his Eclectic Theory, as a signal failure. But though no converts to his philosophy, and viewing with regret what we must regard as the misapplication of his distinguished talents, we cannot disown a strong feeling of interest and admiration for those qualities, even in their excess, which have betrayed him, with so many other aspiring philosophers, into a pursuit which could end only in disappointment—we mean his love of truth, and his reliance on the powers of man. Not to despair of philosophy is a 'last infirmity of noble minds.' The stronger the intellect, the stronger the confidence in its force: the more ardent the appetite for knowledge, the less are we prepared to canvass the uncertainty of the fruition. 'The wish is parent to the thought.' Loath to admit that our science is at best the reflection of a reality we cannot know, we strive to penetrate to existence in itself; and what we have laboured intensely to attain, we at last fondly believe we have accomplished. But, like Ixion, we embrace a cloud for a divinity. Conscious only of limitation, we think to comprehend the infinite, and dream of establishing our human science on an identity with the omniscient God. It is this powerful tendency of the most vigorous minds to transcend the sphere of our faculties, that makes a 'learned ignorance' the most difficult acquirement of knowledge. In the words of a forgotten, but acute philosopher,— .
- In the philosophy of mind, subjective denotes what is to be referred to the thinking subject, the Ego; objective what belongs to the object of thought, the Non-Ego. It may be safe, perhaps, to say a few words in vindication of our employment of these terms. By the Greeks the word ὑποκείμενον was equivocally employed to express either the object of knowledge, (the materia circa quam,) or the subject of existence, (the materia in qua.) The exact distinction of subject and object was first made by the schoolmen; and to the schoolmen the vulgar languages are principally indebted for what precision and analytic subtilty they possess. These correlative terms correspond to the first and most important distinction in philosophy; they embody the original antithesis in consciousness of self and not self,—a distinction which, in fact, involves the whole science of mind; for psychology is nothing more than a determination of the subjective and objective in themselves, and in their reciprocal relations. Thus significant of the primary and most extensive analysis in philosophy, these terms, in their substantive and adjective forms, passed from the schools into the scientific language of Tilesius, Campanella, Berigard, Gassendi, Descartes, Spinosa, Leibnitz, Wolf, &c. Deprived of these terms, the critical philosophy, indeed the whole philosophy of Germany, would be a blank. In this country, though familiarly employed in scientific language, even subsequently to the time of Locke, the adjective forms seem at length to have dropt out of the English tongue. That these words waxed obsolete was perhaps caused by the ambiguity which had gradually crept into the signification of the substantives. Object, besides its proper signification, came to be abusively applied to denote motive, end, final cause, (a meaning not recognised by Johnson.) This innovation was probably borrowed from the French, in whose language the word had been similarly corrupted after the commencement of the last century, (Dict. de Trevoux, voce Objet.) Subject in English, as sujet in French, had been also perverted into a synonyme for object, taken in its proper meaning, and had thus returned to the original ambiguity of the corresponding term in Greek. It is probable that the logical application of the word (subject of predication) facilitated or occasioned this confusion. In using the terms, therefore, we think that an explanation, but no apology, is required. The distinction is of paramount importance, and of infinite application, not only in philosophy proper, but in grammar, rhetoric, criticism, ethics, politics, jurisprudence, theology. It is adequately expressed by no other terms; and if these did not already enjoy a prescriptive right, as denizens of the language, it cannot be denied, that, as strictly analogical, they would be well entitled to sue out their naturalization.
- It is proper to observe, that though we are of opinion that the terms, Infinite, and Absolute, and Unconditioned, ought not to be confounded, and accurately distinguish them in the statement of our own view; yet, in speaking of the doctrines of those by whom they are indifferently employed, we have not thought it necessary, or rather we have found it impossible, to adhere to the distinction.
- In Fichte u. Niethammer's Philosophische Journal vol. iii. p. 214.
- See the Kritik d. R. V. and the Prolegomena.
- Phys. L. iii. c. 10, text. 66, c. 7, text. 40. See also Metaph. L. ii. c. 2, text. 11. Analyt. Post. L. i. c. 20, text. 39—et alibi.
- Bruno, p. 171.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|