Page:Eureka; a prose poem (1848).djvu/23

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17
THE UNIVERSE.

it cannot be at the same time a tree and not a tree:—all which is quite reasonable of itself and will answer remarkably well as an axiom, until we bring it into collation with an axiom insisted upon a few pages before—in other words—words which I have previously employed—until we test it by the logic of its own propounder. 'A tree,' Mr. Mill asserts, 'must be either a tree or not a tree.' Very well:—and now let me ask him, why. To this little query there is but one response:—I defy any man living to invent a second. The sole answer is this:—'Because we find it impossible to conceive that a tree can be any thing else than a tree or not a tree.' This, I repeat, is Mr. Mill's sole answer:—he will not pretend to suggest another:—and yet, by his own showing, his answer is clearly no answer at all; for has he not already required us to admit, as an axiom, that ability or inability to conceive is in no case to be taken as a criterion of axiomatic truth? Thus all—absolutely all his argumentation is at sea without a rudder. Let it not be urged that an exception from the general rule is to be made, in cases where the 'impossibility to conceive' is so peculiarly great as when we are called upon to conceive a tree both a tree and not a tree. Let no attempt, I say, be made at urging this sotticism; for, in the first place, there are no degrees of 'impossibility,' and thus no one impossible conception can be more peculiarly impossible than another impossible conception:—in the second place, Mr. Mill himself, no doubt after thorough deliberation, has most distinctly, and most rationally, excluded all opportunity for exception, by the emphasis of his proposition, that, in no case, is ability or inability to conceive, to be taken as