Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/January 1874/Replies to Criticisms I
|←Past and Future of a Constellation|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 4 January 1874 (1874)
Replies to Criticisms I
By Herbert Spencer
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WHEN made by a competent reader, an objection usually implies one of two things. Either the statement to which he demurs is wholly or partially untrue; or, if true, it is presented in such a way as to permit misapprehensions. A need for some change or addition is in any case shown.
Not recognizing the errors alleged, but thinking rather that misapprehensions cause the dissent of those who have attacked the meta-physico-theological doctrines held by me, I propose here to meet, by explanations and arguments, the chief objections they have urged: partly with the view of justifying these doctrines, and partly with the view of guarding against the incorrect interpretations which it appears are apt to be made.
It may be thought that the pages of a periodical intended for general reading are scarcely fit for the treatment of these highly-abstract questions. There is now, however, so considerable a class interested in them, and they are everywhere felt to be so deeply involved with the great changes of opinion in progress, that I have ventured to hope for readers outside the circle of those who occupy themselves with philosophy.
Of course the criticisms to be noticed I have selected, either because of their intrinsic force, or because they come from men whose positions or reputations give them weight. To meet more than a few of my opponents is out of the question.
Let me begin with a criticism contained in the sermon preached by the Rev. Principal Caird before the British Association on the occasion of its meeting in Edinburgh, in August, 1871. Expressed with a courtesy which, happily, is now less rare than of yore in theological controversy, Dr. Caird's objection might, I think, be admitted without involving essential change in the conclusion demurred to; while it might be shown to tell with greater force against the conclusions of thinkers classed as orthodox, Sir W. Hamilton, and Dean Mansel, than against my own. Describing this as set forth by me, Dr. Caird says:
That this objection is one I am not disinclined to recognize, will be inferred when I state that it is one I have myself raised. While preparing the second edition of the "Principles of Psychology," I found, among my memoranda, a note which still bore the wafers by which it had been attached to the original manuscript (unless, indeed, it had been transferred from the MS. of "First Principles," which its allusions seems to imply). It was this:
Why I omitted this note I cannot now remember. Possibly it was because reconsideration disclosed the reply that might be made to the contained objection. For, while it is true that the intellect cannot prove its own competence, since it must postulate its competence in the course of the proof, and so beg the question, yet it does not therefore follow that it cannot prove its own incompetence, in respect of questions of certain kinds. Its inability in respect of such questions has two conceivable causes. It may be that the deliverances of Reason in general are invalid, in which case the incompetence of Reason to solve questions of a certain class is implied by its general incompetence; or it maybe that the deliverances of Reason, valid within a certain range, themselves end in the conclusion that Reason is incapable beyond that range. So that, while there can be no proof of competence, because competence is postulated in each step of the demonstration, there may be proof of incompetence either (1) if the successive deliverances forming the steps of the demonstration, by severally evolving contradictions, show their untrustworthiness, or, (2) if, being trustworthy, they lead to the result that, on certain questions, Reason cannot give any deliverance.
Reason leads both inductively and deductively to the conclusion that the sphere of Reason is limited. Inductively, this conclusion expresses the result of countless futile attempts to transcend this sphere—attempts to understand matter, motion, space, time, force, in their ultimate natures—attempts which, bringing us always to alternative impossibilities of thought, warrant the inference that such attempts will continue to fail, as they have hitherto failed. Deductively, this conclusion expresses the result of mental analysis, which shows us that the product of thought is in all cases a relation, identified as such or such; that the process of thought is the identification and classing of relations; that therefore Being in itself, out of relation, is unthinkable by us, as not admitting of being brought within the form of our thought. That is to say, deduction explains that failure of Reason established as an induction from many experiments. And to call in question the ability of Reason to give this verdict against itself, in respect of these transcendent problems, is to call in question its ability to draw valid conclusions from premises; which is to assert a general incompetence necessarily inclusive of the special incompetence.
Closely connected with the foregoing is a criticism from Dr. Mansel, on which I may here make some comments. In a note to his "Philosophy of the Conditioned" (page 39), he says:
Putting these statements in the order most convenient for discussion, I will deal first with the last of them. Instead of saying what he does, Dr. Mansel should have said that I decline to follow Sir W. Hamilton in confounding two distinct, and indeed radically opposed, meanings of the word belief. This word "is habitually applied to dicta of consciousness for which no proof can be assigned: both those which are unprovable because they underlie all proof, and those which are unprovable because of the absence of evidence." In the pages of this review for July, 1865, I exhibited this distinction as follows:
Now, that the belief which the moral and religious feelings are said to yield of a personal God is not one of the beliefs which are unprovable because they underlie all proof, is obvious. It needs but to remember that, in works on natural theology, the existence of a personal God is inferred from these moral and religious feelings, to show that it is not contained in these feelings themselves, or joined with them as an inseparable intuition. It is not a belief like the beliefs which I now have that this is daylight, and that there is open space before me— beliefs which cannot be proved because they are of equal simplicity with, and of no less certainty than, each step in a demonstration. Were it a belief of this most certain kind, argument would be superfluous: all races of men and every individual would have the belief in an inexpugnable form. Hence it is manifest that, confusing the two very different states of consciousness called belief, Sir W. Hamilton ascribes to the second a certainty that belongs only to the first.
Again, neither Sir W. Hamilton nor Dr. Mansel has enabled us to distinguish those "facts of our moral and emotional consciousness" which imperatively demand the belief in a personal God, from those facts of our (or of men's) "moral and emotional consciousness" which, in those having them, imperatively demand beliefs that Sir W. Hamilton would regard as untrue. A New-Zealand chief, discovering his wife in an infidelity, killed the man; the wife then killed herself that she might join her lover in the other world; and the chief thereupon killed himself that he might go after them to defeat this intention. These two acts of suicide furnish tolerably strong evidence that these New-Zealanders believed in another world to which they could go at will, and fulfill their desires as they did here. If they were asked the justification for this belief, and if the arguments by which they sought to establish it were not admitted, they might still fall back on emotional consciousness as yielding them an unshakable foundation for it. I do not see why a Feejee-Islander, adopting the Hamiltonian argument, should not justify by it his conviction that, after being buried alive, his life in the other world, forthwith commencing at the age he has reached in this, will similarly supply him with the joys of conquest and the gratifications of cannibalism. That he has a conviction to this effect stronger than the religious convictions current among civilized people is proved by the fact that he goes to be buried alive quite willingly; and, as we may presume that his conviction is not the outcome of a demonstration, it must be the outcome of some state of feeling — some "emotional consciousness." Why, then, should he not assign the "facts" of his "emotional consciousness" as "imperatively demanding" this belief? Manifestly, this principle, that "consciousness must be accepted entire," either obliges us to accept as true the superstitions of all mankind, or else obliges us to say that the consciousness of a certain limited class of cultivated people is alone meant. If things are to be believed simply because the facts of emotional consciousness imperatively demand them, I do not see why the actual existence of a ghost in a house is not inevitably implied by the intense fear of it that is aroused in the child or the servant.
Lastly, and chiefly, I have to deal with Dr. Mansel's statement that "Mr. Spencer, on the other hand, takes these negative inferences as the only basis of religion." This statement is exactly the reverse of the truth, since I have contended, against Hamilton and against him, that the consciousness of that which is manifested to us through phenomena is positive, and not negative as they allege, and that this positive consciousness supplies an indestructible basis for the religious sentiment ("First Principles," § 26). Instead of giving here passages to show this, I may fitly quote the statement and opinion of a foreign theologian. M. le pasteur Grotz, of the Reformed Church at Nismes, writes thus:
I turn next to what has been said by Dr. Shadworth H. Hodgson, in his essay on "The Future of Metaphysic," published in the Contemporary Review for November, 1872. Remarking only, with respect to the agreements he expresses in certain doctrines of mine, that I value them as coming from a thinker of subtlety and independence, I will confine myself here to his disagreements. Dr. Hodgson, before giving his own view, briefly describes and criticises the views of Hegel and Comte, with both of whom he partly agrees and partly disagrees, and then proceeds to criticise the view set forth by me. After a preliminary brief statement of my position, to the wording of which I demur, he goes on to say:
I am quite content to join issue with Dr. Hodgson on these terms; and will proceed to examine, one by one, the several arguments which he uses to show the invalidity of my conclusions. Following his criticism in the order he has chosen, I begin with the sentence following that which I have just quoted. The first part of it runs thus: "The metaphysical view of Space and Time is, that they are elements in all phenomena, whether the phenomena are presentations or representations."
Whether, by "the metaphysical view," is here meant the view of Kant, whether it means Dr. Hodgson's own view, or whether the expression has a more general meaning, I have simply to reply that the metaphysical view is incorrect. Dealing with the Kantian version of this doctrine, that Space is a form of intuition, I have pointed out that only with certain classes of phenomena is Space invariably united; that Kant habitually considers phenomena belonging to the visual and tactual groups, with which the consciousness of Space is inseparably joined, and overlooks groups with which it is not inseparably joined. Though, in the adult, perception of sound has certain space-implications, mostly, if not wholly, acquired by individual experience; and though it would seem, from the instructive experiments of Mr. Spalding, that, in creatures born with nervous systems much more organized than our own are at birth, there is some innate perception of the side from which a sound comes; yet it is demonstrable that the space-implications of sound are not originally given with the sensation as its form of intuition. Bearing in mind the Kantian doctrine, that Space is the form of sensuous intuitions not only as presented but also as represented, let us examine critically our musical ideas. As I have elsewhere suggested to the reader—
As I thus dissent, not I think without good reason, from "the metaphysical view of Space and Time" as "elements in all phenomena," it will naturally be expected that I dissent from the first criticism which Dr. Hodgson proceeds to deduce from it. Dealing first with the arguments I have used to show the incomprehensibility of Space and Time, if we consider them as objective, and stating in other words the conclusion I draw, that, "as Space and Time cannot be either non-entities nor the attributes of entities, we have no choice but to consider them as entities," Dr. Hodgson continues:
Whether the fault is in me or not I cannot say, but I fail to see that my argument is thus rebutted. On the contrary, it appears to me substantially conceded. What kind of entity is that which can exist only when occupied by something else? Dr. Hodgson's own argument is a tacit assertion that Space by itself cannot be conceived as an existence; and this is all that I have alleged.
Dr. Hodgson deals next with the further argument, familiar to all readers, which I have added as showing the insurmountable difficulty in the way of conceiving Space and Time as objective entities: namely, that "all entities which we actually know as such are limited.... But of Space and Time we cannot assert either limitation or the absence of limitation." Without quoting at length the reasons Dr. Hodgson gives for distinguishing between Space as perceived and Space as conceived, it will suffice if I quote his own statement of the result to which they bring him: "So that Space and Time, as perceived, are not finite but infinite; as conceived, are not infinite but finite."
Most readers will, I think, be startled by the assertion that conception is less extensive in range than perception; but, without dwelling on this, I will content myself by asking in what case Space is perceived as infinite? Surely Dr. Hodgson does not mean to say that he can perceive the whole surrounding Space at once — that the Space behind is united in perception with the Space in front. Yet this is the necessary implication of his words. Taking his statement less literally, however, and not dwelling on the fact that in perception Space is habitually bounded by objects more or less distant, let us test his assertion under the most favorable conditions. Supposing the eye directed upward toward a clear sky; is not the Space then perceived laterally limited? The visual area, restricted by the visual apertures, cannot include in perception even 180° from side to side, and is still more confined in a direction at right angles to this. Even in the third direction, to which alone Dr. Hodgson evidently refers, it cannot properly be said that it is infinite in perception. Look at a position in the sky a thousand miles off. Now look at a position a million miles off. What is the difference in perception? Nothing. How, then, can an infinite distance be perceived, when these immensely unlike finite distances cannot be perceived as differing from one another, or from an infinite distance? Dr. Hodgson has used the wrong word. Instead of saying that Space as perceived is infinite, he should have said that, in perception, Space is finite in two dimensions, and becomes indefinite in the third when this becomes great.
I come now to the paragraph beginning "Mr. Spencer then turns to the second or subjective hypothesis, that of Kant." This paragraph is somewhat difficult to deal with, for the reason that in it my reasoning is criticised both from the Kantian point of view and from Dr. Hodgson's own point of view. Dissenting from Kant's view, Dr. Hodgson says, "I hold that both Space and Time, and Feeling, or the material element, are equally and alike subjective, equally and alike objective." As I cannot understand this, I am unable to deal with those arguments against me which Dr. Hodgson bases upon it, and must limit myself to that which he urges on behalf of Kant. He says:
If I have misunderstood Kant, as thus alleged, then my comment must be that I credited him with an hypothesis less objectionable than that which he held. I supposed his view to be that Space, as a form of intuition belonging to the ego, is imposed by it on the non-ego (by which I understood the thing in itself) in the act of intuition. But now the Kantian doctrine is said to be that Space, originating in the subject, when applied to the non-ego results in phenomena (the non-ego meant being, in that case, necessarily the Ding-an-sich, or thing in itself); and that the phenomena so resulting, carrying with them the Space they have been endowed with, become objective existences along with the Space given to them by the ego. The subject having imposed Space as a form on the primordial non-ego, or thing in itself, and so created phenomena, this Space thereupon becomes an objective existence, independent of both the ego and the original thing in itself. To Dr. Hodgson this may seem a more tenable position than that which I ascribed to Kant; but to me it seems only a multiplication of inconceivabilities. I am content to leave it as it stands: not feeling my reasons for rejecting the Kantian hypothesis much weakened.
The remaining reply which Dr. Hodgson makes runs thus:
Had Dr. Hodgson quoted the whole of the passage from which he takes the above sentence; or had he considered it in conjunction with the Kantian doctrine to which it refers (namely, that Space survives in consciousness when all contents are expelled, which implies that then Space is the thing with which consciousness is occupied, or the object of consciousness), he would have seen that his reply has none of the cogency he supposes. If, taking his first illustration, he will ask himself whether it is possible to "syllogize about syllogism," when syllogism has no content whatever, symbolic or other — has non-entity to serve for major, non-entity for minor, and non-entity for conclusion — he will, I think, see that syllogism, considered as surviving terms of every kind, cannot be syllogized about; the "pure form," of reason (supposing it to be syllogism, which it is not), if absolutely discharged of all it contains, cannot be represented in thought, and therefore cannot be reasoned about. Following Dr. Hodgson to his second illustration, I must express my surprise that a metaphysician of his acuteness should have used it. For an illustration to have any value, the relation between the terms of the analogous case must have some parallelism to the relation between the terras of the case with which it is compared. Does Dr. Hodgson really think that the relation between a dog and the part of himself which he bites is like the relation between matter and form? Suppose the dog bites his tail. Now, the dog, as biting, stands, according to Dr. Hodgson, for the form as the containing mental faculty; and the tail as bitten
stands for this mental faculty as contained. Now, suppose the dog loses his tail. Can the faculty as containing and the faculty as contained be separated in the same way? Does the mental form when deprived of all content, even itself (granting that it can be its own content), continue to exist in the same way that a dog continues to exist when he has lost his tail? Even had this illustration been applicable, I should have scarcely expected Dr. Hodgson to remain satisfied with it. I should have thought he would prefer to meet my argument directly, rather than indirectly. Why has he not shown the invalidity of the reasoning used in the "Principles of Psychology" (§ 399, second edition)? Having there quoted the statement of Kant, that "Space and Time are not merely forms of sensuous intuition, but intuitions themselves," I have written:
Now, when Dr. Hodgson has shown me how that "which effects that the content.... can be arranged under certain relations" may also be that which effects its own arrangement under the same relations, I shall be ready to surrender my position; but, until then, no analogy drawn from the ability of a dog to bite himself will weigh much with me.
Having, as he considers, disposed of the reasons given by me for concluding that, considered in themselves, "Space and Time are wholly incomprehensible" (he continually uses on my behalf the word "inconceivable," which, by its unfit connotations, gives a wrong aspect to my position), Dr. Hodgson goes on to say:
This statement has caused me no little astonishment. That having before him the volume from which he quotes, so competent a reader should have so completely missed the meaning of the passages (§ 26) already referred to, in which I have contended against Hamilton and Hansel, makes me almost despair of being understood by any ordinary reader. In that section, I have, in the first place, contended that the consciousness of an Ultimate Reality, though not capable of being made a thought, properly so called, because not capable of being brought within limits, nevertheless remains as a mode of consciousness that is positive: is not rendered negative by the negation of limits. I have pointed out that—
This positive element of consciousness it is, which, "at once necessarily indefinite and necessarily indestructible," I regard as the consciousness of the Unknowable Reality. Yet Dr. Hodgson says "Mr. Spencer proceeds to use these inconceivable ideas as the basis of his philosophy:" implying that such basis consists of negations, instead of consisting of that which persists notwithstanding the negation of limits. And then, beyond this perversion, or almost inversion, of meaning, he conveys the notion that I take, as the basis of philosophy, the "inconceivable ideas" "or self-contradictory notions" which result when we endeavor to comprehend Space and Time. He speaks of me as proposing to evolve substance out of form, or, rather, out of negations of forms—gives his readers no conception that the Power manifested to us is that which I regard as the Unknowable, while what we call Space and Time answer to the unknowable nexus of its manifestations. And yet the chapter from which I quote, and still more the chapter which follows it, makes this clear—as clear, at least, as I can make it by carefully-worded statements and restatements.
Philosophical systems, like theological ones, following the law of evolution in general, severally become in course of time more rigid, while becoming more complex and more definite; and they similarly become less alterable—resist all compromise, and have to be replaced by the more plastic systems that descend from them.
It is thus with the pure Empiricists and the pure Transcendentalists. Down to the present time disciples of Locke have continued to hold that all mental phenomena are interpretable as results of accumulated individual experiences; and, by criticism, have been led simply to elaborate their interpretations: ignoring the proofs of inadequacy. On the other hand, disciples of Kant, asserting this inadequacy, and led by perception of it to adopt an antagonist theory, have persisted in defending that theory under a form presenting fatal inconsistencies. And then, when there is offered a mode of reconciliation, the spirit of no-compromise is displayed: each side continuing to claim the whole truth. After it has been pointed out that all the obstacles in the way of the experiential doctrine disappear if the effects of ancestral experiences are joined with the effects of individual experiences, the old form of the doctrine is still adhered to, while Kantists persist in asserting that the ego is born with intuitional forms which are wholly independent of any thing in the non-ego, after it has been shown that the innateness of these intuitional forms may be so understood as to escape the insurmountable difficulties of the hypothesis as originally expressed.
I am led to say this by reading the remarks concerning my own views, made with an urbanity I hope to imitate, by Prof. Max Müller, in a lecture delivered at the Royal Institution last March. Before dealing with the criticisms contained in this lecture, I must enter a demurrer against that interpretation of my views by which Prof. Max Müller makes it appear that they are more allied to those of Kant than to those of Locke. He says:
On this passage let me remark, first, that the word "prehistoric," ordinarily employed only in respect to human history, is misleading when applied to the history of Life in general; and his use of it leaves me in some doubt whether Prof. Max Müller has rightly conceived the hypothesis he refers to.
My second comment is, that the description of me as "quite at one with Kant," "barring" the "theory of the prehistoric origin of these intuitions," curiously implies that it is a matter of comparative indifference whether the forms of thought are held to be naturally generated by intercourse between the organism and its environing relations, during the evolution of the lowest into the highest types, or whether such forms are held to be supernaturally given to the human mind, and are independent both of environing relations and of ancestral minds. But now, addressing myself to the essential point, I must meet the statement that I have "misunderstood the exact meaning of what Kant calls the intuitions of Space and Time," by saying that I think Prof. Max Müller has overlooked certain passages which justify my interpretation, and render his interpretation untenable. For Kant says "Space is nothing else than the form of all phenomena of the external sense;" further, he says that "Time is nothing but the form of our internal intuition;" and, to repeat words I have used elsewhere, "He distinctly shuts out the supposition that there are forms of the non-ego to which these forms of the ego correspond," by saying that "Space is not a conception which has been derived from outward experiences." Now, so far from being in harmony with, these statements are in direct contradiction to, the view which I hold, and seem to me absolutely irreconcilable with it. How can it be said that, "barring" a difference represented as trivial, I am "quite at one with Kant," when I contend that these subjective forms of intuition are moulded into correspondence with, and therefore derived from, some objective form or nexus, and therefore dependent upon it; while the Kantian hypothesis is that these subjective forms are not derived from the object, but exist independently in the ego, and are imposed by it on the non-ego? It seems to me that not only do Kant's words, as above given, exclude the view which I hold, but also that Kant could not consistently have held any such view. Rightly recognizing, as he did, these forms of intuition as innate, he was, from his stand-point, obliged to regard them as imposed on the matter of intuition in the act of perception. In the absence of the hypothesis that intelligence has been evolved, it was not possible for him to regard these subjective forms as having been derived from objective forms.
A disciple of Locke might, I think, say that the Evolution-view of our consciousness of Space and Time is essentially Lockian, with more truth than Prof. Max Müller can represent it as essentially Kantian. The Evolution-view is completely experiential. It differs from the original view of the experientialists by containing a great extension of it. With the relatively-small effects of individual experiences, it joins the relatively-vast effects of the experiences of antecedent individuals. But the view of Kant is avowedly and absolutely unexperiential. Surely this makes the predominance of kinship manifest.
In Prof. Max Müller's replies to my criticisms on Kant I cannot see greater validity than in this affiliation to which I have demurred. One of his arguments is that which Dr. Hodgson has used, and which I have already answered; and I think that the others, when compared with the passages of the "Principles of Psychology" which they concern, will not be found adequate. I refer to them here chiefly for the purpose of pointing out that, when he speaks of me as bringing "three arguments against Kant's view," he understates the number. Let me close what I have to say on this disputed question, by quoting the summary of reasons I have given for rejecting the Kantian hypothesis:
- "Principles of Psychology" (second edition, § 425, note).
- Instead of describing me as misunderstanding Kant on this point, Dr. Hodgson should have described Kant as having, in successive sentences, so changed the meanings of the words he uses, as to make either interpretation possible. At the outset of his "Critique of Pure Reason," he says: "The effect of an object upon the faculty of representation, so far as we are affected by the said object, is sensation. That sort of intuition which relates to an object by means of sensation, is called an empirical intuition. The undetermined object of an empirical intuition, is called phenomenon. That which in the phenomenon corresponds to the sensation, I term its matter ' (here, remembering the definition just given of phenomenon, objective existence is manifestly referred to), 'but that which effects that the content of the phenomenon can be arranged under certain relations, I call its form ' (so that form as here applied, refers to objective existence). 'But that in which our sensations are merely arranged, and by which they are susceptible of assuming a certain form, cannot be itself sensation.' (In which sentence the word form obviously refers to subjective existence.) At the outset, the 'phenomenon' and the 'sensation' are distinguished as objective and subjective respectively; and then, in the closing sentences, the form is spoken of in connection first with the one and then with the other, as though they were the same."
- See Fraser'a Magazine of May last.