1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Metaphysics/7 Realism
7. — Realism
1. Metaphysical and Psychological Realism. — Realism is the view that some known things are bodily, and some are mental. At its best, it is the Aristotelian view that both are substances. The modern misunderstanding of “substance” has been a main cause of the confusion of modern thought. Aristotle meant by it any distinct thing; e.g. I, you, an animal, a plant, the earth, the moon, the sun, God. He calls each of these, as existing apart, a thing per se (καθ′ αὑτό). It is true that, having divided a natural substance into form and matter, he called each element “substance.” But these are not primary meanings; and matter, or supposed substratum, in particular, he says, is not actually substance (Met. Z 3) or is only potentially substance (Met. H 1-2). In modern times, Spinoza, by a mere mistake, changed the meaning of “substance” from “existing apart” to “existing alone,” and consistently concluded that there is only one. Locke mistook it to mean “substratum,” or support of qualities, and naturally concluded that it is unknown. Kant, taking it in the mistaken meaning of Locke, converted it into the a priori category of the permanent substrate beneath the changes of phenomena, and even went so far as to separate it from the thing in itself, as substantia phenomenon from noumenon. When it had thus lost every vestige of its true meaning, Kant's successors naturally began to speak of things as being distinct without being substances. Fichte began this by saying that ego is activity, and being is life. Hegel said that spirit is not substance but subject, which to Aristotle would have meant that it is not a distinct thing, yet is a distinct thing. Fechner, Wundt and Paulsen have fixed the conclusion in psychology that soul is not substance but unity of mental life; and Wundt concludes from the modern history of the term that substance or “substrate” is only a secondary conception to that of causality, and that, while there is a physical causality distinct from that of substance, psychical causality requires no substance at all.
The result of this confusion is that the moderns have no name at all for a distinct thing, and, being mere slaves of abstract terms, constantly speak of mere attributes, such as activity, life, will, actuality, unity of mental operations, as if they were distinct things. But an attribute, though real, is not a distinct reality, but only a determinant of a substance, and has no being of its own apart from the substance so determined; whereas a substance, determined by all its attributes, is different from everything else in the world. Though, for simplicity and universality of thought, even in science, we must use the abstraction of attributes, and, by the necessity and weakness of language, must signify what are not substances by nouns substantive, we must guard against the over-abstraction of believing that a thing exists as we abstract it. The point of true realism is Aristotle's point that the world consists of such distinct, though related, things, and therefore of substances, natural and supernatural. Again, the method of true realism is that of Aristotle, and consists in recognizing the independence of metaphysics. The contrary method is psychological metaphysics, which makes metaphysics dependent on psychology, on the ground that the origin of knowledge determines its limits. This is the method which, as we have seen, has led from psychological to metaphysical idealism, by the argument that what we begin by perceiving is mental, and, therefore, what we end by knowing is mental. Now, there is no principle of method superior to that of Aristotle — we must begin with what is known to us. The things best known to man are the things which he now knows as a man. About these known things there is some agreement: about the beginnings of knowledge there is nothing but controversy. We do not know enough about the origin of knowledge to determine its limits. Hence, to proceed from psychology to metaphysics is to proceed from the less to the more known; and the paradoxes of psychological have caused those of metaphysical idealism.
The realist, then, ought to begin with metaphysics without psychological prejudices. He must ask what are known things, and especially what has been discovered in the sciences; in mechanics, in order to find the essence of bodies which is neglected by idealism; in mental science, in order to understand consciousness which is neglected by materialism. With the conviction that the only fair way of describing metaphysics has been to avoid putting forward one system, and even to pay most attention to the dominant idealism, we have nevertheless been driven occasionally to test opinions by this independent metaphysical method. The chief results we have found against idealism are that bodies have not been successfully analysed except into bodies, as real matter; and that bodies are known to exert reciprocal pressure in reducing one another to a joint mass with a common velocity by being mutually impenetrable, as real forces. The chief results we have found against materialism are that bodies evolving account neither for the origin of themselves, their nature, and their fundamental order of resemblance and difference, nor for the nature and origin of consciousness, nor even as yet for their becoming good for conscious beings. Hence we come to the realistic conclusions that among known substances some are bodies, others are souls; that man is body and soul; and that God is a pure soul or spirit. At the same time, while the independence of metaphysics leads us to metaphysical realism, this is not to deny the value of psychology, still less of logic. Besides the duty of determining what we know, there is the duty of determining how we know it. But in order to discharge it, a reform of psychology as well as of metaphysics is required. Two psychological errors, among many others, constantly meet us in the history of idealism — the arbitrary hypothesis of a sense of sensations, or of ideas, and the intolerable neglect of logical inference. Logical inference from sense is a process from sensible to insensible existence. The former error needs something deeper than a Kantian critique of reason, or an Avenarian criticism of experience; it needs a criticism of the senses. We want an answer to this question — What must we know by the senses in order to enable us to know what we infer by reason in the sciences? Without here aiming at exhaustiveness, we may bring forward against the dominant idealism a psychological theory of sense and reason. By touch I perceive one bodily member reciprocally pressing another in myself, e.g. lip pressing lip; by touch again I perceive one bodily member similarly pressing but not another member in myself, e.g. only one lip pressing; by inference from touch I infer that it is reciprocally pressing another body similar to my other bodily member, i.e. another body similar to my other lip. On this theory, then, founded on the conscious facts of double and single pressure in touch, and on the logic of inference, we have at once a reason for our knowledge of external bodies, and an explanation of the early appearance of that knowledge. The child has only to have its mother's nipple in its mouth in order to infer something very like the mutually pressing parts of its own mouth. Having thus begun by touch and tactile inference, we confirm and extend our inferences of bodies in Nature by using the rest of the senses. This is not to forget that the five senses are not our whole stock or to confine inference to body. We have also the inner sense of consciousness which is inexplicable by body alone. By combining, moreover, our knowledge of Nature with our consciousness of our own works, we can infer that Nature is a work of God. Next, finding that He gives signs of bodily works, but no signs of bodily organs, we can infer that God is a Spirit. Finally, returning to ourselves, we can conclude that, while the conscious in God is Spirit without Body, in us it is spirit with body. This final distinction between bodily and spiritual substances we owe to Descartes.
2. The Undercurrent of Modern Realism. — Coming after the long domination of Aristotelian realism, Descartes and Locke, though psychological idealists, were metaphysical realists. Their position was so illogical that it was easily turned into metaphysical idealism. But their psychological method and idealism produced another mistake — the tendency to a modicum of realism, as much as seemed to this or that author to follow from psychological idealism. In Germany, since the victory of Kant over Wolff, realism has always been in difficulties, which we can appreciate when we reflect that the Germans by preference apply the term “realism” to the paradoxes of Herbart (1776-1841), who, in order to avoid supposed contradictions, supposed that bodies are not substances, but show (Schein), while “reals” are simple substances, each with a simple quality, and all preserving themselves against disturbance by one another, whether physically or psychologically, but not known to be either material or spiritual because we do not know the simple quality in which the nature of the real consists. There have indeed been other realisms in Germany. Trendelenburg (1802-1872), a formidable opponent of Hegel, tried to surmount Kant's transcendental idealism by supposing that motion, and therefore time, space and the categories, though a priori, are common to thought and being. Dühring, with a similar object, makes matter a common basis. While these realisms come dangerously near to materialism, that of the Roman Catholic A. Günther (1783-1863), “Cartesius correctus,” erected too mystical an edifice on the psychological basis of Descartes to sustain a satisfactory realism. Yet Güntherism has produced a school, of which the most distinguished representative is the Old Catholic bishop in Bonn, Th. Weber, whose Metaphysik, completed in 1891, starting from the ego and the analysis of consciousness, aims at arriving at the distinction between spirit and nature, and at rising to the spirit of God the Creator. Other realistic systems are those of J. H. von Kirchmann (1802-1884) , author, among other works, of Die Philosophie des Wissens (1864) and Ueber die Principien des Realismus (1875); Goswin Uphues (b. 1841; professor of philosophy at Halle), directed against the scepticism of Shute's Discourse on Truth; and Hermann Schwarz (born 1864), who completes the psychological view of Uphues that we can know objects as they are, by the metaphysical view that they can be as we know them. But German realism lacks critical power, and is little better than a weed overshadowed by the luxuriant forest of German idealism.
In France, the home of Cartesian realism, after the vicissitudes of sensationalism and materialism, which became connected in French Realism. the French mind with the Revolution, the spirit of Descartes revived in the 19th century in the spiritualistic realism of Victor Cousin. But Cousin's psychological method of proceeding from consciousness outwards, and the emphasis laid by him on spirit in comparison with body, prevented a real revival of realism. He essayed to answer Locke by Kant, and Kant by Reid, Maine de Biran and Schelling. From Reid he adopted the belief in an external world beyond sensation, from Biran the explanation of personality by will, from Schelling the identification of all reason in what he called “impersonal reason,” which he supposed to be identical in God and man, to be subjective and objective, psychological and ontological. We start, according to him, from a psychological triplicity in consciousness, consisting of sensation, personal will and impersonal reason, which by a priori laws of causality and substance carries us to the ontological triplicity of oneself as ego willing, the non-ego as cause of sensation, and God as the absolute cause beneath these relative causes. So far this ontological triplicity is realism. But when we examine his theory of the non-ego, and find that it resolves matter into active force and this into animated activity, identifies law with reason, and calls God absolute substance, we see at once that this spiritual realism is not very far from idealism. About 1840, owing largely to the teaching of E. Saisset in the spiritualistic school, the influence of Descartes began to give way to that of Leibnitz. Leibnitz has been used both realistically and idealistically in France. He was taken literally by spiritual realists, e.g. by Paul Janet (q.v.). Janet accepted the traditional ontological triplicity — God, souls and bodies — and, in answer to Ravaisson, who called this realism “demi-spiritualisme,” rejoined that he was content to accept the title. At the same time, like Cousin, his works show a tendency to underrate body, tending as they do to the Leibnitzian analysis of the material into the immaterial, and to the supposition that the unity of the body is only given by the soul. His emphasis is on spirit, and he goes so far as to admit that “no spiritualist is engaged to defend the existence of matter.” The strength of Janet's position is his perception that the argument from final causes is in favour of an omnipresent rational will making matter a means to ends, and not in favour of an immanent mind of Nature working out her own ends.
The psychological metaphysics of Cousin and of Janet was, however, too flimsy a realism to withstand its passage into this very idealism of matter which has become the dominant French metaphysics. Étienne Vacherot (q.v.) deserted Descartes for Hegel. He accepted from Hegel “the real is rational” without the Hegelian method, for which he substituted conscious experience as a revelation of the divine. Matter he held to be mind at the minimum of its action, and evolution the “expansion de l'activité incessante de la cause finale.” God, according to his latest view, is the absolute being as first cause and final end. “Let us leave,” says he in deference to Janet, “the category of the ideal, which applies to nothing real or living.” But the most noticeable passage in Le Nouveau spiritualisme (1884) is its contrast between the old and the new; where he says that the old spiritualism opposed spirit to matter, God to Nature, the new spiritualism places matter in spirit, Nature in God (p. 377). F. Ravaisson (see Ravaisson-Mollien), by his Rapport (prepared for the Exhibition of 1867) on philosophy in France, gave a fresh impulse to the transition from spiritual realism to idealism, by developing the Aristotelian ἔφεσις of matter and the Leibnitzian appetition of monads into “l'amour” as the very being of things. Jules Lachelier (born 1832) agreed with Ravaisson that beauty is the last word of things, but, under the influence of Kant and his successors, put his idealism rather in the form that all is thought. A. Fouillée (q.v.) rightly objects that we must not thus impute thought and intention to Nature, and yet does not scruple to impute to it life, sensation and want. Starting from consciousness, he argues that all known things are phenomena of consciousness. Then, agreeing with evolutionism, that things are necessarily determined by forces, but with Leibnitz that body is merely passive, he infers that force, being active, is psychical — a force, which he describes as “idée-force,” and as “vouloir-vivre.” In connexion with the “idées directrices et organisatrices,” supposed by the French physiologist Claude Bernard, and the universal will supposed by German voluntarists, Fouillée concludes that the world is a society of wills. Meanwhile, more under the influence of Kant, C. B. Renouvier (q.v.) has worked out an idealism which he calls “Néo-criticisme,” rejecting the thing-in-itself, while limiting knowledge to phenomena constituted by a priori categories. Phenomena he identifies with “représentations représentatives et représentées.” But he takes the usual advantage of this most ambiguous of terms when he extends it to embrace God, freedom, and immortality required by the moral law. In his later work, La Nouvelle monadologie (1899), he maintains that each monad is a simple substance, endowed with representation, which is consciousness in form, phenomenon in matter as represented. In order to explain free will, he supposes, contrarily to Fouillée, that the laws of phenomena are indeterminate, contingent and liable to exceptions. Here we trace the influence of Leibnitz and Lotze, which is still more marked in La Contingence des lois de la nature (1874), by E. Boutroux. Fouillée meets the mechanics of evolution by the argument that will to live determines its necessary laws, Boutroux by denying the necessity. His point is, that the world only appears to be phenomena governed by necessary laws, and is really a spontaneity which makes new beginnings, such as life and consciousness, tending to good. These examples are enough to show that the psychological metaphysics of spiritual realism has not been able to withstand the rise and progress of spiritual idealism in France.
In England, the land of Bacon and Locke, the realistic tendency has been more active, and is exhibited in Bacon's English Realism. Novum organum and De Augmentis scientiarum, as well as to a less degree in the Fourth Book of Locke's Essay. After the metaphysical idealism, begun by Berkeley, had eventuated in Hume's reduction of the objects of knowledge to sensations, ideas and associations, the Scottish school, applying the Baconian method to the study of mind, began to inquire once more for the evidences of our knowledge, and produced the natural or intuitive realism of T. Reid, Dugald Stewart and Sir William Hamilton, who, having been followed by H. L. Mansel, as well as by J. Veitch, H. Calderwood and J. M‘Cosh, prolonged the existence of the school, in which we may venture to place L. T. Hobhouse and F. W. Bain, author of The Realization of the Possible (1899), down to our own time.
Its main tenet, that we have an immediate perception of the external world, is roughly expressed in the following words of Reid: “I do perceive matter objectively — that is, something which is extended and solid, which may be measured and weighed, Reid. is the immediate object of my touch and sight. And this object I take to be matter, and not an idea. And, though I have been taught by philosophers that what I immediately touch is an idea, and not matter, yet I have never been able to discover this by the most accurate attention to my own perceptions.” No opposition to idealism could be more distinct. Reid, however, did not always express himself so distinctly. Moreover, he and his successors mixed up so many accidents with the essence of their realism that the whole system broke down under its own weight. Their psychology contained valuable points. It also contained much that was doubtful, and much that was ill-adapted to the metaphysics of realism. Yet they thought it the only avenue to metaphysics. It is full of appeals to common sense, and of principles of common sense, which Reid also called intuitive first principles, and self-evident truths. It is spoilt by Locke's hypothesis that we do not perceive things but qualities implying things. While it asserted a realism of individuals, it admitted a conceptualism of universals. Stewart also said that our knowledge of matter and mind is merely relative. Hamilton went still further; he tried to combine the oil of Reid with the water of Kant; and converting Hamilton. the intuitive into the a priori, he found a further reason for the relativity of knowledge. “Our knowledge is relative,” said he, “first, because existence is not cognizable absolutely and in itself, but only in special modes; second, because these modes thus relative to our faculties are presented to and known by the mind, only under modification, determined by these faculties themselves.” Not only so, but in his review of Cousin (“Philosophy of the Unconditioned,” in Discussions, pp. 12-15), he made conception the test of knowledge, argued that “the mind can conceive, and consequently can know, only the limited, and the conditionally limited,” that “to think is to condition,” that all we know either of mind or matter is “the phenomenal,” that “we can never in our highest generalizations rise above the finite,” and concluded that we cannot conceive or know the unconditioned, yet must believe in its existence. Nevertheless, in spite of all this Kantism, he adhered to his natural realism. He vacillated a great deal about our mode of perceiving the external world; but his final view (edition of Reid's works, note D*) consisted in supposing that (1) sensation is an apprehension of secondary qualities purely as affections of the organism viewed as ego; (2) perception in general is an apprehension of primary qualities as relations of sensations in the organism viewed as non-ego; while (3) a special perception of a so-called “secundo-primary” quality consists in “the consciousness of a resisting something external to our organism.” Hamilton's views both on the absolute and on perception affected Mansel and Spencer. They were not, however, received without question even by his followers. H. Calderwood, in his Philosophy of the Infinite (1854), made the pertinent objection that, though thought, conception and T. H. Calderwood. knowledge are finite, the object of thought may be infinite. Hamilton, in fact, made the double mistake of limiting knowledge to what we can conceive, and confusing the determinate with the finite or limited. We never know anything except as determined by its attributes; but that would not prevent us from inferring something determined as unconditioned, whether infinite or absolute. J. M‘Cosh again, in The Prevailing Types of Philosophy: Can they logically reach reality? (1891), rightly protests against Hamilton's combination of Scottish and German schools M‘Cosh. which will not coalesce, and exhorts the former “to throw away its crutches of impressions, instincts, suggestions, and common sense, and give the mind a power of seeing things directly.” He has the merit of presenting natural or intuitive realism in its purity.
The common tenet of the whole school is that without inference we immediately perceive the external world, at all events as a resisting something external to our organism. But is it true? There are three reasons against it, and for the view that we perceive a sensible object within, and infer an external object without, the organism. In the first place, there are great differences between the sensible and the external object; they differ in secondary qualities in the case of all the senses; and even in the case of touch, heat felt within is different from the vibrating heat outside. Secondly, there are so-called “subjective sensations,” without any external object as stimulus, most commonly in vision, but also in touch, which is liable to formication, or the feeling of creeping in the skin, and to horripilation, or the feeling of bristling in the hair; yet, even in “subjective sensations,” we perceive something sensible, which, however, must be within, and not outside, the organism. Thirdly, the external world and the senses always act on one another by cause and effect and by pressure, although we only feel pressure by touch. Now, when the thing with which touch is in a state of reciprocal pressure is external, e.g. a table, we feel our organism pressed and pressing; we do not feel the table pressing and pressed, but infer it. The Scottish School never realized that every sensation of the five senses is a perception of a sensible object in the bodily organism; and that touch is a perception, not only of single sensible pressure, but also of double sensible pressure, a perception of our bodily members sensibly pressing and pressed by one another, from which, on the recurrence of a single sensible pressure, we infer the pressure of an external thing for the first time. Intuitive Realism is to be replaced by Physical Realism.
3. Reaction to Hypothetical Realism. — The three evidences, which are fatal to intuitive realism, do not prove hypothetical realism, or the hypothesis that we perceive something mental, but infer something bodily. This illogical hypothesis, which consists of incautiously passing from the truth that the sensible object perceived is not external but within the organism to the non-sequitur that therefore it is within the mind, derived what little plausibility it ever possessed from three prejudices: the first, the scholastic dogma that the sensible object is a species sensibilis, or immaterial sensible form received from the external thing; the second, the Cartesian a priori argument that the soul as thinking thing can perceive nothing but its own ideas; the third, the common assumption of a sense of sensations. But notwithstanding its illogicality, its tendency to underrate Nature as inferred from such idealistic premises, and its certain transition into a consistent idealism, hypothetical realism has, with little excuse, revived among us in the writings of Shadworth Hodgson, James Martineau and A. J. Balfour. The cause of this anachronism has been the failure of intuitive realism and the domination of idealism, which makes short-sighted men suppose that at all events they must begin with the psychology and the psychological idealism of the day, in the false hope that on the sands of psychological idealism they may build a house of metaphysical realism.
Shadworth Holloway Hodgson (born 1832; hon. fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford), whose chief work is The Hodgson. Metaphysic of Experience (4 vols., 1898), believing that philosophy is an analysis of the contents of consciousness, or experience, and that this is metaphysics, begins, like Kant, with an analysis of experience. Like Kant, he supposes that experience is concerned with sensations, distinguishes matter and form in sense, identifies time and space, eternal time and infinite space, with the formal element, and substitutes synthesis of sensations of touch and sight for association and inference, as the origin of our knowing such a solid material object as a bell. Although he does not agree with Kant that either the formal element in sense or the synthesis of sensations is a priori, yet in very Kantian fashion, through not distinguishing between operation and object, he holds that, in synthetically combining sensations of touch and sight, we not only have a complex perception of a solid body, but also know this “object thought of” as itself the complex of these sensations objectified. Hence he concludes that “matter is the name for the sensation-elements derived from both senses, abstracting in thought, so far as possible, from the extension-elements of both” (i. 296).
Here you would expect him to stop, as the German Neo-Kantism of Lange stops, with the consistent conclusion that all we know of Nature from such data is these complexes of sensation-elements, or phenomena in the Kantian meaning. Not so; like Kant himself, Hodgson supposes something beyond; not, however, an unknown thing in itself causing sensations, but a condition, or sine qua non, of their existence, without being a cause of their nature. In order to make this leap he supposes that we have beyond perceptions a conception of condition. His account of the origin of this conception is puzzling, (i. 380). Whatever its origin may be, it could not, any more than a Kantian category of cause, justify us in concluding anything more than a relation of perceptions as conditions of one another, seeing that they were supposed to be the whole data, and matter itself to be “sensation-elements.” But what he proceeds to suppose is that, having the conception, and finding that the complex of perceptions needs accounting for, we infer a real condition, e.g. the solid interior of a bell. What we know, however, of this condition, according to him, has two limits: on the one hand, it is the condition only of the existence of our perceptions; on the other hand, all we know of its nature is our perceptions. Matter thus, which had at first been defined as a complex of perceptions objectified, now turns out to be a condition without which perceptions would not exist, but whose nature is known only as a complex of perceptions. Finally, according to him, having inferred matter as the condition of our perceptions, we are entitled to infer that the condition of the existence of matter is God, whose nature, however, can be inferred only by practical reason from conscience. He avers that this “metapnysic of experience” is not idealism, or the tenet that consciousness is the only reality. It is realism — but inconsequent and inadequate realism, something like that of Spencer; according, indeed, more knowledge of the distinction between Nature as condition of sensations and God as condition of Nature; but very like in holding that all we know of natural forces is our perceptions. We know more, however, about a body, such as a bell, than either Spencer or Hodgson allows. We know, from the concomitant variations between its vibrations and our perceptions, that its vibrations are not mere conditions but real causes of our perceptions; and that those vibrations are not our perceptions, because we cannot perceive them, but are real attributes of the bell. It will be objected that they are merely possible perceptions. But as they really produce our real perceptions, they are themselves not merely possible, but real or actual. A possible cause could not actually produce an actual effect.
James Martineau (q.v.) in A Study of Religion (1888), like Shadworth Hodgson, started from Kant, and tried to found on Martineau. transcendental idealism “a return to dualism.” If there is one thing certain in the Kantian philosophy, it is its author's perception that what is contributed by mind must not be extended to things beyond mind. Hegel only extended a priori forms to things by resolving things into thoughts. Mill also protested “against adducing, as evidence of the truth of a fact in external nature, the disposition, however strong or however general, of the human mind to believe it.” Yet Martineau adopted, as his view of the limits of human intelligence, that Kant was right in making space and time a priori forms of sense, but wrong in limiting them to sensations. But in order to make space a form of external things, Martineau had to take the external in space, by which Kant meant one sensation out of another, in the very different meaning of the self here and the not-self there. He facilitated this awkward transition by adding to Kant's a priori forms of space and time an “a priori form of alternative causality,” or, as he also called it, “an intuition of causality involved in the elementary exercise of perception,” which is the key to his whole philosophy. He supposed that this intuition of causality arises when will is resisted, and, further supposing that causality requires decision between alternatives, concluded that the intuition of will resisted is an intuition of will against will, mine against other (i. 65). To pass over its confusion of a priori and intuitive, there are two fatal objections to this view. In the first place, the intuition of causality does not require will at all, because we often perceive one bodily member pressing another involuntarily; a man suffering from lockjaw neither wills nor can avoid feeling the pressure of his upper and lower jaws against one another. Secondly, though causality requires alternatives in the material cause, e.g. wax may or may not be melted, the determination between them is not always a decision of will, but in physical causation depends on the efficient cause, e.g. the fire: as Aristotle says, when the active and passive powers approach, the one must act and the other suffer, and it is only in rational powers that will decides (Met. θ 5).
A. J. Balfour, in The Foundations of Belief, being Notes Introductory to the Study of Theology (1895), begins by maintaining A. J. Balfour. that the evidence of the senses is not a foundation of belief, and then expects us to believe in Nature and in God. He revives the “Acatalepsia” of the New Academy. In Part II., ch i., he makes three assumptions about the senses, and, without stopping to prove them, or even to make them consistent, deduces from them his thesis that the evidence of the senses is not a foundation of belief in Nature. He first assumes an immediate experience of a body, e.g. a green tree; and then deduces that the evidence of the senses proves now and then to be fallacious, because we may have an experience indistinguishable from that of a tree but incorrect; and further, that our perceptions are habitually mendacious, because all visual experiences are erroneous, as colour is a sensation while the thing consists of uncoloured particles. This argument from a pure assumption is a confusion of sense and inference. In no case is the evidence of the senses fallacious or mendacious; the fallacy is in the inference.
He next assumes that we have no immediate experience of independent things — that sense perceives sensations, feelings, or ideas; while all else, e.g. a tree, is a matter of inference. On this quite new assumption of a sense of sensations he deduces that, from a perception of these mental facts, we could not infer material facts, e.g. a tree; so that again the evidence of the senses does not afford trustworthy knowledge of the material universe. His deduction is logical; but he has forgotten to prove the assumption, and now confuses sensory operation with sensible object. Vision does not perceive a sensation of colour; it perceives a visible picture, e.g. green, which is in the organism, but has never been proved to be a mental fact, or not to be a material fact. So touch perceives not a sensation of pressure, but a pressure which is a material fact in the organism. From a material pressure within we logically infer a material pressure outside. He thirdly assumes an appendix to the second assumption: he assumes that sense perceives mental sensations with succession but without causality, because no kind of cause is open to observation. On this assumption of a sense of sensations, but not of causality, he deduces that we could not from such data infer any particular kind of cause, or a bodily cause, e.g. a tree, or indeed any cause at all, or any event beyond perception, without assuming the principle of causation that Nature is uniform in cause and effect over great intervals of time and space. Nevertheless he gives absolutely no proof of the assumption that there is no sense of causality. There is none in the subsidiary senses, because none of them perceives the pressures exerted on them. But the primary sense of touch perceives one bodily member causing pressure on another, reciprocally, within the organism, from which we infer similar particular pressures caused between the organism and the external world; but without needing the supposed stupendous belief and assumption of the uniformity of Nature, which is altogether ignored in the inferences of the ordinary man. Finally, as touch perceives reciprocal pressure within, and tactile inference infers it without, touch is the primary evidence of the senses which is the foundation and logical ground of our belief in Nature as a system of pressing bodies. Balfour, however, having from unproved assumptions denied the evidence of the senses, and the rational power of using them to infer things beyond oneself, has to look out for other, and non-rational, foundations of belief. He finds them in the needs of man. According to him, we believe in Nature because it satisfies our material needs, and in God because he satisfies our spiritual needs. But bare need, e.g. a pang of hunger, is no cause of belief beyond itself; and desire, or need of something prospective, e.g. a desire of food, is effect, not cause, of a previous belief that there is such a thing, and of a present inference that it may again be realized. Moreover, when the belief or inference is uncertain, need even in the shape of desire is not in itself a foundation of belief in the thing desired: to need a dinner is not to believe in getting it; and, as Aristotle said, “there is a wish for impossibilities.” It is fair, however, to add that Balfour has a further foundation for the belief in Nature, the survival of the fittest, by which those only would survive who possessed and could transmit the belief. But here he fails exactly as Darwin himself failed. Darwin said, given that organisms are fit, they will tend to survive; but he failed to show how they become fit. Balfour says, given that men believe in Nature, they will survive; but he fails to show how they come to believe in it. Inference from sense is the one condition of all belief in anything beyond oneself, whether it be Nature, or Authority, or God; and it is the one condition of all needs, which are not mere feelings, but desires of things. The result of undermining this sure foundation emerges in Balfour's attitude to the beliefs themselves. He holds that space, time, matter, motion, force, are all full of the insoluble contradictions supposed by Spencer; and that all our beliefs, in Nature and in God, stand on the same footing of approximations. Hence his really valuable arguments from Nature to God sink to the problematic form — there may be Nature; if so, there is God. Such is the modern “Acatalepsia,” which arises from denying the evidence of the senses, and from citing the transfigured realism of Spencer instead of the original realism of Aristotle, about whom Balfour speaks as follows: “It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to sum up our debts to Aristotle. But assuredly they do not include a tenable theory of the universe.”
4. The Past and Future of Metaphysics. — Aristotelian realism is the strong point of Roman Catholic philosophy. As interpreted by Thomas Aquinas, it is now in danger of becoming a dogma. In 1879 Pope Leo XIII. addressed to the bishops the Encyclica aeterni patris, which contained the words, “Sancti Thomae sapientiam restituatis et quam latissime propagetis.” From the Roman Catholic point of view this reaction to “Thomism” was a timely protest against modern metaphysics. It was founded upon a feeling of uneasiness at a growing tendency among Roman Catholic writers not only to treat theology freely, but to corrupt it by paradoxes. One cannot but feel regret at seeing the Reformed Churches blown about by every wind of doctrine, and catching at straws now from Kant, now from Hegel, and now from Lotze, or at home from Green, Caird, Martineau, Balfour and Ward in succession, without ever having considered the basis of their faith; while the Roman Catholics are making every effort to ground a Universal Church on a sane system of metaphysics. However this may be, the power of the movement is visible enough from the spread of Thomism over the civilized world, and in England from the difference between the freer treatment of metaphysics by some Roman Catholic writers and that which has arisen under the immediate influence of Thomism. J. H. Newman (1801-1890), maintaining the authority of conscience and the probabilism of the understanding, concluded to the necessity of a higher authority in the primitive church. W. G. Ward was a philosophical critic of Mill. St George Mivart, in The Ground-work of Science (1898), maintained the reality of an active causative power underlying Nature, and the dignity of human reason, from an independent point of view. On the other hand, more under the influence of the Thomist reaction, Thomas Harper published The Metaphysics of the School (1879, &c.), describing scholasticism, as it appears in the works of Aquinas; and The Manuals of Catholic Philosophy, edited by R. F. Clarke, include General Metaphysics (1890), by John Rickaby, who effectively criticizes Hegel by precise distinctions, which, though scholastic, did not deserve to be forgotten.
The Thomist reaction has had a good effect in the way of encouraging the study of Aristotelian philosophy in itself, and as modified by Aquinas. Nevertheless, the world cannot afford to surrender itself to Aristotle, or to Aquinas. Aristotle could not know enough, physically, about Nature to understand its matter, or its motions, or its forces; and consequently he fell into the error of supposing a primary matter with four contrary primary qualities, hot and cold, dry and moist, forming by their combinations four simple bodies, earth, water, air and fire, with natural rectilineal motions to or from the centre of the earth; to which he added a quintessence of ether composing the stars, with a natural circular motion round the earth. Metaphysically, he did not, indeed, as is often supposed, think the nature of substance to be matter and form, because in his view God is a substance, yet with no matter; but he did think that every natural substance or body is a concrete whole, composed of matter and form different from matter. He thought that besides proximate matter, or one body as matter of another, there is a primary formless matter beneath all bodies, capable of becoming all in turn, but itself potentially, not actually, substance. He thought not only that a form, or essence, is something different from, and at most conjoined with, matter in a concrete body, but also that in all the bodies of one kind, e.g. in all men, there is one undivided form or essence, e.g. rational animal, communicated from one member to another member of the kind, e.g. from father to son, by what we still call, though without any meaning, the propagation of the species. He thought, in consequence, that the principium individuationis, which differentiates two members of the kind, e.g. Socrates and Callias, is their one form or essence only as conjoined with different matters, e.g. different bones and flesh. He thought, moreover, that the one form of a kind is an original essence (τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι), which is uncreate; and, in order to avoid the “separate forms” supposed by Plato, he concluded that the world of Nature must be eternal, in order that each original essence may from eternity always be in some individual or another of its kind. On this assumption of the eternity of the world, God could not be a Creator. Aristotle thought that God is only prime mover, and that too only as the good for the sake of which Nature moves; so that God moves as motive. Psychologically, Aristotle applied his dualism of matter and form to explain the antithesis of body and soul, so that the soul is the form, or entelechy, of an organic body, and he applied the same dualism to explain sensation, which he supposed to be reception of the sensible form or essence, without the matter, of a body, e.g. of the form of white, without the matter, of a white stone. He thought that in the soul there is a productive intellect and a passive intellect, and that, when we rise from sense by induction, the productive causes the passive intellect to receive the universal form or essence, e.g. of all white things; and he thought that this productive intellect is our immortal faculty. Lastly, he thought that, while other operations have, intellect (νοῦς) has not, a bodily organ; and hence he became responsible for the fancy that there is a break in bodily continuity between sense and will, while intellect is working out a purely immaterial operation of soul, resulting from the former and tending to the latter. It is evident that a philosophy containing so many questionable opinions is not fit to be made into an authoritative orthodoxy in metaphysics.
Now these, on the whole, are the very opinions of Aquinas, except so far as they were clearly inconsistent with the Christian faith. Aquinas thought, as an article of faith, that the world began, and that God is its Creator. This involved a change of detail in the theory of essences and of universals generally. Aquinas thought that before the creation the one eternal essence of any kind was an abstract form, an idea in the intellect of God, like the form of a house in the mind of a builder, ante rem; that after the creation of any kind it is in re, as Aristotle supposed; and that, as we men think of it, it is post rem, as Aristotle also supposed. Of this view the part which was not Aristotle's, the state of “universalia ante rem,” was due to the Neoplatonists, who interpreted the “separate forms” of Plato to be ideas in intellect, and handed down their interpretation through St Augustine to the medieval Realists like Aquinas, who thus combined Neoplatonism with Aristotelianism. Hence too Aquinas opposed essence to existence much more than Aristotle did. Lastly, as a Christian, he supposed the whole soul to be immortal, and to form for itself a new body after death. But, with these modifications he accepted the general physics of Aristotle, the metaphysical dualism of matter and form, and the psychology founded upon it. The Thomism, therefore, of our day is wrong, from a metaphysical point of view, so far as it elevates Aristotelianism, as seriously modified but not fundamentally corrected by Aquinas, into an authoritative orthodoxy in metaphysics.
Centuries elapsed after Aquinas before Galileo and his successors reformed natural science, and before Bacon destroyed the metaphysical dualism of matter and form by showing that a form in Nature is only a law of the action of matter, and that, as the action of a body is as individual as the body, the form is eternal only in thought (ratione). The psychology of Aristotle and Aquinas thus became impossible; for, if the form of a body is only a mode of matter, to call one's soul the form of one's body is to reduce it to only a mode of matter, and fall into materialism. Hence Descartes began the reform of psychology not only by the appeal to consciousness, “I think,” but also by opposing body and soul, no longer as matter and form, but as different substances. These great improvements, due to the genius of Galileo, of Bacon, of Descartes, are the fresh beginnings of modern thought, from which we dare not turn back without falling into obscurantism. What, then, is the future of metaphysics? We must return not to the authority but to the study of Aristotle. The independence of metaphysics as the science of being, the principles of contradiction and excluded middle with their qualifications, the distinction without separation between substance and attributes, the definition of substance as a distinct individual thing, the discovery that the world consists of substances existing apart but related to one another, the distinction between material and efficient causes or matter and force, the recognition both of the natural and of the supernatural — all these and many other half-forgotten truths are the reasons why we must always begin with the study of Aristotle's Metaphysics. But their incompleteness shows that we must go forward from Aristotle to Bacon and modern science, and even pass through the anarchy of modern metaphysics, in the hope that in the future we may discover as complete an answer as possible to these two questions: —
- What is the world of things we know?
- How do we know it?