A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive/Book II
Διωρισμένων δε τούτων λέγωμεν ἤδη, διὰ τίνων, καὶ πότε, καὶ πῶς γίνεται πᾶς συλλογισμός ὕστερον δὲ λεκτέον περὶ ἀποδείξεως. Πρότερον γὰρ περὶ συλλογισμοῦ λεκτέον, ἢ περὶ ἀποδείξεως, διὰ τὸ καθόλου μᾶλλον εἰναὶ τὸν συλλογισμόν. Ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἀπόδειξις, συλλογισμός τις ὁ συλλογισμός δὲ οὐ πᾶς, ἀπόδειξις.—Arist., Analyt. Prior., l. i., cap. 4.
Of Inference, Or Reasoning, In General.
§ 1. In the preceding Book, we have been occupied not with the nature of Proof, but with the nature of Assertion: the import conveyed by a Proposition, whether that Proposition be true or false; not the means by which to discriminate true from false Propositions. The proper subject, however, of Logic is Proof. Before we could understand what Proof is, it was necessary to understand what that is to which proof is applicable; what that is which can be a subject of belief or disbelief, of affirmation or denial; what, in short, the different kinds of Propositions assert.
This preliminary inquiry we have prosecuted to a definite result. Assertion, in the first place, relates either to the meaning of words, or to some property of the things which words signify. Assertions respecting the meaning of words, among which definitions are the most important, hold a place, and an indispensable one, in philosophy; but as the meaning of words is essentially arbitrary, this class of assertions are not susceptible of truth or falsity, nor therefore of proof or disproof. Assertions respecting Things, or what may be called Real Propositions, in contradistinction to verbal ones, are of various sorts. We have analyzed the import of each sort, and have ascertained the nature of the things they relate to, and the nature of what they severally assert respecting those things. We found that whatever be the form of the proposition, and whatever its nominal subject or predicate, the real subject of every proposition is some one or more facts or phenomena of consciousness, or some one or more of the hidden causes or powers to which we ascribe those facts; and that what is predicated or asserted, either in the affirmative or negative, of those phenomena or those powers, is always either Existence, Order in Place, Order in Time, Causation, or Resemblance. This, then, is the theory of the Import of Propositions, reduced to its ultimate elements: but there is another and a less abstruse expression for it, which, though stopping short in an earlier stage of the analysis, is sufficiently scientific for many of the purposes for which such a general expression is required. This expression recognizes the commonly received distinction between Subject and Attribute, and gives the following as the analysis of the meaning of propositions:—
Every Proposition asserts, that some given subject does or does not possess some attribute; or that some attribute is or is not (either in all or in some portion of the subjects in which it is met with) conjoined with some other attribute.
We shall now for the present take our leave of this portion of our inquiry, and proceed to the peculiar problem of the Science of Logic, namely, how the assertions, of which we have analyzed the import, are proved or disproved; such of them, at least, as, not being amenable to direct consciousness or intuition, are appropriate subjects of proof.
We say of a fact or statement, that it is proved, when we believe its truth by reason of some other fact or statement from which it is said to follow. Most of the propositions, whether affirmative or negative, universal, particular, or singular, which we believe, are not believed on their own evidence, but on the ground of something previously assented to, from which they are said to be inferred. To infer a proposition from a previous proposition or propositions; to give credence to it, or claim credence for it, as a conclusion from something else; is to reason, in the most extensive sense of the term. There is a narrower sense, in which the name reasoning is confined to the form of inference which is termed ratiocination, and of which the syllogism is the general type. The reasons for not conforming to this restricted use of the term were stated in an earlier stage of our inquiry, and additional motives will be suggested by the considerations on which we are now about to enter.
§ 2. In proceeding to take into consideration the cases in which inferences can legitimately be drawn, we shall first mention some cases in which the inference is apparent, not real; and which require notice chiefly that they may not be confounded with cases of inference properly so called. This occurs when the proposition ostensibly inferred from another, appears on analysis to be merely a repetition of the same, or part of the same, assertion, which was contained in the first. All the cases mentioned in books of Logic as examples of equipollency or equivalence of propositions, are of this nature. Thus, if we were to argue, No man is incapable of reason, for every man is rational; or, All men are mortal, for no man is exempt from death; it would be plain that we were not proving the proposition, but only appealing to another mode of wording it, which may or may not be more readily comprehensible by the hearer, or better adapted to suggest the real proof, but which contains in itself no shadow of proof.
Another case is where, from a universal proposition, we affect to infer another which differs from it only in being particular: as All A is B, therefore Some A is B: No A is B, therefore Some A is not B. This, too, is not to conclude one proposition from another, but to repeat a second time something which had been asserted at first; with the difference, that we do not here repeat the whole of the previous assertion, but only an indefinite part of it.
A third case is where, the antecedent having affirmed a predicate of a given subject, the consequent affirms of the same subject something already connoted by the former predicate: as, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is a living creature; where all that is connoted by living creature was affirmed of Socrates when he was asserted to be a man. If the propositions are negative, we must invert their order, thus: Socrates is not a living creature, therefore he is not a man; for if we deny the less, the greater, which includes it, is already denied by implication. These, therefore, are not really cases of inference; and yet the trivial examples by which, in manuals of Logic, the rules of the syllogism are illustrated, are often of this ill-chosen kind; formal demonstrations of conclusions to which whoever understands the terms used in the statement of the data, has already, and consciously, assented.(47)
The most complex case of this sort of apparent inference is what is called the Conversion of propositions; which consists in turning the predicate into a subject, and the subject into a predicate, and framing out of the same terms thus reversed, another proposition, which must be true if the former is true. Thus, from the particular affirmative proposition, Some A is B, we may infer that Some B is A. From the universal negative, No A is B, we may conclude that No B is A. From the universal affirmative proposition, All A is B, it can not be inferred that all B is A; though all water is liquid, it is not implied that all liquid is water; but it is implied that some liquid is so; and hence the proposition, All A is B, is legitimately convertible into Some B is A. This process, which converts a universal proposition into a particular, is termed conversion _per accidens_. From the proposition, Some A is not B, we can not even infer that some B is not A; though some men are not Englishmen, it does not follow that some Englishmen are not men. The only mode usually recognized of converting a particular negative proposition, is in the form, Some A is not B, therefore something which is not B is A; and this is termed conversion by contraposition. In this case, however, the predicate and subject are not merely reversed, but one of them is changed. Instead of [A] and [B], the terms of the new proposition are [a thing which is not B], and [A]. The original proposition, Some A is not B, is first changed into a proposition equipollent with it, Some A is "a thing which is not B;" and the proposition, being now no longer a particular negative, but a particular affirmative, admits of conversion in the first mode, or as it is called, simple conversion.(48)
In all these cases there is not really any inference; there is in the conclusion no new truth, nothing but what was already asserted in the premises, and obvious to whoever apprehends them. The fact asserted in the conclusion is either the very same fact, or part of the fact, asserted in the original proposition. This follows from our previous analysis of the Import of Propositions. When we say, for example, that some lawful sovereigns are tyrants, what is the meaning of the assertion? That the attributes connoted by the term "lawful sovereign," and the attributes connoted by the term "tyrant," sometimes co-exist in the same individual. Now this is also precisely what we mean, when we say that some tyrants are lawful sovereigns; which, therefore, is not a second proposition inferred from the first, any more than the English translation of Euclid's Elements is a collection of theorems different from and consequences of, those contained in the Greek original. Again, if we assert that no great general is a rash man, we mean that the attributes connoted by "great general," and those connoted by "rash," never co-exist in the same subject; which is also the exact meaning which would be expressed by saying, that no rash man is a great general. When we say that all quadrupeds are warm-blooded, we assert, not only that the attributes connoted by "quadruped" and those connoted by "warm-blooded" sometimes co-exist, but that the former never exist without the latter: now the proposition, Some warm-blooded creatures are quadrupeds, expresses the first half of this meaning, dropping the latter half; and therefore has been already affirmed in the antecedent proposition, All quadrupeds are warm-blooded. But that all warm-blooded creatures are quadrupeds, or, in other words, that the attributes connoted by "warm-blooded" never exist without those connoted by "quadruped," has not been asserted, and can not be inferred. In order to re-assert, in an inverted form, the whole of what was affirmed in the proposition, All quadrupeds are warm-blooded, we must convert it by contraposition, thus, Nothing which is not warm-blooded is a quadruped. This proposition, and the one from which it is derived, are exactly equivalent, and either of them may be substituted for the other; for, to say that when the attributes of a quadruped are present, those of a warm-blooded creature are present, is to say that when the latter are absent the former are absent.
In a manual for young students, it would be proper to dwell at greater length on the conversion and equipollency of propositions. For though that can not be called reasoning or inference which is a mere re-assertion in different words of what had been asserted before, there is no more important intellectual habit, nor any the cultivation of which falls more strictly within the province of the art of logic, than that of discerning rapidly and surely the identity of an assertion when disguised under diversity of language. That important chapter in logical treatises which relates to the Opposition of Propositions, and the excellent technical language which logic provides for distinguishing the different kinds or modes of opposition, are of use chiefly for this purpose. Such considerations as these, that contrary propositions may both be false, but can not both be true; that subcontrary propositions may both be true, but can not both be false; that of two contradictory propositions one must be true and the other false; that of two subalternate propositions the truth of the universal proves the truth of the particular, and the falsity of the particular proves the falsity of the universal, but not _vicè versa_;(49) are apt to appear, at first sight, very technical and mysterious, but when explained, seem almost too obvious to require so formal a statement, since the same amount of explanation which is necessary to make the principles intelligible, would enable the truths which they convey to be apprehended in any particular case which can occur. In this respect, however, these axioms of logic are on a level with those of mathematics. That things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, is as obvious in any particular case as it is in the general statement: and if no such general maxim had ever been laid down, the demonstrations in Euclid would never have halted for any difficulty in stepping across the gap which this axiom at present serves to bridge over. Yet no one has ever censured writers on geometry, for placing a list of these elementary generalizations at the head of their treatises, as a first exercise to the learner of the faculty which will be required in him at every step, that of apprehending a general truth. And the student of logic, in the discussion even of such truths as we have cited above, acquires habits of circumspect interpretation of words, and of exactly measuring the length and breadth of his assertions, which are among the most indispensable conditions of any considerable mental attainment, and which it is one of the primary objects of logical discipline to cultivate.
§ 3. Having noticed, in order to exclude from the province of Reasoning or Inference properly so called, the cases in which the progression from one truth to another is only apparent, the logical consequent being a mere repetition of the logical antecedent; we now pass to those which are cases of inference in the proper acceptation of the term, those in which we set out from known truths, to arrive at others really distinct from them.
Reasoning, in the extended sense in which I use the term, and in which it is synonymous with Inference, is popularly said to be of two kinds: reasoning from particulars to generals, and reasoning from generals to particulars; the former being called Induction, the latter Ratiocination or Syllogism. It will presently be shown that there is a third species of reasoning, which falls under neither of these descriptions, and which, nevertheless, is not only valid, but is the foundation of both the others.
It is necessary to observe, that the expressions, reasoning from particulars to generals, and reasoning from generals to particulars, are recommended by brevity rather than by precision, and do not adequately mark, without the aid of a commentary, the distinction between Induction (in the sense now adverted to) and Ratiocination. The meaning intended by these expressions is, that Induction is inferring a proposition from propositions less general than itself, and Ratiocination is inferring a proposition from propositions equally or more general. When, from the observation of a number of individual instances, we ascend to a general proposition, or when, by combining a number of general propositions, we conclude from them another proposition still more general, the process, which is substantially the same in both instances, is called Induction. When from a general proposition, not alone (for from a single proposition nothing can be concluded which is not involved in the terms), but by combining it with other propositions, we infer a proposition of the same degree of generality with itself, or a less general proposition, or a proposition merely individual, the process is Ratiocination. When, in short, the conclusion is more general than the largest of the premises, the argument is commonly called Induction; when less general, or equally general, it is Ratiocination.
As all experience begins with individual cases, and proceeds from them to generals, it might seem most conformable to the natural order of thought that Induction should be treated of before we touch upon Ratiocination. It will, however, be advantageous, in a science which aims at tracing our acquired knowledge to its sources, that the inquirer should commence with the latter rather than with the earlier stages of the process of constructing our knowledge; and should trace derivative truths backward to the truths from which they are deduced, and on which they depend for their evidence, before attempting to point out the original spring from which both ultimately take their rise. The advantages of this order of proceeding in the present instance will manifest themselves as we advance, in a manner superseding the necessity of any further justification or explanation.
Of Induction, therefore, we shall say no more at present, than that it at least is, without doubt, a process of real inference. The conclusion in an induction embraces more than is contained in the premises. The principle or law collected from particular instances, the general proposition in which we embody the result of our experience, covers a much larger extent of ground than the individual experiments which form its basis. A principle ascertained by experience, is more than a mere summing up of what has been specifically observed in the individual cases which have been examined; it is a generalization grounded on those cases, and expressive of our belief, that what we there found true is true in an indefinite number of cases which we have not examined, and are never likely to examine. The nature and grounds of this inference, and the conditions necessary to make it legitimate, will be the subject of discussion in the Third Book: but that such inference really takes place is not susceptible of question. In every induction we proceed from truths which we knew, to truths which we did not know; from facts certified by observation, to facts which we have not observed, and even to facts not capable of being now observed; future facts, for example; but which we do not hesitate to believe on the sole evidence of the induction itself.
Induction, then, is a real process of Reasoning or Inference. Whether, and in what sense, as much can be said of the Syllogism, remains to be determined by the examination into which we are about to enter.
Of Ratiocination, Or Syllogism.
§ 1. The analysis of the Syllogism has been so accurately and fully performed in the common manuals of Logic, that in the present work, which is not designed as a manual, it is sufficient to recapitulate, _memoriæ causâ_, the leading results of that analysis, as a foundation for the remarks to be afterward made on the functions of the Syllogism, and the place which it holds in science.
To a legitimate syllogism it is essential that there should be three, and no more than three, propositions, namely, the conclusion, or proposition to be proved, and two other propositions which together prove it, and which are called the premises. It is essential that there should be three, and no more than three, terms, namely, the subject and predicate of the conclusion, and another called the middle term, which must be found in both premises, since it is by means of it that the other two terms are to be connected together. The predicate of the conclusion is called the major term of the syllogism; the subject of the conclusion is called the minor term. As there can be but three terms, the major and minor terms must each be found in one, and only one, of the premises, together with the middle term which is in them both. The premise which contains the middle term and the major term is called the major premise; that which contains the middle term and the minor term is called the minor premise.
Syllogisms are divided by some logicians into three figures, by others into four, according to the position of the middle term, which may either be the subject in both premises, the predicate in both, or the subject in one and the predicate in the other. The most common case is that in which the middle term is the subject of the major premise and the predicate of the minor. This is reckoned as the first figure. When the middle term is the predicate in both premises, the syllogism belongs to the second figure; when it is the subject in both, to the third. In the fourth figure the middle term is the subject of the minor premise and the predicate of the major. Those writers who reckon no more than three figures, include this case in the first.
Each figure is divided into moods, according to what are called the quantity and quality of the propositions, that is, according as they are universal or particular, affirmative or negative. The following are examples of all the legitimate moods, that is, all those in which the conclusion correctly follows from the premises. A is the minor term, C the major, B the middle term.
All B is C No B is C All B is C No B is C All A is B All A is B Some A is B Some A is B therefore therefore therefore therefore All A is C No A is C Some A is C Some A is not C
No C is B All C is B No C is B All C is B All A is B No A is B Some A is B Some A is not B therefore therefore therefore therefore No A is C No A is C Some A is not C Some A is not C
All B is No B is C Some B is All B is Some B is No B is C C C C not C All B is All B is All B is Some B is All B is Some B is A A A A A A therefore therefore therefore therefore therefore therefore Some A is Some A is Some A is Some A is Some A is Some A is C not C C C not C not C
All C is B All C is B Some C is B No C is B No C is B All B is A No B is A All B is A All B is A Some B is A therefore therefore therefore therefore therefore Some A is C Some A is Some A is C Some A is Some A is
not C not C not C
In these exemplars, or blank forms for making syllogisms, no place is assigned to singular propositions; not, of course, because such propositions are not used in ratiocination, but because, their predicate being affirmed or denied of the whole of the subject, they are ranked, for the purposes of the syllogism, with universal propositions. Thus, these two syllogisms--
All men are mortal, All men are mortal, All kings are men, Socrates is a man, therefore therefore All kings are mortal, Socrates is mortal,
are arguments precisely similar, and are both ranked in the first mood of the first figure.(50)
The reasons why syllogisms in any of the above forms are legitimate, that is, why, if the premises are true, the conclusion must inevitably be so, and why this is not the case in any other possible mood (that is, in any other combination of universal and particular, affirmative and negative propositions), any person taking interest in these inquiries may be presumed to have either learned from the common-school books of the syllogistic logic, or to be capable of discovering for himself. The reader may, however, be referred, for every needful explanation, to Archbishop Whately's Elements of Logic, where he will find stated with philosophical precision, and explained with remarkable perspicuity, the whole of the common doctrine of the syllogism.
All valid ratiocination; all reasoning by which, from general propositions previously admitted, other propositions equally or less general are inferred; may be exhibited in some of the above forms. The whole of Euclid, for example, might be thrown without difficulty into a series of syllogisms, regular in mood and figure.
Though a syllogism framed according to any of these formulæ is a valid argument, all correct ratiocination admits of being stated in syllogisms of the first figure alone. The rules for throwing an argument in any of the other figures into the first figure, are called rules for the reduction of syllogisms. It is done by the conversion of one or other, or both, of the premises. Thus an argument in the first mood of the second figure, as--
No C is B All A is B therefore No A is C,
may be reduced as follows. The proposition, No C is B, being a universal negative, admits of simple conversion, and may be changed into No B is C, which, as we showed, is the very same assertion in other words--the same fact differently expressed. This transformation having been effected, the argument assumes the following form:
No B is C All A is B therefore No A is C,
which is a good syllogism in the second mood of the first figure. Again, an argument in the first mood of the third figure must resemble the following:
All B is C All B is A therefore Some A is C,
where the minor premise, All B is A, conformably to what was laid down in the last chapter respecting universal affirmatives, does not admit of simple conversion, but may be converted per accidens, thus, Some A is B; which, though it does not express the whole of what is asserted in the proposition All B is A, expresses, as was formerly shown, part of it, and must therefore be true if the whole is true. We have, then, as the result of the reduction, the following syllogism in the third mood of the first figure:
All B is C Some A is B,
from which it obviously follows, that
Some A is C.
In the same manner, or in a manner on which after these examples it is not necessary to enlarge, every mood of the second, third, and fourth figures may be reduced to some one of the four moods of the first. In other words, every conclusion which can be proved in any of the last three figures, may be proved in the first figure from the same premises, with a slight alteration in the mere manner of expressing them. Every valid ratiocination, therefore, may be stated in the first figure, that is, in one of the following forms:
Every B is C No B is C All A is B, All A is B, Some A is B, Some A is B, therefore therefore All A is C. No A is C. Some A is C. Some A is not C.
Or, if more significant symbols are preferred:
To prove an affirmative, the argument must admit of being stated in this form:
All animals are mortal; All men/Some men/Socrates are animals; therefore All men/Some men/Socrates are mortal.
To prove a negative, the argument must be capable of being expressed in this form:
No one who is capable of self-control is necessarily vicious;
No one who is capable of self-control is necessarily vicious; All negroes/Some negroes/Mr. A's negro are capable of self-control; therefore No negroes are/Some negroes are not/Mr. A's negro is not necessarily vicious.
Though all ratiocination admits of being thrown into one or the other of these forms, and sometimes gains considerably by the transformation, both in clearness and in the obviousness of its consequence; there are, no doubt, cases in which the argument falls more naturally into one of the other three figures, and in which its conclusiveness is more apparent at the first glance in those figures, than when reduced to the first. Thus, if the proposition were that pagans may be virtuous, and the evidence to prove it were the example of Aristides; a syllogism in the third figure,
Aristides was virtuous, Aristides was a pagan, therefore Some pagan was virtuous,
would be a more natural mode of stating the argument, and would carry conviction more instantly home, than the same ratiocination strained into the first figure, thus--
Aristides was virtuous, Some pagan was Aristides, therefore Some pagan was virtuous.
A German philosopher, Lambert, whose Neues Organon (published in the year 1764) contains among other things one of the most elaborate and complete expositions which had ever been made of the syllogistic doctrine, has expressly examined what sort of arguments fall most naturally and suitably into each of the four figures; and his investigation is characterized by great ingenuity and clearness of thought.(51) The argument, however, is one and the same, in whichever figure it is expressed; since, as we have already seen, the premises of a syllogism in the second, third, or fourth figure, and those of the syllogism in the first figure to which it may be reduced, are the same premises in every thing except language, or, at least, as much of them as contributes to the proof of the conclusion is the same. We are therefore at liberty, in conformity with the general opinion of logicians, to consider the two elementary forms of the first figure as the universal types of all correct ratiocination; the one, when the conclusion to be proved is affirmative, the other, when it is negative; even though certain arguments may have a tendency to clothe themselves in the forms of the second, third, and fourth figures; which, however, can not possibly happen with the only class of arguments which are of first-rate scientific importance, those in which the conclusion is a universal affirmative, such conclusions being susceptible of proof in the first figure alone.(52)
§ 2. On examining, then, these two general formulæ, we find that in both of them, one premise, the major, is a universal proposition; and according as this is affirmative or negative, the conclusion is so too. All ratiocination, therefore, starts from a general proposition, principle, or assumption: a proposition in which a predicate is affirmed or denied of an entire class; that is, in which some attribute, or the negation of some attribute, is asserted of an indefinite number of objects distinguished by a common characteristic, and designated, in consequence, by a common name.
The other premise is always affirmative, and asserts that something (which may be either an individual, a class, or part of a class) belongs to, or is included in, the class respecting which something was affirmed or denied in the major premise. It follows that the attribute affirmed or denied of the entire class may (if that affirmation or denial was correct) be affirmed or denied of the object or objects alleged to be included in the class: and this is precisely the assertion made in the conclusion.
Whether or not the foregoing is an adequate account of the constituent parts of the syllogism, will be presently considered; but as far as it goes it is a true account. It has accordingly been generalized, and erected into a logical maxim, on which all ratiocination is said to be founded, insomuch that to reason, and to apply the maxim, are supposed to be one and the same thing. The maxim is, That whatever can be affirmed (or denied) of a class, may be affirmed (or denied) of every thing included in the class. This axiom, supposed to be the basis of the syllogistic theory, is termed by logicians the dictum de omni et nullo.
This maxim, however, when considered as a principle of reasoning, appears suited to a system of metaphysics once indeed generally received, but which for the last two centuries has been considered as finally abandoned, though there have not been wanting in our own day attempts at its revival. So long as what are termed Universals were regarded as a peculiar kind of substances, having an objective existence distinct from the individual objects classed under them, the dictum de omni conveyed an important meaning; because it expressed the intercommunity of nature, which it was necessary on that theory that we should suppose to exist between those general substances and the particular substances which were subordinated to them. That every thing predicable of the universal was predicable of the various individuals contained under it, was then no identical proposition, but a statement of what was conceived as a fundamental law of the universe. The assertion that the entire nature and properties of the substantia secunda formed part of the nature and properties of each of the individual substances called by the same name; that the properties of Man, for example, were properties of all men; was a proposition of real significance when man did not mean all men, but something inherent in men, and vastly superior to them in dignity. Now, however, when it is known that a class, a universal, a genus or species, is not an entity _per se_, but neither more nor less than the individual substances themselves which are placed in the class, and that there is nothing real in the matter except those objects, a common name given to them, and common attributes indicated by the name; what, I should be glad to know, do we learn by being told, that whatever can be affirmed of a class, may be affirmed of every object contained in the class? The class is nothing but the objects contained in it: and the dictum de omni merely amounts to the identical proposition, that whatever is true of certain objects, is true of each of those objects. If all ratiocination were no more than the application of this maxim to particular cases, the syllogism would indeed be, what it has so often been declared to be, solemn trifling. The _dictum de omni_ is on a par with another truth, which in its time was also reckoned of great importance, "Whatever is, is." To give any real meaning to the dictum de omni, we must consider it not as an axiom, but as a definition; we must look upon it as intended to explain, in a circuitous and paraphrastic manner, the meaning of the word class.
An error which seemed finally refuted and dislodged from thought, often needs only put on a new suit of phrases, to be welcomed back to its old quarters, and allowed to repose unquestioned for another cycle of ages. Modern philosophers have not been sparing in their contempt for the scholastic dogma that genera and species are a peculiar kind of substances, which general substances being the only permanent things, while the individual substances comprehended under them are in a perpetual flux, knowledge, which necessarily imports stability, can only have relation to those general substances or universals, and not to the facts or particulars included under them. Yet, though nominally rejected, this very doctrine, whether disguised under the Abstract Ideas of Locke (whose speculations, however, it has less vitiated than those of perhaps any other writer who has been infected with it), under the ultra-nominalism of Hobbes and Condillac, or the ontology of the later German schools, has never ceased to poison philosophy. Once accustomed to consider scientific investigation as essentially consisting in the study of universals, men did not drop this habit of thought when they ceased to regard universals as possessing an independent existence: and even those who went the length of considering them as mere names, could not free themselves from the notion that the investigation of truth consisted entirely or partly in some kind of conjuration or juggle with those names. When a philosopher adopted fully the Nominalist view of the signification of general language, retaining along with it the dictum de omni as the foundation of all reasoning, two such premises fairly put together were likely, if he was a consistent thinker, to land him in rather startling conclusions. Accordingly it has been seriously held, by writers of deserved celebrity, that the process of arriving at new truths by reasoning consists in the mere substitution of one set of arbitrary signs for another; a doctrine which they suppose to derive irresistible confirmation from the example of algebra. If there were any process in sorcery or necromancy more preternatural than this, I should be much surprised. The culminating point of this philosophy is the noted aphorism of Condillac, that a science is nothing, or scarcely any thing, but une langue bien faite; in other words, that the one sufficient rule for discovering the nature and properties of objects is to name them properly: as if the reverse were not the truth, that it is impossible to name them properly except in proportion as we are already acquainted with their nature and properties. Can it be necessary to say, that none, not even the most trivial knowledge with respect to Things, ever was or could be originally got at by any conceivable manipulation of mere names, as such; and that what can be learned from names, is only what somebody who used the names knew before? Philosophical analysis confirms the indication of common sense, that the function of names is but that of enabling us to remember and to communicate our thoughts. That they also strengthen, even to an incalculable extent, the power of thought itself, is most true: but they do this by no intrinsic and peculiar virtue; they do it by the power inherent in an artificial memory, an instrument of which few have adequately considered the immense potency. As an artificial memory, language truly is, what it has so often been called, an instrument of thought; but it is one thing to be the instrument, and another to be the exclusive subject upon which the instrument is exercised. We think, indeed, to a considerable extent, by means of names, but what we think of, are the things called by those names; and there can not be a greater error than to imagine that thought can be carried on with nothing in our mind but names, or that we can make the names think for us.
§ 3. Those who considered the dictum de omni as the foundation of the syllogism, looked upon arguments in a manner corresponding to the erroneous view which Hobbes took of propositions. Because there are some propositions which are merely verbal, Hobbes, in order apparently that his definition might be rigorously universal, defined a proposition as if no propositions declared any thing except the meaning of words. If Hobbes was right; if no further account than this could be given of the import of propositions; no theory could be given but the commonly received one, of the combination of propositions in a syllogism. If the minor premise asserted nothing more than that something belongs to a class, and if the major premise asserted nothing of that class except that it is included in another class, the conclusion would only be that what was included in the lower class is included in the higher, and the result, therefore, nothing except that the classification is consistent with itself. But we have seen that it is no sufficient account of the meaning of a proposition, to say that it refers something to, or excludes something from, a class. Every proposition which conveys real information asserts a matter of fact, dependent on the laws of nature, and not on classification. It asserts that a given object does or does not possess a given attribute; or it asserts that two attributes, or sets of attributes, do or do not (constantly or occasionally) co-exist. Since such is the purport of all propositions which convey any real knowledge, and since ratiocination is a mode of acquiring real knowledge, any theory of ratiocination which does not recognize this import of propositions, can not, we may be sure, be the true one.
Applying this view of propositions to the two premises of a syllogism, we obtain the following results. The major premise, which, as already remarked, is always universal, asserts, that all things which have a certain attribute (or attributes) have or have not along with it, a certain other attribute (or attributes). The minor premise asserts that the thing or set of things which are the subject of that premise, have the first-mentioned attribute; and the conclusion is, that they have (or that they have not), the second. Thus in our former example,
All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal,
the subject and predicate of the major premise are connotative terms, denoting objects and connoting attributes. The assertion in the major premise is, that along with one of the two sets of attributes, we always find the other: that the attributes connoted by "man" never exist unless conjoined with the attribute called mortality. The assertion in the minor premise is that the individual named Socrates possesses the former attributes; and it is concluded that he possesses also the attribute mortality. Or, if both the premises are general propositions, as
All men are mortal, All kings are men, therefore All kings are mortal,
the minor premise asserts that the attributes denoted by kingship only exist in conjunction with those signified by the word man. The major asserts as before, that the last-mentioned attributes are never found without the attribute of mortality. The conclusion is, that wherever the attributes of kingship are found, that of mortality is found also.
If the major premise were negative, as, No men are omnipotent, it would assert, not that the attributes connoted by "man" never exist without, but that they never exist with, those connoted by "omnipotent:" from which, together with the minor premise, it is concluded, that the same incompatibility exists between the attribute omnipotence and those constituting a king. In a similar manner we might analyze any other example of the syllogism.
If we generalize this process, and look out for the principle or law involved in every such inference, and presupposed in every syllogism, the propositions of which are any thing more than merely verbal; we find, not the unmeaning dictum de omni et nullo, but a fundamental principle, or rather two principles, strikingly resembling the axioms of mathematics. The first, which is the principle of affirmative syllogisms, is, that things which co-exist with the same thing, co-exist with one another: or (still more precisely) a thing which co-exists with another thing, which other co-exists with a third thing, also co-exists with that third thing. The second is the principle of negative syllogisms, and is to this effect: that a thing which co-exists with another thing, with which other a third thing does not co-exist, is not co-existent with that third thing. These axioms manifestly relate to facts, and not to conventions; and one or other of them is the ground of the legitimacy of every argument in which facts and not conventions are the matter treated of.(53)
§ 4. It remains to translate this exposition of the syllogism from the one into the other of the two languages in which we formerly remarked(54) that all propositions, and of course therefore all combinations of propositions, might be expressed. We observed that a proposition might be considered in two different lights; as a portion of our knowledge of nature, or as a memorandum for our guidance. Under the former, or speculative aspect, an affirmative general proposition is an assertion of a speculative truth, viz., that whatever has a certain attribute has a certain other attribute. Under the other aspect, it is to be regarded not as a part of our knowledge, but as an aid for our practical exigencies, by enabling us, when we see or learn that an object possesses one of the two attributes, to infer that it possesses the other; thus employing the first attribute as a mark or evidence of the second. Thus regarded, every syllogism comes within the following general formula:
Attribute A is a mark of attribute B, The given object has the mark A, therefore The given object has the attribute B.
Referred to this type, the arguments which we have lately cited as specimens of the syllogism, will express themselves in the following manner:
The attributes of man are a mark of the attribute mortality, Socrates has the attributes of man, therefore Socrates has the attribute m ortality.
The attributes of man are a mark of the attribute mortality, The attributes of a king are a mark of the attributes of man, therefore The attributes of a king are a mark of the attribute mortality.
The attributes of man are a mark of the absence of the attribute omnipotence, The attributes of a king are a mark of the attributes of man, therefore The attributes of a king are a mark of the absence of the attribute signified by the word omnipotent (or, are evidence of the absence of that attribute).
To correspond with this alteration in the form of the syllogisms, the axioms on which the syllogistic process is founded must undergo a corresponding transformation. In this altered phraseology, both those axioms may be brought under one general expression; namely, that whatever has any mark, has that which it is a mark of. Or, when the minor premise as well as the major is universal, we may state it thus: Whatever is a mark of any mark, is a mark of that which this last is a mark of. To trace the identity of these axioms with those previously laid down, may be left to the intelligent reader. We shall find, as we proceed, the great convenience of the phraseology into which we have last thrown them, and which is better adapted than any I am acquainted with, to express with precision and force what is aimed at, and actually accomplished, in every case of the ascertainment of a truth by ratiocination.(55)
Of The Functions And Logical Value Of The Syllogism.
§ 1. We have shown what is the real nature of the truths with which the Syllogism is conversant, in contradistinction to the more superficial manner in which their import is conceived in the common theory; and what are the fundamental axioms on which its probative force or conclusiveness depends. We have now to inquire, whether the syllogistic process, that of reasoning from generals to particulars, is, or is not, a process of inference; a progress from the known to the unknown: a means of coming to a knowledge of something which we did not know before.
Logicians have been remarkably unanimous in their mode of answering this question. It is universally allowed that a syllogism is vicious if there be any thing more in the conclusion than was assumed in the premises. But this is, in fact, to say, that nothing ever was, or can be, proved by syllogism, which was not known, or assumed to be known, before. Is ratiocination, then, not a process of inference? And is the syllogism, to which the word reasoning has so often been represented to be exclusively appropriate, not really entitled to be called reasoning at all? This seems an inevitable consequence of the doctrine, admitted by all writers on the subject, that a syllogism can prove no more than is involved in the premises. Yet the acknowledgment so explicitly made, has not prevented one set of writers from continuing to represent the syllogism as the correct analysis of what the mind actually performs in discovering and proving the larger half of the truths, whether of science or of daily life, which we believe; while those who have avoided this inconsistency, and followed out the general theorem respecting the logical value of the syllogism to its legitimate corollary, have been led to impute uselessness and frivolity to the syllogistic theory itself, on the ground of the petitio principii which they allege to be inherent in every syllogism. As I believe both these opinions to be fundamentally erroneous, I must request the attention of the reader to certain considerations, without which any just appreciation of the true character of the syllogism, and the functions it performs in philosophy, appears to me impossible; but which seem to have been either overlooked, or insufficiently adverted to, both by the defenders of the syllogistic theory and by its assailants.
§ 2. It must be granted that in every syllogism, considered as an argument to prove the conclusion, there is a petitio principii. When we say,
All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal;
it is unanswerably urged by the adversaries of the syllogistic theory, that the proposition, Socrates is mortal, is presupposed in the more general assumption, All men are mortal: that we can not be assured of the mortality of all men, unless we are already certain of the mortality of every individual man: that if it be still doubtful whether Socrates, or any other individual we choose to name, be mortal or not, the same degree of uncertainty must hang over the assertion, All men are mortal: that the general principle, instead of being given as evidence of the particular case, can not itself be taken for true without exception, until every shadow of doubt which could affect any case comprised with it, is dispelled by evidence aliundè; and then what remains for the syllogism to prove? That, in short, no reasoning from generals to particulars can, as such, prove any thing: since from a general principle we can not infer any particulars, but those which the principle itself assumes as known.
This doctrine appears to me irrefragable; and if logicians, though unable to dispute it, have usually exhibited a strong disposition to explain it away, this was not because they could discover any flaw in the argument itself, but because the contrary opinion seemed to rest on arguments equally indisputable. In the syllogism last referred to, for example, or in any of those which we previously constructed, is it not evident that the conclusion may, to the person to whom the syllogism is presented, be actually and bona fide a new truth? Is it not matter of daily experience that truths previously unthought of, facts which have not been, and can not be, directly observed, are arrived at by way of general reasoning? We believe that the Duke of Wellington is mortal. We do not know this by direct observation, so long as he is not yet dead. If we were asked how, this being the case, we know the duke to be mortal, we should probably answer, Because all men are so. Here, therefore, we arrive at the knowledge of a truth not (as yet) susceptible of observation, by a reasoning which admits of being exhibited in the following syllogism:
All men are mortal, The Duke of Wellington is a man, therefore The Duke of Wellington is mortal.
And since a large portion of our knowledge is thus acquired, logicians have persisted in representing the syllogism as a process of inference or proof; though none of them has cleared up the difficulty which arises from the inconsistency between that assertion, and the principle, that if there be any thing in the conclusion which was not already asserted in the premises, the argument is vicious. For it is impossible to attach any serious scientific value to such a mere salvo, as the distinction drawn between being involved by implication in the premises, and being directly asserted in them. When Archbishop Whately says(56) that the object of reasoning is "merely to expand and unfold the assertions wrapped up, as it were, and implied in those with which we set out, and to bring a person to perceive and acknowledge the full force of that which he has admitted," he does not, I think, meet the real difficulty requiring to be explained, namely, how it happens that a science, like geometry, can be all "wrapped up" in a few definitions and axioms. Nor does this defense of the syllogism differ much from what its assailants urge against it as an accusation, when they charge it with being of no use except to those who seek to press the consequences of an admission into which a person has been entrapped without having considered and understood its full force. When you admitted the major premise, you asserted the conclusion; but, says Archbishop Whately, you asserted it by implication merely: this, however, can here only mean that you asserted it unconsciously; that you did not know you were asserting it; but, if so, the difficulty revives in this shape--Ought you not to have known? Were you warranted in asserting the general proposition without having satisfied yourself of the truth of every thing which it fairly includes? And if not, is not the syllogistic art prima facie what its assailants affirm it to be, a contrivance for catching you in a trap, and holding you fast in it?(57)
§ 3. From this difficulty there appears to be but one issue. The proposition that the Duke of Wellington is mortal, is evidently an inference; it is got at as a conclusion from something else; but do we, in reality, conclude it from the proposition, All men are mortal? I answer, no.
The error committed is, I conceive, that of overlooking the distinction between two parts of the process of philosophizing, the inferring part, and the registering part; and ascribing to the latter the functions of the former. The mistake is that of referring a person to his own notes for the origin of his knowledge. If a person is asked a question, and is at the moment unable to answer it, he may refresh his memory by turning to a memorandum which he carries about with him. But if he were asked, how the fact came to his knowledge, he would scarcely answer, because it was set down in his note-book: unless the book was written, like the Koran, with a quill from the wing of the angel Gabriel.
Assuming that the proposition, The Duke of Wellington is mortal, is immediately an inference from the proposition, All men are mortal; whence do we derive our knowledge of that general truth? Of course from observation. Now, all which man can observe are individual cases. From these all general truths must be drawn, and into these they may be again resolved; for a general truth is but an aggregate of particular truths; a comprehensive expression, by which an indefinite number of individual facts are affirmed or denied at once. But a general proposition is not merely a compendious form for recording and preserving in the memory a number of particular facts, all of which have been observed. Generalization is not a process of mere naming, it is also a process of inference. From instances which we have observed, we feel warranted in concluding, that what we found true in those instances, holds in all similar ones, past, present, and future, however numerous they may be. We then, by that valuable contrivance of language which enables us to speak of many as if they were one, record all that we have observed, together with all that we infer from our observations, in one concise expression; and have thus only one proposition, instead of an endless number, to remember or to communicate. The results of many observations and inferences, and instructions for making innumerable inferences in unforeseen cases, are compressed into one short sentence.
When, therefore, we conclude from the death of John and Thomas, and every other person we ever heard of in whose case the experiment had been fairly tried, that the Duke of Wellington is mortal like the rest; we may, indeed, pass through the generalization, All men are mortal, as an intermediate stage; but it is not in the latter half of the process, the descent from all men to the Duke of Wellington, that the inference resides. The inference is finished when we have asserted that all men are mortal. What remains to be performed afterward is merely deciphering our own notes.
Archbishop Whately has contended that syllogizing, or reasoning from generals to particulars, is not, agreeably to the vulgar idea, a peculiar mode of reasoning, but the philosophical analysis of the mode in which all men reason, and must do so if they reason at all. With the deference due to so high an authority, I can not help thinking that the vulgar notion is, in this case, the more correct. If, from our experience of John, Thomas, etc., who once were living, but are now dead, we are entitled to conclude that all human beings are mortal, we might surely without any logical inconsequence have concluded at once from those instances, that the Duke of Wellington is mortal. The mortality of John, Thomas, and others is, after all, the whole evidence we have for the mortality of the Duke of Wellington. Not one iota is added to the proof by interpolating a general proposition. Since the individual cases are all the evidence we can possess, evidence which no logical form into which we choose to throw it can make greater than it is; and since that evidence is either sufficient in itself, or, if insufficient for the one purpose, can not be sufficient for the other; I am unable to see why we should be forbidden to take the shortest cut from these sufficient premises to the conclusion, and constrained to travel the "high priori road," by the arbitrary fiat of logicians. I can not perceive why it should be impossible to journey from one place to another unless we "march up a hill, and then march down again." It may be the safest road, and there may be a resting-place at the top of the hill, affording a commanding view of the surrounding country; but for the mere purpose of arriving at our journey's end, our taking that road is perfectly optional; it is a question of time, trouble, and danger.
Not only may we reason from particulars to particulars without passing through generals, but we perpetually do so reason. All our earliest inferences are of this nature. From the first dawn of intelligence we draw inferences, but years elapse before we learn the use of general language. The child, who, having burned his fingers, avoids to thrust them again into the fire, has reasoned or inferred, though he has never thought of the general maxim, Fire burns. He knows from memory that he has been burned, and on this evidence believes, when he sees a candle, that if he puts his finger into the flame of it, he will be burned again. He believes this in every case which happens to arise; but without looking, in each instance, beyond the present case. He is not generalizing; he is inferring a particular from particulars. In the same way, also, brutes reason. There is no ground for attributing to any of the lower animals the use of signs, of such a nature as to render general propositions possible. But those animals profit by experience, and avoid what they have found to cause them pain, in the same manner, though not always with the same skill, as a human creature. Not only the burned child, but the burned dog, dreads the fire.
I believe that, in point of fact, when drawing inferences from our personal experience, and not from maxims handed down to us by books or tradition, we much oftener conclude from particulars to particulars directly, than through the intermediate agency of any general proposition. We are constantly reasoning from ourselves to other people, or from one person to another, without giving ourselves the trouble to erect our observations into general maxims of human or external nature. When we conclude that some person will, on some given occasion, feel or act so and so, we sometimes judge from an enlarged consideration of the manner in which human beings in general, or persons of some particular character, are accustomed to feel and act; but much oftener from merely recollecting the feelings and conduct of the same person in some previous instance, or from considering how we should feel or act ourselves. It is not only the village matron, who, when called to a consultation upon the case of a neighbor's child, pronounces on the evil and its remedy simply on the recollection and authority of what she accounts the similar case of her Lucy. We all, where we have no definite maxims to steer by, guide ourselves in the same way: and if we have an extensive experience, and retain its impressions strongly, we may acquire in this manner a very considerable power of accurate judgment, which we may be utterly incapable of justifying or of communicating to others. Among the higher order of practical intellects there have been many of whom it was remarked how admirably they suited their means to their ends, without being able to give any sufficient reasons for what they did; and applied, or seemed to apply, recondite principles which they were wholly unable to state. This is a natural consequence of having a mind stored with appropriate particulars, and having been long accustomed to reason at once from these to fresh particulars, without practicing the habit of stating to one's self or to others the corresponding general propositions. An old warrior, on a rapid glance at the outlines of the ground, is able at once to give the necessary orders for a skillful arrangement of his troops; though if he has received little theoretical instruction, and has seldom been called upon to answer to other people for his conduct, he may never have had in his mind a single general theorem respecting the relation between ground and array. But his experience of encampments, in circumstances more or less similar, has left a number of vivid, unexpressed, ungeneralized analogies in his mind, the most appropriate of which, instantly suggesting itself, determines him to a judicious arrangement.
The skill of an uneducated person in the use of weapons, or of tools, is of a precisely similar nature. The savage who executes unerringly the exact throw which brings down his game, or his enemy, in the manner most suited to his purpose, under the operation of all the conditions necessarily involved, the weight and form of the weapon, the direction and distance of the object, the action of the wind, etc., owes this power to a long series of previous experiments, the results of which he certainly never framed into any verbal theorems or rules. The same thing may generally be said of any other extraordinary manual dexterity. Not long ago a Scotch manufacturer procured from England, at a high rate of wages, a working dyer, famous for producing very fine colors, with the view of teaching to his other workmen the same skill. The workman came; but his mode of proportioning the ingredients, in which lay the secret of the effects he produced, was by taking them up in handfuls, while the common method was to weigh them. The manufacturer sought to make him turn his handling system into an equivalent weighing system, that the general principle of his peculiar mode of proceeding might be ascertained. This, however, the man found himself quite unable to do, and therefore could impart his skill to nobody. He had, from the individual cases of his own experience, established a connection in his mind between fine effects of color, and tactual perceptions in handling his dyeing materials; and from these perceptions he could, in any particular case, infer the means to be employed, and the effects which would be produced, but could not put others in possession of the grounds on which he proceeded, from having never generalized them in his own mind, or expressed them in language.
Almost every one knows Lord Mansfield's advice to a man of practical good sense, who, being appointed governor of a colony, had to preside in its courts of justice, without previous judicial practice or legal education. The advice was to give his decision boldly, for it would probably be right; but never to venture on assigning reasons, for they would almost infallibly be wrong. In cases like this, which are of no uncommon occurrence, it would be absurd to suppose that the bad reason was the source of the good decision. Lord Mansfield knew that if any reason were assigned it would be necessarily an afterthought, the judge being _in fact_ guided by impressions from past experience, without the circuitous process of framing general principles from them, and that if he attempted to frame any such he would assuredly fail. Lord Mansfield, however, would not have doubted that a man of equal experience who had also a mind stored with general propositions derived by legitimate induction from that experience, would have been greatly preferable as a judge, to one, however sagacious, who could not be trusted with the explanation and justification of his own judgments. The cases of men of talent performing wonderful things they know not how, are examples of the rudest and most spontaneous form of the operations of superior minds. It is a defect in them, and often a source of errors, not to have generalized as they went on; but generalization, though a help, the most important indeed of all helps, is not an essential.
Even the scientifically instructed, who possess, in the form of general propositions, a systematic record of the results of the experience of mankind, need not always revert to those general propositions in order to apply that experience to a new case. It is justly remarked by Dugald Stewart, that though the reasonings in mathematics depend entirely on the axioms, it is by no means necessary to our seeing the conclusiveness of the proof, that the axioms should be expressly adverted to. When it is inferred that AB is equal to CD because each of them is equal to EF, the most uncultivated understanding, as soon as the propositions were understood, would assent to the inference, without having ever heard of the general truth that "things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another." This remark of Stewart, consistently followed out, goes to the root, as I conceive, of the philosophy of ratiocination; and it is to be regretted that he himself stopped short at a much more limited application of it. He saw that the general propositions on which a reasoning is said to depend, may, in certain cases, be altogether omitted, without impairing its probative force. But he imagined this to be a peculiarity belonging to axioms; and argued from it, that axioms are not the foundations or first principles of geometry, from which all the other truths of the science are synthetically deduced (as the laws of motion and of the composition of forces in dynamics, the equal mobility of fluids in hydrostatics, the laws of reflection and refraction in optics, are the first principles of those sciences); but are merely necessary assumptions, self-evident indeed, and the denial of which would annihilate all demonstration, but from which, as premises, nothing can be demonstrated. In the present, as in many other instances, this thoughtful and elegant writer has perceived an important truth, but only by halves. Finding, in the case of geometrical axioms, that general names have not any talismanic virtue for conjuring new truths out of the well where they lie hid, and not seeing that this is equally true in every other case of generalization, he contended that axioms are in their nature barren of consequences, and that the really fruitful truths, the real first principles of geometry, are the definitions; that the definition, for example, of the circle is to the properties of the circle, what the laws of equilibrium and of the pressure of the atmosphere are to the rise of the mercury in the Torricellian tube. Yet all that he had asserted respecting the function to which the axioms are confined in the demonstrations of geometry, holds equally true of the definitions. Every demonstration in Euclid might be carried on without them. This is apparent from the ordinary process of proving a proposition of geometry by means of a diagram. What assumption, in fact, do we set out from, to demonstrate by a diagram any of the properties of the circle? Not that in all circles the radii are equal, but only that they are so in the circle ABC. As our warrant for assuming this, we appeal, it is true, to the definition of a circle in general; but it is only necessary that the assumption be granted in the case of the particular circle supposed. From this, which is not a general but a singular proposition, combined with other propositions of a similar kind, some of which when generalized are called definitions, and other axioms, we prove that a certain conclusion is true, not of all circles, but of the particular circle ABC; or at least would be so, if the facts precisely accorded with our assumptions. The enunciation, as it is called, that is, the general theorem which stands at the head of the demonstration, is not the proposition actually demonstrated. One instance only is demonstrated: but the process by which this is done, is a process which, when we consider its nature, we perceive might be exactly copied in an indefinite number of other instances; in every instance which conforms to certain conditions. The contrivance of general language furnishing us with terms which connote these conditions, we are able to assert this indefinite multitude of truths in a single expression, and this expression is the general theorem. By dropping the use of diagrams, and substituting, in the demonstrations, general phrases for the letters of the alphabet, we might prove the general theorem directly, that is, we might demonstrate all the cases at once; and to do this we must, of course, employ as our premises, the axioms and definitions in their general form. But this only means, that if we can prove an individual conclusion by assuming an individual fact, then in whatever case we are warranted in making an exactly similar assumption, we may draw an exactly similar conclusion. The definition is a sort of notice to ourselves and others, what assumptions we think ourselves entitled to make. And so in all cases, the general propositions, whether called definitions, axioms, or laws of nature, which we lay down at the beginning of our reasonings, are merely abridged statements, in a kind of short-hand, of the particular facts, which, as occasion arises, we either think we may proceed on as proved, or intend to assume. In any one demonstration it is enough if we assume for a particular case suitably selected, what by the statement of the definition or principle we announce that we intend to assume in all cases which may arise. The definition of the circle, therefore, is to one of Euclid's demonstrations, exactly what, according to Stewart, the axioms are; that is, the demonstration does not depend on it, but yet if we deny it the demonstration fails. The proof does not rest on the general assumption, but on a similar assumption confined to the particular case: that case, however, being chosen as a specimen or paradigm of the whole class of cases included in the theorem, there can be no ground for making the assumption in that case which does not exist in every other; and to deny the assumption as a general truth, is to deny the right of making it in the particular instance.
There are, undoubtedly, the most ample reasons for stating both the principles and the theorems in their general form, and these will be explained presently, so far as explanation is requisite. But, that unpracticed learners, even in making use of one theorem to demonstrate another, reason rather from particular to particular than from the general proposition, is manifest from the difficulty they find in applying a theorem to a case in which the configuration of the diagram is extremely unlike that of the diagram by which the original theorem was demonstrated. A difficulty which, except in cases of unusual mental power, long practice can alone remove, and removes chiefly by rendering us familiar with all the configurations consistent with the general conditions of the theorem.
§ 4. From the considerations now adduced, the following conclusions seem to be established. All inference is from particulars to particulars: General propositions are merely registers of such inferences already made, and short formulæ for making more: The major premise of a syllogism, consequently, is a formula of this description: and the conclusion is not an inference drawn from the formula, but an inference drawn according to the formula: the real logical antecedent, or premise, being the particular facts from which the general proposition was collected by induction. Those facts, and the individual instances which supplied them, may have been forgotten: but a record remains, not indeed descriptive of the facts themselves, but showing how those cases may be distinguished, respecting which, the facts, when known, were considered to warrant a given inference. According to the indications of this record we draw our conclusion: which is, to all intents and purposes, a conclusion from the forgotten facts. For this it is essential that we should read the record correctly: and the rules of the syllogism are a set of precautions to insure our doing so.
This view of the functions of the syllogism is confirmed by the consideration of precisely those cases which might be expected to be least favorable to it, namely, those in which ratiocination is independent of any previous induction. We have already observed that the syllogism, in the ordinary course of our reasoning, is only the latter half of the process of traveling from premises to a conclusion. There are, however, some peculiar cases in which it is the whole process. Particulars alone are capable of being subjected to observation; and all knowledge which is derived from observation, begins, therefore, of necessity, in particulars; but our knowledge may, in cases of certain descriptions, be conceived as coming to us from other sources than observation. It may present itself as coming from testimony, which, on the occasion and for the purpose in hand, is accepted as of an authoritative character: and the information thus communicated, may be conceived to comprise not only particular facts but general propositions, as when a scientific doctrine is accepted without examination on the authority of writers, or a theological doctrine on that of Scripture. Or the generalization may not be, in the ordinary sense, an assertion at all, but a command; a law, not in the philosophical, but in the moral and political sense of the term: an expression of the desire of a superior, that we, or any number of other persons, shall conform our conduct to certain general instructions. So far as this asserts a fact, namely, a volition of the legislator, that fact is an individual fact, and the proposition, therefore, is not a general proposition. But the description therein contained of the conduct which it is the will of the legislator that his subjects should observe, is general. The proposition asserts, not that all men are any thing, but that all men shall do something.
In both these cases the generalities are the original data, and the particulars are elicited from them by a process which correctly resolves itself into a series of syllogisms. The real nature, however, of the supposed deductive process, is evident enough. The only point to be determined is, whether the authority which declared the general proposition, intended to include this case in it; and whether the legislator intended his command to apply to the present case among others, or not. This is ascertained by examining whether the case possesses the marks by which, as those authorities have signified, the cases which they meant to certify or to influence may be known. The object of the inquiry is to make out the witness's or the legislator's intention, through the indication given by their words. This is a question, as the Germans express it, of hermeneutics. The operation is not a process of inference, but a process of interpretation.
In this last phrase we have obtained an expression which appears to me to characterize, more aptly than any other, the functions of the syllogism in all cases. When the premises are given by authority, the function of Reasoning is to ascertain the testimony of a witness, or the will of a legislator, by interpreting the signs in which the one has intimated his assertion and the other his command. In like manner, when the premises are derived from observation, the function of Reasoning is to ascertain what we (or our predecessors) formerly thought might be inferred from the observed facts, and to do this by interpreting a memorandum of ours, or of theirs. The memorandum reminds us, that from evidence, more or less carefully weighed, it formerly appeared that a certain attribute might be inferred wherever we perceive a certain mark. The proposition, All men are mortal (for instance) shows that we have had experience from which we thought it followed that the attributes connoted by the term man, are a mark of mortality. But when we conclude that the Duke of Wellington is mortal, we do not infer this from the memorandum, but from the former experience. All that we infer from the memorandum is our own previous belief, (or that of those who transmitted to us the proposition), concerning the inferences which that former experience would warrant.
This view of the nature of the syllogism renders consistent and intelligible what otherwise remains obscure and confused in the theory of Archbishop Whately and other enlightened defenders of the syllogistic doctrine, respecting the limits to which its functions are confined. They affirm in as explicit terms as can be used, that the sole office of general reasoning is to prevent inconsistency in our opinions; to prevent us from assenting to any thing, the truth of which would contradict something to which we had previously on good grounds given our assent. And they tell us, that the sole ground which a syllogism affords for assenting to the conclusion, is that the supposition of its being false, combined with the supposition that the premises are true, would lead to a contradiction in terms. Now this would be but a lame account of the real grounds which we have for believing the facts which we learn from reasoning, in contradistinction to observation. The true reason why we believe that the Duke of Wellington will die, is that his fathers, and our fathers, and all other persons who were contemporary with them, have died. Those facts are the real premises of the reasoning. But we are not led to infer the conclusion from those premises, by the necessity of avoiding any verbal inconsistency. There is no contradiction in supposing that all those persons have died, and that the Duke of Wellington may, notwithstanding, live forever. But there would be a contradiction if we first, on the ground of those same premises, made a general assertion including and covering the case of the Duke of Wellington, and then refused to stand to it in the individual case. There is an inconsistency to be avoided between the memorandum we make of the inferences which may be justly drawn in future cases, and the inferences we actually draw in those cases when they arise. With this view we interpret our own formula, precisely as a judge interprets a law: in order that we may avoid drawing any inferences not conformable to our former intention, as a judge avoids giving any decision not conformable to the legislator's intention. The rules for this interpretation are the rules of the syllogism: and its sole purpose is to maintain consistency between the conclusions we draw in every particular case, and the previous general directions for drawing them; whether those general directions were framed by ourselves as the result of induction, or were received by us from an authority competent to give them.
§ 5. In the above observations it has, I think, been shown, that, though there is always a process of reasoning or inference where a syllogism is used, the syllogism is not a correct analysis of that process of reasoning or inference; which is, on the contrary (when not a mere inference from testimony), an inference from particulars to particulars; authorized by a previous inference from particulars to generals, and substantially the same with it; of the nature, therefore, of Induction. But while these conclusions appear to me undeniable, I must yet enter a protest, as strong as that of Archbishop Whately himself, against the doctrine that the syllogistic art is useless for the purposes of reasoning. The reasoning lies in the act of generalization, not in interpreting the record of that act; but the syllogistic form is an indispensable collateral security for the correctness of the generalization itself.
It has already been seen, that if we have a collection of particulars sufficient for grounding an induction, we need not frame a general proposition; we may reason at once from those particulars to other particulars. But it is to be remarked withal, that whenever, from a set of particular cases, we can legitimately draw any inference, we may legitimately make our inference a general one. If, from observation and experiment, we can conclude to one new case, so may we to an indefinite number. If that which has held true in our past experience will therefore hold in time to come, it will hold not merely in some individual case, but in all cases of some given description. Every induction, therefore, which suffices to prove one fact, proves an indefinite multitude of facts: the experience which justifies a single prediction must be such as will suffice to bear out a general theorem. This theorem it is extremely important to ascertain and declare, in its broadest form of generality; and thus to place before our minds, in its full extent, the whole of what our evidence must prove if it proves any thing.
This throwing of the whole body of possible inferences from a given set of particulars, into one general expression, operates as a security for their being just inferences, in more ways than one. First, the general principle presents a larger object to the imagination than any of the singular propositions which it contains. A process of thought which leads to a comprehensive generality, is felt as of greater importance than one which terminates in an insulated fact; and the mind is, even unconsciously, led to bestow greater attention upon the process, and to weigh more carefully the sufficiency of the experience appealed to, for supporting the inference grounded upon it. There is another, and a more important, advantage. In reasoning from a course of individual observations to some new and unobserved case, which we are but imperfectly acquainted with (or we should not be inquiring into it), and in which, since we are inquiring into it, we probably feel a peculiar interest; there is very little to prevent us from giving way to negligence, or to any bias which may affect our wishes or our imagination, and, under that influence, accepting insufficient evidence as sufficient. But if, instead of concluding straight to the particular case, we place before ourselves an entire class of facts--the whole contents of a general proposition, every tittle of which is legitimately inferable from our premises, if that one particular conclusion is so; there is then a considerable likelihood that if the premises are insufficient, and the general inference therefore, groundless, it will comprise within it some fact or facts the reverse of which we already know to be true; and we shall thus discover the error in our generalization by a reductio ad impossibile.
Thus if, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a subject of the Roman empire, under the bias naturally given to the imagination and expectations by the lives and characters of the Antonines, had been disposed to expect that Commodus would be a just ruler; supposing him to stop there, he might only have been undeceived by sad experience. But if he reflected that this expectation could not be justifiable unless from the same evidence he was warranted in concluding some general proposition, as, for instance, that all Roman emperors are just rulers; he would immediately have thought of Nero, Domitian, and other instances, which, showing the falsity of the general conclusion, and therefore the insufficiency of the premises, would have warned him that those premises could not prove in the instance of Commodus, what they were inadequate to prove in any collection of cases in which his was included.
The advantage, in judging whether any controverted inference is legitimate, of referring to a parallel case, is universally acknowledged. But by ascending to the general proposition, we bring under our view not one parallel case only, but all possible parallel cases at once; all cases to which the same set of evidentiary considerations are applicable.
When, therefore, we argue from a number of known cases to another case supposed to be analogous, it is always possible, and generally advantageous, to divert our argument into the circuitous channel of an induction from those known cases to a general proposition, and a subsequent application of that general proposition to the unknown case. This second part of the operation, which, as before observed, is essentially a process of interpretation, will be resolvable into a syllogism or a series of syllogisms, the majors of which will be general propositions embracing whole classes of cases; every one of which propositions must be true in all its extent, if the argument is maintainable. If, therefore, any fact fairly coming within the range of one of these general propositions, and consequently asserted by it, is known or suspected to be other than the proposition asserts it to be, this mode of stating the argument causes us to know or to suspect that the original observations, which are the real grounds of our conclusion, are not sufficient to support it. And in proportion to the greater chance of our detecting the inconclusiveness of our evidence, will be the increased reliance we are entitled to place in it if no such evidence of defect shall appear.
The value, therefore, of the syllogistic form, and of the rules for using it correctly, does not consist in their being the form and the rules according to which our reasonings are necessarily, or even usually, made; but in their furnishing us with a mode in which those reasonings may always be represented, and which is admirably calculated, if they are inconclusive, to bring their inconclusiveness to light. An induction from particulars to generals, followed by a syllogistic process from those generals to other particulars, is a form in which we may always state our reasonings if we please. It is not a form in which we must reason, but it is a form in which we may reason, and into which it is indispensable to throw our reasoning, when there is any doubt of its validity: though when the case is familiar and little complicated, and there is no suspicion of error, we may, and do, reason at once from the known particular cases to unknown ones.(58)
These are the uses of syllogism, as a mode of verifying any given argument. Its ulterior uses, as respects the general course of our intellectual operations, hardly require illustration, being in fact the acknowledged uses of general language. They amount substantially to this, that the inductions may be made once for all: a single careful interrogation of experience may suffice, and the result may be registered in the form of a general proposition, which is committed to memory or to writing, and from which afterward we have only to syllogize. The particulars of our experiments may then be dismissed from the memory, in which it would be impossible to retain so great a multitude of details; while the knowledge which those details afforded for future use, and which would otherwise be lost as soon as the observations were forgotten, or as their record became too bulky for reference, is retained in a commodious and immediately available shape by means of general language.
Against this advantage is to be set the countervailing inconvenience, that inferences originally made on insufficient evidence become consecrated, and, as it were, hardened into general maxims; and the mind cleaves to them from habit, after it has outgrown any liability to be misled by similar fallacious appearances if they were now for the first time presented; but having forgotten the particulars, it does not think of revising its own former decision. An inevitable drawback, which, however considerable in itself, forms evidently but a small set-off against the immense benefits of general language.
The use of the syllogism is in truth no other than the use of general propositions in reasoning. We can reason without them; in simple and obvious cases we habitually do so; minds of great sagacity can do it in cases not simple and obvious, provided their experience supplies them with instances essentially similar to every combination of circumstances likely to arise. But other minds, and the same minds where they have not the same pre-eminent advantages of personal experience, are quite helpless without the aid of general propositions, wherever the case presents the smallest complication; and if we made no general propositions, few persons would get much beyond those simple inferences which are drawn by the more intelligent of the brutes. Though not necessary to reasoning, general propositions are necessary to any considerable progress in reasoning. It is, therefore, natural and indispensable to separate the process of investigation into two parts; and obtain general formulæ for determining what inferences may be drawn, before the occasion arises for drawing the inferences. The work of drawing them is then that of applying the formulæ; and the rules of syllogism are a system of securities for the correctness of the application.
§ 6. To complete the series of considerations connected with the philosophical character of the syllogism, it is requisite to consider, since the syllogism is not the universal type of the reasoning process, what is the real type. This resolves itself into the question, what is the nature of the minor premise, and in what manner it contributes to establish the conclusion: for as to the major, we now fully understand, that the place which it nominally occupies in our reasonings, properly belongs to the individual facts or observations of which it expresses the general result; the major itself being no real part of the argument, but an intermediate halting-place for the mind, interposed by an artifice of language between the real premises and the conclusion, by way of a security, which it is in a most material degree, for the correctness of the process. The minor, however, being an indispensable part of the syllogistic expression of an argument, without doubt either is, or corresponds to, an equally indispensable part of the argument itself, and we have only to inquire what part.
It is perhaps worth while to notice here a speculation of a philosopher to whom mental science is much indebted, but who, though a very penetrating, was a very hasty thinker, and whose want of due circumspection rendered him fully as remarkable for what he did not see, as for what he saw. I allude to Dr. Thomas Brown, whose theory of ratiocination is peculiar. He saw the petitio principii which is inherent in every syllogism, if we consider the major to be itself the evidence by which the conclusion is proved, instead of being, what in fact it is, an assertion of the existence of evidence sufficient to prove any conclusion of a given description. Seeing this, Dr. Brown not only failed to see the immense advantage, in point of security for correctness, which is gained by interposing this step between the real evidence and the conclusion; but he thought it incumbent on him to strike out the major altogether from the reasoning process, without substituting any thing else, and maintained that our reasonings consist only of the minor premise and the conclusion, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal: thus actually suppressing, as an unnecessary step in the argument, the appeal to former experience. The absurdity of this was disguised from him by the opinion he adopted, that reasoning is merely analyzing our own general notions, or abstract ideas; and that the proposition, Socrates is mortal, is evolved from the proposition, Socrates is a man, simply by recognizing the notion of mortality as already contained in the notion we form of a man.
After the explanations so fully entered into on the subject of propositions, much further discussion can not be necessary to make the radical error of this view of ratiocination apparent. If the word man connoted mortality; if the meaning of "mortal" were involved in the meaning of "man;" we might, undoubtedly, evolve the conclusion from the minor alone, because the minor would have already asserted it. But if, as is in fact the case, the word man does not connote mortality, how does it appear that in the mind of every person who admits Socrates to be a man, the idea of man must include the idea of mortality? Dr. Brown could not help seeing this difficulty, and in order to avoid it, was led, contrary to his intention, to re-establish, under another name, that step in the argument which corresponds to the major, by affirming the necessity of previously perceiving the relation between the idea of man and the idea of mortal. If the reasoner has not previously perceived this relation, he will not, says Dr. Brown, infer because Socrates is a man, that Socrates is mortal. But even this admission, though amounting to a surrender of the doctrine that an argument consists of the minor and the conclusion alone, will not save the remainder of Dr. Brown's theory. The failure of assent to the argument does not take place merely because the reasoner, for want of due analysis, does not perceive that his idea of man includes the idea of mortality; it takes place, much more commonly, because in his mind that relation between the two ideas has never existed. And in truth it never does exist, except as the result of experience. Consenting, for the sake of the argument, to discuss the question on a supposition of which we have recognized the radical incorrectness, namely, that the meaning of a proposition relates to the ideas of the things spoken of, and not to the things themselves; I must yet observe, that the idea of man, as a universal idea, the common property of all rational creatures, can not involve any thing but what is strictly implied in the name. If any one includes in his own private idea of man, as no doubt is always the case, some other attributes, such for instance as mortality, he does so only as the consequence of experience, after having satisfied himself that all men possess that attribute: so that whatever the idea contains, in any person's mind, beyond what is included in the conventional signification of the word, has been added to it as the result of assent to a proposition; while Dr. Brown's theory requires us to suppose, on the contrary, that assent to the proposition is produced by evolving, through an analytic process, this very element out of the idea. This theory, therefore, may be considered as sufficiently refuted; and the minor premise must be regarded as totally insufficient to prove the conclusion, except with the assistance of the major, or of that which the major represents, namely, the various singular propositions expressive of the series of observations, of which the generalization called the major premise is the result.
In the argument, then, which proves that Socrates is mortal, one indispensable part of the premises will be as follows: "My father, and my father's father, A, B, C, and an indefinite number of other persons, were mortal;" which is only an expression in different words of the observed fact that they have died. This is the major premise divested of the petitio principii, and cut down to as much as is really known by direct evidence.
In order to connect this proposition with the conclusion Socrates is mortal, the additional link necessary is such a proposition as the following: "Socrates resembles my father, and my father's father, and the other individuals specified." This proposition we assert when we say that Socrates is a man. By saying so we likewise assert in what respect he resembles them, namely, in the attributes connoted by the word man. And we conclude that he further resembles them in the attribute mortality.
§ 7. We have thus obtained what we were seeking, a universal type of the reasoning process. We find it resolvable in all cases into the following elements: Certain individuals have a given attribute; an individual or individuals resemble the former in certain other attributes; therefore they resemble them also in the given attribute. This type of ratiocination does not claim, like the syllogism, to be conclusive from the mere form of the expression; nor can it possibly be so. That one proposition does or does not assert the very fact which was already asserted in another, may appear from the form of the expression, that is, from a comparison of the language; but when the two propositions assert facts which are bona fide different, whether the one fact proves the other or not can never appear from the language, but must depend on other considerations. Whether, from the attributes in which Socrates resembles those men who have heretofore died, it is allowable to infer that he resembles them also in being mortal, is a question of Induction; and is to be decided by the principles or canons which we shall hereafter recognize as tests of the correct performance of that great mental operation.
Meanwhile, however, it is certain, as before remarked, that if this inference can be drawn as to Socrates, it can be drawn as to all others who resemble the observed individuals in the same attributes in which he resembles them; that is (to express the thing concisely) of all mankind. If, therefore, the argument be admissible in the case of Socrates, we are at liberty, once for all, to treat the possession of the attributes of man as a mark, or satisfactory evidence, of the attribute of mortality. This we do by laying down the universal proposition, All men are mortal, and interpreting this, as occasion arises, in its application to Socrates and others. By this means we establish a very convenient division of the entire logical operation into two steps; first, that of ascertaining what attributes are marks of mortality; and, secondly, whether any given individuals possess those marks. And it will generally be advisable, in our speculations on the reasoning process, to consider this double operation as in fact taking place, and all reasoning as carried on in the form into which it must necessarily be thrown to enable us to apply to it any test of its correct performance.
Although, therefore, all processes of thought in which the ultimate premises are particulars, whether we conclude from particulars to a general formula, or from particulars to other particulars according to that formula, are equally Induction; we shall yet, conformably to usage, consider the name Induction as more peculiarly belonging to the process of establishing the general proposition, and the remaining operation, which is substantially that of interpreting the general proposition, we shall call by its usual name, Deduction. And we shall consider every process by which any thing is inferred respecting an unobserved case, as consisting of an Induction followed by a Deduction; because, although the process needs not necessarily be carried on in this form, it is always susceptible of the form, and must be thrown into it when assurance of scientific accuracy is needed and desired.
§ 8. The theory of the syllogism laid down in the preceding pages, has obtained, among other important adhesions, three of peculiar value: those of Sir John Herschel,(59) Dr. Whewell,(60) and Mr. Bailey;(61) Sir John Herschel considering the doctrine, though not strictly "a discovery," having been anticipated by Berkeley,(62) to be "one of the greatest steps which have yet been made in the philosophy of Logic." "When we consider" (to quote the further words of the same authority) "the inveteracy of the habits and prejudices which it has cast to the winds," there is no cause for misgiving in the fact that other thinkers, no less entitled to consideration, have formed a very different estimate of it. Their principal objection can not be better or more succinctly stated than by borrowing a sentence from Archbishop Whately.(63) "In every case where an inference is drawn from Induction (unless that name is to be given to a mere random guess without any grounds at all) we must form a judgment that the instance or instances adduced are sufficient to authorize the conclusion; that it is allowable to take these instances as a sample warranting an inference respecting the whole class;" and the expression of this judgment in words (it has been said by several of my critics) is the major premise.
I quite admit that the major is an affirmation of the sufficiency of the evidence on which the conclusion rests. That it is so, is the very essence of my own theory. And whoever admits that the major premise is only this, adopts the theory in its essentials.
But I can not concede that this recognition of the sufficiency of the evidence--that is, of the correctness of the induction--is a part of the induction itself; unless we ought to say that it is a part of every thing we do, to satisfy ourselves that it has been done rightly. We conclude from known instances to unknown by the impulse of the generalizing propensity; and (until after a considerable amount of practice and mental discipline) the question of the sufficiency of the evidence is only raised by a retrospective act, turning back upon our own footsteps, and examining whether we were warranted in doing what we have provisionally done. To speak of this reflex operation as part of the original one, requiring to be expressed in words in order that the verbal formula may correctly represent the psychological process, appears to me false psychology.(64) We review our syllogistic as well as our inductive processes, and recognize that they have been correctly performed; but logicians do not add a third premise to the syllogism, to express this act of recognition. A careful copyist verifies his transcript by collating it with the original; and if no error appears, he recognizes that the transcript has been correctly made. But we do not call the examination of the copy a part of the act of copying.
The conclusion in an induction is inferred from the evidence itself, and not from a recognition of the sufficiency of the evidence; as I infer that my friend is walking toward me because I see him, and not because I recognize that my eyes are open, and that eyesight is a means of knowledge. In all operations which require care, it is good to assure ourselves that the process has been performed accurately; but the testing of the process is not the process itself; and, besides, may have been omitted altogether, and yet the process be correct. It is precisely because that operation is omitted in ordinary unscientific reasoning, that there is any thing gained in certainty by throwing reasoning into the syllogistic form. To make sure, as far as possible, that it shall not be omitted, we make the testing operation a part of the reasoning process itself. We insist that the inference from particulars to particulars shall pass through a general proposition. But this is a security for good reasoning, not a condition of all reasoning; and in some cases not even a security. Our most familiar inferences are all made before we learn the use of general propositions; and a person of untutored sagacity will skillfully apply his acquired experience to adjacent cases, though he would bungle grievously in fixing the limits of the appropriate general theorem. But though he may conclude rightly, he never, properly speaking, knows whether he has done so or not; he has not tested his reasoning. Now, this is precisely what forms of reasoning do for us. We do not need them to enable us to reason, but to enable us to know whether we reason correctly.
In still further answer to the objection, it may be added that--even when the test has been applied, and the sufficiency of the evidence recognized--if it is sufficient to support the general proposition, it is sufficient also to support an inference from particulars to particulars without passing through the general proposition. The inquirer who has logically satisfied himself that the conditions of legitimate induction were realized in the cases A, B, C, would be as much justified in concluding directly to the Duke of Wellington as in concluding to all men. The general conclusion is never legitimate, unless the particular one would be so too; and in no sense, intelligible to me, can the particular conclusion be said to be drawn from the general one. Whenever there is ground for drawing any conclusion at all from particular instances, there is ground for a general conclusion; but that this general conclusion should be actually drawn, however useful, can not be an indispensable condition of the validity of the inference in the particular case. A man gives away sixpence by the same power by which he disposes of his whole fortune; but it is not necessary to the legality of the smaller act, that he should make a formal assertion of his right to the greater one.
Some additional remarks, in reply to minor objections, are appended.(65)
§ 9. The preceding considerations enable us to understand the true nature of what is termed, by recent writers, Formal Logic, and the relation between it and Logic in the widest sense. Logic, as I conceive it, is the entire theory of the ascertainment of reasoned or inferred truth. Formal Logic, therefore, which Sir William Hamilton from his own point of view, and Archbishop Whately from his, have represented as the whole of Logic properly so called, is really a very subordinate part of it, not being directly concerned with the process of Reasoning or Inference in the sense in which that process is a part of the Investigation of Truth. What, then, is Formal Logic? The name seems to be properly applied to all that portion of doctrine which relates to the equivalence of different modes of expression; the rules for determining when assertions in a given form imply or suppose the truth or falsity of other assertions. This includes the theory of the Import of Propositions, and of their Conversion, Æquipollence, and Opposition; of those falsely called Inductions (to be hereafter spoken of)(66), in which the apparent generalization is a mere abridged statement of cases known individually; and finally, of the syllogism: while the theory of Naming, and of (what is inseparably connected with it) Definition, though belonging still more to the other and larger kind of logic than to this, is a necessary preliminary to this. The end aimed at by Formal Logic, and attained by the observance of its precepts, is not truth, but consistency. It has been seen that this is the only direct purpose of the rules of the syllogism; the intention and effect of which is simply to keep our inferences or conclusions in complete consistency with our general formulæ or directions for drawing them. The Logic of Consistency is a necessary auxiliary to the logic of truth, not only because what is inconsistent with itself or with other truths can not be true, but also because truth can only be successfully pursued by drawing inferences from experience, which, if warrantable at all, admit of being generalized, and, to test their warrantableness, require to be exhibited in a generalized form; after which the correctness of their application to particular cases is a question which specially concerns the Logic of Consistency. This Logic, not requiring any preliminary knowledge of the processes or conclusions of the various sciences, may be studied with benefit in a much earlier stage of education than the Logic of Truth: and the practice which has empirically obtained of teaching it apart, through elementary treatises which do not attempt to include any thing else, though the reasons assigned for the practice are in general very far from philosophical, admits of philosophical justification.
Of Trains Of Reasoning, And Deductive Sciences.
§ 1. In our analysis of the syllogism, it appeared that the minor premise always affirms a resemblance between a new case and some cases previously known; while the major premise asserts something which, having been found true of those known cases, we consider ourselves warranted in holding true of any other case resembling the former in certain given particulars.
If all ratiocinations resembled, as to the minor premise, the examples which were exclusively employed in the preceding chapter; if the resemblance, which that premise asserts, were obvious to the senses, as in the proposition "Socrates is a man," or were at once ascertainable by direct observation; there would be no necessity for trains of reasoning, and Deductive or Ratiocinative Sciences would not exist. Trains of reasoning exist only for the sake of extending an induction founded, as all inductions must be, on observed cases, to other cases in which we not only can not directly observe the fact which is to be proved, but can not directly observe even the mark which is to prove it.
§ 2. Suppose the syllogism to be, All cows ruminate, the animal which is before me is a cow, therefore it ruminates. The minor, if true at all, is obviously so: the only premise the establishment of which requires any anterior process of inquiry, is the major; and provided the induction of which that premise is the expression was correctly performed, the conclusion respecting the animal now present will be instantly drawn; because, as soon as she is compared with the formula, she will be identified as being included in it. But suppose the syllogism to be the following: All arsenic is poisonous, the substance which is before me is arsenic, therefore it is poisonous. The truth of the minor may not here be obvious at first sight; it may not be intuitively evident, but may itself be known only by inference. It may be the conclusion of another argument, which, thrown into the syllogistic form, would stand thus: Whatever when lighted produces a dark spot on a piece of white porcelain held in the flame, which spot is soluble in hypochloride of calcium, is arsenic; the substance before me conforms to this condition; therefore it is arsenic. To establish, therefore, the ultimate conclusion, The substance before me is poisonous, requires a process, which, in order to be syllogistically expressed, stands in need of two syllogisms; and we have a Train of Reasoning.
When, however, we thus add syllogism to syllogism, we are really adding induction to induction. Two separate inductions must have taken place to render this chain of inference possible; inductions founded, probably, on different sets of individual instances, but which converge in their results, so that the instance which is the subject of inquiry comes within the range of them both. The record of these inductions is contained in the majors of the two syllogisms. First, we, or others for us, have examined various objects which yielded under the given circumstances a dark spot with the given property, and found that they possessed the properties connoted by the word arsenic; they were metallic, volatile, their vapor had a smell of garlic, and so forth. Next, we, or others for us, have examined various specimens which possessed this metallic and volatile character, whose vapor had this smell, etc., and have invariably found that they were poisonous. The first observation we judge that we may extend to all substances whatever which yield that particular kind of dark spot; the second, to all metallic and volatile substances resembling those we examined; and consequently, not to those only which are seen to be such, but to those which are concluded to be such by the prior induction. The substance before us is only seen to come within one of these inductions; but by means of this one, it is brought within the other. We are still, as before, concluding from particulars to particulars; but we are now concluding from particulars observed, to other particulars which are not, as in the simple case, seen to resemble them in material points, but inferred to do so, because resembling them in something else, which we have been led by quite a different set of instances to consider as a mark of the former resemblance.
This first example of a train of reasoning is still extremely simple, the series consisting of only two syllogisms. The following is somewhat more complicated: No government, which earnestly seeks the good of its subjects, is likely to be overthrown; some particular government earnestly seeks the good of its subjects, therefore it is not likely to be overthrown. The major premise in this argument we shall suppose not to be derived from considerations a priori, but to be a generalization from history, which, whether correct or erroneous, must have been founded on observation of governments concerning whose desire of the good of their subjects there was no doubt. It has been found, or thought to be found, that these were not easily overthrown, and it has been deemed that those instances warranted an extension of the same predicate to any and every government which resembles them in the attribute of desiring earnestly the good of its subjects. But does the government in question thus resemble them? This may be debated pro and con by many arguments, and must, in any case, be proved by another induction; for we can not directly observe the sentiments and desires of the persons who carry on the government. To prove the minor, therefore, we require an argument in this form: Every government which acts in a certain manner, desires the good of its subjects; the supposed government acts in that particular manner, therefore it desires the good of its subjects. But is it true that the government acts in the manner supposed? This minor also may require proof; still another induction, as thus: What is asserted by intelligent and disinterested witnesses, may be believed to be true; that the government acts in this manner, is asserted by such witnesses, therefore it may be believed to be true. The argument hence consists of three steps. Having the evidence of our senses that the case of the government under consideration resembles a number of former cases, in the circumstance of having something asserted respecting it by intelligent and disinterested witnesses, we infer, first, that, as in those former instances, so in this instance, the assertion is true. Secondly, what was asserted of the government being that it acts in a particular manner, and other governments or persons having been observed to act in the same manner, the government in question is brought into known resemblance with those other governments or persons; and since they were known to desire the good of the people, it is thereupon, by a second induction, inferred that the particular government spoken of, desires the good of the people. This brings that government into known resemblance with the other governments which were thought likely to escape revolution, and thence, by a third induction, it is concluded that this particular government is also likely to escape. This is still reasoning from particulars to particulars, but we now reason to the new instance from three distinct sets of former instances: to one only of those sets of instances do we directly perceive the new one to be similar; but from that similarity we inductively infer that it has the attribute by which it is assimilated to the next set, and brought within the corresponding induction; after which by a repetition of the same operation we infer it to be similar to the third set, and hence a third induction conducts us to the ultimate conclusion.
§ 3. Notwithstanding the superior complication of these examples, compared with those by which in the preceding chapter we illustrated the general theory of reasoning, every doctrine which we then laid down holds equally true in these more intricate cases. The successive general propositions are not steps in the reasoning, are not intermediate links in the chain of inference, between the particulars observed and those to which we apply the observation. If we had sufficiently capacious memories, and a sufficient power of maintaining order among a huge mass of details, the reasoning could go on without any general propositions; they are mere formulæ for inferring particulars from particulars. The principle of general reasoning is (as before explained), that if, from observation of certain known particulars, what was seen to be true of them can be inferred to be true of any others, it may be inferred of all others which are of a certain description. And in order that we may never fail to draw this conclusion in a new case when it can be drawn correctly, and may avoid drawing it when it can not, we determine once for all what are the distinguishing marks by which such cases may be recognized. The subsequent process is merely that of identifying an object, and ascertaining it to have those marks; whether we identify it by the very marks themselves, or by others which we have ascertained (through another and a similar process) to be marks of those marks. The real inference is always from particulars to particulars, from the observed instances to an unobserved one: but in drawing this inference, we conform to a formula which we have adopted for our guidance in such operations, and which is a record of the criteria by which we thought we had ascertained that we might distinguish when the inference could, and when it could not, be drawn. The real premises are the individual observations, even though they may have been forgotten, or, being the observations of others and not of ourselves, may, to us, never have been known: but we have before us proof that we or others once thought them sufficient for an induction, and we have marks to show whether any new case is one of those to which, if then known, the induction would have been deemed to extend. These marks we either recognize at once, or by the aid of other marks, which by another previous induction we collected to be marks of the first. Even these marks of marks may only be recognized through a third set of marks; and we may have a train of reasoning, of any length, to bring a new case within the scope of an induction grounded on particulars its similarity to which is only ascertained in this indirect manner.
Thus, in the preceding example, the ultimate inductive inference was, that a certain government was not likely to be overthrown; this inference was drawn according to a formula in which desire of the public good was set down as a mark of not being likely to be overthrown; a mark of this mark was, acting in a particular manner; and a mark of acting in that manner was, being asserted to do so by intelligent and disinterested witnesses: this mark, the government under discussion was recognized by the senses as possessing. Hence that government fell within the last induction, and by it was brought within all the others. The perceived resemblance of the case to one set of observed particular cases, brought it into known resemblance with another set, and that with a third.
In the more complex branches of knowledge, the deductions seldom consist, as in the examples hitherto exhibited, of a single chain, a a mark of b, b of c, c of d, therefore a a mark of d. They consist (to carry on the same metaphor) of several chains united at the extremity, as thus: a a mark of d, b of e, c of f, d e f of n, therefore _a b c a mark of n_. Suppose, for example, the following combination of circumstances: 1st, rays of light impinging on a reflecting surface; 2d, that surface parabolic; 3d, those rays parallel to each other and to the axis of the surface. It is to be proved that the concourse of these three circumstances is a mark that the reflected rays will pass through the focus of the parabolic surface. Now, each of the three circumstances is singly a mark of something material to the case. Rays of light impinging on a reflecting surface are a mark that those rays will be reflected at an angle equal to the angle of incidence. The parabolic form of the surface, is a mark that, from any point of it, a line drawn to the focus and a line parallel to the axis will make equal angles with the surface. And finally, the parallelism of the rays to the axis is a mark that their angle of incidence coincides with one of these equal angles. The three marks taken together are therefore a mark of all these three things united. But the three united are evidently a mark that the angle of reflection must coincide with the other of the two equal angles, that formed by a line drawn to the focus; and this again, by the fundamental axiom concerning straight lines, is a mark that the reflected rays pass through the focus. Most chains of physical deduction are of this more complicated type; and even in mathematics such are abundant, as in all propositions where the hypothesis includes numerous conditions: "If a circle be taken, and if within that circle a point be taken, not the centre, and if straight lines be drawn from that point to the circumference, then," etc.
§ 4. The considerations now stated remove a serious difficulty from the view we have taken of reasoning; which view might otherwise have seemed not easily reconcilable with the fact that there are Deductive or Ratiocinative Sciences. It might seem to follow, if all reasoning be induction, that the difficulties of philosophical investigation must lie in the inductions exclusively, and that when these were easy, and susceptible of no doubt or hesitation, there could be no science, or, at least, no difficulties in science. The existence, for example, of an extensive Science of Mathematics, requiring the highest scientific genius in those who contributed to its creation, and calling for a most continued and vigorous exertion of intellect in order to appropriate it when created, may seem hard to be accounted for on the foregoing theory. But the considerations more recently adduced remove the mystery, by showing, that even when the inductions themselves are obvious, there may be much difficulty in finding whether the particular case which is the subject of inquiry comes within them; and ample room for scientific ingenuity in so combining various inductions, as, by means of one within which the case evidently falls, to bring it within others in which it can not be directly seen to be included.
When the more obvious of the inductions which can be made in any science from direct observations, have been made, and general formulas have been framed, determining the limits within which these inductions are applicable; as often as a new case can be at once seen to come within one of the formulas, the induction is applied to the new case, and the business is ended. But new cases are continually arising, which do not obviously come within any formula whereby the question we want solved in respect of them could be answered. Let us take an instance from geometry: and as it is taken only for illustration, let the reader concede to us for the present, what we shall endeavor to prove in the next chapter, that the first principles of geometry are results of induction. Our example shall be the fifth proposition of the first book of Euclid. The inquiry is, Are the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle equal or unequal? The first thing to be considered is, what inductions we have, from which we can infer equality or inequality. For inferring equality we have the following formulæ: Things which being applied to each other coincide, are equals. Things which are equal to the same thing are equals. A whole and the sum of its parts are equals. The sums of equal things are equals. The differences of equal things are equals. There are no other original formulæ to prove equality. For inferring inequality we have the following: A whole and its parts are unequals. The sums of equal things and unequal things are unequals. The differences of equal things and unequal things are unequals. In all, eight formulæ. The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle do not obviously come within any of these. The formulæ specify certain marks of equality and of inequality, but the angles can not be perceived intuitively to have any of those marks. On examination it appears that they have; and we ultimately succeed in bringing them within the formula, "The differences of equal things are equal." Whence comes the difficulty of recognizing these angles as the differences of equal things? Because each of them is the difference not of one pair only, but of innumerable pairs of angles; and out of these we had to imagine and select two, which could either be intuitively perceived to be equals, or possessed some of the marks of equality set down in the various formulæ. By an exercise of ingenuity, which, on the part of the first inventor, deserves to be regarded as considerable, two pairs of angles were hit upon, which united these requisites. First, it could be perceived intuitively that their differences were the angles at the base; and, secondly, they possessed one of the marks of equality, namely, coincidence when applied to one another. This coincidence, however, was not perceived intuitively, but inferred, in conformity to another formula.
For greater clearness, I subjoin an analysis of the demonstration. Euclid, it will be remembered, demonstrates his fifth proposition by means of the fourth. This it is not allowable for us to do, because we are undertaking to trace deductive truths not to prior deductions, but to their original inductive foundation. We must, therefore, use the premises of the fourth proposition instead of its conclusion, and prove the fifth directly from first principles. To do so requires six formulas. (We presuppose an equilateral triangle, whose vertices are A, D, E, with point B on the side AD, and point C on the side AE, such that BC is parallel to DE. We must begin, as in Euclid, by prolonging the equal sides AB, AC, to equal distances, and joining the extremities BE, DC.)
FIRST FORMULA.--The sums of equals are equal.
AD and AE are sums of equals by the supposition. Having that mark of equality, they are concluded by this formula to be equal.
SECOND FORMULA.--_Equal straight lines or angles, being applied to one another, coincide._
AC, AB, are within this formula by supposition; AD, AE, have been brought within it by the preceding step. The angle at A considered as an angle of the triangle ABE, and the same angle considered as an angle of the triangle ACD, are of course within the formula. All these pairs, therefore, possess the property which, according to the second formula, is a mark that when applied to one another they will coincide. Conceive them, then, applied to one another, by turning over the triangle ABE, and laying it on the triangle ACD in such a manner that AB of the one shall lie upon AC of the other. Then, by the equality of the angles, AE will lie on AD. But AB and AC, AE and AD are equals; therefore they will coincide altogether, and of course at their extremities, D, E, and B, C.
THIRD FORMULA.--_Straight lines, having their extremities coincident, coincide._
BE and CD have been brought within this formula by the preceding induction; they will, therefore, coincide.
FOURTH FORMULA.--Angles, having their sides coincident, coincide.
The third induction having shown that BE and CD coincide, and the second that AB, AC, coincide, the angles ABE and ACD are thereby brought within the fourth formula, and accordingly coincide.
FIFTH FORMULA.--Things which coincide are equal.
The angles ABE and ACD are brought within this formula by the induction immediately preceding. This train of reasoning being also applicable, mutatis mutandis, to the angles EBC, DCB, these also are brought within the fifth formula. And, finally,
SIXTH FORMULA.--The differences of equals are equal.
The angle ABC being the difference of ABE, CBE, and the angle ACB being the difference of ACD, DCB; which have been proved to be equals; ABC and ACB are brought within the last formula by the whole of the previous process.
The difficulty here encountered is chiefly that of figuring to ourselves the two angles at the base of the triangle ABC as remainders made by cutting one pair of angles out of another, while each pair shall be corresponding angles of triangles which have two sides and the intervening angle equal. It is by this happy contrivance that so many different inductions are brought to bear upon the same particular case. And this not being at all an obvious thought, it may be seen from an example so near the threshold of mathematics, how much scope there may well be for scientific dexterity in the higher branches of that and other sciences, in order so to combine a few simple inductions, as to bring within each of them innumerable cases which are not obviously included in it; and how long, and numerous, and complicated may be the processes necessary for bringing the inductions together, even when each induction may itself be very easy and simple. All the inductions involved in all geometry are comprised in those simple ones, the formulæ of which are the Axioms, and a few of the so-called Definitions. The remainder of the science is made up of the processes employed for bringing unforeseen cases within these inductions; or (in syllogistic language) for proving the minors necessary to complete the syllogisms; the majors being the definitions and axioms. In those definitions and axioms are laid down the whole of the marks, by an artful combination of which it has been found possible to discover and prove all that is proved in geometry. The marks being so few, and the inductions which furnish them being so obvious and familiar; the connecting of several of them together, which constitutes Deductions, or Trains of Reasoning, forms the whole difficulty of the science, and, with a trifling exception, its whole bulk; and hence Geometry is a Deductive Science.
§ 5. It will be seen hereafter(67) that there are weighty scientific reasons for giving to every science as much of the character of a Deductive Science as possible; for endeavoring to construct the science from the fewest and the simplest possible inductions, and to make these, by any combinations however complicated, suffice for proving even such truths, relating to complex cases, as could be proved, if we chose, by inductions from specific experience. Every branch of natural philosophy was originally experimental; each generalization rested on a special induction, and was derived from its own distinct set of observations and experiments. From being sciences of pure experiment, as the phrase is, or, to speak more correctly, sciences in which the reasonings mostly consist of no more than one step, and are expressed by single syllogisms, all these sciences have become to some extent, and some of them in nearly the whole of their extent, sciences of pure reasoning; whereby multitudes of truths, already known by induction from as many different sets of experiments, have come to be exhibited as deductions or corollaries from inductive propositions of a simpler and more universal character. Thus mechanics, hydrostatics, optics, acoustics, thermology, have successively been rendered mathematical; and astronomy was brought by Newton within the laws of general mechanics. Why it is that the substitution of this circuitous mode of proceeding for a process apparently much easier and more natural, is held, and justly, to be the greatest triumph of the investigation of nature, we are not, in this stage of our inquiry, prepared to examine. But it is necessary to remark, that although, by this progressive transformation, all sciences tend to become more and more Deductive, they are not, therefore, the less Inductive; every step in the Deduction is still an Induction. The opposition is not between the terms Deductive and Inductive, but between Deductive and Experimental. A science is experimental, in proportion as every new case, which presents any peculiar features, stands in need of a new set of observations and experiments--a fresh induction. It is deductive, in proportion as it can draw conclusions, respecting cases of a new kind, by processes which bring those cases under old inductions; by ascertaining that cases which can not be observed to have the requisite marks, have, however, marks of those marks.
We can now, therefore, perceive what is the generic distinction between sciences which can be made Deductive, and those which must as yet remain Experimental. The difference consists in our having been able, or not yet able, to discover marks of marks. If by our various inductions we have been able to proceed no further than to such propositions as these, a a mark of b, or a and b marks of one another, c a mark of d, or c and d marks of one another, without any thing to connect a or b with c or d; we have a science of detached and mutually independent generalizations, such as these, that acids redden vegetable blues, and that alkalies color them green; from neither of which propositions could we, directly or indirectly, infer the other: and a science, so far as it is composed of such propositions, is purely experimental. Chemistry, in the present state of our knowledge, has not yet thrown off this character. There are other sciences, however, of which the propositions are of this kind: a a mark of b, b a mark of c, c of d, d of e, etc. In these sciences we can mount the ladder from a to e by a process of ratiocination; we can conclude that a is a mark of e, and that every object which has the mark a has the property e, although, perhaps, we never were able to observe a and e together, and although even d, our only direct mark of e, may not be perceptible in those objects, but only inferable. Or, varying the first metaphor, we may be said to get from a to e underground: the marks b, c, d, which indicate the route, must all be possessed somewhere by the objects concerning which we are inquiring; but they are below the surface: a is the only mark that is visible, and by it we are able to trace in succession all the rest.
§ 6. We can now understand how an experimental may transform itself into a deductive science by the mere progress of experiment. In an experimental science, the inductions, as we have said, lie detached, as, a a mark of b, c a mark of d, e a mark of f, and so on: now, a new set of instances, and a consequent new induction, may at any time bridge over the interval between two of these unconnected arches; b, for example, may be ascertained to be a mark of c, which enables us thenceforth to prove deductively that a is a mark of c. Or, as sometimes happens, some comprehensive induction may raise an arch high in the air, which bridges over hosts of them at once; b, d, f, and all the rest, turning out to be marks of some one thing, or of things between which a connection has already been traced. As when Newton discovered that the motions, whether regular or apparently anomalous, of all the bodies of the solar system (each of which motions had been inferred by a separate logical operation, from separate marks), were all marks of moving round a common centre, with a centripetal force varying directly as the mass, and inversely as the square of the distance from that centre. This is the greatest example which has yet occurred of the transformation, at one stroke, of a science which was still to a great degree merely experimental, into a deductive science.
Transformations of the same nature, but on a smaller scale, continually take place in the less advanced branches of physical knowledge, without enabling them to throw off the character of experimental sciences. Thus with regard to the two unconnected propositions before cited, namely, Acids redden vegetable blues, Alkalies make them green; it is remarked by Liebig, that all blue coloring matters which are reddened by acids (as well as, reciprocally, all red coloring matters which are rendered blue by alkalies) contain nitrogen: and it is quite possible that this circumstance may one day furnish a bond of connection between the two propositions in question, by showing that the antagonistic action of acids and alkalies in producing or destroying the color blue, is the result of some one, more general, law. Although this connecting of detached generalizations is so much gain, it tends but little to give a deductive character to any science as a whole; because the new courses of observation and experiment, which thus enable us to connect together a few general truths, usually make known to us a still greater number of unconnected new ones. Hence chemistry, though similar extensions and simplifications of its generalizations are continually taking place, is still in the main an experimental science; and is likely so to continue unless some comprehensive induction should be hereafter arrived at, which, like Newton's, shall connect a vast number of the smaller known inductions together, and change the whole method of the science at once. Chemistry has already one great generalization, which, though relating to one of the subordinate aspects of chemical phenomena, possesses within its limited sphere this comprehensive character; the principle of Dalton, called the atomic theory, or the doctrine of chemical equivalents: which by enabling us to a certain extent to foresee the proportions in which two substances will combine, before the experiment has been tried, constitutes undoubtedly a source of new chemical truths obtainable by deduction, as well as a connecting principle for all truths of the same description previously obtained by experiment.
§ 7. The discoveries which change the method of a science from experimental to deductive, mostly consist in establishing, either by deduction or by direct experiment, that the varieties of a particular phenomenon uniformly accompany the varieties of some other phenomenon better known. Thus the science of sound, which previously stood in the lowest rank of merely experimental science, became deductive when it was proved by experiment that every variety of sound was consequent on, and therefore a mark of, a distinct and definable variety of oscillatory motion among the particles of the transmitting medium. When this was ascertained, it followed that every relation of succession or co-existence which obtained between phenomena of the more known class, obtained also between the phenomena which correspond to them in the other class. Every sound, being a mark of a particular oscillatory motion, became a mark of every thing which, by the laws of dynamics, was known to be inferable from that motion; and every thing which by those same laws was a mark of any oscillatory motion among the particles of an elastic medium, became a mark of the corresponding sound. And thus many truths, not before suspected, concerning sound, become deducible from the known laws of the propagation of motion through an elastic medium; while facts already empirically known respecting sound, become an indication of corresponding properties of vibrating bodies, previously undiscovered.
But the grand agent for transforming experimental into deductive sciences, is the science of number. The properties of number, alone among all known phenomena, are, in the most rigorous sense, properties of all things whatever. All things are not colored, or ponderable, or even extended; but all things are numerable. And if we consider this science in its whole extent, from common arithmetic up to the calculus of variations, the truths already ascertained seem all but infinite, and admit of indefinite extension.
These truths, though affirmable of all things whatever, of course apply to them only in respect of their quantity. But if it comes to be discovered that variations of quality in any class of phenomena, correspond regularly to variations of quantity either in those same or in some other phenomena; every formula of mathematics applicable to quantities which vary in that particular manner, becomes a mark of a corresponding general truth, respecting the variations in quality which accompany them: and the science of quantity being (as far as any science can be) altogether deductive, the theory of that particular kind of qualities becomes, to this extent, deductive likewise.
The most striking instance in point which history affords (though not an example of an experimental science rendered deductive, but of an unparalleled extension given to the deductive process in a science which was deductive already), is the revolution in geometry which originated with Descartes, and was completed by Clairaut. These great mathematicians pointed out the importance of the fact, that to every variety of position in points, direction in lines, or form in curves or surfaces (all of which are Qualities), there corresponds a peculiar relation of quantity between either two or three rectilineal co-ordinates; insomuch that if the law were known according to which those co-ordinates vary relatively to one another, every other geometrical property of the line or surface in question, whether relating to quantity or quality, would be capable of being inferred. Hence it followed that every geometrical question could be solved, if the corresponding algebraical one could; and geometry received an accession (actual or potential) of new truths, corresponding to every property of numbers which the progress of the calculus had brought, or might in future bring, to light. In the same general manner, mechanics, astronomy, and in a less degree, every branch of natural philosophy commonly so called, have been made algebraical. The varieties of physical phenomena with which those sciences are conversant, have been found to answer to determinable varieties in the quantity of some circumstance or other; or at least to varieties of form or position, for which corresponding equations of quantity had already been, or were susceptible of being, discovered by geometers.
In these various transformations, the propositions of the science of number do but fulfill the function proper to all propositions forming a train of reasoning, viz., that of enabling us to arrive in an indirect method, by marks of marks, at such of the properties of objects as we can not directly ascertain (or not so conveniently) by experiment. We travel from a given visible or tangible fact, through the truths of numbers, to the facts sought. The given fact is a mark that a certain relation subsists between the quantities of some of the elements concerned; while the fact sought presupposes a certain relation between the quantities of some other elements: now, if these last quantities are dependent in some known manner upon the former, or vicè versa, we can argue from the numerical relation between the one set of quantities, to determine that which subsists between the other set; the theorems of the calculus affording the intermediate links. And thus one of the two physical facts becomes a mark of the other, by being a mark of a mark of a mark of it.
Of Demonstration, And Necessary Truths.
§ 1. If, as laid down in the two preceding chapters, the foundation of all sciences, even deductive or demonstrative sciences, is Induction; if every step in the ratiocinations even of geometry is an act of induction; and if a train of reasoning is but bringing many inductions to bear upon the same subject of inquiry, and drawing a case within one induction by means of another; wherein lies the peculiar certainty always ascribed to the sciences which are entirely, or almost entirely, deductive? Why are they called the Exact Sciences? Why are mathematical certainty, and the evidence of demonstration, common phrases to express the very highest degree of assurance attainable by reason? Why are mathematics by almost all philosophers, and (by some) even those branches of natural philosophy which, through the medium of mathematics, have been converted into deductive sciences, considered to be independent of the evidence of experience and observation, and characterized as systems of Necessary Truth?
The answer I conceive to be, that this character of necessity, ascribed to the truths of mathematics, and (even with some reservations to be hereafter made) the peculiar certainty attributed to them, is an illusion; in order to sustain which, it is necessary to suppose that those truths relate to, and express the properties of, purely imaginary objects. It is acknowledged that the conclusions of geometry are deduced, partly at least, from the so-called Definitions, and that those definitions are assumed to be correct representations, as far as they go, of the objects with which geometry is conversant. Now we have pointed out that, from a definition as such, no proposition, unless it be one concerning the meaning of a word, can ever follow; and that what apparently follows from a definition, follows in reality from an implied assumption that there exists a real thing conformable thereto. This assumption, in the case of the definitions of geometry, is not strictly true: there exist no real things exactly conformable to the definitions. There exist no points without magnitude; no lines without breadth, nor perfectly straight; no circles with all their radii exactly equal, nor squares with all their angles perfectly right. It will perhaps be said that the assumption does not extend to the actual, but only to the possible, existence of such things. I answer that, according to any test we have of possibility, they are not even possible. Their existence, so far as we can form any judgment, would seem to be inconsistent with the physical constitution of our planet at least, if not of the universe. To get rid of this difficulty, and at the same time to save the credit of the supposed system of necessary truth, it is customary to say that the points, lines, circles, and squares which are the subject of geometry, exist in our conceptions merely, and are part of our minds; which minds, by working on their own materials, construct an a priori science, the evidence of which is purely mental, and has nothing whatever to do with outward experience. By howsoever high authorities this doctrine may have been sanctioned, it appears to me psychologically incorrect. The points, lines, circles, and squares which any one has in his mind, are (I apprehend) simply copies of the points, lines, circles, and squares which he has known in his experience. Our idea of a point, I apprehend to be simply our idea of the minimum visibile, the smallest portion of surface which we can see. A line, as defined by geometers, is wholly inconceivable. We can reason about a line as if it had no breadth; because we have a power, which is the foundation of all the control we can exercise over the operations of our minds; the power, when a perception is present to our senses, or a conception to our intellects, of attending to a part only of that perception or conception, instead of the whole. But we can not conceive a line without breadth; we can form no mental picture of such a line: all the lines which we have in our minds are lines possessing breadth. If any one doubts this, we may refer him to his own experience. I much question if any one who fancies that he can conceive what is called a mathematical line, thinks so from the evidence of his consciousness: I suspect it is rather because he supposes that unless such a conception were possible, mathematics could not exist as a science: a supposition which there will be no difficulty in showing to be entirely groundless.
Since, then, neither in nature, nor in the human mind, do there exist any objects exactly corresponding to the definitions of geometry, while yet that science can not be supposed to be conversant about nonentities; nothing remains but to consider geometry as conversant with such lines, angles, and figures, as really exist; and the definitions, as they are called, must be regarded as some of our first and most obvious generalizations concerning those natural objects. The correctness of those generalizations, as generalizations, is without a flaw: the equality of all the radii of a circle is true of all circles, so far as it is true of any one: but it is not exactly true of any circle; it is only nearly true; so nearly that no error of any importance in practice will be incurred by feigning it to be exactly true. When we have occasion to extend these inductions, or their consequences, to cases in which the error would be appreciable--to lines of perceptible breadth or thickness, parallels which deviate sensibly from equidistance, and the like--we correct our conclusions, by combining with them a fresh set of propositions relating to the aberration; just as we also take in propositions relating to the physical or chemical properties of the material, if those properties happen to introduce any modification into the result; which they easily may, even with respect to figure and magnitude, as in the case, for instance, of expansion by heat. So long, however, as there exists no practical necessity for attending to any of the properties of the object except its geometrical properties, or to any of the natural irregularities in those, it is convenient to neglect the consideration of the other properties and of the irregularities, and to reason as if these did not exist: accordingly, we formally announce in the definitions, that we intend to proceed on this plan. But it is an error to suppose, because we resolve to confine our attention to a certain number of the properties of an object, that we therefore conceive, or have an idea of, the object, denuded of its other properties. We are thinking, all the time, of precisely such objects as we have seen and touched, and with all the properties which naturally belong to them; but, for scientific convenience, we feign them to be divested of all properties, except those which are material to our purpose, and in regard to which we design to consider them.
The peculiar accuracy, supposed to be characteristic of the first principles of geometry, thus appears to be fictitious. The assertions on which the reasonings of the science are founded, do not, any more than in other sciences, exactly correspond with the fact; but we suppose that they do so, for the sake of tracing the consequences which follow from the supposition. The opinion of Dugald Stewart respecting the foundations of geometry, is, I conceive, substantially correct; that it is built on hypotheses; that it owes to this alone the peculiar certainty supposed to distinguish it; and that in any science whatever, by reasoning from a set of hypotheses, we may obtain a body of conclusions as certain as those of geometry, that is, as strictly in accordance with the hypotheses, and as irresistibly compelling assent, on condition that those hypotheses are true.(68)
When, therefore, it is affirmed that the conclusions of geometry are necessary truths, the necessity consists in reality only in this, that they correctly follow from the suppositions from which they are deduced. Those suppositions are so far from being necessary, that they are not even true; they purposely depart, more or less widely, from the truth. The only sense in which necessity can be ascribed to the conclusions of any scientific investigation, is that of legitimately following from some assumption, which, by the conditions of the inquiry, is not to be questioned. In this relation, of course, the derivative truths of every deductive science must stand to the inductions, or assumptions, on which the science is founded, and which, whether true or untrue, certain or doubtful in themselves, are always supposed certain for the purposes of the particular science. And therefore the conclusions of all deductive sciences were said by the ancients to be necessary propositions. We have observed already that to be predicated necessarily was characteristic of the predicable Proprium, and that a proprium was any property of a thing which could be deduced from its essence, that is, from the properties included in its definition.
§ 2. The important doctrine of Dugald Stewart, which I have endeavored to enforce, has been contested by Dr. Whewell, both in the dissertation appended to his excellent Mechanical Euclid, and in his elaborate work on the Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences; in which last he also replies to an article in the Edinburgh Review (ascribed to a writer of great scientific eminence), in which Stewart's opinion was defended against his former strictures. The supposed refutation of Stewart consists in proving against him (as has also been done in this work) that the premises of geometry are not definitions, but assumptions of the real existence of things corresponding to those definitions. This, however, is doing little for Dr. Whewell's purpose; for it is these very assumptions which are asserted to be hypotheses, and which he, if he denies that geometry is founded on hypotheses, must show to be absolute truths. All he does, however, is to observe, that they, at any rate, are not arbitrary hypotheses; that we should not be at liberty to substitute other hypotheses for them; that not only "a definition, to be admissible, must necessarily refer to and agree with some conception which we can distinctly frame in our thoughts," but that the straight lines, for instance, which we define, must be "those by which angles are contained, those by which triangles are bounded, those of which parallelism may be predicated, and the like."(69) And this is true; but this has never been contradicted. Those who say that the premises of geometry are hypotheses, are not bound to maintain them to be hypotheses which have no relation whatever to fact. Since an hypothesis framed for the purpose of scientific inquiry must relate to something which has real existence (for there can be no science respecting nonentities), it follows that any hypothesis we make respecting an object, to facilitate our study of it, must not involve any thing which is distinctly false, and repugnant to its real nature: we must not ascribe to the thing any property which it has not; our liberty extends only to slightly exaggerating some of those which it has (by assuming it to be completely what it really is very nearly), and suppressing others, under the indispensable obligation of restoring them whenever, and in as far as, their presence or absence would make any material difference in the truth of our conclusions. Of this nature, accordingly, are the first principles involved in the definitions of geometry. That the hypotheses should be of this particular character, is, however, no further necessary, than inasmuch as no others could enable us to deduce conclusions which, with due corrections, would be true of real objects: and in fact, when our aim is only to illustrate truths, and not to investigate them, we are not under any such restriction. We might suppose an imaginary animal, and work out by deduction, from the known laws of physiology, its natural history; or an imaginary commonwealth, and from the elements composing it, might argue what would be its fate. And the conclusions which we might thus draw from purely arbitrary hypotheses, might form a highly useful intellectual exercise: but as they could only teach us what would be the properties of objects which do not really exist, they would not constitute any addition to our knowledge of nature: while, on the contrary, if the hypothesis merely divests a real object of some portion of its properties, without clothing it in false ones, the conclusions will always express, under known liability to correction, actual truth.
§ 3. But though Dr. Whewell has not shaken Stewart's doctrine as to the hypothetical character of that portion of the first principles of geometry which are involved in the so-called definitions, he has, I conceive, greatly the advantage of Stewart on another important point in the theory of geometrical reasoning; the necessity of admitting, among those first principles, axioms as well as definitions. Some of the axioms of Euclid might, no doubt, be exhibited in the form of definitions, or might be deduced, by reasoning, from propositions similar to what are so called. Thus, if instead of the axiom, Magnitudes which can be made to coincide are equal, we introduce a definition, "Equal magnitudes are those which may be so applied to one another as to coincide;" the three axioms which follow (Magnitudes which are equal to the same are equal to one another--If equals are added to equals, the sums are equal--If equals are taken from equals, the remainders are equal), may be proved by an imaginary superposition, resembling that by which the fourth proposition of the first book of Euclid is demonstrated. But though these and several others may be struck out of the list of first principles, because, though not requiring demonstration, they are susceptible of it; there will be found in the list of axioms two or three fundamental truths, not capable of being demonstrated: among which must be reckoned the proposition that two straight lines can not inclose a space (or its equivalent, Straight lines which coincide in two points coincide altogether), and some property of parallel lines, other than that which constitutes their definition: one of the most suitable for the purpose being that selected by Professor Playfair: "Two straight lines which intersect each other can not both of them be parallel to a third straight line."(70)
The axioms, as well those which are indemonstrable as those which admit of being demonstrated, differ from that other class of fundamental principles which are involved in the definitions, in this, that they are true without any mixture of hypothesis. That things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, is as true of the lines and figures in nature, as it would be of the imaginary ones assumed in the definitions. In this respect, however, mathematics are only on a par with most other sciences. In almost all sciences there are some general propositions which are exactly true, while the greater part are only more or less distant approximations to the truth. Thus in mechanics, the first law of motion (the continuance of a movement once impressed, until stopped or slackened by some resisting force) is true without qualification or error. The rotation of the earth in twenty-four hours, of the same length as in our time, has gone on since the first accurate observations, without the increase or diminution of one second in all that period. These are inductions which require no fiction to make them be received as accurately true: but along with them there are others, as for instance the propositions respecting the figure of the earth, which are but approximations to the truth; and in order to use them for the further advancement of our knowledge, we must feign that they are exactly true, though they really want something of being so.
§ 4. It remains to inquire, what is the ground of our belief in axioms--what is the evidence on which they rest? I answer, they are experimental truths; generalizations from observation. The proposition, Two straight lines can not inclose a space--or, in other words, Two straight lines which have once met, do not meet again, but continue to diverge--is an induction from the evidence of our senses.
This opinion runs counter to a scientific prejudice of long standing and great strength, and there is probably no proposition enunciated in this work for which a more unfavorable reception is to be expected. It is, however, no new opinion; and even if it were so, would be entitled to be judged, not by its novelty, but by the strength of the arguments by which it can be supported. I consider it very fortunate that so eminent a champion of the contrary opinion as Dr. Whewell has found occasion for a most elaborate treatment of the whole theory of axioms, in attempting to construct the philosophy of the mathematical and physical sciences on the basis of the doctrine against which I now contend. Whoever is anxious that a discussion should go to the bottom of the subject, must rejoice to see the opposite side of the question worthily represented. If what is said by Dr. Whewell, in support of an opinion which he has made the foundation of a systematic work, can be shown not to be conclusive, enough will have been done, without going elsewhere in quest of stronger arguments and a more powerful adversary.
It is not necessary to show that the truths which we call axioms are originally suggested by observation, and that we should never have known that two straight lines can not inclose a space if we had never seen a straight line: thus much being admitted by Dr. Whewell, and by all, in recent times, who have taken his view of the subject. But they contend, that it is not experience which proves the axiom; but that its truth is perceived a priori, by the constitution of the mind itself, from the first moment when the meaning of the proposition is apprehended; and without any necessity for verifying it by repeated trials, as is requisite in the case of truths really ascertained by observation.
They can not, however, but allow that the truth of the axiom, Two straight lines can not inclose a space, even if evident independently of experience, is also evident from experience. Whether the axiom needs confirmation or not, it receives confirmation in almost every instant of our lives; since we can not look at any two straight lines which intersect one another, without seeing that from that point they continue to diverge more and more. Experimental proof crowds in upon us in such endless profusion, and without one instance in which there can be even a suspicion of an exception to the rule, that we should soon have stronger ground for believing the axiom, even as an experimental truth, than we have for almost any of the general truths which we confessedly learn from the evidence of our senses. Independently of a priori evidence, we should certainly believe it with an intensity of conviction far greater than we accord to any ordinary physical truth: and this too at a time of life much earlier than that from which we date almost any part of our acquired knowledge, and much too early to admit of our retaining any recollection of the history of our intellectual operations at that period. Where then is the necessity for assuming that our recognition of these truths has a different origin from the rest of our knowledge, when its existence is perfectly accounted for by supposing its origin to be the same? when the causes which produce belief in all other instances, exist in this instance, and in a degree of strength as much superior to what exists in other cases, as the intensity of the belief itself is superior? The burden of proof lies on the advocates of the contrary opinion: it is for them to point out some fact, inconsistent with the supposition that this part of our knowledge of nature is derived from the same sources as every other part.(71)
This, for instance, they would be able to do, if they could prove chronologically that we had the conviction (at least practically) so early in infancy as to be anterior to those impressions on the senses, upon which, on the other theory, the conviction is founded. This, however, can not be proved: the point being too far back to be within the reach of memory, and too obscure for external observation. The advocates of the _a priori_ theory are obliged to have recourse to other arguments. These are reducible to two, which I shall endeavor to state as clearly and as forcibly as possible.
§ 5. In the first place it is said, that if our assent to the proposition that two straight lines can not inclose a space, were derived from the senses, we could only be convinced of its truth by actual trial, that is, by seeing or feeling the straight lines; whereas, in fact, it is seen to be true by merely thinking of them. That a stone thrown into water goes to the bottom, may be perceived by our senses, but mere thinking of a stone thrown into the water would never have led us to that conclusion: not so, however, with the axioms relating to straight lines: if I could be made to conceive what a straight line is, without having seen one, I should at once recognize that two such lines can not inclose a space. Intuition is "imaginary looking;"(72) but experience must be real looking: if we see a property of straight lines to be true by merely fancying ourselves to be looking at them, the ground of our belief can not be the senses, or experience; it must be something mental.
To this argument it might be added in the case of this particular axiom (for the assertion would not be true of all axioms), that the evidence of it from actual ocular inspection is not only unnecessary, but unattainable. What says the axiom? That two straight lines can not inclose a space; that after having once intersected, if they are prolonged to infinity they do not meet, but continue to diverge from one another. How can this, in any single case, be proved by actual observation? We may follow the lines to any distance we please; but we can not follow them to infinity: for aught our senses can testify, they may, immediately beyond the farthest point to which we have traced them, begin to approach, and at last meet. Unless, therefore, we had some other proof of the impossibility than observation affords us, we should have no ground for believing the axiom at all.
To these arguments, which I trust I can not be accused of understating, a satisfactory answer will, I conceive, be found, if we advert to one of the characteristic properties of geometrical forms--their capacity of being painted in the imagination with a distinctness equal to reality: in other words, the exact resemblance of our ideas of form to the sensations which suggest them. This, in the first place, enables us to make (at least with a little practice) mental pictures of all possible combinations of lines and angles, which resemble the realities quite as well as any which we could make on paper; and in the next place, make those pictures just as fit subjects of geometrical experimentation as the realities themselves; inasmuch as pictures, if sufficiently accurate, exhibit of course all the properties which would be manifested by the realities at one given instant, and on simple inspection: and in geometry we are concerned only with such properties, and not with that which pictures could not exhibit, the mutual action of bodies one upon another. The foundations of geometry would therefore be laid in direct experience, even if the experiments (which in this case consist merely in attentive contemplation) were practiced solely upon what we call our ideas, that is, upon the diagrams in our minds, and not upon outward objects. For in all systems of experimentation we take some objects to serve as representatives of all which resemble them; and in the present case the conditions which qualify a real object to be the representative of its class, are completely fulfilled by an object existing only in our fancy. Without denying, therefore, the possibility of satisfying ourselves that two straight lines can not inclose a space, by merely thinking of straight lines without actually looking at them; I contend, that we do not believe this truth on the ground of the imaginary intuition simply, but because we know that the imaginary lines exactly resemble real ones, and that we may conclude from them to real ones with quite as much certainty as we could conclude from one real line to another. The conclusion, therefore, is still an induction from observation. And we should not be authorized to substitute observation of the image in our mind, for observation of the reality, if we had not learned by long-continued experience that the properties of the reality are faithfully represented in the image; just as we should be scientifically warranted in describing an animal which we have never seen, from a picture made of it with a daguerreotype; but not until we had learned by ample experience, that observation of such a picture is precisely equivalent to observation of the original.
These considerations also remove the objection arising from the impossibility of ocularly following the lines in their prolongation to infinity. For though, in order actually to see that two given lines never meet, it would be necessary to follow them to infinity; yet without doing so we may know that if they ever do meet, or if, after diverging from one another, they begin again to approach, this must take place not at an infinite, but at a finite distance. Supposing, therefore, such to be the case, we can transport ourselves thither in imagination, and can frame a mental image of the appearance which one or both of the lines must present at that point, which we may rely on as being precisely similar to the reality. Now, whether we fix our contemplation upon this imaginary picture, or call to mind the generalizations we have had occasion to make from former ocular observation, we learn by the evidence of experience, that a line which, after diverging from another straight line, begins to approach to it, produces the impression on our senses which we describe by the expression, "a bent line," not by the expression, "a straight line."(73)
The preceding argument, which is, to my mind unanswerable, merges, however, in a still more comprehensive one, which is stated most clearly and conclusively by Professor Bain. The psychological reason why axioms, and indeed many propositions not ordinarily classed as such, may be learned from the idea only without referring to the fact, is that in the process of acquiring the idea we have learned the fact. The proposition is assented to as soon as the terms are understood, because in learning to understand the terms we have acquired the experience which proves the proposition to be true. "We required," says Mr. Bain,(74) "concrete experience in the first instance, to attain to the notion of whole and part; but the notion, once arrived at, implies that the whole is greater. In fact, we could not have the notion without an experience tantamount to this conclusion.... When we have mastered the notion of straightness, we have also mastered that aspect of it expressed by the affirmation that two straight lines can not inclose a space. No intuitive or innate powers or perceptions are needed in such case.... We can not have the full meaning of Straightness, without going through a comparison of straight objects among themselves, and with their opposites, bent or crooked objects. The result of this comparison is, inter alia, that straightness in two lines is seen to be incompatible with inclosing a space; the inclosure of space involves crookedness in at least one of the lines." And similarly, in the case of every first principle,(75) "the same knowledge that makes it understood, suffices to verify it." The more this observation is considered the more (I am convinced) it will be felt to go to the very root of the controversy.
§ 6. The first of the two arguments in support of the theory that axioms are a priori truths, having, I think, been sufficiently answered; I proceed to the second, which is usually the most relied on. Axioms (it is asserted) are conceived by us not only as true, but as universally and necessarily true. Now, experience can not possibly give to any proposition this character. I may have seen snow a hundred times, and may have seen that it was white, but this can not give me entire assurance even that all snow is white; much less that snow must be white. "However many instances we may have observed of the truth of a proposition, there is nothing to assure us that the next case shall not be an exception to the rule. If it be strictly true that every ruminant animal yet known has cloven hoofs, we still can not be sure that some creature will not hereafter be discovered which has the first of these attributes, without having the other.... Experience must always consist of a limited number of observations; and, however numerous these may be, they can show nothing with regard to the infinite number of cases in which the experiment has not been made." Besides, Axioms are not only universal, they are also necessary. Now "experience can not offer the smallest ground for the necessity of a proposition. She can observe and record what has happened; but she can not find, in any case, or in any accumulation of cases, any reason for what must happen. She may see objects side by side; but she can not see a reason why they must ever be side by side. She finds certain events to occur in succession; but the succession supplies, in its occurrence, no reason for its recurrence. She contemplates external objects; but she can not detect any internal bond, which indissolubly connects the future with the past, the possible with the real. To learn a proposition by experience, and to see it to be necessarily true, are two altogether different processes of thought."(76) And Dr. Whewell adds, "If any one does not clearly comprehend this distinction of necessary and contingent truths, he will not be able to go along with us in our researches into the foundations of human knowledge; nor, indeed, to pursue with success any speculation on the subject."(77)
In the following passage, we are told what the distinction is, the non-recognition of which incurs this denunciation. "Necessary truths are those in which we not only learn that the proposition is true, but see that it must be true; in which the negation of the truth is not only false, but impossible; in which we can not, even by an effort of imagination, or in a supposition, conceive the reverse of that which is asserted. That there are such truths can not be doubted. We may take, for example, all relations of number. Three and Two added together make Five. We can not conceive it to be otherwise. We can not, by any freak of thought, imagine Three and Two to make Seven."(78)
Although Dr. Whewell has naturally and properly employed a variety of phrases to bring his meaning more forcibly home, he would, I presume, allow that they are all equivalent; and that what he means by a necessary truth, would be sufficiently defined, a proposition the negation of which is not only false but inconceivable. I am unable to find in any of his expressions, turn them what way you will, a meaning beyond this, and I do not believe he would contend that they mean any thing more.
This, therefore, is the principle asserted: that propositions, the negation of which is inconceivable, or in other words, which we can not figure to ourselves as being false, must rest on evidence of a higher and more cogent description than any which experience can afford.
Now I can not but wonder that so much stress should be laid on the circumstance of inconceivableness, when there is such ample experience to show, that our capacity or incapacity of conceiving a thing has very little to do with the possibility of the thing in itself; but is in truth very much an affair of accident, and depends on the past history and habits of our own minds. There is no more generally acknowledged fact in human nature, than the extreme difficulty at first felt in conceiving any thing as possible, which is in contradiction to long established and familiar experience; or even to old familiar habits of thought. And this difficulty is a necessary result of the fundamental laws of the human mind. When we have often seen and thought of two things together, and have never in any one instance either seen or thought of them separately, there is by the primary law of association an increasing difficulty, which may in the end become insuperable, of conceiving the two things apart. This is most of all conspicuous in uneducated persons, who are in general utterly unable to separate any two ideas which have once become firmly associated in their minds; and if persons of cultivated intellect have any advantage on the point, it is only because, having seen and heard and read more, and being more accustomed to exercise their imagination, they have experienced their sensations and thoughts in more varied combinations, and have been prevented from forming many of these inseparable associations. But this advantage has necessarily its limits. The most practiced intellect is not exempt from the universal laws of our conceptive faculty. If daily habit presents to any one for a long period two facts in combination, and if he is not led during that period either by accident or by his voluntary mental operations to think of them apart, he will probably in time become incapable of doing so even by the strongest effort; and the supposition that the two facts can be separated in nature, will at last present itself to his mind with all the characters of an inconceivable phenomenon.(79) There are remarkable instances of this in the history of science: instances in which the most instructed men rejected as impossible, because inconceivable, things which their posterity, by earlier practice and longer perseverance in the attempt, found it quite easy to conceive, and which every body now knows to be true. There was a time when men of the most cultivated intellects, and the most emancipated from the dominion of early prejudice, could not credit the existence of antipodes; were unable to conceive, in opposition to old association, the force of gravity acting upward instead of downward. The Cartesians long rejected the Newtonian doctrine of the gravitation of all bodies toward one another, on the faith of a general proposition, the reverse of which seemed to them to be inconceivable--the proposition that a body can not act where it is not. All the cumbrous machinery of imaginary vortices, assumed without the smallest particle of evidence, appeared to these philosophers a more rational mode of explaining the heavenly motions, than one which involved what seemed to them so great an absurdity.(80)
And they no doubt found it as impossible to conceive that a body should act upon the earth from the distance of the sun or moon, as we find it to conceive an end to space or time, or two straight lines inclosing a space. Newton himself had not been able to realize the conception, or we should not have had his hypothesis of a subtle ether, the occult cause of gravitation; and his writings prove, that though he deemed the particular nature of the intermediate agency a matter of conjecture, the necessity of some such agency appeared to him indubitable.
If, then, it be so natural to the human mind, even in a high state of culture, to be incapable of conceiving, and on that ground to believe impossible, what is afterward not only found to be conceivable but proved to be true; what wonder if in cases where the association is still older, more confirmed, and more familiar, and in which nothing ever occurs to shake our conviction, or even suggest to us any conception at variance with the association, the acquired incapacity should continue, and be mistaken for a natural incapacity? It is true, our experience of the varieties in nature enables us, within certain limits, to conceive other varieties analogous to them. We can conceive the sun or moon falling; for though we never saw them fall, nor ever, perhaps, imagined them falling, we have seen so many other things fall, that we have innumerable familiar analogies to assist the conception; which, after all, we should probably have some difficulty in framing, were we not well accustomed to see the sun and moon move (or appear to move), so that we are only called upon to conceive a slight change in the direction of motion, a circumstance familiar to our experience. But when experience affords no model on which to shape the new conception, how is it possible for us to form it? How, for example, can we imagine an end to space or time? We never saw any object without something beyond it, nor experienced any feeling without something following it. When, therefore, we attempt to conceive the last point of space, we have the idea irresistibly raised of other points beyond it. When we try to imagine the last instant of time, we can not help conceiving another instant after it. Nor is there any necessity to assume, as is done by a modern school of metaphysicians, a peculiar fundamental law of the mind to account for the feeling of infinity inherent in our conceptions of space and time; that apparent infinity is sufficiently accounted for by simpler and universally acknowledged laws.
Now, in the case of a geometrical axiom, such, for example, as that two straight lines can not inclose a space--a truth which is testified to us by our very earliest impressions of the external world--how is it possible (whether those external impressions be or be not the ground of our belief) that the reverse of the proposition could be otherwise than inconceivable to us? What analogy have we, what similar order of facts in any other branch of our experience, to facilitate to us the conception of two straight lines inclosing a space? Nor is even this all. I have already called attention to the peculiar property of our impressions of form, that the ideas or mental images exactly resemble their prototypes, and adequately represent them for the purposes of scientific observation. From this, and from the intuitive character of the observation, which in this case reduces itself to simple inspection, we can not so much as call up in our imagination two straight lines, in order to attempt to conceive them inclosing a space, without by that very act repeating the scientific experiment which establishes the contrary. Will it really be contended that the inconceivableness of the thing, in such circumstances, proves any thing against the experimental origin of the conviction? Is it not clear that in whichever mode our belief in the proposition may have originated, the impossibility of our conceiving the negative of it must, on either hypothesis, be the same? As, then, Dr. Whewell exhorts those who have any difficulty in recognizing the distinction held by him between necessary and contingent truths, to study geometry--a condition which I can assure him I have conscientiously fulfilled--I, in return, with equal confidence, exhort those who agree with him, to study the general laws of association; being convinced that nothing more is requisite than a moderate familiarity with those laws, to dispel the illusion which ascribes a peculiar necessity to our earliest inductions from experience, and measures the possibility of things in themselves, by the human capacity of conceiving them.
I hope to be pardoned for adding, that Dr. Whewell himself has both confirmed by his testimony the effect of habitual association in giving to an experimental truth the appearance of a necessary one, and afforded a striking instance of that remarkable law in his own person. In his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences he continually asserts, that propositions which not only are not self-evident, but which we know to have been discovered gradually, and by great efforts of genius and patience, have, when once established, appeared so self-evident that, but for historical proof, it would have been impossible to conceive that they had not been recognized from the first by all persons in a sound state of their faculties. "We now despise those who, in the Copernican controversy, could not conceive the apparent motion of the sun on the heliocentric hypothesis; or those who, in opposition to Galileo, thought that a uniform force might be that which generated a velocity proportional to the space; or those who held there was something absurd in Newton's doctrine of the different refrangibility of differently colored rays; or those who imagined that when elements combine, their sensible qualities must be manifest in the compound; or those who were reluctant to give up the distinction of vegetables into herbs, shrubs, and trees. We can not help thinking that men must have been singularly dull of comprehension, to find a difficulty in admitting what is to us so plain and simple. We have a latent persuasion that we in their place should have been wiser and more clear-sighted; that we should have taken the right side, and given our assent at once to the truth. Yet in reality such a persuasion is a mere delusion. The persons who, in such instances as the above, were on the losing side, were very far, in most cases, from being persons more prejudiced, or stupid, or narrow-minded, than the greater part of mankind now are; and the cause for which they fought was far from being a manifestly bad one, till it had been so decided by the result of the war.... So complete has been the victory of truth in most of these instances, that at present we can hardly imagine the struggle to have been necessary. _The very essence of these triumphs is, that they lead us to regard the views we reject as not only false but inconceivable._"(81)
This last proposition is precisely what I contend for; and I ask no more, in order to overthrow the whole theory of its author on the nature of the evidence of axioms. For what is that theory? That the truth of axioms can not have been learned from experience, because their falsity is inconceivable. But Dr. Whewell himself says, that we are continually led, by the natural progress of thought, to regard as inconceivable what our forefathers not only conceived but believed, nay even (he might have added) were unable to conceive the reverse of. He can not intend to justify this mode of thought: he can not mean to say, that we can be right in regarding as inconceivable what others have conceived, and as self-evident what to others did not appear evident at all. After so complete an admission that inconceivableness is an accidental thing, not inherent in the phenomenon itself, but dependent on the mental history of the person who tries to conceive it, how can he ever call upon us to reject a proposition as impossible on no other ground than its inconceivableness? Yet he not only does so, but has unintentionally afforded some of the most remarkable examples which can be cited of the very illusion which he has himself so clearly pointed out. I select as specimens, his remarks on the evidence of the three laws of motion, and of the atomic theory.
With respect to the laws of motion, Dr. Whewell says: "No one can doubt that, in historical fact, these laws were collected from experience. That such is the case, is no matter of conjecture. We know the time, the persons, the circumstances, belonging to each step of each discovery."(82) After this testimony, to adduce evidence of the fact would be superfluous. And not only were these laws by no means intuitively evident, but some of them were originally paradoxes. The first law was especially so. That a body, once in motion, would continue forever to move in the same direction with undiminished velocity unless acted upon by some new force, was a proposition which mankind found for a long time the greatest difficulty in crediting. It stood opposed to apparent experience of the most familiar kind, which taught that it was the nature of motion to abate gradually, and at last terminate of itself. Yet when once the contrary doctrine was firmly established, mathematicians, as Dr. Whewell observes, speedily began to believe that laws, thus contradictory to first appearances, and which, even after full proof had been obtained, it had required generations to render familiar to the minds of the scientific world, were under "a demonstrable necessity, compelling them to be such as they are and no other;" and he himself, though not venturing "absolutely to pronounce" that all these laws "can be rigorously traced to an absolute necessity in the nature of things,"(83) does actually so think of the law just mentioned; of which he says: "Though the discovery of the first law of motion was made, historically speaking, by means of experiment, we have now attained a point of view in which we see that it might have been certainly known to be true, independently of experience."(84) Can there be a more striking exemplification than is here afforded, of the effect of association which we have described? Philosophers, for generations, have the most extraordinary difficulty in putting certain ideas together; they at last succeed in doing so; and after a sufficient repetition of the process, they first fancy a natural bond between the ideas, then experience a growing difficulty, which at last, by the continuation of the same progress, becomes an impossibility, of severing them from one another. If such be the progress of an experimental conviction of which the date is of yesterday, and which is in opposition to first appearances, how must it fare with those which are conformable to appearances familiar from the first dawn of intelligence, and of the conclusiveness of which, from the earliest records of human thought, no skeptic has suggested even a momentary doubt?
The other instance which I shall quote is a truly astonishing one, and may be called the reductio ad absurdum of the theory of inconceivableness. Speaking of the laws of chemical composition, Dr. Whewell says:(85) "That they could never have been clearly understood, and therefore never firmly established, without laborious and exact experiments, is certain; but yet we may venture to say, that being once known, they possess an evidence beyond that of mere experiment. _For how in fact can we conceive combinations, otherwise than as definite in kind and quality?_ If we were to suppose each element ready to combine with any other indifferently, and indifferently in any quantity, we should have a world in which all would be confusion and indefiniteness. There would be no fixed kinds of bodies. Salts, and stones, and ores, would approach to and graduate into each other by insensible degrees. Instead of this, we know that the world consists of bodies distinguishable from each other by definite differences, capable of being classified and named, and of having general propositions asserted concerning them. And as _we can not conceive a world in which this should not be the case_, it would appear that we can not conceive a state of things in which the laws of the combination of elements should not be of that definite and measured kind which we have above asserted."
That a philosopher of Dr. Whewell's eminence should gravely assert that we can not conceive a world in which the simple elements should combine in other than definite proportions; that by dint of meditating on a scientific truth, the original discoverer of which was still living, he should have rendered the association in his own mind between the idea of combination and that of constant proportions so familiar and intimate as to be unable to conceive the one fact without the other; is so signal an instance of the mental law for which I am contending, that one word more in illustration must be superfluous.
In the latest and most complete elaboration of his metaphysical system (the Philosophy of Discovery), as well as in the earlier discourse on the Fundamental Antithesis of Philosophy, reprinted as an appendix to that work, Dr. Whewell, while very candidly admitting that his language was open to misconception, disclaims having intended to say that mankind in general can now perceive the law of definite proportions in chemical combination to be a necessary truth. All he meant was that philosophical chemists in a future generation may possibly see this. "Some truths may be seen by intuition, but yet the intuition of them may be a rare and a difficult attainment."(86) And he explains that the inconceivableness which, according to his theory, is the test of axioms, "depends entirely upon the clearness of the Ideas which the axioms involve. So long as those ideas are vague and indistinct, the contrary of an axiom may be assented to, though it can not be distinctly conceived. It may be assented to, not because it is possible, but because we do not see clearly what is possible. To a person who is only beginning to think geometrically, there may appear nothing absurd in the assertion that two straight lines may inclose a space. And in the same manner, to a person who is only beginning to think of mechanical truths, it may not appear to be absurd, that in mechanical processes, Reaction should be greater or less than Action; and so, again, to a person who has not thought steadily about Substance, it may not appear inconceivable, that by chemical operations, we should generate new matter, or destroy matter which already exists."(87) Necessary truths, therefore, are not those of which we can not conceive, but "those of which we can not distinctly conceive, the contrary."(88) So long as our ideas are indistinct altogether, we do not know what is or is not capable of being distinctly conceived; but, by the ever increasing distinctness with which scientific men apprehend the general conceptions of science, they in time come to perceive that there are certain laws of nature, which, though historically and as a matter of fact they were learned from experience, we can not, now that we know them, distinctly conceive to be other than they are.
The account which I should give of this progress of the scientific mind is somewhat different. After a general law of nature has been ascertained, men's minds do not at first acquire a complete facility of familiarly representing to themselves the phenomena of nature in the character which that law assigns to them. The habit which constitutes the scientific cast of mind, that of conceiving facts of all descriptions conformably to the laws which regulate them--phenomena of all descriptions according to the relations which have been ascertained really to exist between them; this habit, in the case of newly-discovered relations, comes only by degrees. So long as it is not thoroughly formed, no necessary character is ascribed to the new truth. But in time, the philosopher attains a state of mind in which his mental picture of nature spontaneously represents to him all the phenomena with which the new theory is concerned, in the exact light in which the theory regards them: all images or conceptions derived from any other theory, or from the confused view of the facts which is anterior to any theory, having entirely disappeared from his mind. The mode of representing facts which results from the theory, has now become, to his faculties, the only natural mode of conceiving them. It is a known truth, that a prolonged habit of arranging phenomena in certain groups, and explaining them by means of certain principles, makes any other arrangement or explanation of these facts be felt as unnatural: and it may at last become as difficult to him to represent the facts to himself in any other mode, as it often was, originally, to represent them in that mode.
But, further (if the theory is true, as we are supposing it to be), any other mode in which he tries, or in which he was formerly accustomed, to represent the phenomena, will be seen by him to be inconsistent with the facts that suggested the new theory--facts which now form a part of his mental picture of nature. And since a contradiction is always inconceivable, his imagination rejects these false theories, and declares itself incapable of conceiving them. Their inconceivableness to him does not, however, result from any thing in the theories themselves, intrinsically and a priori repugnant to the human faculties; it results from the repugnance between them and a portion of the facts; which facts as long as he did not know, or did not distinctly realize in his mental representations, the false theory did not appear other than conceivable; it becomes inconceivable, merely from the fact that contradictory elements can not be combined in the same conception. Although, then, his real reason for rejecting theories at variance with the true one, is no other than that they clash with his experience, he easily falls into the belief, that he rejects them because they are inconceivable, and that he adopts the true theory because it is self-evident, and does not need the evidence of experience at all.
This I take to be the real and sufficient explanation of the paradoxical truth, on which so much stress is laid by Dr. Whewell, that a scientifically cultivated mind is actually, in virtue of that cultivation, unable to conceive suppositions which a common man conceives without the smallest difficulty. For there is nothing inconceivable in the suppositions themselves; the impossibility is in combining them with facts inconsistent with them, as part of the same mental picture; an obstacle of course only felt by those who know the facts, and are able to perceive the inconsistency. As far as the suppositions themselves are concerned, in the case of many of Dr. Whewell's necessary truths the negative of the axiom is, and probably will be as long as the human race lasts, as easily conceivable as the affirmative. There is no axiom (for example) to which Dr. Whewell ascribes a more thorough character of necessity and self-evidence, than that of the indestructibility of matter. That this is a true law of nature I fully admit; but I imagine there is no human being to whom the opposite supposition is inconceivable--who has any difficulty in imagining a portion of matter annihilated: inasmuch as its apparent annihilation, in no respect distinguishable from real by our unassisted senses, takes place every time that water dries up, or fuel is consumed. Again, the law that bodies combine chemically in definite proportions is undeniably true; but few besides Dr. Whewell have reached the point which he seems personally to have arrived at (though he only dares prophesy similar success to the multitude after the lapse of generations), that of being unable to conceive a world in which the elements are ready to combine with one another "indifferently in any quantity;" nor is it likely that we shall ever rise to this sublime height of inability, so long as all the mechanical mixtures in our planet, whether solid, liquid, or aëriform, exhibit to our daily observation the very phenomenon declared to be inconceivable.
According to Dr. Whewell, these and similar laws of nature can not be drawn from experience, inasmuch as they are, on the contrary, assumed in the interpretation of experience. Our inability to "add to or diminish the quantity of matter in the world," is a truth which "neither is nor can be derived from experience; for the experiments which we make to verify it presuppose its truth.... When men began to use the balance in chemical analysis, they did not prove by trial, but took for granted, as self-evident, that the weight of the whole must be found in the aggregate weight of the elements."(89) True, it is assumed; but, I apprehend, no otherwise than as all experimental inquiry assumes provisionally some theory or hypothesis, which is to be finally held true or not, according as the experiments decide. The hypothesis chosen for this purpose will naturally be one which groups together some considerable number of facts already known. The proposition that the material of the world, as estimated by weight, is neither increased nor diminished by any of the processes of nature or art, had many appearances in its favor to begin with. It expressed truly a great number of familiar facts. There were other facts which it had the appearance of conflicting with, and which made its truth, as a universal law of nature, at first doubtful. Because it was doubtful, experiments were devised to verify it. Men assumed its truth hypothetically, and proceeded to try whether, on more careful examination, the phenomena which apparently pointed to a different conclusion, would not be found to be consistent with it. This turned out to be the case; and from that time the doctrine took its place as a universal truth, but as one proved to be such by experience. That the theory itself preceded the proof of its truth--that it had to be conceived before it could be proved, and in order that it might be proved--does not imply that it was self-evident, and did not need proof. Otherwise all the true theories in the sciences are necessary and self-evident; for no one knows better than Dr. Whewell that they all began by being assumed, for the purpose of connecting them by deductions with those facts of experience on which, as evidence, they now confessedly rest.(90)
The Same Subject Continued.
§ 1. In the examination which formed the subject of the last chapter, into the nature of the evidence of those deductive sciences which are commonly represented to be systems of necessary truth, we have been led to the following conclusions. The results of those sciences are indeed necessary, in the sense of necessarily following from certain first principles, commonly called axioms and definitions; that is, of being certainly true if those axioms and definitions are so; for the word necessity, even in this acceptation of it, means no more than certainty. But their claim to the character of necessity in any sense beyond this, as implying an evidence independent of and superior to observation and experience, must depend on the previous establishment of such a claim in favor of the definitions and axioms themselves. With regard to axioms, we found that, considered as experimental truths, they rest on superabundant and obvious evidence. We inquired, whether, since this is the case, it be imperative to suppose any other evidence of those truths than experimental evidence, any other origin for our belief of them than an experimental origin. We decided, that the burden of proof lies with those who maintain the affirmative, and we examined, at considerable length, such arguments as they have produced. The examination having led to the rejection of those arguments, we have thought ourselves warranted in concluding that axioms are but a class, the most universal class, of inductions from experience; the simplest and easiest cases of generalization from the facts furnished to us by our senses or by our internal consciousness.
While the axioms of demonstrative sciences thus appeared to be experimental truths, the definitions, as they are incorrectly called, in those sciences, were found by us to be generalizations from experience which are not even, accurately speaking, truths; being propositions in which, while we assert of some kind of object, some property or properties which observation shows to belong to it, we at the same time deny that it possesses any other properties, though in truth other properties do in every individual instance accompany, and in almost all instances modify, the property thus exclusively predicated. The denial, therefore, is a mere fiction, or supposition, made for the purpose of excluding the consideration of those modifying circumstances, when their influence is of too trifling amount to be worth considering, or adjourning it, when important to a more convenient moment.
From these considerations it would appear that Deductive or Demonstrative Sciences are all, without exception, Inductive Sciences; that their evidence is that of experience; but that they are also, in virtue of the peculiar character of one indispensable portion of the general formulæ according to which their inductions are made, Hypothetical Sciences. Their conclusions are only true on certain suppositions, which are, or ought to be, approximations to the truth, but are seldom, if ever, exactly true; and to this hypothetical character is to be ascribed the peculiar certainty, which is supposed to be inherent in demonstration. What we have now asserted, however, cannot be received as universally true of Deductive or Demonstrative Sciences, until verified by being applied to the most remarkable of all those sciences, that of Numbers; the theory of the Calculus; Arithmetic and Algebra. It is harder to believe of the doctrines of this science than of any other, either that they are not truths a priori, but experimental truths, or that their peculiar certainty is owing to their being not absolute but only conditional truths. This, therefore, is a case which merits examination apart; and the more so, because on this subject we have a double set of doctrines to contend with; that of the a priori philosophers on one side; and on the other, a theory the most opposite to theirs, which was at one time very generally received, and is still far from being altogether exploded, among metaphysicians.
§ 2. This theory attempts to solve the difficulty apparently inherent in the case, by representing the propositions of the science of numbers as merely verbal, and its processes as simple transformations of language, substitutions of one expression for another. The proposition, Two and one is equal to three, according to these writers, is not a truth, is not the assertion of a really existing fact, but a definition of the word three; a statement that mankind have agreed to use the name three as a sign exactly equivalent to two and one; to call by the former name whatever is called by the other more clumsy phrase. According to this doctrine, the longest process in algebra is but a succession of changes in terminology, by which equivalent expressions are substituted one for another; a series of translations of the same fact, from one into another language; though how, after such a series of translations, the fact itself comes out changed (as when we demonstrate a new geometrical theorem by algebra), they have not explained; and it is a difficulty which is fatal to their theory.
It must be acknowledged that there are peculiarities in the processes of arithmetic and algebra which render the theory in question very plausible, and have not unnaturally made those sciences the stronghold of Nominalism. The doctrine that we can discover facts, detect the hidden processes of nature, by an artful manipulation of language, is so contrary to common sense, that a person must have made some advances in philosophy to believe it: men fly to so paradoxical a belief to avoid, as they think, some even greater difficulty, which the vulgar do not see. What has led many to believe that reasoning is a mere verbal process, is, that no other theory seemed reconcilable with the nature of the Science of Numbers. For we do not carry any ideas along with us when we use the symbols of arithmetic or of algebra. In a geometrical demonstration we have a mental diagram, if not one on paper; AB, AC, are present to our imagination as lines, intersecting other lines, forming an angle with one another, and the like; but not so a and b. These may represent lines or any other magnitudes, but those magnitudes are never thought of; nothing is realized in our imagination but a and b. The ideas which, on the particular occasion, they happen to represent, are banished from the mind during every intermediate part of the process, between the beginning, when the premises are translated from things into signs, and the end, when the conclusion is translated back from signs into things. Nothing, then, being in the reasoner's mind but the symbols, what can seem more inadmissible than to contend that the reasoning process has to do with any thing more? We seem to have come to one of Bacon's Prerogative Instances; an _experimentum crucis_ on the nature of reasoning itself.
Nevertheless, it will appear on consideration, that this apparently so decisive instance is no instance at all; that there is in every step of an arithmetical or algebraical calculation a real induction, a real inference of facts from facts; and that what disguises the induction is simply its comprehensive nature, and the consequent extreme generality of the language. All numbers must be numbers of something: there are no such things as numbers in the abstract. Ten must mean ten bodies, or ten sounds, or ten beatings of the pulse. But though numbers must be numbers of something, they may be numbers of any thing. Propositions, therefore, concerning numbers, have the remarkable peculiarity that they are propositions concerning all things whatever; all objects, all existences of every kind, known to our experience. All things possess quantity; consist of parts which can be numbered; and in that character possess all the properties which are called properties of numbers. That half of four is two, must be true whatever the word four represents, whether four hours, four miles, or four pounds weight. We need only conceive a thing divided into four equal parts (and all things may be conceived as so divided), to be able to predicate of it every property of the number four, that is, every arithmetical proposition in which the number four stands on one side of the equation. Algebra extends the generalization still farther: every number represents that particular number of all things without distinction, but every algebraical symbol does more, it represents all numbers without distinction. As soon as we conceive a thing divided into equal parts, without knowing into what number of parts, we may call it a or x, and apply to it, without danger of error, every algebraical formula in the books. The proposition, 2 (a + b)= 2 a + 2 b, is a truth co-extensive with all nature. Since then algebraical truths are true of all things whatever, and not, like those of geometry, true of lines only or of angles only, it is no wonder that the symbols should not excite in our minds ideas of any things in particular. When we demonstrate the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid, it is not necessary that the words should raise in us an image of all right-angled triangles, but only of some one right-angled triangle: so in algebra we need not, under the symbol a, picture to ourselves all things whatever, but only some one thing; why not, then, the letter itself? The mere written characters, a, b, x, y, z, serve as well for representatives of Things in general, as any more complex and apparently more concrete conception. That we are conscious of them, however, in their character of things, and not of mere signs, is evident from the fact that our whole process of reasoning is carried on by predicating of them the properties of things. In resolving an algebraic equation, by what rules do we proceed? By applying at each step to a, b, and x, the proposition that equals added to equals make equals; that equals taken from equals leave equals; and other propositions founded on these two. These are not properties of language, or of signs as such, but of magnitudes, which is as much as to say, of all things. The inferences, therefore, which are successively drawn, are inferences concerning things, not symbols; though as any Things whatever will serve the turn, there is no necessity for keeping the idea of the Thing at all distinct, and consequently the process of thought may, in this case, be allowed without danger to do what all processes of thought, when they have been performed often, will do if permitted, namely, to become entirely mechanical. Hence the general language of algebra comes to be used familiarly without exciting ideas, as all other general language is prone to do from mere habit, though in no other case than this can it be done with complete safety. But when we look back to see from whence the probative force of the process is derived, we find that at every single step, unless we suppose ourselves to be thinking and talking of the things, and not the mere symbols, the evidence fails.
There is another circumstance, which, still more than that which we have now mentioned, gives plausibility to the notion that the propositions of arithmetic and algebra are merely verbal. That is, that when considered as propositions respecting Things, they all have the appearance of being identical propositions. The assertion, Two and one is equal to three, considered as an assertion respecting objects, as for instance, "Two pebbles and one pebble are equal to three pebbles," does not affirm equality between two collections of pebbles, but absolute identity. It affirms that if we put one pebble to two pebbles, those very pebbles are three. The objects, therefore, being the very same, and the mere assertion that "objects are themselves" being insignificant, it seems but natural to consider the proposition, Two and one is equal to three, as asserting mere identity of signification between the two names.
This, however, though it looks so plausible, will not bear examination. The expression "two pebbles and one pebble," and the expression "three pebbles," stand indeed for the same aggregation of objects, but they by no means stand for the same physical fact. They are names of the same objects, but of those objects in two different states: though they denote the same things, their connotation is different. Three pebbles in two separate parcels, and three pebbles in one parcel, do not make the same impression on our senses; and the assertion that the very same pebbles may by an alteration of place and arrangement be made to produce either the one set of sensations or the other, though a very familiar proposition, is not an identical one. It is a truth known to us by early and constant experience: an inductive truth; and such truths are the foundation of the science of Number. The fundamental truths of that science all rest on the evidence of sense; they are proved by showing to our eyes and our fingers that any given number of objects--ten balls, for example--may by separation and re-arrangement exhibit to our senses all the different sets of numbers the sums of which is equal to ten. All the improved methods of teaching arithmetic to children proceed on a knowledge of this fact. All who wish to carry the child's mind along with them in learning arithmetic; all who wish to teach numbers, and not mere ciphers--now teach it through the evidence of the senses, in the manner we have described.
We may, if we please, call the proposition, "Three is two and one," a definition of the number three, and assert that arithmetic, as it has been asserted that geometry, is a science founded on definitions. But they are definitions in the geometrical sense, not the logical; asserting not the meaning of a term only, but along with it an observed matter of fact. The proposition, "A circle is a figure bounded by a line which has all its points equally distant from a point within it," is called the definition of a circle; but the proposition from which so many consequences follow, and which is really a first principle in geometry, is, that figures answering to this description exist. And thus we may call "Three is two and one" a definition of three; but the calculations which depend on that proposition do not follow from the definition itself, but from an arithmetical theorem presupposed in it, namely, that collections of objects exist, which while they impress the senses thus, [Symbol: three circles, two above one], may be separated into two parts, thus, [Symbol: two circles, a space, and a third circle]. This proposition being granted, we term all such parcels Threes, after which the enunciation of the above-mentioned physical fact will serve also for a definition of the word Three.
The Science of Number is thus no exception to the conclusion we previously arrived at, that the processes even of deductive sciences are altogether inductive, and that their first principles are generalizations from experience. It remains to be examined whether this science resembles geometry in the further circumstance, that some of its inductions are not exactly true; and that the peculiar certainty ascribed to it, on account of which its propositions are called Necessary Truths, is fictitious and hypothetical, being true in no other sense than that those propositions legitimately follow from the hypothesis of the truth of premises which are avowedly mere approximations to truth.
§ 3. The inductions of arithmetic are of two sorts: first, those which we have just expounded, such as One and one are two, Two and one are three, etc., which may be called the definitions of the various numbers, in the improper or geometrical sense of the word Definition; and secondly, the two following axioms: The sums of equals are equal, The differences of equals are equal. These two are sufficient; for the corresponding propositions respecting unequals may be proved from these by a _reductio ad absurdum_.
These axioms, and likewise the so-called definitions, are, as has already been said, results of induction; true of all objects whatever, and, as it may seem, exactly true, without the hypothetical assumption of unqualified truth where an approximation to it is all that exists. The conclusions, therefore, it will naturally be inferred, are exactly true, and the science of number is an exception to other demonstrative sciences in this, that the categorical certainty which is predicable of its demonstrations is independent of all hypothesis.
On more accurate investigation, however, it will be found that, even in this case, there is one hypothetical element in the ratiocination. In all propositions concerning numbers, a condition is implied, without which none of them would be true; and that condition is an assumption which may be false. The condition is, that 1=1; that all the numbers are numbers of the same or of equal units. Let this be doubtful, and not one of the propositions of arithmetic will hold true. How can we know that one pound and one pound make two pounds, if one of the pounds may be troy, and the other avoirdupois? They may not make two pounds of either, or of any weight. How can we know that a forty-horse power is always equal to itself, unless we assume that all horses are of equal strength? It is certain that 1 is always equal in number to 1; and where the mere number of objects, or of the parts of an object, without supposing them to be equivalent in any other respect, is all that is material, the conclusions of arithmetic, so far as they go to that alone, are true without mixture of hypothesis. There are such cases in statistics; as, for instance, an inquiry into the amount of the population of any country. It is indifferent to that inquiry whether they are grown people or children, strong or weak, tall or short; the only thing we want to ascertain is their number. But whenever, from equality or inequality of number, equality or inequality in any other respect is to be inferred, arithmetic carried into such inquiries becomes as hypothetical a science as geometry. All units must be assumed to be equal in that other respect; and this is never accurately true, for one actual pound weight is not exactly equal to another, nor one measured mile's length to another; a nicer balance, ormore accurate measuring instruments, would always detect some difference.
What is commonly called mathematical certainty, therefore, which comprises the twofold conception of unconditional truth and perfect accuracy, is not an attribute of all mathematical truths, but of those only which relate to pure Number, as distinguished from Quantity in the more enlarged sense; and only so long as we abstain from supposing that the numbers are a precise index to actual quantities. The certainty usually ascribed to the conclusions of geometry, and even to those of mechanics, is nothing whatever but certainty of inference. We can have full assurance of particular results under particular suppositions, but we can not have the same assurance that these suppositions are accurately true, nor that they include all the data which may exercise an influence over the result in any given instance.
§ 4. It appears, therefore, that the method of all Deductive Sciences is hypothetical. They proceed by tracing the consequences of certain assumptions; leaving for separate consideration whether the assumptions are true or not, and if not exactly true, whether they are a sufficiently near approximation to the truth. The reason is obvious. Since it is only in questions of pure number that the assumptions are exactly true, and even there only so long as no conclusions except purely numerical ones are to be founded on them; it must, in all other cases of deductive investigation, form a part of the inquiry, to determine how much the assumptions want of being exactly true in the case in hand. This is generally a matter of observation, to be repeated in every fresh case; or if it has to be settled by argument instead of observation, may require in every different case different evidence, and present every degree of difficulty, from the lowest to the highest. But the other part of the process--namely, to determine what else may be concluded if we find, and in proportion as we find, the assumptions to be true--may be performed once for all, and the results held ready to be employed as the occasions turn up for use. We thus do all beforehand that can be so done, and leave the least possible work to be performed when cases arise and press for a decision. This inquiry into the inferences which can be drawn from assumptions, is what properly constitutes Demonstrative Science.
It is of course quite as practicable to arrive at new conclusions from facts assumed, as from facts observed; from fictitious, as from real, inductions. Deduction, as we have seen, consists of a series of inferences in this form--a is a mark of b, b of c, c of d, therefore a is a mark of d, which last may be a truth inaccessible to direct observation. In like manner it is allowable to say, suppose that a were a mark of b, b of c, and c of d, a would be a mark of d, which last conclusion was not thought of by those who laid down the premises. A system of propositions as complicated as geometry might be deduced from assumptions which are false; as was done by Ptolemy, Descartes, and others, in their attempts to explain synthetically the phenomena of the solar system on the supposition that the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies were the real motions, or were produced in some way more or less different from the true one. Sometimes the same thing is knowingly done, for the purpose of showing the falsity of the assumption; which is called a reductio ad absurdum. In such cases, the reasoning is as follows: a is a mark of b, and b of c; now if c were also a mark of d, a would be a mark of d; but d is known to be a mark of the absence of a; consequently a would be a mark of its own absence, which is a contradiction; therefore c is not a mark of d.
§ 5. It has even been held by some writers, that all ratiocination rests in the last resort on a reductio ad absurdum; since the way to enforce assent to it, in case of obscurity, would be to show that if the conclusion be denied we must deny some one at least of the premises, which, as they are all supposed true, would be a contradiction. And in accordance with this, many have thought that the peculiar nature of the evidence of ratiocination consisted in the impossibility of admitting the premises and rejecting the conclusion without a contradiction in terms. This theory, however, is inadmissible as an explanation of the grounds on which ratiocination itself rests. If any one denies the conclusion notwithstanding his admission of the premises, he is not involved in any direct and express contradiction until he is compelled to deny some premise; and he can only be forced to do this by a reductio ad absurdum, that is, by another ratiocination: now, if he denies the validity of the reasoning process itself, he can no more be forced to assent to the second syllogism than to the first. In truth, therefore, no one is ever forced to a contradiction in terms: he can only be forced to a contradiction (or rather an infringement) of the fundamental maxim of ratiocination, namely, that whatever has a mark, has what it is a mark of; or (in the case of universal propositions), that whatever is a mark of any thing, is a mark of whatever else that thing is a mark of. For in the case of every correct argument, as soon as thrown into the syllogistic form, it is evident without the aid of any other syllogism, that he who, admitting the premises, fails to draw the conclusion, does not conform to the above axiom.
We have now proceeded as far in the theory of Deduction as we can advance in the present stage of our inquiry. Any further insight into the subject requires that the foundation shall have been laid of the philosophic theory of Induction itself; in which theory that of Deduction, as a mode of Induction, which we have now shown it to be, will assume spontaneously the place which belongs to it, and will receive its share of whatever light may be thrown upon the great intellectual operation of which it forms so important a part.
Examination Of Some Opinions Opposed To The Preceding Doctrines.
§ 1. Polemical discussion is foreign to the plan of this work. But an opinion which stands in need of much illustration, can often receive it most effectually, and least tediously, in the form of a defense against objections. And on subjects concerning which speculative minds are still divided, a writer does but half his duty by stating his own doctrine, if he does not also examine, and to the best of his ability judge, those of other thinkers.
In the dissertation which Mr. Herbert Spencer has prefixed to his, in many respects, highly philosophical treatise on the Mind,(91) he criticises some of the doctrines of the two preceding chapters, and propounds a theory of his own on the subject of first principles. Mr. Spencer agrees with me in considering axioms to be "simply our earliest inductions from experience." But he differs from me "widely as to the worth of the test of inconceivableness." He thinks that it is the ultimate test of all beliefs. He arrives at this conclusion by two steps. First, we never can have any stronger ground for believing any thing, than that the belief of it "invariably exists." Whenever any fact or proposition is invariably believed; that is, if I understand Mr. Spencer rightly, believed by all persons, and by one's self at all times; it is entitled to be received as one of the primitive truths, or original premises of our knowledge. Secondly, the criterion by which we decide whether any thing is invariably believed to be true, is our inability to conceive it as false. "The inconceivability of its negation is the test by which we ascertain whether a given belief invariably exists or not." "For our primary beliefs, the fact of invariable existence, tested by an abortive effort to cause their non-existence, is the only reason assignable." He thinks this the sole ground of our belief in our own sensations. If I believe that I feel cold, I only receive this as true because I can not conceive that I am not feeling cold. "While the proposition remains true, the negation of it remains inconceivable." There are numerous other beliefs which Mr. Spencer considers to rest on the same basis; being chiefly those, or a part of those, which the metaphysicians of the Reid and Stewart school consider as truths of immediate intuition. That there exists a material world; that this is the very world which we directly and immediately perceive, and not merely the hidden cause of our perceptions; that Space, Time, Force, Extension, Figure, are not modes of our consciousness, but objective realities; are regarded by Mr. Spencer as truths known by the inconceivableness of their negatives. We can not, he says, by any effort, conceive these objects of thought as mere states of our mind; as not having an existence external to us. Their real existence is, therefore, as certain as our sensations themselves. The truths which are the subject of direct knowledge, being, according to this doctrine, known to be truths only by the inconceivability of their negation; and the truths which are not the object of direct knowledge, being known as inferences from those which are; and those inferences being believed to follow from the premises, only because we can not conceive them not to follow; inconceivability is thus the ultimate ground of all assured beliefs.
Thus far, there is no very wide difference between Mr. Spencer's doctrine and the ordinary one of philosophers of the intuitive school, from Descartes to Dr. Whewell; but at this point Mr. Spencer diverges from them. For he does not, like them, set up the test of inconceivability as infallible. On the contrary, he holds that it may be fallacious, not from any fault in the test itself, but because "men have mistaken for inconceivable things, some things which were not inconceivable." And he himself, in this very book, denies not a few propositions usually regarded as among the most marked examples of truths whose negations are inconceivable. But occasional failure, he says, is incident to all tests. If such failure vitiates "the test of inconceivableness," it "must similarly vitiate all tests whatever. We consider an inference logically drawn from established premises to be true. Yet in millions of cases men have been wrong in the inferences they have thought thus drawn. Do we therefore argue that it is absurd to consider an inference true on no other ground than that it is logically drawn from established premises? No: we say that though men may have taken for logical inferences, inferences that were not logical, there nevertheless are logical inferences, and that we are justified in assuming the truth of what seem to us such, until better instructed. Similarly, though men may have thought some things inconceivable which were not so, there may still be inconceivable things; and the inability to conceive the negation of a thing, may still be our best warrant for believing it.... Though occasionally it may prove an imperfect test, yet, as our most certain beliefs are capable of no better, to doubt any one belief because we have no higher guarantee for it, is really to doubt all beliefs." Mr. Spencer's doctrine, therefore, does not erect the curable, but only the incurable limitations of the human conceptive faculty, into laws of the outward universe.
§ 2. The doctrine, that "a belief which is proved by the inconceivableness of its negation to invariably exist, is true," Mr. Spencer enforces by two arguments, one of which may be distinguished as positive, and the other as negative.
The positive argument is, that every such belief represents the aggregate of all past experience. "Conceding the entire truth of" the "position, that during any phase of human progress, the ability or inability to form a specific conception wholly depends on the experiences men have had; and that, by a widening of their experiences, they may, by and by, be enabled to conceive things before inconceivable to them, it may still be argued that as, at any time, the best warrant men can have for a belief is the perfect agreement of all pre-existing experience in support of it, it follows that, at any time, the inconceivableness of its negation is the deepest test any belief admits of.... Objective facts are ever impressing themselves upon us; our experience is a register of these objective facts; and the inconceivableness of a thing implies that it is wholly at variance with the register. Even were this all, it is not clear how, if every truth is primarily inductive, any better test of truth could exist. But it must be remembered that while many of these facts, impressing themselves upon us, are occasional; while others again are very general; some are universal and unchanging. These universal and unchanging facts are, by the hypothesis, certain to establish beliefs of which the negations are inconceivable; while the others are not certain to do this; and if they do, subsequent facts will reverse their action. Hence if, after an immense accumulation of experiences, there remain beliefs of which the negations are still inconceivable, most, if not all of them, must correspond to universal objective facts. If there be ... certain absolute uniformities in nature; if these uniformities produce, as they must, absolute uniformities in our experience; and if ... these absolute uniformities in our experience disable us from conceiving the negations of them; then answering to each absolute uniformity in nature which we can cognize, there must exist in us a belief of which the negation is inconceivable, and which is absolutely true. In this wide range of cases subjective inconceivableness must correspond to objective impossibility. Further experience will produce correspondence where it may not yet exist; and we may expect the correspondence to become ultimately complete. In nearly all cases this test of inconceivableness must be valid now" (I wish I could think we were so nearly arrived at omniscience); "and where it is not, it still expresses the net result of our experience up to the present time; which is the most that any test can do."
To this I answer, first, that it is by no means true that the inconceivability, by us, of the negative of a proposition proves all, or even any, "pre-existing experience" to be in favor of the affirmative. There may have been no such pre-existing experiences, but only a mistaken supposition of experience. How did the inconceivability of antipodes prove that experience had given any testimony against their possibility? How did the incapacity men felt of conceiving sunset otherwise than as a motion of the sun, represent any "net result" of experience in support of its being the sun and not the earth that moves? It is not experience that is represented, it is only a superficial semblance of experience. The only thing proved with regard to real experience, is the negative fact, that men have not had it of the kind which would have made the inconceivable proposition conceivable.
Next: Even if it were true that inconceivableness represents the net result of all past experience, why should we stop at the representative when we can get at the thing represented? If our incapacity to conceive the negation of a given supposition is proof of its truth, because proving that our experience has hitherto been uniform in its favor, the real evidence for the supposition is not the inconceivableness, but the uniformity of experience. Now this, which is the substantial and only proof, is directly accessible. We are not obliged to presume it from an incidental consequence. If all past experience is in favor of a belief, let this be stated, and the belief openly rested on that ground: after which the question arises, what that fact may be worth as evidence of its truth? For uniformity of experience is evidence in very different degrees: in some cases it is strong evidence, in others weak, in others it scarcely amounts to evidence at all. That all metals sink in water, was a uniform experience, from the origin of the human race to the discovery of potassium in the present century by Sir Humphry Davy. That all swans are white, was a uniform experience down to the discovery of Australia. In the few cases in which uniformity of experience does amount to the strongest possible proof, as with such propositions as these, Two straight lines can not inclose a space, Every event has a cause, it is not because their negations are inconceivable, which is not always the fact; but because the experience, which has been thus uniform, pervades all nature. It will be shown in the following Book that none of the conclusions either of induction or of deduction can be considered certain, except as far as their truth is shown to be inseparably bound up with truths of this class.
I maintain then, first, that uniformity of past experience is very far from being universally a criterion of truth. But secondly, inconceivableness is still further from being a test even of that test. Uniformity of contrary experience is only one of many causes of inconceivability. Tradition handed down from a period of more limited knowledge, is one of the commonest. The mere familiarity of one mode of production of a phenomenon often suffices to make every other mode appear inconceivable. Whatever connects two ideas by a strong association may, and continually does, render their separation in thought impossible; as Mr. Spencer, in other parts of his speculations, frequently recognizes. It was not for want of experience that the Cartesians were unable to conceive that one body could produce motion in another without contact. They had as much experience of other modes of producing motion as they had of that mode. The planets had revolved, and heavy bodies had fallen, every hour of their lives. But they fancied these phenomena to be produced by a hidden machinery which they did not see, because without it they were unable to conceive what they did see. The inconceivableness, instead of representing their experience, dominated and overrode their experience. Without dwelling further on what I have termed the positive argument of Mr. Spencer in support of his criterion of truth, I pass to his negative argument, on which he lays more stress.
§ 3. The negative argument is, that, whether inconceivability be good evidence or bad, no stronger evidence is to be obtained. That what is inconceivable can not be true, is postulated in every act of thought. It is the foundation of all our original premises. Still more it is assumed in all conclusions from those premises. The invariability of belief, tested by the inconceivableness of its negation, "is our sole warrant for every demonstration. Logic is simply a systematization of the process by which we indirectly obtain this warrant for beliefs that do not directly possess it. To gain the strongest conviction possible respecting any complex fact, we either analytically descend from it by successive steps, each of which we unconsciously test by the inconceivableness of its negation, until we reach some axiom or truth which we have similarly tested; or we synthetically ascend from such axiom or truth by such steps. In either case we connect some isolated belief, with a belief which invariably exists, by a series of intermediate beliefs which invariably exist." The following passage sums up the theory: "When we perceive that the negation of the belief is inconceivable, we have all possible warrant for asserting the invariability of its existence: and in asserting this, we express alike our logical justification of it, and the inexorable necessity we are under of holding it.... We have seen that this is the assumption on which every conclusion whatever ultimately rests. We have no other guarantee for the reality of consciousness, of sensations, of personal existence; we have no other guarantee for any axiom; we have no other guarantee for any step in a demonstration. Hence, as being taken for granted in every act of the understanding, it must be regarded as the Universal Postulate." But as this postulate, which we are under an "inexorable necessity" of holding true, is sometimes false; as "beliefs that once were shown by the inconceivableness of their negations to invariably exist, have since been found untrue," and as "beliefs that now possess this character may some day share the same fate;" the canon of belief laid down by Mr. Spencer is, that "the most certain conclusion" is that "which involves the postulate the fewest times." Reasoning, therefore, never ought to prevail against one of the immediate beliefs (the belief in Matter, in the outward reality of Extension, Space, and the like), because each of these involves the postulate only once; while an argument, besides involving it in the premises, involves it again in every step of the ratiocination, no one of the successive acts of inference being recognized as valid except because we can not conceive the conclusion not to follow from the premises.
It will be convenient to take the last part of this argument first. In every reasoning, according to Mr. Spencer, the assumption of the postulate is renewed at every step. At each inference we judge that the conclusion follows from the premises, our sole warrant for that judgment being that we can not conceive it not to follow. Consequently if the postulate is fallible, the conclusions of reasoning are more vitiated by that uncertainty than direct intuitions; and the disproportion is greater, the more numerous the steps of the argument.
To test this doctrine, let us first suppose an argument consisting only of a single step, which would be represented by one syllogism. This argument does rest on an assumption, and we have seen in the preceding chapters what the assumption is. It is, that whatever has a mark, has what it is a mark of. The evidence of this axiom I shall not consider at present;(92) let us suppose it (with Mr. Spencer) to be the inconceivableness of its reverse.
Let us now add a second step to the argument: we require, what? Another assumption? No: the same assumption a second time; and so on to a third, and a fourth. I confess I do not see how, on Mr. Spencer's own principles, the repetition of the assumption at all weakens the force of the argument. If it were necessary the second time to assume some other axiom, the argument would no doubt be weakened, since it would be necessary to its validity that both axioms should be true, and it might happen that one was true and not the other: making two chances of error instead of one. But since it is the same axiom, if it is true once it is true every time; and if the argument, being of a hundred links, assumed the axiom a hundred times, these hundred assumptions would make but one chance of error among them all. It is satisfactory that we are not obliged to suppose the deductions of pure mathematics to be among the most uncertain of argumentative processes, which on Mr. Spencer's theory they could hardly fail to be, since they are the longest. But the number of steps in an argument does not subtract from its reliableness, if no new premises, of an uncertain character, are taken up by the way.(93)
To speak next of the premises. Our assurance of their truth, whether they be generalities or individual facts, is grounded, in Mr. Spencer's opinion, on the inconceivableness of their being false. It is necessary to advert to a double meaning of the word inconceivable, which Mr. Spencer is aware of, and would sincerely disclaim founding an argument upon, but from which his case derives no little advantage notwithstanding. By inconceivableness is sometimes meant, inability to form or get rid of an idea; sometimes, inability to form or get rid of a belief. The former meaning is the most conformable to the analogy of language; for a conception always means an idea, and never a belief. The wrong meaning of "inconceivable" is, however, fully as frequent in philosophical discussion as the right meaning, and the intuitive school of metaphysicians could not well do without either. To illustrate the difference, we will take two contrasted examples. The early physical speculators considered antipodes incredible, because inconceivable. But antipodes were not inconceivable in the primitive sense of the word. An idea of them could be formed without difficulty: they could be completely pictured to the mental eye. What was difficult, and, as it then seemed, impossible, was to apprehend them as believable. The idea could be put together, of men sticking on by their feet to the under side of the earth; but the belief would follow, that they must fall off. Antipodes were not unimaginable, but they were unbelievable.
On the other hand, when I endeavor to conceive an end to extension, the two ideas refuse to come together. When I attempt to form a conception of the last point of space, I can not help figuring to myself a vast space beyond that last point. The combination is, under the conditions of our experience, unimaginable. This double meaning of inconceivable it is very important to bear in mind, for the argument from inconceivableness almost always turns on the alternate substitution of each of those meanings for the other.
In which of these two senses does Mr. Spencer employ the term, when he makes it a test of the truth of a proposition that its negation is inconceivable? Until Mr. Spencer expressly stated the contrary, I inferred from the course of his argument, that he meant unbelievable. He has, however, in a paper published in the fifth number of the _Fortnightly Review_, disclaimed this meaning, and declared that by an inconceivable proposition he means, now and always, "one of which the terms can not, by any effort, be brought before consciousness in that relation which the proposition asserts between them--a proposition of which the subject and predicate offer an insurmountable resistance to union in thought." We now, therefore, know positively that Mr. Spencer always endeavors to use the word inconceivable in this, its proper, sense: but it may yet be questioned whether his endeavor is always successful; whether the other, and popular use of the word, does not sometimes creep in with its associations, and prevent him from maintaining a clear separation between the two. When, for example, he says, that when I feel cold, I can not conceive that I am not feeling cold, this expression can not be translated into "I can not conceive myself not feeling cold," for it is evident that I can: the word conceive, therefore, is here used to express the recognition of a matter of fact--the perception of truth or falsehood; which I apprehend to be exactly the meaning of an act of belief, as distinguished from simple conception. Again, Mr. Spencer calls the attempt to conceive something which is inconceivable "an abortive effort to cause the non-existence," not of a conception or mental representation, but of a belief. There is need, therefore, to revise a considerable part of Mr. Spencer's language, if it is to be kept always consistent with his definition of inconceivability. But in truth the point is of little importance; since inconceivability, in Mr. Spencer's theory, is only a test of truth, inasmuch as it is a test of believability. The inconceivableness of a supposition is the extreme case of its unbelievability. This is the very foundation of Mr. Spencer's doctrine. The invariability of the belief is with him the real guarantee. The attempt to conceive the negative is made in order to test the inevitableness of the belief. It should be called, an attempt to believe the negative. When Mr. Spencer says that while looking at the sun a man can not conceive that he is looking into darkness, he should have said that a man can not believe that he is doing so. For it is surely possible, in broad daylight, to imagine one's self looking into darkness.(94) As Mr. Spencer himself says, speaking of the belief of our own existence, "That he might not exist, he can conceive well enough; but that he does not exist, he finds it impossible to conceive," i.e., to believe. So that the statement resolves itself into this: That I exist, and that I have sensations, I believe, because I can not believe otherwise. And in this case every one will admit that the impossibility is real. Any one's present sensations, or other states of subjective consciousness, that one person inevitably believes. They are facts known per se: it is impossible to ascend beyond them. Their negative is really unbelievable, and therefore there is never any question about believing it. Mr. Spencer's theory is not needed for these truths.
But according to Mr. Spencer there are other beliefs, relating to other things than our own subjective feelings, for which we have the same guarantee--which are, in a similar manner, invariable and necessary. With regard to these other beliefs, they can not be necessary, since they do not always exist. There have been, and are, many persons who do not believe the reality of an external world, still less the reality of extension and figure as the forms of that external world; who do not believe that space and time have an existence independent of the mind--nor any other of Mr. Spencer's objective intuitions. The negations of these alleged invariable beliefs are not unbelievable, for they are believed. It may be maintained, without obvious error, that we can not imagine tangible objects as mere states of our own and other people's consciousness; that the perception of them irresistibly suggests to us the idea of something external to ourselves: and I am not in a condition to say that this is not the fact (though I do not think any one is entitled to affirm it of any person besides himself). But many thinkers have believed, whether they could conceive it or not, that what we represent to ourselves as material objects, are mere modifications of consciousness; complex feelings of touch and of muscular action. Mr. Spencer may think the inference correct from the unimaginable to the unbelievable, because he holds that belief itself is but the persistence of an idea, and that what we can succeed in imagining we can not at the moment help apprehending as believable. But of what consequence is it what we apprehend at the moment, if the moment is in contradiction to the permanent state of our mind? A person who has been frightened when an infant by stories of ghosts, though he disbelieves them in after years (and perhaps never believed them), may be unable all his life to be in a dark place, in circumstances stimulating to the imagination, without mental discomposure. The idea of ghosts, with all its attendant terrors, is irresistibly called up in his mind by the outward circumstances. Mr. Spencer may say, that while he is under the influence of this terror he does not disbelieve in ghosts, but has a temporary and uncontrollable belief in them. Be it so; but allowing it to be so, which would it be truest to say of this man on the whole--that he believes in ghosts, or that he does not believe in them? Assuredly that he does not believe in them. The case is similar with those who disbelieve a material world. Though they can not get rid of the idea; though while looking at a solid object they can not help having the conception, and therefore, according to Mr. Spencer's metaphysics, the momentary belief, of its externality; even at that moment they would sincerely deny holding that belief: and it would be incorrect to call them other than disbelievers of the doctrine. The belief therefore is not invariable; and the test of inconceivableness fails in the only cases to which there could ever be any occasion to apply it.
That a thing may be perfectly believable, and yet may not have become conceivable, and that we may habitually believe one side of an alternative, and conceive only in the other, is familiarly exemplified in the state of mind of educated persons respecting sunrise and sunset. All educated persons either know by investigation, or believe on the authority of science, that it is the earth and not the sun which moves: but there are probably few who habitually conceive the phenomenon otherwise than as the ascent or descent of the sun. Assuredly no one can do so without a prolonged trial; and it is probably not easier now than in the first generation after Copernicus. Mr. Spencer does not say, "In looking at sunrise it is impossible not to conceive that it is the sun which moves, therefore this is what every body believes, and we have all the evidence for it that we can have for any truth." Yet this would be an exact parallel to his doctrine about the belief in matter.
The existence of matter, and other Noumena, as distinguished from the phenomenal world, remains a question of argument, as it was before; and the very general, but neither necessary nor universal, belief in them, stands as a psychological phenomenon to be explained, either on the hypothesis of its truth, or on some other. The belief is not a conclusive proof of its own truth, unless there are no such things as idola tribûs; but being a fact, it calls on antagonists to show, from what except the real existence of the thing believed, so general and apparently spontaneous a belief can have originated. And its opponents have never hesitated to accept this challenge.(95) The amount of their success in meeting it will probably determine the ultimate verdict of philosophers on the question.
§ 4. In the revision, or rather reconstruction, of his "Principles of Psychology," as one of the stages or platforms in the imposing structure of his System of Philosophy, Mr. Spencer has resumed what he justly terms(96) the "amicable controversy that has been long pending between us;" expressing at the same time a regret, which I cordially share, that "this lengthened exposition of a single point of difference, unaccompanied by an exposition of the numerous points of concurrence, unavoidably produces an appearance of dissent very far greater than that which exists." I believe, with Mr. Spencer, that the difference between us, if measured by our conclusions, is "superficial rather than substantial;" and the value I attach to so great an amount of agreement, in the field of analytic psychology, with a thinker of his force and depth, is such as I can hardly overstate. But I also agree with him that the difference which exists in our premises is one of "profound importance, philosophically considered;" and not to be dismissed while any part of the case of either of us has not been fully examined and discussed.
In his present statement of the Universal Postulate, Mr. Spencer has exchanged his former expression, "beliefs which invariably exist," for the following: "cognitions of which the predicates invariably exist along with their subjects." And he says that "an abortive effort to conceive the negation of a proposition, shows that the cognition expressed is one of which the predicate invariably exists along with its subject; and the discovery that the predicate invariably exists along with its subject, is the discovery that this cognition is one we are compelled to accept." Both these premises of Mr. Spencer's syllogism I am able to assent to, but in different senses of the middle term. If the invariable existence of the predicate along with its subject, is to be understood in the most obvious meaning, as an existence in actual Nature, or in other words, in our objective, or sensational, experience, I of course admit that this, once ascertained, compels us to accept the proposition: but then I do not admit that the failure of an attempt to conceive the negative, proves the predicate to be always co-existent with the subject in actual Nature. If, on the other hand (which I believe to be Mr. Spencer's meaning) the invariable existence of the predicate along with the subject is to be understood only of our conceptive faculty, i.e., that the one is inseparable from the other in our thoughts; then, indeed, the inability to separate the two ideas proves their inseparable conjunction, here and now, in the mind which has failed in the attempt; but this inseparability in thought does not prove a corresponding inseparability in fact; nor even in the thoughts of other people, or of the same person in a possible future.
"That some propositions have been wrongly accepted as true, because their negations were supposed inconceivable when they were not," does not, in Mr. Spencer's opinion, "disprove the validity of the test;" not only because any test whatever "is liable to yield untrue results, either from incapacity or from carelessness in those who use it," but because the propositions in question "were complex propositions, not to be established by a test applicable to propositions no further decomposable." "A test legitimately applicable to a simple proposition, the subject and predicate of which are in direct relation, can not be legitimately applied to a complex proposition, the subject and predicate of which are indirectly related through the many simple propositions implied." "That things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, is a fact which can be known by direct comparison of actual or ideal relations.... But that the square of the hypothenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides, can not be known immediately by comparison of two states of consciousness: here the truth can be reached only mediately, through a series of simple judgments respecting the likenesses or unlikenesses of certain relations." Moreover, even when the proposition admits of being tested by immediate consciousness, people often neglect to do it. A school-boy, in adding up a column of figures, will say "35 and 9 are 46," though this is contrary to the verdict which consciousness gives when 35 and 9 are really called up before it; but this is not done. And not only school-boys, but men and thinkers, do not always "distinctly translate into their equivalent states of consciousness the words they use."
It is but just to give Mr. Spencer's doctrine the benefit of the limitation he claims--viz., that it is only applicable to propositions which are assented to on simple inspection, without any intervening media of proof. But this limitation does not exclude some of the most marked instances of propositions now known to be false or groundless, but whose negative was once found inconceivable: such as, that in sunrise and sunset it is the sun which moves; that gravitation may exist without an intervening medium; and even the case of antipodes. The distinction drawn by Mr. Spencer is real; but, in the case of the propositions classed by him as complex, consciousness, until the media of proof are supplied, gives no verdict at all: it neither declares the equality of the square of the hypothenuse with the sum of the squares of the sides to be inconceivable, nor their inequality to be inconceivable. But in all the three cases which I have just cited, the inconceivability seems to be apprehended directly; no train of argument was needed, as in the case of the square of the hypothenuse, to obtain the verdict of consciousness on the point. Neither is any of the three a case like that of the school-boy's mistake, in which the mind was never really brought into contact with the proposition. They are cases in which one of two opposite predicates, mero adspectu, seemed to be incompatible with the subject, and the other, therefore, to be proved always to exist with it.(97)
As now limited by Mr. Spencer, the ultimate cognitions fit to be submitted to his test are only those of so universal and elementary a character as to be represented in the earliest and most unvarying experience, or apparent experience, of all mankind. In such cases the inconceivability of the negative, if real, is accounted for by the experience: and why (I have asked) should the truth be tested by the inconceivability, when we can go further back for proof--namely, to the experience itself? To this Mr. Spencer answers, that the experiences can not be all recalled to mind, and if recalled, would be of unmanageable multitude. To test a proposition by experience seems to him to mean that "before accepting as certain the proposition that any rectilineal figure must have as many angles as it has sides," I have "to think of every triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, etc., which I have ever seen, and to verify the asserted relation in each case." I can only say, with surprise, that I do not understand this to be the meaning of an appeal to experience. It is enough to know that one has been seeing the fact all one's life, and has never remarked any instance to the contrary, and that other people, with every opportunity of observation, unanimously declare the same thing. It is true, even this experience may be insufficient, and so it might be even if I could recall to mind every instance of it; but its insufficiency, instead of being brought to light, is disguised, if instead of sifting the experience itself, I appeal to a test which bears no relation to the sufficiency of the experience, but, at the most, only to its familiarity. These remarks do not lose their force even if we believe, with Mr. Spencer, that mental tendencies originally derived from experience impress themselves permanently on the cerebral structure and are transmitted by inheritance, so that modes of thinking which are acquired by the race become innate and a priori in the individual, thus representing, in Mr. Spencer's opinion, the experience of his progenitors, in addition to his own. All that would follow from this is, that a conviction might be really innate, i.e., prior to individual experience, and yet not be true, since the inherited tendency to accept it may have been originally the result of other causes than its truth.
Mr. Spencer would have a much stronger case, if he could really show that the evidence of Reasoning rests on the Postulate, or, in other words, that we believe that a conclusion follows from premises only because we can not conceive it not to follow. But this statement seems to me to be of the same kind as one I have previously commented on, viz., that I believe I see light, because I can not, while the sensation remains, conceive that I am looking into darkness. Both these statements seem to me incompatible with the meaning (as very rightly limited by Mr. Spencer) of the verb to conceive. To say that when I apprehend that A is B and that B is C, I can not conceive that A is not C, is to my mind merely to say that I am compelled to believe that A is C. If to conceive be taken in its proper meaning, viz., to form a mental representation, I may be able to conceive A as not being C. After assenting, with full understanding, to the Copernican proof that it is the earth and not the sun that moves, I not only can conceive, or represent to myself, sunset as a motion of the sun, but almost every one finds this conception of sunset easier to form, than that which they nevertheless know to be the true one.
§ 5. Sir William Hamilton holds as I do, that inconceivability is no criterion of impossibility. "There is no ground for inferring a certain fact to be impossible, merely from our inability to conceive its possibility." "Things there are which may, nay must, be true, of which the understanding is wholly unable to construe to itself the possibility."(98) Sir William Hamilton is, however, a firm believer in the a priori character of many axioms, and of the sciences deduced from them; and is so far from considering those axioms to rest on the evidence of experience, that he declares certain of them to be true even of Noumena--of the Unconditioned--of which it is one of the principal aims of his philosophy to prove that the nature of our faculties debars us from having any knowledge. The axioms to which he attributes this exceptional emancipation from the limits which confine all our other possibilities of knowledge; the chinks through which, as he represents, one ray of light finds its way to us from behind the curtain which veils from us the mysterious world of Things in themselves--are the two principles, which he terms, after the school-men, the Principle of Contradiction, and the Principle of Excluded Middle: the first, that two contradictory propositions can not both be true; the second, that they can not both be false. Armed with these logical weapons, we may boldly face Things in themselves, and tender to them the double alternative, sure that they must absolutely elect one or the other side, though we may be forever precluded from discovering which. To take his favorite example, we can not conceive the infinite divisibility of matter, and we can not conceive a minimum, or end to divisibility: yet one or the other must be true.
As I have hitherto said nothing of the two axioms in question, those of Contradiction and of Excluded Middle, it is not unseasonable to consider them here. The former asserts that an affirmative proposition and the corresponding negative proposition can not both be true; which has generally been held to be intuitively evident. Sir William Hamilton and the Germans consider it to be the statement in words of a form or law of our thinking faculty. Other philosophers, not less deserving of consideration, deem it to be an identical proposition; an assertion involved in the meaning of terms; a mode of defining Negation, and the word Not.
I am able to go one step with these last. An affirmative assertion and its negative are not two independent assertions, connected with each other only as mutually incompatible. That if the negative be true, the affirmative must be false, really is a mere identical proposition; for the negative proposition asserts nothing but the falsity of the affirmative, and has no other sense or meaning whatever. The Principium Contradictionis should therefore put off the ambitious phraseology which gives it the air of a fundamental antithesis pervading nature, and should be enunciated in the simpler form, that the same proposition can not at the same time be false and true. But I can go no further with the Nominalists; for I can not look upon this last as a merely verbal proposition. I consider it to be, like other axioms, one of our first and most familiar generalizations from experience. The original foundation of it I take to be, that Belief and Disbelief are two different mental states, excluding one another. This we know by the simplest observation of our own minds. And if we carry our observation outward, we also find that light and darkness, sound and silence, motion and quiescence, equality and inequality, preceding and following, succession and simultaneousness, any positive phenomenon whatever and its negative, are distinct phenomena, pointedly contrasted, and the one always absent where the other is present. I consider the maxim in question to be a generalization from all these facts.
In like manner as the Principle of Contradiction (that one of two contradictories must be false) means that an assertion can not be both true and false, so the Principle of Excluded Middle, or that one of two contradictories must be true, means that an assertion must be either true or false: either the affirmative is true, or otherwise the negative is true, which means that the affirmative is false. I can not help thinking this principle a surprising specimen of a so-called necessity of Thought, since it is not even true, unless with a large qualification. A proposition must be either true or false, provided that the predicate be one which can in any intelligible sense be attributed to the subject; (and as this is always assumed to be the case in treatises on logic, the axiom is always laid down there as of absolute truth). "Abracadabra is a second intention" is neither true nor false. Between the true and the false there is a third possibility, the Unmeaning: and this alternative is fatal to Sir William Hamilton's extension of the maxim to Noumena. That Matter must either have a minimum of divisibility or be infinitely divisible, is more than we can ever know. For in the first place, Matter, in any other than the phenomenal sense of the term, may not exist: and it will scarcely be said that a nonentity must be either infinitely or finitely divisible. In the second place, though matter, considered as the occult cause of our sensations, do really exist, yet what we call divisibility may be an attribute only of our sensations of sight and touch, and not of their uncognizable cause. Divisibility may not be predicable at all, in any intelligible sense, of Things in themselves, nor therefore of Matter in itself; and the assumed necessity of being either infinitely or finitely divisible, may be an inapplicable alternative.
On this question I am happy to have the full concurrence of Mr. Herbert Spencer, from whose paper in the Fortnightly Review I extract the following passage. The germ of an idea identical with that of Mr. Spencer may be found in the present chapter, on a preceding page; but in Mr. Spencer it is not an undeveloped thought, but a philosophical theory.
"When remembering a certain thing as in a certain place, the place and the thing are mentally represented together; while to think of the non-existence of the thing in that place implies a consciousness in which the place is represented, but not the thing. Similarly, if instead of thinking of an object as colorless, we think of its having color, the change consists in the addition to the concept of an element that was before absent from it--the object can not be thought of first as red and then as not red, without one component of the thought being totally expelled from the mind by another. The law of the Excluded Middle, then, is simply a generalization of the universal experience that some mental states are directly destructive of other states. It formulates a certain absolutely constant law, that the appearance of any positive mode of consciousness can not occur without excluding a correlative negative mode; and that the negative mode can not occur without excluding the correlative positive mode: the antithesis of positive and negative being, indeed, merely an expression of this experience. Hence it follows that if consciousness is not in one of the two modes it must be in the other."(99)
I must here close this supplementary chapter, and with it the Second Book. The theory of Induction, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, will form the subject of the Third.