A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive/Book V
- "Errare non modo affirmando et negando, sed etiam sentiendo, et in tacitâ hominum cogitatione contingit."--HOBBES, Computatio sive Logica, chap. v.
- "Il leur semble qu'il n'y a qu'à douter par fantaisie, et qu'il n'y a qu'à dire en général que notre nature est infirme; que notre esprit est plein d'aveuglement: qu'il faut avoir un grand soin de se défaire de ses préjugés, et autres choses semblables. Ils pensent que cela suffit pour ne plus se laisser séduire à ses sens, et pour ne plus se tromper du tout. Il ne suffit pas de dire que l'esprit est faible, il faut lui faire sentir ses faiblesses. Ce n'est pas assez de dire qu'il est sujet à l'erreur, il faut lui découvrir en quoi consistent ses erreurs."--MALEBRANCHE, Recherche de la Vérité.
Of Fallacies In General.
§ 1. It is a maxim of the school-men, that "contrariorum eadem est scientia:" we never really know what a thing is, unless we are also able to give a sufficient account of its opposite. Conformably to this maxim, one considerable section, in most treatises on Logic, is devoted to the subject of Fallacies; and the practice is too well worthy of observance, to allow of our departing from it. The philosophy of reasoning, to be complete, ought to comprise the theory of bad as well as of good reasoning.
We have endeavored to ascertain the principles by which the sufficiency of any proof can be tested, and by which the nature and amount of evidence needful to prove any given conclusion can be determined beforehand. If these principles were adhered to, then although the number and value of the truths ascertained would be limited by the opportunities, or by the industry, ingenuity, and patience, of the individual inquirer, at least error would not be embraced instead of truth. But the general consent of mankind, founded on their experience, vouches for their being far indeed from even this negative kind of perfection in the employment of their reasoning powers.
In the conduct of life--in the practical business of mankind--wrong inferences, incorrect interpretations of experience, unless after much culture of the thinking faculty, are absolutely inevitable; and with most people, after the highest degree of culture they ever attain, such erroneous inferences, producing corresponding errors in conduct, are lamentably frequent. Even in the speculations to which eminent intellects have systematically devoted themselves, and in reference to which the collective mind of the scientific world is always at hand to aid the efforts and correct the aberrations of individuals, it is only from the more perfect sciences, from those of which the subject-matter is the least complicated, that opinions not resting on a correct induction have at length, generally speaking, been expelled. In the departments of inquiry relating to the more complex phenomena of nature, and especially those of which the subject is man, whether as a moral and intellectual, a social, or even as a physical being; the diversity of opinions still prevalent among instructed persons, and the equal confidence with which those of the most contrary ways of thinking cling to their respective tenets, are proof not only that right modes of philosophizing are not yet generally adopted on those subjects, but that wrong ones are; that inquirers have not only in general missed the truth, but have often embraced error; that even the most cultivated portion of our species have not yet learned to abstain from drawing conclusions which the evidence does not warrant.
The only complete safeguard against reasoning ill, is the habit of reasoning well; familiarity with the principles of correct reasoning, and practice in applying those principles. It is, however, not unimportant to consider what are the most common modes of bad reasoning; by what appearances the mind is most likely to be seduced from the observance of true principles of induction; what, in short, are the most common and most dangerous varieties of Apparent Evidence, whereby persons are misled into opinions for which there does not exist evidence really conclusive.
A catalogue of the varieties of apparent evidence which are not real evidence, is an enumeration of Fallacies. Without such an enumeration, therefore, the present work would be wanting in an essential point. And while writers who included in their theory of reasoning nothing more than ratiocination, have in consistency with this limitation, confined their remarks to the fallacies which have their seat in that portion of the process of investigation; we, who profess to treat of the whole process, must add to our directions for performing it rightly, warnings against performing it wrongly in any of its parts: whether the ratiocinative or the experimental portion of it be in fault, or the fault lie in dispensing with ratiocination and induction altogether.
§ 2. In considering the sources of unfounded inference, it is unnecessary to reckon the errors which arise, not from a wrong method, nor even from ignorance of the right one, but from a casual lapse, through hurry or inattention, in the application of the true principles of induction. Such errors, like the accidental mistakes in casting up a sum, do not call for philosophical analysis or classification; theoretical considerations can throw no light upon the means of avoiding them. In the present treatise our attention is required, not to mere inexpertness in performing the operation in the right way (the only remedies for which are increased attention and more sedulous practice), but to the modes of performing it in a way fundamentally wrong; the conditions under which the human mind persuades itself that it has sufficient grounds for a conclusion which it has not arrived at by any of the legitimate methods of induction--which it has not, even carelessly or overhastily, endeavored to test by those legitimate methods.
§ 3. There is another branch of what may be called the Philosophy of Error, which must be mentioned here, though only to be excluded from our subject. The sources of erroneous opinions are twofold, moral and intellectual. Of these, the moral do not fall within the compass of this work. They may be classed under two general heads: Indifference to the attainment of truth, and Bias; of which last the most common case is that in which we are biased by our wishes; but the liability is almost as great to the undue adoption of a conclusion which is disagreeable to us, as of one which is agreeable, if it be of a nature to bring into action any of the stronger passions. Persons of timid character are the more predisposed to believe any statement, the more it is calculated to alarm them. Indeed it is a psychological law, deducible from the most general laws of the mental constitution of man, that any strong passion renders us credulous as to the existence of objects suitable to excite it.
But the moral causes of opinions, though with most persons the most powerful of all, are but remote causes; they do not act directly, but by means of the intellectual causes; to which they bear the same relation that the circumstances called, in the theory of medicine, predisposing causes, bear to exciting causes. Indifference to truth can not, in and by itself, produce erroneous belief; it operates by preventing the mind from collecting the proper evidences, or from applying to them the test of a legitimate and rigid induction; by which omission it is exposed unprotected to the influence of any species of apparent evidence which offers itself spontaneously, or which is elicited by that smaller quantity of trouble which the mind may be willing to take. As little is Bias a direct source of wrong conclusions. We can not believe a proposition only by wishing, or only by dreading, to believe it. The most violent inclination to find a set of propositions true, will not enable the weakest of mankind to believe them without a vestige of intellectual grounds--without any, even apparent, evidence. It acts indirectly, by placing the intellectual grounds of belief in an incomplete or distorted shape before his eyes. It makes him shrink from the irksome labor of a rigorous induction, when he has a misgiving that its result may be disagreeable; and in such examination as he does institute, it makes him exert that which is in a certain measure voluntary, his attention, unfairly, giving a larger share of it to the evidence which seems favorable to the desired conclusion, a smaller to that which seems unfavorable. It operates, too, by making him look out eagerly for reasons, or apparent reasons, to support opinions which are conformable, or resist those which are repugnant, to his interests or feelings; and when the interests or feelings are common to great numbers of persons, reasons are accepted and pass current, which would not for a moment be listened to in that character if the conclusion had nothing more powerful than its reasons to speak in its behalf. The natural or acquired partialities of mankind are continually throwing up philosophical theories, the sole recommendation of which consists in the premises they afford for proving cherished doctrines, or justifying favorite feelings; and when any one of these theories has been so thoroughly discredited as no longer to serve the purpose, another is always ready to take its place. This propensity, when exercised in favor of any widely-spread persuasion or sentiment, is often decorated with complimentary epithets; and the contrary habit of keeping the judgment in complete subordination to evidence, is stigmatized by various hard names, as skepticism, immorality, coldness, hard-heartedness, and similar expressions according to the nature of the case. But though the opinions of the generality of mankind, when not dependent on mere habit and inculcation, have their root much more in the inclinations than in the intellect, it is a necessary condition to the triumph of the moral bias that it should first pervert the understanding. Every erroneous inference, though originating in moral causes, involves the intellectual operation of admitting insufficient evidence as sufficient; and whoever was on his guard against all kinds of inconclusive evidence which can be mistaken for conclusive, would be in no danger of being led into error even by the strongest bias. There are minds so strongly fortified on the intellectual side, that they could not blind themselves to the light of truth, however really desirous of doing so; they could not, with all the inclination in the world, pass off upon themselves bad arguments for good ones. If the sophistry of the intellect could be rendered impossible, that of the feelings, having no instrument to work with, would be powerless. A comprehensive classification of all those things which, not being evidence, are liable to appear such to the understanding, will, therefore, of itself include all errors of judgment arising from moral causes, to the exclusion only of errors of practice committed against better knowledge.
To examine, then, the various kinds of apparent evidence which are not evidence at all, and of apparently conclusive evidence which do not really amount to conclusiveness, is the object of that part of our inquiry into which we are about to enter.
The subject is not beyond the compass of classification and comprehensive survey. The things, indeed, which are not evidence of any given conclusion, are manifestly endless, and this negative property, having no dependence on any positive ones, can not be made the groundwork of a real classification. But the things which, not being evidence, are susceptible of being mistaken for it, are capable of a classification having reference to the positive property which they possess of appearing to be evidence. We may arrange them, at our choice, on either of two principles; according to the cause which makes them appear to be evidence, not being so; or according to the particular kind of evidence which they simulate. The Classification of Fallacies which will be attempted in the ensuing chapter, is founded on these considerations jointly.
Classification Of Fallacies.
§ 1. In attempting to establish certain general distinctions which shall mark out from one another the various kinds of Fallacious Evidence, we propose to ourselves an altogether different aim from that of several eminent thinkers, who have given, under the name of Political or other Fallacies, a mere enumeration of a certain number of erroneous opinions; false general propositions which happen to be often met with; _loci communes_ of bad arguments on some particular subject. Logic is not concerned with the false opinions which people happen to entertain, but with the manner in which they come to entertain them. The question is not, what facts have at any time been erroneously supposed to be proof of certain other facts, but what property in the facts it was which led any one to this mistaken supposition.
When a fact is supposed, though incorrectly, to be evidentiary of, or a mark of, some other fact, there must be a cause of the error; the supposed evidentiary fact must be connected in some particular manner with the fact of which it is deemed evidentiary--must stand in some particular relation to it, without which relation it would not be regarded in that light. The relation may either be one resulting from the simple contemplation of the two facts side by side with one another, or it may depend on some process of mind, by which a previous association has been established between them. Some peculiarity of relation, however, there must be; the fact which can, even by the wildest aberration, be supposed to prove another fact, must stand in some special position with regard to it; and if we could ascertain and define that special position, we should perceive the origin of the error.
We can not regard one fact as evidentiary of another, unless we believe that the two are always, or in the majority of cases, conjoined. If we believe A to be evidentiary of B, if when we see A we are inclined to infer B from it, the reason is because we believe that wherever A is, B also either always or for the most part exists, either as an antecedent, a consequent, or a concomitant. If when we see A we are inclined not to expect B--if we believe A to be evidentiary of the absence of B--it is because we believe that where A is, B either is never, or at least seldom, found. Erroneous conclusions, in short, no less than correct conclusions, have an invariable relation to a general formula, either expressed or tacitly implied. When we infer some fact from some other fact which does not really prove it, we either have admitted, or, if we maintained consistency, ought to admit, some groundless general proposition respecting the conjunction of the two phenomena.
For every property, therefore, in facts, or in our mode of considering facts, which leads us to believe that they are habitually conjoined when they are not, or that they are not when in reality they are, there is a corresponding kind of Fallacy; and an enumeration of fallacies would consist in a specification of those properties in facts, and those peculiarities in our mode of considering them, which give rise to this erroneous opinion.
§ 2. To begin, then; the supposed connection, or repugnance, between the two facts, may either be a conclusion from evidence (that is, from some other proposition or propositions), or may be admitted without any such ground; admitted, as the phrase is, on its own evidence; embraced as self-evident, as an axiomatic truth. This gives rise to the first great distinction, that between Fallacies of Inference and Fallacies of Simple Inspection. In the latter division must be included not only all cases in which a proposition is believed and held for true, literally without any extrinsic evidence, either of specific experience or general reasoning; but those more frequent cases in which simple inspection creates a presumption in favor of a proposition; not sufficient for belief, but sufficient to cause the strict principles of a regular induction to be dispensed with, and creating a predisposition to believe it on evidence which would be seen to be insufficient if no such presumption existed. This class, comprehending the whole of what may be termed Natural Prejudices, and which I shall call indiscriminately Fallacies of Simple Inspection or Fallacies a priori, shall be placed at the head of our list.
Fallacies of Inference, or erroneous conclusions from supposed evidence, must be subdivided according to the nature of the apparent evidence from which the conclusions are drawn; or (what is the same thing) according to the particular kind of sound argument which the fallacy in question simulates. But there is a distinction to be first drawn, which does not answer to any of the divisions of sound arguments, but arises out of the nature of bad ones. We may know exactly what our evidence is, and yet draw a false conclusion from it; we may conceive precisely what our premises are, what alleged matters of fact, or general principles, are the foundation of our inference; and yet, because the premises are false, or because we have inferred from them what they will not support, our conclusion may be erroneous. But a case, perhaps even more frequent, is that in which the error arises from not conceiving our premises with due clearness, that is (as shown in the preceding Book(229)), with due fixity: forming one conception of our evidence when we collect or receive it, and another when we make use of it; or unadvisedly, and in general unconsciously, substituting, as we proceed, different premises in the place of those with which we set out, or a different conclusion for that which we undertook to prove. This gives existence to a class of fallacies which may be justly termed (in a phrase borrowed from Bentham) Fallacies of Confusion; comprehending, among others, all those which have their source in language, whether arising from the vagueness or ambiguity of our terms, or from casual associations with them.
When the fallacy is not one of Confusion, that is, when the proposition believed, and the evidence on which it is believed, are steadily apprehended and unambiguously expressed, there remain to be made two cross divisions. The Apparent Evidence may be either particular facts, or foregone generalizations; that is, the process may simulate either simple Induction or Deduction; and again, the evidence, whether consisting of supposed facts or of general propositions, may be false in itself, or, being true, may fail to bear out the conclusion attempted to be founded on it. This gives us first, Fallacies of Induction and Fallacies of Deduction, and then a subdivision of each of these, according as the supposed evidence is false, or true but inconclusive.
Fallacies of Induction, where the facts on which the induction proceeds are erroneous, may be termed Fallacies of Observation. The term is not strictly accurate, or, rather, not accurately co-extensive with the class of fallacies which I propose to designate by it. Induction is not always grounded on facts immediately observed, but sometimes on facts inferred; and when these last are erroneous, the error may not be, in the literal sense of the term, an instance of bad observation, but of bad inference. It will be convenient, however, to make only one class of all the inductions of which the error lies in not sufficiently ascertaining the facts on which the theory is grounded; whether the cause of failure be malobservation, or simple non-observation, and whether the malobservation be direct, or by means of intermediate marks which do not prove what they are supposed to prove. And in the absence of any comprehensive term to denote the ascertainment, by whatever means, of the facts on which an induction is grounded, I will venture to retain for this class of fallacies, under the explanation now given, the title of Fallacies of Observation.
The other class of inductive fallacies, in which the facts are correct, but the conclusion not warranted by them, are properly denominated Fallacies of Generalization; and these, again, fall into various subordinate classes or natural groups, some of which will be enumerated in their proper place.
When we now turn to Fallacies of Deduction, namely those modes of incorrect argumentation in which the premises, or some of them, are general propositions, and the argument a ratiocination; we may of course subdivide these also into two species similar to the two preceding, namely, those which proceed on false premises, and those of which the premises, though true, do not support the conclusion. But of these species, the first must necessarily fall under some one of the heads already enumerated. For the error must be either in those premises which are general propositions, or in those which assert individual facts. In the former case it is an Inductive Fallacy, of one or the other class; in the latter it is a Fallacy of Observation; unless, in either case, the erroneous premise has been assumed on simple inspection, in which case the fallacy is a priori. Or, finally, the premises, of whichever kind they are, may never have been conceived in so distinct a manner as to produce any clear consciousness by what means they were arrived at; as in the case of what is called reasoning in a circle; and then the fallacy is one of Confusion.
There remain, therefore, as the only class of fallacies having properly their seat in deduction, those in which the premises of the ratiocination do not bear out its conclusion; the various cases, in short, of vicious argumentation, provided against by the rules of the syllogism. We shall call these, Fallacies of Ratiocination.
§ 3. We must not, however, expect to find that men's actual errors always, or even commonly, fall so unmistakably under some one of these classes, as to be incapable of being referred to any other. Erroneous arguments do not admit of such a sharply cut division as valid arguments do. An argument fully stated, with all its steps distinctly set out, in language not susceptible of misunderstanding, must, if it be erroneous, be so in some one of these five modes unequivocally; or indeed of the first four, since the fifth, on such a supposition, would vanish. But it is not in the nature of bad reasoning to express itself thus unambiguously. When a sophist, whether he is imposing on himself or attempting to impose on others, can be constrained to throw his sophistry into so distinct a form, it needs, in a large proportion of cases, no further exposure.
In all arguments, everywhere but in the schools, some of the links are suppressed; a fortiori when the arguer either intends to deceive, or is a lame and inexpert thinker, little accustomed to bring his reasoning processes to any test; and it is in those steps of the reasoning which are made in this tacit and half-conscious, or even wholly unconscious manner, that the error oftenest lurks. In order to detect the fallacy, the proposition thus silently assumed must be supplied; but the reasoner, most likely, has never really asked himself what he was assuming; his confuter, unless permitted to extort it from him by the Socratic mode of interrogation, must himself judge what the suppressed premise ought to be in order to support the conclusion. And hence, in the words of Archbishop Whately, "it must be often a matter of doubt, or, rather, of arbitrary choice, not only to which genus each kind of fallacy should be referred, but even to which kind to refer any one individual fallacy; for since, in any course of argument, one premise is usually suppressed, it frequently happens in the case of a fallacy, that the hearers are left to the alternative of supplying either a premise which is not true, or else, one which does not prove the conclusion; e.g., if a man expatiates on the distress of the country, and thence argues that the government is tyrannical, we must suppose him to assume either that 'every distressed country is under a tyranny,' which is a manifest falsehood, or merely that 'every country under a tyranny is distressed,' which, however true, proves nothing, the middle term being undistributed." The former would be ranked, in our distribution, among fallacies of generalization, the latter among those of ratiocination. "Which are we to suppose the speaker meant us to understand? Surely" (if he understood himself) "just whichever each of his hearers might happen to prefer: some might assent to the false premise; others allow the unsound syllogism."
Almost all fallacies, therefore, might in strictness be brought under our fifth class, Fallacies of Confusion. A fallacy can seldom be absolutely referred to any of the other classes; we can only say, that if all the links were filled up which should be capable of being supplied in a valid argument, it would either stand thus (forming a fallacy of one class), or thus (a fallacy of another); or at furthest we may say, that the conclusion is most likely to have originated in a fallacy of such and such a class. Thus, in the illustration just quoted, the error committed may be traced with most probability to a fallacy of generalization; that of mistaking an uncertain mark, or piece of evidence, for a certain one; concluding from an effect to some one of its possible causes, when there are others which would have been equally capable of producing it.
Yet, though the five classes run into each other, and a particular error often seems to be arbitrarily assigned to one of them rather than to any of the rest, there is considerable use in so distinguishing them. We shall find it convenient to set apart, as Fallacies of Confusion, those of which confusion is the most obvious characteristic; in which no other cause can be assigned for the mistake committed, than neglect or inability to state the question properly, and to apprehend the evidence with definiteness and precision. In the remaining four classes I shall place not only the cases in which the evidence is clearly seen to be what it is, and yet a wrong conclusion drawn from it, but also those in which, although there be confusion, the confusion is not the sole cause of the error, but there is some shadow of a ground for it in the nature of the evidence itself. And in distributing these cases of partial confusion among the four classes, I shall, when there can be any hesitation as to the precise seat of the fallacy, suppose it to be in that part of the process in which, from the nature of the case, and the tendencies of the human mind, an error would in the particular circumstances be the most probable.
After these observations we shall proceed, without further preamble, to consider the five classes in their order.
Fallacies Of Simple Inspection; Or A Priori Fallacies.
§ 1. The tribe of errors of which we are to treat in the first instance, are those in which no actual inference takes place at all; the proposition (it can not in such cases be called a conclusion) being embraced, not as proved, but as requiring no proof; as a self-evident truth; or else as having such intrinsic verisimilitude, that external evidence not in itself amounting to proof, is sufficient in aid of the antecedent presumption.
An attempt to treat this subject comprehensively would be a transgression of the bounds prescribed to this work, since it would necessitate the inquiry which, more than any other, is the grand question of what is called metaphysics, viz., What are the propositions which may reasonably be received without proof? That there must be some such propositions all are agreed, since there can not be an infinite series of proof, a chain suspended from nothing. But to determine what these propositions are, is the opus magnum of the more recondite mental philosophy. Two principal divisions of opinion on the subject have divided the schools of philosophy from its first dawn. The one recognizes no ultimate premises but the facts of our subjective consciousness; our sensations, emotions, intellectual states of mind, and volitions. These, and whatever by strict rules of induction can be derived from these, it is possible, according to this theory, for us to know; of all else we must remain in ignorance. The opposite school hold that there are other existences, suggested indeed to our minds by these subjective phenomena, but not inferable from them, by any process either of deduction or of induction; which, however, we must, by the constitution of our mental nature, recognize as realities; and realities, too, of a higher order than the phenomena of our consciousness, being the efficient causes and necessary substrata of all Phenomena. Among these entities they reckon Substances, whether matter or spirit; from the dust under our feet to the soul, and from that to Deity. All these, according to them, are preternatural or supernatural beings, having no likeness in experience, though experience is entirely a manifestation of their agency. Their existence, together with more or less of the laws to which they conform in their operations, are, on this theory, apprehended and recognized as real by the mind itself intuitively; experience (whether in the form of sensation or of mental feeling) having no other part in the matter than as affording facts which are consistent with these necessary postulates of reason, and which are explained and accounted for by them.
As it is foreign to the purpose of the present treatise to decide between these conflicting theories, we are precluded from inquiring into the existence, or defining the extent and limits, of knowledge a priori, and from characterizing the kind of correct assumption which the fallacy of incorrect assumption, now under consideration, simulates. Yet since it is allowed on both sides that such assumptions are often made improperly, we may find it practicable, without entering into the ultimate metaphysical grounds of the discussion, to state some speculative propositions, and suggest some practical cautions, respecting the forms in which such unwarranted assumptions are most likely to be made.
§ 2. In the cases in which, according to the thinkers of the ontological school, the mind apprehends, by intuition, things, and the laws of things, not cognizable by our sensitive faculty; those intuitive, or supposed intuitive, perceptions are undistinguishable from what the opposite school are accustomed to call ideas of the mind. When they themselves say that they perceive the things by an immediate act of a faculty given for that purpose by their Creator, it would be said of them by their opponents that they find an idea or conception in their own minds, and from the idea or conception, infer the existence of a corresponding objective reality. Nor would this be an unfair statement, but a mere version into other words of the account given by many of themselves; and one to which the more clear-sighted of them might, and generally do, without hesitation, subscribe. Since, therefore, in the cases which lay the strongest claims to be examples of knowledge a priori, the mind proceeds from the idea of a thing to the reality of the thing itself, we can not be surprised by finding that illicit assumptions a priori consist in doing the same thing erroneously; in mistaking subjective facts for objective, laws of the percipient mind for laws of the perceived object, properties of the ideas or conceptions for properties of the things conceived.
Accordingly, a large proportion of the erroneous thinking which exists in the world proceeds on a tacit assumption, that the same order must obtain among the objects in nature which obtains among our ideas of them. That if we always think of two things together, the two things must always exist together. That if one thing makes us think of another as preceding or following it, that other must precede it or follow it in actual fact. And conversely, that when we can not conceive two things together they can not exist together, and that their combination may, without further evidence, be rejected from the list of possible occurrences.
Few persons, I am inclined to think, have reflected on the great extent to which this fallacy has prevailed, and prevails, in the actual beliefs and actions of mankind. For a first illustration of it we may refer to a large class of popular superstitions. If any one will examine in what circumstances most of those things agree, which in different ages and by different portions of the human race have been considered as omens or prognostics of some interesting event, whether calamitous or fortunate; they will be found very generally characterized by this peculiarity, that they cause the mind to think of that, of which they are therefore supposed to forbode the actual occurrence. "Talk of the devil and he will appear," has passed into a proverb. Talk of the devil, that is, raise the idea, and the reality will follow. In times when the appearance of that personage in a visible form was thought to be no unfrequent occurrence, it has doubtless often happened to persons of vivid imagination and susceptible nerves, that talking of the devil has caused them to fancy they saw him; as even in our more incredulous days, listening to ghost stories predisposes us to see ghosts; and thus, as a prop to the _a priori_ fallacy, there might come to be added an auxiliary fallacy of malobservation, with one of false generalization grounded on it. Fallacies of different orders often herd or cluster together in this fashion, one smoothing the way for another. But the origin of the superstition is evidently that which we have assigned. In like manner, it has been universally considered unlucky to speak of misfortune.
The day on which any calamity happened has been considered an unfortunate day, and there has been a feeling everywhere, and in some nations a religious obligation, against transacting any important business on that day. For on such a day our thoughts are likely to be of misfortune. For a similar reason, any untoward occurrence in commencing an undertaking has been considered ominous of failure; and often, doubtless, has really contributed to it by putting the persons engaged in the enterprise more or less out of spirits; but the belief has equally prevailed where the disagreeable circumstance was, independently of superstition, too insignificant to depress the spirits by any influence of its own. All know the story of Cæsar's accidentally stumbling in the act of landing on the African coast; and the presence of mind with which he converted the direful presage into a favorable one by exclaiming, "Africa, I embrace thee." Such omens, it is true, were often conceived as warnings of the future, given by a friendly or a hostile deity; but this very superstition grew out of a pre-existing tendency; the god was supposed to send, as an indication of what was to come, something which people were already disposed to consider in that light. So in the case of lucky or unlucky names. Herodotus tells us how the Greeks, on the way to Mycale, were encouraged in their enterprise by the arrival of a deputation from Samos, one of the members of which was named Hegesistratus, the leader of armies.
Cases may be pointed out in which something which could have no real effect but to make persons think of misfortune, was regarded not merely as a prognostic, but as something approaching to an actual cause of it. The εὐφήμει of the Greeks, and favete linguis, or bona verba quæso, of the Romans, evince the care with which they endeavored to repress the utterance of any word expressive or suggestive of ill fortune; not from notions of delicate politeness, to which their general mode of conduct and feeling had very little reference, but from bona fide alarm lest the event so suggested to the imagination should in fact occur. Some vestige of a similar superstition has been known to exist among uneducated persons even in our own day: it is thought an unchristian thing to talk of, or suppose, the death of any person while he is alive. It is known how careful the Romans were to avoid, by an indirect mode of speech, the utterance of any word directly expressive of death or other calamity; how instead of mortuus est they said vixit; and "be the event fortunate or otherwise" instead of adverse. The name Maleventum, of which Salmasius so sagaciously detected the Thessalian origin (Μαλόεις, Μαλοέντος), they changed into the highly propitious denomination, Beneventum; Egesta into Segesta; and Epidamnus, a name so interesting in its associations to the reader of Thucydides, they exchanged for Dyrrhachium, to escape the perils of a word suggestive of damnum or detriment.
"If a hare cross the highway," says Sir Thomas Browne,(230) "there are few above threescore that are not perplexed thereat; which notwithstanding is but an augurial terror, according to that received expression, Inauspicatum dat iter oblatus lepus. And the ground of the conceit was probably no greater than this, that a fearful animal passing by us portended unto us something to be feared; as upon the like consideration the meeting of a fox presaged some future imposture." Such superstitions as these last must be the result of study; they are too recondite for natural or spontaneous growth. But when the attempt was once made to construct a science of predictions, any association, though ever so faint or remote, by which an object could be connected in however far-fetched a manner with ideas either of prosperity or of danger and misfortune, was enough to determine its being classed among good or evil omens.
An example of rather a different kind from any of these, but falling under the same principle, is the famous attempt on which so much labor and ingenuity were expended by the alchemists, to make gold potable. The motive to this was a conceit that potable gold could be no other than the universal medicine; and why gold? Because it was so precious. It must have all marvelous properties as a physical substance, because the mind was already accustomed to marvel at it.
From a similar feeling, "every substance," says Dr. Paris,(231) "whose origin is involved in mystery, has at different times been eagerly applied to the purposes of medicine. Not long since, one of those showers which are now known to consist of the excrements of insects, fell in the north of Italy; the inhabitants regarded it as manna, or some supernatural panacea, and they swallowed it with such avidity, that it was only by extreme address that a small quantity was obtained for a chemical examination." The superstition, in this instance, though doubtless partly of a religious character, probably in part also arose from the prejudice that a wonderful thing must of course have wonderful properties.
§ 3. The instances of a priori fallacy which we have hitherto cited belong to the class of vulgar errors, and do not now, nor in any but a rude age ever could, impose upon minds of any considerable attainments. But those to which we are about to proceed, have been, and still are, all but universally prevalent among thinkers. The same disposition to give objectivity to a law of the mind--to suppose that what is true of our ideas of things must be true of the things themselves--exhibits itself in many of the most accredited modes of philosophical investigation, both on physical and on metaphysical subjects. In one of its most undisguised manifestations, it embodies itself in two maxims, which lay claim to axiomatic truth: Things which we can not think of together, can not co-exist; and Things which we can not help thinking of together, must co-exist. I am not sure that the maxims were ever expressed in these precise words, but the history both of philosophy and of popular opinions abounds with exemplifications of both forms of the doctrine.
To begin with the latter of them: Things which we can not think of except together, must exist together. This is assumed in the generally received and accredited mode of reasoning which concludes that A must accompany B in point of fact, because "it is involved in the idea." Such thinkers do not reflect that the idea, being a result of abstraction, ought to conform to the facts, and can not make the facts conform to it. The argument is at most admissible as an appeal to authority; a surmise, that what is now part of the idea, must, before it became so, have been found by previous inquirers in the facts. Nevertheless, the philosopher who more than all others made professions of rejecting authority, Descartes, constructed his system on this very basis. His favorite device for arriving at truth, even in regard to outward things, was by looking into his own mind for it. "Credidi me," says his celebrated maxim, "pro regulâ generali sumere posse, omne id quod valdè dilucidè et distinctè concipiebam, verum esse;" whatever can be very clearly conceived must certainly exist; that is, as he afterward explains it, if the idea includes existence. And on this ground he infers that geometrical figures really exist, because they can be distinctly conceived. Whenever existence is "involved in an idea," a thing conformable to the idea must really exist; which is as much as to say, whatever the idea contains must have its equivalent in the thing; and what we are not able to leave out of the idea can not be absent from the reality.(232) This assumption pervades the philosophy not only of Descartes, but of all the thinkers who received their impulse mainly from him, in particular the two most remarkable among them, Spinoza and Leibnitz, from whom the modern German metaphysical philosophy is essentially an emanation. I am indeed disposed to think that the fallacy now under consideration has been the cause of two-thirds of the bad philosophy, and especially of the bad metaphysics, which the human mind has never ceased to produce. Our general ideas contain nothing but what has been put into them, either by our passive experience, or by our active habits of thought; and the metaphysicians in all ages, who have attempted to construct the laws of the universe by reasoning from our supposed necessities of thought, have always proceeded, and only could proceed, by laboriously finding in their own minds what they themselves had formerly put there, and evolving from their ideas of things what they had first involved in those ideas. In this way all deeply-rooted opinions and feelings are enabled to create apparent demonstrations of their truth and reasonableness, as it were, out of their own substance.
The other form of the fallacy: Things which we can not think of together can not exist together--including as one of its branches, that what we can not think of as existing can not exist at all--may thus be briefly expressed: Whatever is inconceivable must be false.
Against this prevalent doctrine I have sufficiently argued in a former Book,(233) and nothing is required in this place but examples. It was long held that Antipodes were impossible because of the difficulty which was found in conceiving persons with their heads in the same direction as our feet. And it was one of the received arguments against the Copernican system, that we can not conceive so great a void space as that system supposes to exist in the celestial regions. When men's imaginations had always been used to conceive the stars as firmly set in solid spheres, they naturally found much difficulty in imagining them in so different, and, as it doubtless appeared to them, so precarious a situation. But they had no right to mistake the limitation (whether natural, or, as it in fact proved, only artificial) of their own faculties, for an inherent limitation of the possible modes of existence in the universe.
It may be said in objection, that the error in these cases was in the minor premise, not the major; an error of fact, not of principle; that it did not consist in supposing that what is inconceivable can not be true, but in supposing antipodes to be inconceivable, when present experience proves that they can be conceived. Even if this objection were allowed, and the proposition that what is inconceivable can not be true were suffered to remain unquestioned as a speculative truth, it would be a truth on which no practical consequence could ever be founded, since, on this showing, it is impossible to affirm of any proposition, not being a contradiction in terms, that it is inconceivable. Antipodes were really, not fictitiously, inconceivable to our ancestors: they are indeed conceivable to us; and as the limits of our power of conception have been so largely extended, by the extension of our experience and the more varied exercise of our imagination, so may posterity find many combinations perfectly conceivable to them which are inconceivable to us. But, as beings of limited experience, we must always and necessarily have limited conceptive powers; while it does not by any means follow that the same limitation obtains in the possibilities of Nature, nor even in her actual manifestations.
Rather more than a century and a half ago it was a scientific maxim, disputed by no one, and which no one deemed to require any proof, that "a thing can not act where it is not."(234) With this weapon the Cartesians waged a formidable war against the theory of gravitation, which, according to them, involving so obvious an absurdity, must be rejected in limine: the sun could not possibly act upon the earth, not being there. It was not surprising that the adherents of the old systems of astronomy should urge this objection against the new; but the false assumption imposed equally on Newton himself, who, in order to turn the edge of the objection, imagined a subtle ether which filled up the space between the sun and the earth, and by its intermediate agency was the proximate cause of the phenomena of gravitation. "It is inconceivable," said Newton, in one of his letters to Dr. Bentley,(235) "that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else, which is not material, operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact.... That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act on another, at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of any thing else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man, who in philosophical matters has a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it." This passage should be hung up in the cabinet of every cultivator of science who is ever tempted to pronounce a fact impossible because it appears to him inconceivable. In our own day one would be more tempted, though with equal injustice, to reverse the concluding observation, and consider the seeing any absurdity at all in a thing so simple and natural, to be what really marks the absence of "a competent faculty of thinking." No one now feels any difficulty in conceiving gravity to be, as much as any other property is, "inherent and essential to matter," nor finds the comprehension of it facilitated in the smallest degree by the supposition of an ether (though some recent inquirers do give this as an explanation of it); nor thinks it at all incredible that the celestial bodies can and do act where they, in actual bodily presence, are not. To us it is not more wonderful that bodies should act upon one another "without mutual contact," than that they should do so when in contact; we are familiar with both these facts, and we find them equally inexplicable, but equally easy to believe. To Newton, the one, because his imagination was familiar with it, appeared natural and a matter of course, while the other, for the contrary reason, seemed too absurd to be credited.
It is strange that any one, after such a warning, should rely implicitly on the evidence a priori of such propositions as these, that matter can not think; that space, or extension, is infinite; that nothing can be made out of nothing (ex nihilo nihil fit). Whether these propositions are true or not this is not the place to determine, nor even whether the questions are soluble by the human faculties. But such doctrines are no more self-evident truths, than the ancient maxim that a thing can not act where it is not, which probably is not now believed by any educated person in Europe.(236) Matter can not think; why? because we can not conceive thought to be annexed to any arrangement of material particles. Space is infinite, because having never known any part of it which had not other parts beyond it, we can not conceive an absolute termination. _Ex nihilo nihil fit_, because having never known any physical product without a pre-existing physical material, we can not, or think we can not, imagine a creation out of nothing. But these things may in themselves be as conceivable as gravitation without an intervening medium, which Newton thought too great an absurdity for any person of a competent faculty of philosophical thinking to admit: and even supposing them not conceivable, this, for aught we know, may be merely one of the limitations of our very limited minds, and not in nature at all.
No writer has more directly identified himself with the fallacy now under consideration, or has embodied it in more distinct terms, than Leibnitz. In his view, unless a thing was not merely conceivable, but even explainable, it could not exist in nature. All natural phenomena, according to him, must be susceptible of being accounted for a priori. The only facts of which no explanation could be given but the will of God, were miracles properly so called. "Je reconnais," says he,(237) "qu'il n'est pas permis de nier ce qu'on n'entend pas; mais j'ajoute qu'on a droit de nier (au moins dans l'ordre naturel) ce que absolument n'est point intelligible ni explicable. Je soutiens aussi ... qu'enfin la conception des créatures n'est pas la mesure du pouvoir de Dieu, mais que leur conceptivité, ou force de concevoir, est la mesure du pouvoir de la nature, tout ce qui est conforme à l'ordre naturel pouvant être conçu ou entendu par quelque créature."
Not content with assuming that nothing can be true which we are unable to conceive, scientific inquirers have frequently given a still further extension to the doctrine, and held that, even of things not altogether inconceivable, that which we can conceive with the greatest ease is likeliest to be true. It was long an admitted axiom, and is not yet entirely discredited, that "nature always acts by the simplest means," i.e., by those which are most easily conceivable.(238) A large proportion of all the errors ever committed in the investigation of the laws of nature, have arisen from the assumption that the most familiar explanation or hypothesis must be the truest.
One of the most instructive facts in scientific history is the pertinacity with which the human mind clung to the belief that the heavenly bodies must move in circles, or be carried round by the revolution of spheres; merely because those were in themselves the simplest suppositions: though, to make them accord with the facts which were ever contradicting them more and more, it became necessary to add sphere to sphere and circle to circle, until the original simplicity was converted into almost inextricable complication.
§ 4. We pass to another a priori fallacy or natural prejudice, allied to the former, and originating, as that does, in the tendency to presume an exact correspondence between the laws of the mind and those of things external to it. The fallacy may be enunciated in this general form—Whatever can be thought of apart exists apart: and its most remarkable manifestation consists in the personification of abstractions. Mankind in all ages have had a strong propensity to conclude that wherever there is a name, there must be a distinguishable separate entity corresponding to the name; and every complex idea which the mind has formed for itself by operating upon its conceptions of individual things, was considered to have an outward objective reality answering to it. Fate, Chance, Nature, Time, Space, were real beings, nay, even gods. If the analysis of qualities in the earlier part of this work be correct, names of qualities and names of substances stand for the very same sets of facts or phenomena; whiteness and a white thing are only different phrases, required by convenience for speaking of the same external fact under different relations. Not such, however, was the notion which this verbal distinction suggested of old, either to the vulgar or to the scientific. Whiteness was an entity, inhering or sticking in the white substance: and so of all other qualities. So far was this carried, that even concrete general terms were supposed to be, not names of indefinite numbers of individual substances, but names of a peculiar kind of entities termed Universal Substances. Because we can think and speak of man in general, that is, of all persons in so far as possessing the common attributes of the species, without fastening our thoughts permanently on some one individual person; therefore man in general was supposed to be, not an aggregate of individual persons, but an abstract or universal man, distinct from these.
It may be imagined what havoc metaphysicians trained in these habits made with philosophy, when they came to the largest generalizations of all. Substantiæ Secundæ of any kind were bad enough, but such Substantiæ Secundæ as τὸ ὄν, for example, and τὸ ἔν, standing for peculiar entities supposed to be inherent in all things which exist, or in all which are said to be one, were enough to put an end to all intelligible discussion; especially since, with a just perception that the truths which philosophy pursues are general truths, it was soon laid down that these general substances were the only subjects of science, being immutable, while individual substances cognizable by the senses, being in a perpetual flux, could not be the subject of real knowledge. This misapprehension of the import of general language constitutes Mysticism, a word so much oftener written and spoken than understood. Whether in the Vedas, in the Platonists, or in the Hegelians, mysticism is neither more nor less than ascribing objective existence to the subjective creations of our own faculties, to ideas or feelings of the mind; and believing that by watching and contemplating these ideas of its own making, it can read in them what takes place in the world without.
§ 5. Proceeding with the enumeration of a priori fallacies, and endeavoring to arrange them with as much reference as possible to their natural affinities, we come to another, which is also nearly allied to the fallacy preceding the last, standing in the same relation to one variety of it as the fallacy last mentioned does to the other. This, too, represents nature as under incapacities corresponding to those of our intellect; but instead of only asserting that nature can not do a thing because we can not conceive it done, goes the still greater length of averring that nature does a particular thing, on the sole ground that we can see no reason why she should not. Absurd as this seems when so plainly stated, it is a received principle among scientific authorities for demonstrating a priori the laws of physical phenomena. A phenomenon must follow a certain law, because we see no reason why it should deviate from that law in one way rather than in another. This is called the Principle of the Sufficient Reason;(239) and by means of it philosophers often flatter themselves that they are able to establish, without any appeal to experience, the most general truths of experimental physics.
Take, for example, two of the most elementary of all laws, the law of inertia and the first law of motion. A body at rest can not, it is affirmed, begin to move unless acted upon by some external force; because, if it did, it must either move up or down, forward or backward, and so forth; but if no outward force acts upon it, there can be no reason for its moving up rather than down, or down rather than up, etc., ergo, it will not move at all.
This reasoning I conceive to be entirely fallacious, as indeed Dr. Brown, in his treatise on Cause and Effect, has shown with great acuteness and justness of thought. We have before remarked, that almost every fallacy may be referred to different genera by different modes of filling up the suppressed steps; and this particular one may, at our option, be brought under petitio principii. It supposes that nothing can be a "sufficient reason" for a body's moving in one particular direction, except some external force. But this is the very thing to be proved. Why not some internal force? Why not the law of the thing's own nature? Since these philosophers think it necessary to prove the law of inertia, they of course do not suppose it to be self-evident; they must, therefore, be of opinion that previously to all proof, the supposition of a body's moving by internal impulse is an admissible hypothesis; but if so, why is not the hypothesis also admissible, that the internal impulse acts naturally in some one particular direction, not in another? If spontaneous motion might have been the law of matter, why not spontaneous motion toward the sun, toward the earth, or toward the zenith? Why not, as the ancients supposed, toward a particular place in the universe, appropriated to each particular kind of substance? Surely it is not allowable to say that spontaneity of motion is credible in itself, but not credible if supposed to take place in any determinate direction.
Indeed, if any one chose to assert that all bodies when uncontrolled set out in a direct line toward the North Pole, he might equally prove his point by the principle of the Sufficient Reason. By what right is it assumed that a state of rest is the particular state which can not be deviated from without special cause? Why not a state of motion, and of some particular sort of motion? Why may we not say that the natural state of a horse left to himself is to amble, because otherwise he must either trot, gallop, or stand still, and because we know no reason why he should do one of these rather than another? If this is to be called an unfair use of the "sufficient reason," and the other a fair one, there must be a tacit assumption that a state of rest is more natural to a horse than a state of ambling. If this means that it is the state which the animal will assume when left to himself, that is the very point to be proved; and if it does not mean this, it can only mean that a state of rest is the simplest state, and therefore the most likely to prevail in nature, which is one of the fallacies or natural prejudices we have already examined.
So again of the First Law of Motion; that a body once moving will, if left to itself, continue to move uniformly in a straight line. An attempt is made to prove this law by saying, that if not, the body must deviate either to the right or to the left, and that there is no reason why it should do one more than the other. But who could know, antecedently to experience, whether there was a reason or not? Might it not be the nature of bodies, or of some particular bodies, to deviate toward the right? or if the supposition is preferred, toward the east, or south? It was long thought that bodies, terrestrial ones at least, had a natural tendency to deflect downward; and there is no shadow of any thing objectionable in the supposition, except that it is not true. The pretended proof of the law of motion is even more manifestly untenable than that of the law of inertia, for it is flagrantly inconsistent; it assumes that the continuance of motion in the direction first taken is more natural than deviation either to the right or to the left, but denies that one of these can possibly be more natural than the other. All these fancies of the possibility of knowing what is natural or not natural by any other means than experience, are, in truth, entirely futile. The real and only proof of the laws of motion, or of any other law of the universe, is experience; it is simply that no other suppositions explain or are consistent with the facts of universal nature.
Geometers have, in all ages, been open to the imputation of endeavoring to prove the most general facts of the outward world by sophistical reasoning, in order to avoid appeals to the senses. Archimedes, says Professor Playfair,(240) established some of the elementary propositions of statics by a process in which he "borrows no principle from experiment, but establishes his conclusion entirely by reasoning a priori. He assumes, indeed, that equal bodies, at the ends of the equal arms of a lever, will balance one another; and also that a cylinder or parallelopiped of homogeneous matter, will be balanced about its centre of magnitude. These, however, are not inferences from experience; they are, properly speaking, conclusions deduced from the principle of the Sufficient Reason." And to this day there are few geometers who would not think it far more scientific to establish these or any other premises in this way, than to rest their evidence on that familiar experience which in the case in question might have been so safely appealed to.
§ 6. Another natural prejudice, of most extensive prevalence, and which had a great share in producing the errors fallen into by the ancients in their physical inquiries, was this: That the differences in nature must correspond to our received distinctions: that effects which we are accustomed, in popular language, to call by different names, and arrange in different classes, must be of different natures, and have different causes. This prejudice, so evidently of the same origin with those already treated of, marks more especially the earliest stage of science, when it has not yet broken loose from the trammels of every-day phraseology. The extraordinary prevalence of the fallacy among the Greek philosophers may be accounted for by their generally knowing no other language than their own; from which it was a consequence that their ideas followed the accidental or arbitrary combinations of that language, more completely than can happen among the moderns to any but illiterate persons. They had great difficulty in distinguishing between things which their language confounded, or in putting mentally together things which it distinguished; and could hardly combine the objects in nature, into any classes but those which were made for them by the popular phrases of their own country; or at least could not help fancying those classes to be natural and all others arbitrary and artificial. Accordingly, scientific investigation among the Greek schools of speculation and their followers in the Middle Ages, was little more than a mere sifting and analyzing of the notions attached to common language. They thought that by determining the meaning of words, they could become acquainted with facts. "They took for granted," says Dr. Whewell,(241) "that philosophy must result from the relations of those notions which are involved in the common use of language, and they proceeded to seek it by studying such notions." In his next chapter, Dr. Whewell has so well illustrated and exemplified this error, that I shall take the liberty of quoting him at some length.
"The propensity to seek for principles in the common usages of language may be discerned at a very early period. Thus we have an example of it in a saying which is reported of Thales, the founder of Greek philosophy. When he was asked, 'What is the greatest thing?' he replied 'Place; for all other things are in the world, but the world is in it.' In Aristotle we have the consummation of this mode of speculation. The usual point from which he starts in his inquiries is, that we say thus or thus in common language. Thus, when he has to discuss the question whether there be, in any part of the universe, a void, or space in which there is nothing, he inquires first in how many senses we say that one thing is in another. He enumerates many of these; we say the part is in the whole, as the finger is in the hand; again we say, the species is in the genus, as man is included in animal; again, the government of Greece is in the king; and various other senses are described and exemplified, but of all these the most proper is when we say a thing is in a vessel, and generally in place. He next examines what place is, and comes to this conclusion, that 'if about a body there be another body including it, it is in place, and if not, not.' A body moves when it changes its place; but he adds, that if water be in a vessel, the vessel being at rest, the parts of the water may still move, for they are included by each other; so that while the whole does not change its place, the parts may change their place in a circular order. Proceeding then to the question of a void, he as usual examines the different senses in which the term is used, and adopts as the most proper, place without matter, with no useful result.
"Again, in a question concerning mechanical action, he says, 'When a man moves a stone by pushing it with a stick, we say both that the man moves the stone, and that the stick moves the stone, but the latter _more properly_.'
"Again, we find the Greek philosophers applying themselves to extract their dogmas from the most general and abstract notions which they could detect; for example, from the conception of the Universe as One or as Many things. They tried to determine how far we may, or must, combine with these conceptions that of a whole, of parts, of number, of limits, of place, of beginning or end, of full or void, of rest or motion, of cause and effect, and the like. The analysis of such conceptions with such a view, occupies, for instance, almost the whole of Aristotle's Treatise on the Heavens."
The following paragraph merits particular attention: "Another mode of reasoning, very widely applied in these attempts, was the _doctrine of contrarieties_, in which it was assumed that adjectives or substances which are in common language, or in some abstract mode of conception, opposed to each other, must point at some fundamental antithesis in nature, which it is important to study. Thus Aristotle says that the Pythagoreans, from the contrasts which number suggests, collected ten principles--Limited and Unlimited, Odd and Even, One and Many, Right and Left, Male and Female, Rest and Motion, Straight and Curved, Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, Square and Oblong.... Aristotle himself deduced the doctrine of four elements and other dogmas by oppositions of the same kind."
Of the manner in which, from premises obtained in this way, the ancients attempted to deduce laws of nature, an example is given in the same work a few pages further on. "Aristotle decides that there is no void on such arguments as this. In a void there could be no difference of up and down; for as in nothing there are no differences, so there are none in a privation or negation; but a void is merely a privation or negation of matter; therefore, in a void, bodies could not move up and down, which it is in their nature to do. It is easily seen" (Dr. Whewell very justly adds) "that such a mode of reasoning elevates the familiar forms of language, and the intellectual connections of terms, to a supremacy over facts; making truth depend upon whether terms are or are not privative, and whether we say that bodies fall naturally."
The propensity to assume that the same relations obtain between objects themselves, which obtain between our ideas of them, is here seen in the extreme stage of its development. For the mode of philosophizing, exemplified in the foregoing instances, assumes no less than that the proper way of arriving at knowledge of nature, is to study nature itself subjectively; to apply our observation and analysis not to the facts, but to the common notions entertained of the facts.
Many other equally striking examples may be given of the tendency to assume that things which for the convenience of common life are placed in different classes, must differ in every respect. Of this nature was the universal and deeply-rooted prejudice of antiquity and the Middle Ages, that celestial and terrestrial phenomena must be essentially different, and could in no manner or degree depend on the same laws. Of the same kind, also, was the prejudice against which Bacon contended, that nothing produced by nature could be successfully imitated by man: "Calorem solis et ignis toto genere differre; ne scilicet homines putent se per opera ignis, aliquid simile iis quæ in Natura fiunt, educere et formare posse;" and again, "Compositionem tantum opus Hominis, Mistionem vero opus solius Naturæ esse: ne scilicet homines sperent aliquam ex arte Corporum naturalium generationem aut transformationem."(242) The grand distinction in the ancient scientific speculations, between natural and violent motions, though not without a plausible foundation in the appearances themselves, was doubtless greatly recommended to adoption by its conformity to this prejudice.
§ 7. From the fundamental error of the scientific inquirers of antiquity, we pass, by a natural association, to a scarcely less fundamental one of their great rival and successor, Bacon. It has excited the surprise of philosophers that the detailed system of inductive logic, which this extraordinary man labored to construct, has been turned to so little direct use by subsequent inquirers, having neither continued, except in a few of its generalities, to be recognized as a theory, nor having conducted in practice to any great scientific results. But this, though not unfrequently remarked, has scarcely received any plausible explanation; and some, indeed, have preferred to assert that all rules of induction are useless, rather than suppose that Bacon's rules are grounded on an insufficient analysis of the inductive process. Such, however, will be seen to be the fact, as soon as it is considered, that Bacon entirely overlooked Plurality of Causes. All his rules tacitly imply the assumption, so contrary to all we now know of nature, that a phenomenon can not have more than one cause.
When he is inquiring into what he terms the forma _calidi aut frigidi, gravis aut levis, sicci aut humidi_, and the like, he never for an instant doubts that there is some one thing, some invariable condition or set of conditions, which is present in all cases of heat, or cold, or whatever other phenomenon he is considering; the only difficulty being to find what it is; which accordingly he tries to do by a process of elimination, rejecting or excluding, by negative instances, whatever is not the forma or cause, in order to arrive at what is. But, that this forma or cause is one thing, and that it is the same in all hot objects, he has no more doubt of, than another person has that there is always some cause _or other_. In the present state of knowledge it could not be necessary, even if we had not already treated so fully of the question, to point out how widely this supposition is at variance with the truth. It is particularly unfortunate for Bacon that, falling into this error, he should have fixed almost exclusively upon a class of inquiries in which it was especially fatal; namely, inquiries into the causes of the sensible qualities of objects. For his assumption, groundless in every case, is false in a peculiar degree with respect to those sensible qualities. In regard to scarcely any of them has it been found possible to trace any unity of cause, any set of conditions invariably accompanying the quality. The conjunctions of such qualities with one another constitute the variety of Kinds, in which, as already remarked, it has not been found possible to trace any law. Bacon was seeking for what did not exist. The phenomenon of which he sought for the one cause has oftenest no cause at all, and when it has, depends (as far as hitherto ascertained) on an unassignable variety of distinct causes.
And on this rock every one must split, who represents to himself as the first and fundamental problem of science to ascertain what is the cause of a given effect, rather than what are the effects of a given cause. It was shown, in an early stage of our inquiry into the nature of Induction,(243) how much more ample are the resources which science commands for the latter than for the former inquiry, since it is upon the latter only that we can throw any direct light by means of experiment; the power of artificially producing an effect, implying a previous knowledge of at least one of its causes. If we discover the causes of effects, it is generally by having previously discovered the effects of causes; the greatest skill in devising crucial instances for the former purpose may only end, as Bacon's physical inquiries did, in no result at all. Was it that his eagerness to acquire the power of producing for man's benefit effects of practical importance to human life, rendering him impatient of pursuing that end by a circuitous route, made even him, the champion of experiment, prefer the direct mode, though one of mere observation, to the indirect, in which alone experiment was possible? Or had even Bacon not entirely cleared his mind from the notion of the ancients, that "rerum cognoscere causas" was the sole object of philosophy, and that to inquire into the effects of things belonged to servile and mechanical arts?
It is worth remarking that, while the only efficient mode of cultivating speculative science was missed from an undue contempt of manual operations, the false speculative views thus engendered gave in their turn a false direction to such practical and mechanical aims as were suffered to exist. The assumption universal among the ancients and in the Middle Ages, that there were principles of heat and cold, dryness and moisture, etc., led directly to a belief in alchemy; in a transmutation of substances, a change from one Kind into another. Why should it not be possible to make gold? Each of the characteristic properties of gold has its forma, its essence, its set of conditions, which if we could discover, and learn how to realize, we could superinduce that particular property upon any other substance, upon wood, or iron, or lime, or clay. If, then, we could effect this with respect to every one of the essential properties of the precious metal, we should have converted the other substance into gold. Nor did this, if once the premises were granted, appear to transcend the real powers of mankind. For daily experience showed that almost every one of the distinctive sensible properties of any object, its consistence, its color, its taste, its smell, its shape, admitted of being totally changed by fire, or water, or some other chemical agent. The formæ of all those qualities seeming, therefore, to be within human power either to produce or to annihilate, not only did the transmutation of substances appear abstractedly possible, but the employment of the power, at our choice, for practical ends, seemed by no means hopeless.(244)
A prejudice, universal in the ancient world, and from which Bacon was so far from being free, that it pervaded and vitiated the whole practical part of his system of logic, may with good reason be ranked high in the order of Fallacies of which we are now treating.
§ 8. There remains one a priori fallacy or natural prejudice, the most deeply-rooted, perhaps, of all which we have enumerated; one which not only reigned supreme in the ancient world, but still possesses almost undisputed dominion over many of the most cultivated minds; and some of the most remarkable of the numerous instances by which I shall think it necessary to exemplify it, will be taken from recent thinkers. This is, that the conditions of a phenomenon must, or at least probably will, resemble the phenomenon itself.
Conformably to what we have before remarked to be of frequent occurrence, this fallacy might without much impropriety have been placed in a different class, among Fallacies of Generalization; for experience does afford a certain degree of countenance to the assumption. The cause does, in very many cases, resemble its effect; like produces like. Many phenomena have a direct tendency to perpetuate their own existence, or to give rise to other phenomena similar to themselves. Not to mention forms actually moulded on one another, as impressions on wax and the like, in which the closest resemblance between the effect and its cause is the very law of the phenomenon; all motion tends to continue itself, with its own velocity, and in its own original direction; and the motion of one body tends to set others in motion, which is indeed the most common of the modes in which the motions of bodies originate. We need scarcely refer to contagion, fermentation, and the like; or to the production of effects by the growth or expansion of a germ or rudiment resembling on a smaller scale the completed phenomenon, as in the growth of a plant or animal from an embryo, that embryo itself deriving its origin from another plant or animal of the same kind. Again, the thoughts or reminiscences, which are effects of our past sensations, resemble those sensations; feelings produce similar feelings by way of sympathy; acts produce similar acts by involuntary or voluntary imitation. With so many appearances in its favor, no wonder if a presumption naturally grew up, that causes must necessarily resemble their effects, and that like could only be produced by like.
This principle of fallacy has usually presided over the fantastical attempts to influence the course of nature by conjectural means, the choice of which was not directed by previous observation and experiment. The guess almost always fixed upon some means which possessed features of real or apparent resemblance to the end in view. If a charm was wanted, as by Ovid's Medea, to prolong life, all long-lived animals, or what were esteemed such, were collected and brewed into a broth:
nec defuit illic
Squamea Cinyphii tenuis membrana chelydri
Vivacisque jecur cervi: quibus insuper addit
Ora caputque novem cornicis sæcula passæ.
A similar notion was embodied in the celebrated medical theory called the "Doctrine of Signatures," "which is no less," says Dr. Paris,(245) "than a belief that every natural substance which possesses any medicinal virtue indicates by an obvious and well-marked external character the disease for which it is a remedy, or the object for which it should be employed." This outward character was generally some feature of resemblance, real or fantastical, either to the effect it was supposed to produce, or to the phenomenon over which its power was thought to be exercised. "Thus the lungs of a fox must be a specific for asthma, because that animal is remarkable for its strong powers of respiration. Turmeric has a brilliant yellow color, which indicates that it has the power of curing the jaundice; for the same reason, poppies must relieve diseases of the head; Agaricus those of the bladder; Cassia fistula the affections of the intestines, and Aristolochia the disorders of the uterus: the polished surface and stony hardness which so eminently characterize the seeds of the Lithospermum officinale (common gromwell) were deemed a certain indication of their efficacy in calculous and gravelly disorders; for a similar reason, the roots of the Saxifraga granulata (white saxifrage) gained reputation in the cure of the same disease; and the Euphrasia (eye-bright) acquired fame, as an application in complaints of the eye, because it exhibits a black spot in its corolla resembling the pupil. The blood-stone, the Heliotropium of the ancients, from the occasional small specks or points of a blood-red color exhibited on its green surface, is even at this very day employed in many parts of England and Scotland to stop a bleeding from the nose; and nettle tea continues a popular remedy for the cure of Urticaria. It is also asserted that some substances bear the signatures of the humors, as the petals of the red rose that of the blood, and the roots of rhubarb and the flowers of saffron that of the bile."
The early speculations respecting the chemical composition of bodies were rendered abortive by no circumstance more than by their invariably taking for granted that the properties of the elements must resemble those of the compounds which were formed from them.
To descend to more modern instances; it was long thought, and was stoutly maintained by the Cartesians and even by Leibnitz against the Newtonian system (nor did Newton himself, as we have seen, contest the assumption, but eluded it by an arbitrary hypothesis), that nothing (of a physical nature at least) could account for motion, except previous motion; the impulse or impact of some other body. It was very long before the scientific world could prevail upon itself to admit attraction and repulsion (i.e., spontaneous tendencies of particles to approach or recede from one another) as ultimate laws, no more requiring to be accounted for than impulse itself, if indeed the latter were not, in truth, resolvable into the former. From the same source arose the innumerable hypotheses devised to explain those classes of motion which appeared more mysterious than others because there was no obvious mode of attributing them to impulse, as for example the voluntary motions of the human body. Such were the interminable systems of vibrations propagated along the nerves, or animal spirits rushing up and down between the muscles and the brain; which, if the facts could have been proved, would have been an important addition to our knowledge of physiological laws; but the mere invention, or arbitrary supposition of them, could not unless by the strongest delusion be supposed to render the phenomena of animal life more comprehensible, or less mysterious. Nothing, however, seemed satisfactory, but to make out that motion was caused by motion; by something like itself. If it was not one kind of motion, it must be another. In like manner it was supposed that the physical qualities of objects must arise from some similar quality, or perhaps only some quality bearing the same name, in the particles or atoms of which the objects were composed; that a sharp taste, for example, must arise from sharp particles. And reversing the inference, the effects produced by a phenomenon must, it was supposed, resemble in their physical attributes the phenomenon itself. The influences of the planets were supposed to be analogous to their visible peculiarities: Mars, being of a red color, portended fire and slaughter; and the like.
Passing from physics to metaphysics, we may notice among the most remarkable fruits of this a priori fallacy two closely analogous theories, employed in ancient and modern times to bridge over the chasm between the world of mind and that of matter; the species sensibiles of the Epicureans, and the modern doctrine of perception by means of ideas. These theories are indeed, probably, indebted for their existence not solely to the fallacy in question, but to that fallacy combined with another natural prejudice already adverted to, that a thing can not act where it is not. In both doctrines it is assumed that the phenomenon which takes place in us when we see or touch an object, and which we regard as an effect of that object, or rather of its presence to our organs, must of necessity resemble very closely the outward object itself. To fulfill this condition, the Epicureans supposed that objects were constantly projecting in all directions impalpable images of themselves, which entered at the eyes and penetrated to the mind; while modern metaphysicians, though they rejected this hypothesis, agreed in deeming it necessary to suppose that not the thing itself, but a mental image or representation of it, was the direct object of perception. Dr. Reid had to employ a world of argument and illustration to familiarize people with the truth, that the sensations or impressions on our minds need not necessarily be copies of, or bear any resemblance to, the causes which produce them; in opposition to the natural prejudice which led people to assimilate the action of bodies upon our senses, and through them upon our minds, to the transfer of a given form from one object to another by actual moulding. The works of Dr. Reid are even now the most effectual course of study for detaching the mind from the prejudice of which this was an example. And the value of the service which he thus rendered to popular philosophy is not much diminished, although we may hold, with Brown, that he went too far in imputing the "ideal theory" as an actual tenet, to the generality of the philosophers who preceded him, and especially to Locke and Hume; for if they did not themselves consciously fall into the error, unquestionably they often led their readers into it.
The prejudice, that the conditions of a phenomenon must resemble the phenomenon, is occasionally exaggerated, at least verbally, into a still more palpable absurdity; the conditions of the thing are spoken of as if they were the very thing itself. In Bacon's model inquiry, which occupies so great a space in the Novum Organum, the _inquisitio in formam calidi_, the conclusion which he favors is that heat is a kind of motion; meaning of course not the feeling of heat, but the conditions of the feeling; meaning, therefore, only that wherever there is heat, there must first be a particular kind of motion; but he makes no distinction in his language between these two ideas, expressing himself as if heat, and the conditions of heat, were one and the same thing. So the elder Darwin, in the beginning of his Zoonomia, says, "The word idea has various meanings in the writers of metaphysics; it is here used simply for those notions of external things which our organs of sense bring us acquainted with originally" (thus far the proposition, though vague, is unexceptionable in meaning), "and is defined a contraction, a motion, or configuration, of the fibres which constitute the immediate organ of sense." Our notions, a configuration of the fibres! What kind of logician must he be who thinks that a phenomenon is defined to be the condition on which he supposes it to depend? Accordingly he says soon after, not that our ideas are caused by, or consequent on, certain organic phenomena, but "our ideas are animal motions of the organs of sense." And this confusion runs through the four volumes of the Zoonomia; the reader never knows whether the writer is speaking of the effect, or of its supposed cause; of the idea, a state of mental consciousness, or of the state of the nerves and brain which he considers it to presuppose.
I have given a variety of instances in which the natural prejudice, that causes and their effects must resemble one another, has operated in practice so as to give rise to serious errors. I shall now go further, and produce from writings even of the present or very recent times, instances in which this prejudice is laid down as an established principle. M. Victor Cousin, in the last of his celebrated lectures on Locke, enunciates the maxim in the following unqualified terms: "Tout ce qui est vrai de l'effet, est vrai de la cause." A doctrine to which, unless in some peculiar and technical meaning of the words cause and effect, it is not to be imagined that any person would literally adhere; but he who could so write must be far enough from seeing that the very reverse might be the effect; that there is nothing impossible in the supposition that no one property which is true of the effect might be true of the cause. Without going quite so far in point of expression, Coleridge, in his _Biographia Literaria_,(246) affirms as an "evident truth," that "the law of causality holds only between homogeneous things, i.e., things having some common property," and therefore "can not extend from one world into another, its opposite;" hence, as mind and matter have no common property, mind can not act upon matter, nor matter upon mind. What is this but the a priori fallacy of which we are speaking? The doctrine, like many others of Coleridge, is taken from Spinoza, in the first book of whose Ethica (_De Deo_) it stands as the Third Proposition, "Quæ res nihil commune inter se habent, earum una alterius causa esse non potest," and is there proved from two so-called axioms, equally gratuitous with itself; but Spinoza ever systematically consistent, pursued the doctrine to its inevitable consequence, the materiality of God.
The same conception of impossibility led the ingenious and subtle mind of Leibnitz to his celebrated doctrine of a pre-established harmony. He, too, thought that mind could not act upon matter, nor matter upon mind, and that the two, therefore, must have been arranged by their Maker like two clocks, which, though unconnected with one another, strike simultaneously, and always point to the same hour. Malebranche's equally famous theory of Occasional Causes was another form of the same conception; instead of supposing the clocks originally arranged to strike together, he held that when the one strikes, God interposes, and makes the other strike in correspondence with it.
Descartes, in like manner, whose works are a rich mine of almost every description of a priori fallacy, says that the Efficient Cause must at least have all the perfections of the effect, and for this singular reason: "Si enim ponamus aliquid in ideâ reperiri quod non fuerit in ejus causâ, hoc igitur habet a nihilo;" of which it is scarcely a parody to say, that if there be pepper in the soup there must be pepper in the cook who made it, since otherwise the pepper would be without a cause. A similar fallacy is committed by Cicero, in his second book De Finibus, where, speaking in his own person against the Epicureans, he charges them with inconsistency in saying that the pleasures of the mind had their origin from those of the body, and yet that the former were more valuable, as if the effect could surpass the cause. "Animi voluptas oritur propter voluptatem corporis, et major est animi voluptas quam corporis? ita fit ut gratulator, lætior sit quam is cui gratulatur." Even that, surely, is not an impossibility; a person's good fortune has often given more pleasure to others than it gave to the person himself.
Descartes, with no less readiness, applies the same principle the converse way, and infers the nature of the effects from the assumption that they must, in this or that property or in all their properties, resemble their cause. To this class belong his speculations, and those of so many others after him, tending to infer the order of the universe, not from observation, but by a priori reasoning from supposed qualities of the Godhead. This sort of inference was probably never carried to a greater length than it was in one particular instance by Descartes, when, as a proof of one of his physical principles, that the quantity of motion in the universe is invariable, he had recourse to the immutability of the Divine Nature. Reasoning of a very similar character is, however, nearly as common now as it was in his time, and does duty largely as a means of fencing off disagreeable conclusions. Writers have not yet ceased to oppose the theory of divine benevolence to the evidence of physical facts, to the principle of population for example. And people seem in general to think that they have used a very powerful argument, when they have said, that to suppose some proposition true, would be a reflection on the goodness or wisdom of the Deity. Put into the simplest possible terms, their argument is, "If it had depended on me, I would not have made the proposition true, therefore it is not true." Put into other words, it stands thus: "God is perfect, therefore (what I think) perfection must obtain in nature." But since in reality every one feels that nature is very far from perfect, the doctrine is never applied consistently. It furnishes an argument which (like many others of a similar character) people like to appeal to when it makes for their own side. Nobody is convinced by it, but each appears to think that it puts religion on his side of the question, and that it is a useful weapon of offense for wounding an adversary.
Although several other varieties of a priori fallacy might probably be added to those here specified, these are all against which it seems necessary to give any special caution. Our object is to open, without attempting or affecting to exhaust, the subject. Having illustrated, therefore, this first class of Fallacies at sufficient length, I shall proceed to the second.
Fallacies Of Observation.
§ 1. From the Fallacies which are properly Prejudices, or presumptions antecedent to, and superseding, proof, we pass to those which lie in the incorrect performance of the proving process. And as Proof, in its widest extent, embraces one or more, or all, of three processes, Observation, Generalization, and Deduction, we shall consider in their order the errors capable of being committed in these three operations. And first, of the first mentioned.
A fallacy of misobservation may be either negative or positive; either Non-observation or Mal-observation. It is non-observation, when all the error consists in overlooking, or neglecting, facts or particulars which ought to have been observed. It is mal-observation, when something is not simply unseen, but seen wrong; when the fact or phenomenon, instead of being recognized for what it is in reality, is mistaken for something else.
§ 2. Non-observation may either take place by overlooking instances, or by overlooking some of the circumstances of a given instance. If we were to conclude that a fortune-teller was a true prophet, from not adverting to the cases in which his predictions had been falsified by the event, this would be non-observation of instances; but if we overlooked or remained ignorant of the fact that in cases where the predictions had been fulfilled, he had been in collusion with some one who had given him the information on which they were grounded, this would be non-observation of circumstances.
The former case, in so far as the act of induction from insufficient evidence is concerned, does not fall under this second class of Fallacies, but under the third, Fallacies of Generalization. In every such case, however, there are two defects or errors instead of one; there is the error of treating the insufficient evidence as if it were sufficient, which is a Fallacy of the third class; and there is the insufficiency itself; the not having better evidence; which, when such evidence, or, in other words, when other instances, were to be had, is Non-observation; and the erroneous inference, so far as it is to be attributed to this cause, is a Fallacy of the second class.
It belongs not to our purpose to treat of non-observation as arising from casual inattention, from general slovenliness of mental habits, want of due practice in the use of the observing faculties, or insufficient interest in the subject. The question pertinent to logic is--Granting the want of complete competency in the observer, on what point is that insufficiency on his part likely to lead him wrong? or rather, what sorts of instances, or of circumstances in any given instance, are most likely to escape the notice of observers generally; of mankind at large.
§ 3. First, then, it is evident that when the instances on one side of a question are more likely to be remembered and recorded than those on the other; especially if there be any strong motive to preserve the memory of the first, but not of the latter; these last are likely to be overlooked, and escape the observation of the mass of mankind. This is the recognized explanation of the credit given, in spite of reason and evidence, to many classes of impostors; to quack-doctors, and fortune-tellers in all ages; to the "cunning man" of modern times, and the oracles of old. Few have considered the extent to which this fallacy operates in practice, even in the teeth of the most palpable negative evidence. A striking example of it is the faith which the uneducated portion of the agricultural classes, in this and other countries, continue to repose in the prophecies as to weather supplied by almanac-makers; though every season affords to them numerous cases of completely erroneous prediction; but as every season also furnishes some cases in which the prediction is fulfilled, this is enough to keep up the credit of the prophet, with people who do not reflect on the number of instances requisite for what we have called, in our inductive terminology, the Elimination of Chance; since a certain number of casual coincidences not only may but will happen, between any two unconnected events.
Coleridge, in one of the essays in the Friend, has illustrated the matter we are now considering, in discussing the origin of a proverb, "which, differently worded, is to be found in all the languages of Europe," viz., "Fortune favors fools." He ascribes it partly to the "tendency to exaggerate all effects that seem disproportionate to their visible cause, and all circumstances that are in any way strongly contrasted with our notions of the persons under them." Omitting some explanations which would refer the error to mal-observation, or to the other species of non-observation (that of circumstances), I take up the quotation further on. "Unforeseen coincidences may have greatly helped a man, yet if they have done for him only what possibly from his own abilities he might have effected for himself, his good luck will excite less attention, and the instances be less remembered. That clever men should attain their objects seems natural, and we neglect the circumstances that perhaps produced that success of themselves without the intervention of skill or foresight; but we dwell on the fact and remember it, as something strange, when the same happens to a weak or ignorant man. So too, though the latter should fail in his undertakings from concurrences that might have happened to the wisest man, yet his failure being no more than might have been expected and accounted for from his folly, it lays no hold on our attention, but fleets away among the other undistinguished waves in which the stream of ordinary life murmurs by us, and is forgotten. Had it been as true as it was notoriously false, that those all-embracing discoveries, which have shed a dawn of science on the art of chemistry, and give no obscure promise of some one great constitutive law, in the light of which dwell dominion and the power of prophecy; if these discoveries, instead of having been, as they really were, preconcerted by meditation, and evolved out of his own intellect, had occurred by a set of lucky accidents to the illustrious father and founder of philosophic alchemy; if they had presented themselves to Professor Davy exclusively in consequence of his luck in possessing a particular galvanic battery; if this battery, as far as Davy was concerned, had itself been an accident, and not (as in point of fact it was) desired and obtained by him for the purpose of insuring the testimony of experience to his principles, and in order to bind down material nature under the inquisition of reason, and force from her, as by torture, unequivocal answers to prepared and preconceived questions--yet still they would not have been talked of or described as instances of luck, but as the natural results of his admitted genius and known skill. But should an accident have disclosed similar discoveries to a mechanic at Birmingham or Sheffield, and if the man should grow rich in consequence, and partly by the envy of his neighbors and partly with good reason, be considered by them as a man below par in the general powers of his understanding; then, 'Oh, what a lucky fellow! Well, Fortune does favor fools--that's for certain! It is always so!' And forthwith the exclaimer relates half a dozen similar instances. Thus accumulating the one sort of facts and never collecting the other, we do, as poets in their diction, and quacks of all denominations do in their reasoning, put a part for the whole."
This passage very happily sets forth the manner in which, under the loose mode of induction which proceeds per enumerationem simplicem, not seeking for instances of such a kind as to be decisive of the question, but generalizing from any which occur, or rather which are remembered, opinions grow up with the apparent sanction of experience, which have no foundation in the laws of nature at all. "Itaque recte respondit ille" (we may say with Bacon(247)), "qui cum suspensa tabula in templo ei monstraretur eorum, qui vota solverant, quod naufragii periculo elapsi sint, atque interrogando premeretur, anne tum quidem Deorum numen agnosceret, quæsivit denuo, _At ubi sunt illi depicti qui post vota nuncupata perierunt_? Eadem ratio est fere omnis superstitionis, ut in Astrologicis, in Somniis, Ominibus, Nemesibus, et hujusmodi; in quibus, homines delectati hujusmodi vanitatibus, advertunt eventus, ubi implentur; ast ubi fallunt, licet multo frequentius, tamen negligunt, et prætereunt." And he proceeds to say that, independently of the love of the marvelous, or any other bias in the inclinations, there is a natural tendency in the intellect itself to this kind of fallacy; since the mind is more moved by affirmative instances, though negative ones are of most use in philosophy: "Is tamen humano intellectui error est proprius et perpetuus, ut magis moveatur et excitetur Affirmativis quam Negativis; cum rite et ordine æquum se utrique præbere debeat; quin contra, in omni Axiomate vero constituendo, major vis est instantiæ negativæ."
But the greatest of all causes of non-observation is a preconceived opinion. This it is which, in all ages, has made the whole race of mankind, and every separate section of it, for the most part unobservant of all facts, however abundant, even when passing under their own eyes, which are contradictory to any first appearance, or any received tenet. It is worth while to recall occasionally to the oblivious memory of mankind some of the striking instances in which opinions that the simplest experiment would have shown to be erroneous, continued to be entertained because nobody ever thought of trying that experiment. One of the most remarkable of these was exhibited in the Copernican controversy. The opponents of Copernicus argued that the earth did not move, because if it did, a stone let fall from the top of a high tower would not reach the ground at the foot of the tower, but at a little distance from it, in a contrary direction to the earth's course; in the same manner (said they) as, if a ball is let drop from the mast-head while the ship is in full sail, it does not fall exactly at the foot of the mast, but nearer to the stern of the vessel. The Copernicans would have silenced these objectors at once if they had tried dropping a ball from the mast-head, since they would have found that it does fall exactly at the foot, as the theory requires; but no; they admitted the spurious fact, and struggled vainly to make out a difference between the two cases. "The ball was no part of the ship--and the motion forward was not natural, either to the ship or to the ball. The stone, on the other hand, let fall from the top of the tower, was a part of the earth; and therefore, the diurnal and annular revolutions which were natural to the earth, were also natural to the stone; the stone would, therefore, retain the same motion with the tower, and strike the ground precisely at the bottom of it."(248)
Other examples, scarcely less striking, are recorded by Dr. Whewell,(249) where imaginary laws of nature have continued to be received as real, merely because no person had steadily looked at facts which almost every one had the opportunity of observing. "A vague and loose mode of looking at facts very easily observable, left men for a long time under the belief that a body ten times as heavy as another falls ten times as fast; that objects immersed in water are always magnified, without regard to the form of the surface; that the magnet exerts an irresistible force; that crystal is always found associated with ice; and the like. These and many others are examples how blind and careless man can be even in observation of the plainest and commonest appearances; and they show us that the mere faculties of perception, although constantly exercised upon innumerable objects, may long fail in leading to any exact knowledge."
If even on physical facts, and these of the most obvious character, the observing faculties of mankind can be to this degree the passive slaves of their preconceived impressions, we need not be surprised that this should be so lamentably true as all experience attests it to be, on things more nearly connected with their stronger feelings--on moral, social, and religious subjects. The information which an ordinary traveler brings back from a foreign country, as the result of the evidence of his senses, is almost always such as exactly confirms the opinions with which he set out. He has had eyes and ears for such things only as he expected to see. Men read the sacred books of their religion, and pass unobserved therein multitudes of things utterly irreconcilable with even their own notions of moral excellence. With the same authorities before them, different historians, alike innocent of intentional misrepresentation, see only what is favorable to Protestants or Catholics, royalists or republicans, Charles I. or Cromwell; while others, having set out with the preconception that extremes must be in the wrong, are incapable of seeing truth and justice when these are wholly on one side.
The influence of a preconceived theory is well exemplified in the superstitions of barbarians respecting the virtues of medicaments and charms. The negroes, among whom coral, as of old among ourselves, is worn as an amulet, affirm, according to Dr. Paris,(250) that its color "is always affected by the state of health of the wearer, it becoming paler in disease." On a matter open to universal observation, a general proposition which has not the smallest vestige of truth is received as a result of experience; the preconceived opinion preventing, it would seem, any observation whatever on the subject.
§ 4. For illustration of the first species of non-observation, that of Instances, what has now been stated may suffice. But there may also be non-observation of some material circumstances, in instances which have not been altogether overlooked--nay, which may be the very instances on which the whole superstructure of a theory has been founded. As, in the cases hitherto examined, a general proposition was too rashly adopted, on the evidence of particulars, true indeed, but insufficient to support it; so in the cases to which we now turn, the particulars themselves have been imperfectly observed, and the singular propositions on which the generalization is grounded, or some at least of those singular propositions, are false.
Such, for instance, was one of the mistakes committed in the celebrated phlogistic theory; a doctrine which accounted for combustion by the extrication of a substance called phlogiston, supposed to be contained in all combustible matter. The hypothesis accorded tolerably well with superficial appearances; the ascent of flame naturally suggests the escape of a substance; and the visible residuum of ashes, in bulk and weight, generally falls extremely short of the combustible material. The error was, non-observation of an important portion of the actual residue, namely, the gaseous products of combustion. When these were at last noticed and brought into account, it appeared to be a universal law, that all substances gain instead of losing weight by undergoing combustion; and after the usual attempt to accommodate the old theory to the new fact by means of an arbitrary hypothesis (that phlogiston had the quality of positive levity instead of gravity), chemists were conducted to the true explanation, namely, that instead of a substance separated, there was, on the contrary, a substance absorbed.
Many of the absurd practices which have been deemed to possess medicinal efficacy, have been indebted for their reputation to non-observance of some accompanying circumstance which was the real agent in the cures ascribed to them. Thus, of the sympathetic powder of Sir Kenelm Digby: "Whenever any wound had been inflicted, this powder was applied to the weapon that had inflicted it, which was, moreover, covered with ointment, and dressed two or three times a day. The wound itself, in the mean time, was directed to be brought together, and carefully bound up with clean linen rags, but, above all, to be let alone for seven days, at the end of which period the bandages were removed, when the wound was generally found perfectly united. The triumph of the cure was decreed to the mysterious agency of the sympathetic powder which had been so assiduously applied to the weapon, whereas it is hardly necessary to observe that the promptness of the cure depended on the total exclusion of air from the wound, and upon the sanative operations of nature not having received any disturbance from the officious interference of art. The result, beyond all doubt, furnished the first hint which led surgeons to the improved practice of healing wounds by what is technically called the _first intention_."(251) "In all records," adds Dr. Paris, of "extraordinary cures performed by mysterious agents, there is a great desire to conceal the remedies and other curative means which were simultaneously administered with them; thus Oribasius commends in high terms a necklace of Pæony root for the cure of epilepsy; but we learn that he always took care to accompany its use with copious evacuations, although he assigns to them no share of credit in the cure. In later times we have a good specimen of this species of deception, presented to us in a work on scrofula by Mr. Morley, written, as we are informed, for the sole purpose of restoring the much-injured character and use of the Vervain; in which the author directs the root of this plant to be tied with a yard of white satin ribbon around the neck, where it is to remain until the patient is cured; but mark--during this interval he calls to his aid the most active medicines in the materia medica."(252)
In other cases, the cures really produced by rest, regimen, and amusement have been ascribed to the medicinal, or occasionally to the supernatural, means which were put in requisition. "The celebrated John Wesley, while he commemorates the triumph of sulphur and supplication over his bodily infirmity, forgets to appreciate the resuscitating influence of four months' repose from his apostolic labors; and such is the disposition of the human mind to place confidence in the operation of mysterious agents, that we find him more disposed to attribute his cure to a brown paper plaster of egg and brimstone, than to Dr. Fothergill's salutary prescription of country air, rest, asses' milk, and horse exercise."(253)
In the following example, the circumstance overlooked was of a somewhat different character. "When the yellow fever raged in America, the practitioners trusted exclusively to the copious use of mercury; at first this plan was deemed so universally efficacious, that, in the enthusiasm of the moment, it was triumphantly proclaimed that death never took place after the mercury had evinced its effect upon the system: all this was very true, but it furnished no proof of the efficacy of that metal, since the disease in its aggravated form was so rapid in its career, that it swept away its victims long before the system could be brought under mercurial influence, while in its milder shape it passed off equally well without any assistance from art."(254)
In these examples the circumstance overlooked was cognizable by the senses. In other cases, it is one the knowledge of which could only be arrived at by reasoning; but the fallacy may still be classed under the head to which, for want of a more appropriate name, we have given the appellation Fallacies of Non-observation. It is not the nature of the faculties which ought to have been employed, but the non-employment of them, which constitutes this Natural Order of Fallacies. Wherever the error is negative, not positive; wherever it consists especially in overlooking, in being ignorant or unmindful of some fact which, if known and attended to, would have made a difference in the conclusion arrived at; the error is properly placed in the Class which we are considering. In this Class, there is not, as in all other fallacies there is, a positive misestimate of evidence actually had. The conclusion would be just, if the portion which is seen of the case were the whole of it; but there is another portion overlooked, which vitiates the result.
For instance, there is a remarkable doctrine which has occasionally found a vent in the public speeches of unwise legislators, but which only in one instance that I am aware of has received the sanction of a philosophical writer, namely, M. Cousin, who in his preface to the Gorgias of Plato, contending that punishment must have some other and higher justification than the prevention of crime, makes use of this argument--that if punishment were only for the sake of example, it would be indifferent whether we punished the innocent or the guilty, since the punishment, considered as an example, is equally efficacious in either case. Now we must, in order to go along with this reasoning, suppose, that the person who feels himself under temptation, observing somebody punished, concludes himself to be in danger of being punished likewise, and is terrified accordingly. But it is forgotten that if the person punished is supposed to be innocent, or even if there be any doubt of his guilt, the spectator will reflect that his own danger, whatever it may be, is not contingent on his guiltiness, but threatens him equally if he remains innocent, and how, therefore, is he deterred from guilt by the apprehension of such punishment? M. Cousin supposes that people will be dissuaded from guilt by whatever renders the condition of the guilty more perilous, forgetting that the condition of the innocent (also one of the elements in the calculation) is, in the case supposed, made perilous in precisely an equal degree. This is a fallacy of overlooking; or of non-observation, within the intent of our classification.
Fallacies of this description are the great stumbling-block to correct thinking in political economy. The economical workings of society afford numerous cases in which the effects of a cause consist of two sets of phenomena: the one immediate, concentrated, obvious to all eyes, and passing, in common apprehension, for the whole effect; the other widely diffused, or lying deeper under the surface, and which is exactly contrary to the former. Take, for instance, the common notion so plausible at the first glance, of the encouragement given to industry by lavish expenditure. A, who spends his whole income, and even his capital, in expensive living, is supposed to give great employment to labor. B, who lives on a small portion, and invests the remainder in the funds, is thought to give little or no employment. For every body sees the gains which are made by A's tradesmen, servants, and others, while his money is spending. B's savings, on the contrary, pass into the hands of the person whose stock he purchased, who with it pays a debt he owed to some banker, who lends it again to some merchant or manufacturer; and the capital being laid out in hiring spinners and weavers, or carriers and the crews of merchant vessels, not only gives immediate employment to at least as much industry as A employs during the whole of his career, but coming back with increase by the sale of the goods which have been manufactured or imported, forms a fund for the employment of the same and perhaps a greater quantity of labor in perpetuity. But the observer does not see, and therefore does not consider, what becomes of B's money; he does see what is done with A's; he observes the amount of industry which A's profusion feeds; he observes not the far greater quantity which it prevents from being fed; and thence the prejudice, universal to the time of Adam Smith, that prodigality encourages industry, and parsimony is a discouragement to it.
The common argument against free trade was a fallacy of the same nature. The purchaser of British silk encourages British industry; the purchaser of Lyons silk encourages only French; the former conduct is patriotic, the latter ought to be prevented by law. The circumstance is overlooked, that the purchaser of any foreign commodity necessarily causes, directly or indirectly, the export of an equivalent value of some article of home production (beyond what would otherwise be exported), either to the same foreign country or to some other; which fact, though from the complication of the circumstances it can not always be verified by specific observation, no observation can possibly be brought to contradict, while the evidence of reasoning on which it rests is irrefragable. The fallacy is, therefore, the same as in the preceding case, that of seeing a part only of the phenomena, and imagining that part to be the whole; and may be ranked among Fallacies of Non-observation.
§ 5. To complete the examination of the second of our five classes, we have now to speak of Mal-observation; in which the error does not lie in the fact that something is unseen, but that something seen is seen wrong.
Perception being infallible evidence of whatever is really perceived, the error now under consideration can be committed no otherwise than by mistaking for conception what is, in fact, inference. We have formerly shown how intimately the two are blended in almost every thing which is called observation, and still more in every Description.(255) What is actually on any occasion perceived by our senses being so minute in amount, and generally so unimportant a portion of the state of facts which we wish to ascertain or to communicate; it would be absurd to say that either in our observations, or in conveying their result to others, we ought not to mingle inference with fact; all that can be said is, that when we do so we ought to be aware of what we are doing, and to know what part of the assertion rests on consciousness, and is therefore indisputable, what part on inference, and is therefore questionable.
One of the most celebrated examples of a universal error produced by mistaking an inference for the direct evidence of the senses, was the resistance made, on the ground of common sense, to the Copernican system. People fancied they saw the sun rise and set, the stars revolve in circles round the pole. We now know that they saw no such thing; what they really saw was a set of appearances, equally reconcilable with the theory they held and with a totally different one. It seems strange that such an instance as this of the testimony of the senses pleaded with the most entire conviction in favor of something which was a mere inference of the judgment, and, as it turned out, a false inference, should not have opened the eyes of the bigots of common sense, and inspired them with a more modest distrust of the competency of mere ignorance to judge the conclusions of cultivated thought.
In proportion to any person's deficiency of knowledge and mental cultivation is, generally, his inability to discriminate between his inferences and the perceptions on which they were grounded. Many a marvelous tale, many a scandalous anecdote, owes its origin to this incapacity. The narrator relates, not what he saw or heard, but the impression which he derived from what he saw or heard, and of which perhaps the greater part consisted of inference, though the whole is related, not as inference but as matter of fact. The difficulty of inducing witnesses to restrain within any moderate limits the intermixture of their inferences with the narrative of their perceptions, is well known to experienced cross-examiners; and still more is this the case when ignorant persons attempt to describe any natural phenomenon. "The simplest narrative," says Dugald Stewart,(256) "of the most illiterate observer involves more or less of hypothesis; nay, in general, it will be found that, in proportion to his ignorance, the greater is the number of conjectural principles involved in his statements. A village apothecary (and, if possible, in a still greater degree, an experienced nurse) is seldom able to describe the plainest case, without employing a phraseology of which every word is a theory: whereas a simple and genuine specification of the phenomena which mark a particular disease; a specification unsophisticated by fancy, or by preconceived opinions, may be regarded as unequivocal evidence of a mind trained by long and successful study to the most difficult of all arts, that of the faithful interpretation of nature."
The universality of the confusion between perceptions and the inferences drawn from them, and the rarity of the power to discriminate the one from the other, ceases to surprise us when we consider that in the far greater number of instances the actual perceptions of our senses are of no importance or interest to us except as marks from which we infer something beyond them. It is not the color and superficial extension perceived by the eye that are important to us, but the object, of which those visible appearances testify the presence; and where the sensation itself is indifferent, as it generally is, we have no motive to attend particularly to it, but acquire a habit of passing it over without distinct consciousness, and going on at once to the inference. So that to know what the sensation actually was, is a study in itself, to which painters, for example, have to train themselves by special and long-continued discipline and application. In things farther removed from the dominion of the outward senses, no one who has not great experience in psychological analysis is competent to break this intense association; and when such analytic habits do not exist in the requisite degree, it is hardly possible to mention any of the habitual judgments of mankind on subjects of a high degree of abstraction, from the being of a God and the immortality of the soul down to the multiplication table, which are not, or have not been, considered as matter of direct intuition. So strong is the tendency to ascribe an intuitive character to judgments which are mere inferences, and often false ones. No one can doubt that many a deluded visionary has actually believed that he was directly inspired from Heaven, and that the Almighty had conversed with him face to face; which yet was only, on his part, a conclusion drawn from appearances to his senses, or feelings in his internal consciousness, which afforded no warrant for any such belief. A caution, therefore, against this class of errors, is not only needful but indispensable; though to determine whether, on any of the great questions of metaphysics, such errors are actually committed, belongs not to this place, but, as I have so often said, to a different science.
Fallacies Of Generalization.
§ 1. The class of Fallacies of which we are now to speak, is the most extensive of all; embracing a greater number and variety of unfounded inferences than any of the other classes, and which it is even more difficult to reduce to sub-classes or species. If the attempt made in the preceding books to define the principles of well-grounded generalization has been successful, all generalizations not conformable to those principles might, in a certain sense, be brought under the present class; when, however, the rules are known and kept in view, but a casual lapse committed in the application of them, this is a blunder, not a fallacy. To entitle an error of generalization to the latter epithet, it must be committed on principle; there must lie in it some erroneous general conception of the inductive process; the legitimate mode of drawing conclusions from observation and experiment must be fundamentally misconceived.
Without attempting any thing so chimerical as an exhaustive classification of all the misconceptions which can exist on the subject, let us content ourselves with noting, among the cautions which might be suggested, a few of the most useful and needful.
§ 2. In the first place, there are certain kinds of generalization which, if the principles already laid down be correct, must be groundless; experience can not afford the necessary conditions for establishing them by a correct induction. Such, for instance, are all inferences from the order of nature existing on the earth, or in the solar system, to that which may exist in remote parts of the universe; where the phenomena, for aught we know, may be entirely different, or may succeed one another according to different laws, or even according to no fixed law at all. Such, again, in matters dependent on causation, are all universal negatives, all propositions that assert impossibility. The non-existence of any given phenomenon, however uniformly experience may as yet have testified to the fact, proves at most that no cause, adequate to its production, has yet manifested itself; but that no such causes exist in nature can only be inferred if we are so foolish as to suppose that we know all the forces in nature. The supposition would at least be premature while our acquaintance with some even of those which we do know is so extremely recent. And however much our knowledge of nature may hereafter be extended, it is not easy to see how that knowledge could ever be complete, or how, if it were, we could ever be assured of its being so.
The only laws of nature which afford sufficient warrant for attributing impossibility (even with reference to the existing order of nature, and to our own region of the universe) are, first, those of number and extension, which are paramount to the laws of the succession of phenomena, and not exposed to the agency of counteracting causes; and, secondly, the universal law of causality itself. That no valuation in any effect or consequent will take place while the whole of the antecedents remain the same, may be affirmed with full assurance. But, that the addition of some new antecedent might not entirely alter and subvert the accustomed consequent, or that antecedents competent to do this do not exist in nature, we are in no case empowered positively to conclude.
§ 3. It is next to be remarked that all generalizations which profess, like the theories of Thales, Democritus, and others of the early Greek speculators, to resolve all things into some one element, or like many modern theories, to resolve phenomena radically different into the same, are necessarily false. By radically different phenomena I mean impressions on our senses which differ in quality, and not merely in degree. On this subject what appeared necessary was said in the chapter on the Limits to the Explanation of Laws of Nature; but as the fallacy is even in our own times a common one, I shall touch on it somewhat further in this place.
When we say that the force which retains the planets in their orbits is resolved into gravity, or that the force which makes substances combine chemically is resolved into electricity, we assert in the one case what is, and in the other case what might, and probably will ultimately, be a legitimate result of induction. In both these cases motion is resolved into motion. The assertion is, that a case of motion, which was supposed to be special, and to follow a distinct law of its own, conforms to and is included in the general law which regulates another class of motions. But, from these and similar generalizations, countenance and currency have been given to attempts to resolve, not motion into motion, but heat into motion, light into motion, sensation itself into motion; states of consciousness into states of the nervous system, as in the ruder forms of the materialist philosophy; vital phenomena into mechanical or chemical processes, as in some schools of physiology.
Now I am far from pretending that it may not be capable of proof, or that it is not an important addition to our knowledge if proved, that certain motions in the particles of bodies are the conditions of the production of heat or light; that certain assignable physical modifications of the nerves may be the conditions not only of our sensations or emotions, but even of our thoughts; that certain mechanical and chemical conditions may, in the order of nature, be sufficient to determine to action the physiological laws of life. All I insist upon, in common with every thinker who entertains any clear idea of the logic of science, is, that it shall not be supposed that by proving these things one step would be made toward a real explanation of heat, light, or sensation; or that the generic peculiarity of those phenomena can be in the least degree evaded by any such discoveries, however well established. Let it be shown, for instance, that the most complex series of physical causes and effects succeed one another in the eye and in the brain to produce a sensation of color; rays falling on the eye, refracted, converging, crossing one another, making an inverted image on the retina, and after this a motion--let it be a vibration, or a rush of nervous fluid, or whatever else you are pleased to suppose, along the optic nerve--a propagation of this motion to the brain itself, and as many more different motions as you choose; still, at the end of these motions, there is something which is not motion, there is a feeling or sensation of color. Whatever number of motions we may be able to interpolate, and whether they be real or imaginary, we shall still find, at the end of the series, a motion antecedent and a color consequent. The mode in which any one of the motions produces the next, may possibly be susceptible of explanation by some general law of motion: but the mode in which the last motion produces the sensation of color, can not be explained by any law of motion; it is the law of color: which is, and must always remain, a peculiar thing. Where our consciousness recognizes between two phenomena an inherent distinction; where we are sensible of a difference which is not merely of degree, and feel that no adding one of the phenomena to itself would produce the other; any theory which attempts to bring either under the laws of the other must be false; though a theory which merely treats the one as a cause or condition of the other, may possibly be true.
§ 4. Among the remaining forms of erroneous generalization, several of those most worthy of and most requiring notice have fallen under our examination in former places, where, in investigating the rules of correct induction, we have had occasion to advert to the distinction between it and some common mode of the incorrect. In this number is what I have formerly called the natural Induction of uninquiring minds, the induction of the ancients, which proceeds per enumerationem simplicem: "This, that, and the other A are B, I can not think of any A which is not B, therefore every A is B." As a final condemnation of this rude and slovenly mode of generalization, I will quote Bacon's emphatic denunciation of it; the most important part, as I have more than once ventured to assert, of the permanent service rendered by him to philosophy. "Inductio quæ procedit per enumerationem simplicem, res puerilis est, et precario concludit" (concludes only by your leave, or provisionally), "et periculo exponitur ab instantiâ contradictoriâ, et plerumque secundum pauciora quam par est, et ex his tantummodo quæ præsto sunt pronunciat. At Inductio quæ ad inventionem et demonstrationem Scientiarum et Artium erit utilis, Naturam separare debet, per rejectiones et exclusiones debitas; ac deinde post negativas tot quot sufficiunt, super affirmativas concludere."
I have already said that the mode of Simple Enumeration is still the common and received method of Induction in whatever relates to man and society. Of this a very few instances, more by way of memento than of instruction, may suffice. What, for example, is to be thought of all the "common-sense" maxims for which the following may serve as the universal formula, "Whatsoever has never been, will never be." As for example: negroes have never been as civilized as whites sometimes are, therefore it is impossible they should be so. Women, as a class, are supposed not to have hitherto been equal in intellect to men, therefore they are necessarily inferior. Society can not prosper without this or the other institution; e.g., in Aristotle's time, without slavery; in later times, without an established priesthood, without artificial distinctions of rank, etc. One poor person in a thousand, educated, while the nine hundred and ninety-nine remain uneducated, has usually aimed at raising himself out of his class, therefore education makes people dissatisfied with the condition of a laborer. Bookish men, taken from speculative pursuits and set to work on something they know nothing about, have generally been found or thought to do it ill; therefore philosophers are unfit for business, etc., etc. All these are inductions by simple enumeration. Reasons having some reference to the canons of scientific investigation have been attempted to be given, however unsuccessfully, for some of these propositions; but to the multitude of those who parrot them, the enumeratio simplex, ex his tantummodo quæ præsto sunt pronuncians, is the sole evidence. Their fallacy consists in this, that they are inductions without elimination: there has been no real comparison of instances, nor even ascertainment of the material facts in any given instance. There is also the further error, of forgetting that such generalizations, even if well established, could not be ultimate truths, but must be results of laws much more elementary; and therefore, until deduced from such, could at most be admitted as empirical laws, holding good within the limits of space and time by which the particular observations that suggested the generalization were bounded.
This error, of placing mere empirical laws, and laws in which there is no direct evidence of causation, on the same footing of certainty as laws of cause and effect, an error which is at the root of perhaps the greater number of bad inductions, is exemplified only in its grossest form in the kind of generalizations to which we have now referred. These, indeed, do not possess even the degree of evidence which pertains to a well-ascertained empirical law; but admit of refutation on the empirical ground itself, without ascending to casual laws. A little reflection, indeed, will show that mere negations can only form the ground of the lowest and least valuable kind of empirical law. A phenomenon has never been noticed; this only proves that the conditions of that phenomenon have not yet occurred in experience, but does not prove that they may not occur hereafter. There is a better kind of empirical law than this, namely, when a phenomenon which is observed presents within the limits of observation a series of gradations, in which a regularity, or something like a mathematical law, is perceptible; from which, therefore, something may be rationally presumed as to those terms of the series which are beyond the limits of observation. But in negation there are no gradations, and no series; the generalizations, therefore, which deny the possibility of any given condition of man and society merely because it has never yet been witnessed, can not possess this higher degree of validity even as empirical laws. What is more, the minuter examination which that higher order of empirical laws presupposes, being applied to the subject-matter of these, not only does not confirm but actually refutes them. For in reality the past history of Man and Society, instead of exhibiting them as immovable, unchangeable, incapable of ever presenting new phenomena, shows them, on the contrary, to be, in many most important particulars, not only changeable, but actually undergoing a progressive change. The empirical law, therefore, best expressive, in most cases, of the genuine result of observation, would be, not that such and such a phenomenon will continue unchanged, but that it will continue to change in some particular manner.
Accordingly, while almost all generalizations relating to Man and Society, antecedent to the last fifty or sixty years, have erred in the gross way which we have attempted to characterize, namely, by implicitly assuming that nature and society will forever revolve in the same orbit, and exhibit essentially the same phenomena; which is also the vulgar error of the ostentatiously practical, the votaries of so-called common sense, in our day, especially in Great Britain; the more thinking minds of the present age, having applied a more minute analysis to the past records of our race, have for the most part adopted a contrary opinion, that the human species is in a state of necessary progression, and that from the terms of the series which are past we may infer positively those which are yet to come. Of this doctrine, considered as a philosophical tenet, we shall have occasion to speak more fully in the concluding Book. If not, in all its forms, free from error, it is at least free from the gross and error which we previously exemplified. But, in all except the most eminently philosophical minds, it is infected with precisely the same kind of fallacy as that is. For we must remember that even this other and better generalization, the progressive change in the condition of the human species, is, after all, but an empirical law; to which, too, it is not difficult to point out exceedingly large exceptions; and even if these could be got rid of, either by disputing the facts or by explaining and limiting the theory, the general objection remains valid against the supposed law, as applicable to any other than what, in our third book, were termed Adjacent Cases. For not only is it no ultimate, but not even a causal law. Changes do indeed take place in human affairs, but every one of those changes depends on determinate causes; the "progressiveness of the species" is not a cause, but a summary expression for the general result of all the causes. So soon as, by a quite different sort of induction, it shall be ascertained what causes have produced these successive changes, from the beginning of history, in so far as they have really taken place, and by what causes of a contrary tendency they have been occasionally checked or entirely counteracted, we may then be prepared to predict the future with reasonable foresight; we may be in possession of the real law of the future; and may be able to declare on what circumstances the continuance of the same onward movement will eventually depend. But this it is the error of many of the more advanced thinkers, in the present age, to overlook; and to imagine that the empirical law collected from a mere comparison of the condition of our species at different past times, is a real law, is the law of its changes, not only past but also to come. The truth is, that the causes on which the phenomena of the moral world depend, are in every age, and almost in every country, combined in some different proportion; so that it is scarcely to be expected that the general result of them all should conform very closely, in its details at least, to any uniformly progressive series. And all generalizations which affirm that mankind have a tendency to grow better or worse, richer or poorer, more cultivated or more barbarous, that population increases faster than subsistence, or subsistence than population, that inequality of fortune has a tendency to increase or to break down, and the like, propositions of considerable value as empirical laws within certain (but generally rather narrow) limits, are in reality true or false according to times and circumstances.
What we have said of empirical generalizations from times past to times still to come, holds equally true of similar generalizations from present times to times past; when persons whose acquaintance with moral and social facts is confined to their own age, take the men and the things of that age for the type of men and things in general, and apply without scruple to the interpretation of the events of history, the empirical laws which represent sufficiently for daily guidance the common phenomena of human nature at that time and in that particular state of society. If examples are wanted, almost every historical work, until a very recent period, abounded in them. The same may be said of those who generalize empirically from the people of their own country to the people of other countries, as if human beings felt, judged, and acted everywhere in the same manner.
§ 5. In the foregoing instances, the distinction is confounded between empirical laws, which express merely the customary order of the succession of effects, and the laws of causation on which the effects depend. There may, however, be incorrect generalization when this mistake is not committed; when the investigation takes its proper direction, that of causes, and the result erroneously obtained purports to be a really causal law.
The most vulgar form of this fallacy is that which is commonly called post hoc, ergo propter hoc, or, cum hoc, ergo propter hoc. As when it was inferred that England owed her industrial pre-eminence to her restrictions on commerce; as when the old school of financiers, and some speculative writers, maintained that the national debt was one of the causes of national prosperity; as when the excellence of the Church, of the Houses of Lords and Commons, of the procedure of the law courts, etc., were inferred from the mere fact that the country had prospered under them. In such cases as these, if it can be rendered probable by other evidence that the supposed causes have some tendency to produce the effect ascribed to them, the fact of its having been produced, though only in one instance, is of some value as a verification by specific experience; but in itself it goes scarcely any way at all toward establishing such a tendency, since, admitting the effect, a hundred other antecedents could show an equally strong title of that kind to be considered as the cause.
In these examples we see bad generalization a posteriori, or empiricism properly so called; causation inferred from casual conjunction, without either due elimination, or any presumption arising from known properties of the supposed agent. But bad generalization a priori is fully as common; which is properly called false theory; conclusions drawn, by way of deduction, from properties of some one agent which is known or supposed to be present, all other co-existing agents being overlooked. As the former is the error of sheer ignorance, so the latter is especially that of semi-instructed minds; and is mainly committed in attempting to explain complicated phenomena by a simpler theory than their nature admits of. As when one school of physicians sought for the universal principle of all disease in "lentor and morbid viscidity of the blood," and imputing most bodily derangements to mechanical obstructions, thought to cure them by mechanical remedies;(257) while another, the chemical school, "acknowledged no source of disease but the presence of some hostile acid or alkali, or some deranged condition in the chemical composition of the fluid or solid parts," and conceived, therefore, that "all remedies must act by producing chemical changes in the body." We find Tournefort busily engaged in testing every vegetable juice, in order to discover in it some traces of an acid or alkaline ingredient, which might confer upon it medicinal activity. The fatal errors into which such an hypothesis was liable to betray the practitioner, received an awful illustration in the history of the memorable fever that raged at Leyden in the year 1699, and which consigned two-thirds of the population of that city to an untimely grave; an event which in a great measure depended upon the Professor Sylvius de la Boe, who having just embraced the chemical doctrines of Van Helmont, assigned the origin of the distemper to a prevailing acid, and declared that its cure could alone [only] be effected by the copious administration of absorbent and testaceous medicines.(258)
These aberrations in medical theory have their exact parallels in politics. All the doctrines which ascribe absolute goodness to particular forms of government, particular social arrangements, and even to particular modes of education, without reference to the state of civilization and the various distinguishing characters of the society for which they are intended, are open to the same objection--that of assuming one class of influencing circumstances to be the paramount rulers of phenomena which depend in an equal or greater degree on many others. But on these considerations it is the less necessary that we should now dwell, as they will occupy our attention more largely in the concluding Book.
§ 6. The last of the modes of erroneous generalization to which I shall advert, is that to which we may give the name of False Analogies. This Fallacy stands distinguished from those already treated of by the peculiarity that it does not even simulate a complete and conclusive induction, but consists in the misapplication of an argument which is at best only admissible as an inconclusive presumption, where real proof is unattainable.
An argument from analogy, is an inference that what is true in a certain case is true in a case known to be somewhat similar, but not known to be exactly parallel, that is, to be similar in all the material circumstances. An object has the property B: another object is not known to have that property, but resembles the first in a property A, not known to be connected with B; and the conclusion to which the analogy points, is that this object has the property B also. As, for example, that the planets are inhabited, because the earth is so. The planets resemble the earth in describing elliptical orbits round the sun, in being attracted by it and by one another, in being nearly spherical, revolving on their axes, etc.; and, as we have now reason to believe from the revelations of the spectroscope, are composed, in great part at least, of similar materials; but it is not known that any of these properties, or all of them together, are the conditions on which the possession of inhabitants is dependent, or are marks of those conditions. Nevertheless, so long as we do not know what the conditions are, they may be connected by some law of nature with those common properties; and to the extent of that possibility the planets are more likely to be inhabited than if they did not resemble the earth at all. This non-assignable and generally small increase of probability, beyond what would otherwise exist, is all the evidence which a conclusion can derive from analogy. For if we have the slightest reason to suppose any real connection between the two properties A and B, the argument is no longer one of analogy. If it had been ascertained (I purposely put an absurd supposition) that there was a connection by causation between the fact of revolving on an axis and the existence of animated beings, or if there were any reasonable ground for even suspecting such a connection, a probability would arise of the existence of inhabitants in the planets, which might be of any degree of strength, up to a complete induction; but we should then infer the fact from the ascertained or presumed law of causation, and not from the analogy of the earth.
The name analogy, however, is sometimes employed by extension to denote those arguments of an inductive character but not amounting to a real induction, which are employed to strengthen the argument drawn from a simple resemblance. Though A, the property common to the two cases, can not be shown to be the cause or effect of B, the analogical reasoner will endeavor to show that there is some less close degree of connection between them; that A is one of a set of conditions from which, when all united, B would result; or is an occasional effect of some cause which has been known also to produce B; and the like. Any of which things, if shown, would render the existence of B by so much more probable, than if there had not been even that amount of known connection between B and A.
Now an error or fallacy of analogy may occur in two ways. Sometimes it consists in employing an argument of either of the above kinds with correctness indeed, but overrating its probative force. This very common aberration is sometimes supposed to be particularly incident to persons distinguished for their imagination; but in reality it is the characteristic intellectual vice of those whose imaginations are barren, either from want of exercise, natural defect, or the narrowness of their range of ideas. To such minds objects present themselves clothed in but few properties; and as, therefore, few analogies between one object and another occur to them, they almost invariably overrate the degree of importance of those few: while one whose fancy takes a wider range, perceives and remembers so many analogies tending to conflicting conclusions, that he is much less likely to lay undue stress on any of them. We always find that those are the greatest slaves to metaphorical language who have but one set of metaphors.
But this is only one of the modes of error in the employment of arguments of analogy. There is another, more properly deserving the name of fallacy; namely, when resemblance in one point is inferred from resemblance in another point, though there is not only no evidence to connect the two circumstances by way of causation, but the evidence tends positively to disconnect them. This is properly the Fallacy of False Analogies.
As a first instance, we may cite that favorite argument in defense of absolute power, drawn from the analogy of paternal government in a family, which government, however much in need of control, is not and can not be controlled by the children themselves, while they remain children. Paternal government, says the argument, works well; therefore, despotic government in a state will work well. I waive, as not pertinent in this place, all that could be said in qualification of the alleged excellence of paternal government. However this might be, the argument from the family to the state would not the less proceed on a false analogy; implying that the beneficial working of parental government depends, in the family, on the only point which it has in common with political despotism, namely, irresponsibility. Whereas it depends, when real, not on that but on two other circumstances of the case, the affection of the parent for the children, and the superiority of the parent in wisdom and experience; neither of which properties can be reckoned on, or are at all likely to exist, between a political despot and his subjects; and when either of these circumstances fails even in the family, and the influence of the irresponsibility is allowed to work uncorrected, the result is any thing but good government. This, therefore, is a false analogy.
Another example is the not uncommon dictum that bodies politic have youth, maturity, old age, and death, like bodies natural; that after a certain duration of prosperity, they tend spontaneously to decay. This also is a false analogy, because the decay of the vital powers in an animated body can be distinctly traced to the natural progress of those very changes of structure which, in their earlier stages, constitutes its growth to maturity; while in the body politic the progress of those changes can not, generally speaking, have any effect but the still further continuance of growth: it is the stoppage of that progress, and the commencement of retrogression, that alone would constitute decay. Bodies politic die, but it is of disease, or violent death; they have no old age.
The following sentence from Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity is an instance of a false analogy from physical bodies to what are called bodies politic. "As there could be in natural bodies no motion of any thing unless there were some which moveth all things, and continueth immovable; even so in politic societies there must be some unpunishable, or else no man shall suffer punishment." There is a double fallacy here, for not only the analogy, but the premise from which it is drawn, is untenable. The notion that there must be something immovable which moves all other things, is the old scholastic error of a primum mobile.
The following instance I quote from Archbishop Whately's Rhetoric: "It would be admitted that a great and permanent diminution in the quantity of some useful commodity, such as corn, or coal, or iron, throughout the world, would be a serious and lasting loss; and again, that if the fields and coal-mines yielded regularly double quantities, with the same labor, we should be so much the richer; hence it might be inferred, that if the quantity of gold and silver in the world were diminished one-half, or were doubled, like results would follow; the utility of these metals, for the purposes of coin, being very great. Now there are many points of resemblance and many of difference, between the precious metals on the one hand, and corn, coal, etc., on the other; but the important circumstance to the supposed argument is, that the utility of gold and silver (as coin, which is far the chief) depends on their value, which is regulated by their scarcity; or rather, to speak strictly, by the difficulty of obtaining them; whereas, if corn and coal were ten times as abundant (i.e., more easily obtained), a bushel of either would still be as useful as now. But if it were twice as easy to procure gold as it is, a sovereign would be twice as large; if only half as easy, it would be of the size of a half-sovereign, and this (besides the trifling circumstance of the cheapness or dearness of gold ornaments) would be all the difference. The analogy, therefore, fails in the point essential to the argument."
The same author notices, after Bishop Copleston, the case of False Analogy which consists in inferring from the similarity in many respects between the metropolis of a country and the heart of the animal body, that the increased size of the metropolis is a disease.
Some of the false analogies on which systems of physics were confidently grounded in the time of the Greek philosophers, are such as we now call fanciful, not that the resemblances are not often real, but that it is long since any one has been inclined to draw from them the inferences which were then drawn. Such, for instance, are the curious speculations of the Pythagoreans on the subject of numbers. Finding that the distances of the planets bore, or seemed to bear, to one another a proportion not varying much from that of the divisions of the monochord, they inferred from it the existence of an inaudible music, that of the spheres; as if the music of a harp had depended solely on the numerical proportions, and not on the material, nor even on the existence of any material, any strings at all. It has been similarly imagined that certain combinations of numbers, which were found to prevail in some natural phenomena, must run through the whole of nature: as that there must be four elements, because there are four possible combinations of hot and cold, wet and dry; that there must be seven planets, because there were seven metals, and even because there were seven days of the week. Kepler himself thought that there could be only six planets, because there were only five regular solids. With these we may class the reasonings, so common in the speculations of the ancients, founded on a supposed perfection in nature; meaning by nature the customary order of events as they take place of themselves without human interference. This also is a rude guess at an analogy supposed to pervade all phenomena, however dissimilar. Since what was thought to be perfection appeared to obtain in some phenomena, it was inferred (in opposition to the plainest evidence) to obtain in all. "We always suppose that which is better to take place in nature, if it be possible," says Aristotle; and the vaguest and most heterogeneous qualities being confounded together under the notion of being better, there was no limit to the wildness of the inferences. Thus, because the heavenly bodies were "perfect," they must move in circles and uniformly. For "they" (the Pythagoreans) "would not allow," says Geminus,(259) "of any such disorder among divine and eternal things, as that they should sometimes move quicker and sometimes slower, and sometimes stand still; for no one would tolerate such anomaly in the movements even of a man, who was decent and orderly. The occasions of life, however, are often reasons for men going quicker or slower; but in the incorruptible nature of the stars, it is not possible that any cause can be alleged of quickness or slowness." It is seeking an argument of analogy very far, to suppose that the stars must observe the rules of decorum in gait and carriage prescribed for themselves by the long-bearded philosophers satirized by Lucian.
As late as the Copernican controversy it was urged as an argument in favor of the true theory of the solar system, that it placed the fire, the noblest element, in the centre of the universe. This was a remnant of the notion that the order of nature must be perfect, and that perfection consisted in conformity to rules of precedency in dignity, either real or conventional. Again, reverting to numbers: certain numbers were perfect, therefore those numbers must obtain in the great phenomena of nature. Six was a perfect number, that is, equal to the sum of all its factors; an additional reason why there must be exactly six planets. The Pythagoreans, on the other hand, attributed perfection to the number ten; but agreed in thinking that the perfect number must be somehow realized in the heavens; and knowing only of nine heavenly bodies, to make up the enumeration, they asserted "that there was an antichthon, or counter-earth, on the other side of the sun, invisible to us."(260) Even Huygens was persuaded that when the number of the heavenly bodies had reached twelve, it could not admit of any further increase. Creative power could not go beyond that sacred number.
Some curious instances of false analogy are to be found in the arguments of the Stoics to prove the equality of all crimes, and the equal wretchedness of all who had not realized their idea of perfect virtue. Cicero, toward the end of his Fourth Book, De Finibus, states some of these as follows: "Ut, inquit, in fidibus plurimis, si nulla earum ita contenta numeris sit, ut concentum servare possit, omnes æque incontentæ sunt; sic peccata, quia discrepant, æque discrepant; paria sunt igitur." To which Cicero himself aptly answers, "æque contingit omnibus fidibus, ut incontentæ sint; illud non continuo, ut æque incontentæ." The Stoic resumes: "Ut enim, inquit, gubernator æque peccat, si palearum navem evertit, et si auri; item æque peccat qui parentem, et qui servum, injuriâ verberat;" assuming, that because the magnitude of the interest at stake makes no difference in the mere defect of skill, it can make none in the moral defect: a false analogy. Again, "Quis ignorat, si plures ex alto emergere velint, propius fore eos quidem ad respirandum, qui ad summam jam aquam appropinquant, sed nihilo magis respirare posse, quam eos, qui sunt in profundo? Nihil ergo adjuvat procedere, et progredi in virtute, quominus miserrimus sit, antequam ad eam pervenerit, quoniam in aquâ nihil adjuvat: et quoniam catuli, qui jam despecturi sunt, cæci æque, et ii qui modo nati; Platonem quoque necesse est, quoniam nondum videbat sapientiam, æque cæcum animo, ac Phalarim fuisse." Cicero, in his own person, combats these false analogies by other analogies tending to an opposite conclusion. "Ista similia non sunt, Cato.... Illa sunt similia; hebes acies est cuipiam oculorum: corpore alius languescit: hi curatione adhibitâ levantur in dies: alter valet plus quotidie: alter videt. Hi similes sunt omnibus, qui virtuti student; levantur vitiis, levantur erroribus."
§ 7. In these and all other arguments drawn from remote analogies, and from metaphors, which are cases of analogy, it is apparent (especially when we consider the extreme facility of raising up contrary analogies and conflicting metaphors) that, so far from the metaphor or analogy proving any thing, the applicability of the metaphor is the very thing to be made out. It has to be shown that in the two cases asserted to be analogous, the same law is really operating; that between the known resemblance and the inferred one there is some connection by means of causation. Cicero and Cato might have bandied opposite analogies forever; it rested with each of them to prove by just induction, or at least to render probable, that the case resembled the one set of analogous cases and not the other, in the circumstances on which the disputed question really hinged. Metaphors, for the most part, therefore, assume the proposition which they are brought to prove: their use is, to aid the apprehension of it; to make clearly and vividly comprehended what it is that the person who employs the metaphor is proposing to make out; and sometimes also, by what media he proposes to do so. For an apt metaphor, though it can not prove, often suggests the proof.
For instance, when D'Alembert (I believe) remarked that in certain governments only two creatures find their way to the highest places, the eagle and the serpent, the metaphor not only conveys with great vividness the assertion intended, but contributes toward substantiating it, by suggesting, in a lively manner, the means by which the two opposite characters thus typified effect their rise. When it is said that a certain person misunderstands another because the lesser of two objects can not comprehend the greater, the application of what is true in the literal sense of the word comprehend, to its metaphorical sense, points to the fact which is the ground and justification of the assertion, viz., that one mind can not thoroughly understand another unless it can contain it in itself, that is, unless it possesses all that is contained in the other. When it is urged as an argument for education, that if the soil is left uncultivated, weeds will spring up, the metaphor, though no proof, but a statement of the thing to be proved, states it in terms which, by suggesting a parallel case, put the mind upon the track of the real proof. For, the reason why weeds grow in an uncultivated soil, is that the seeds of worthless products exist everywhere, and can germinate and grow in almost all circumstances, while the reverse is the case with those which are valuable; and this being equally true of mental products, this mode of conveying an argument, independently of its rhetorical advantages, has a logical value; since it not only suggests the grounds of the conclusion, but points to another case in which those grounds have been found, or at least deemed to be, sufficient.
On the other hand, when Bacon, who is equally conspicuous in the use and abuse of figurative illustration, says that the stream of time has brought down to us only the least valuable part of the writings of the ancients, as a river carries froth and straws floating on its surface, while more weighty objects sink to the bottom; this, even if the assertion illustrated by it were true, would be no good illustration, there being no parity of cause. The levity by which substances float on a stream, and the levity which is synonymous with worthlessness, have nothing in common except the name; and (to show how little value there is in the metaphor) we need only change the word into buoyancy, to turn the semblance of argument involved in Bacon's illustration against himself.
A metaphor, then, is not to be considered as an argument, but as an assertion that an argument exists; that a parity subsists between the case from which the metaphor is drawn and that to which it is applied. This parity may exist though the two cases be apparently very remote from one another; the only resemblance existing between them may be a resemblance of relations, an analogy in Ferguson's and Archbishop Whately's sense: as in the preceding instance, in which an illustration from agriculture was applied to mental cultivation.
§ 8. To terminate the subject of Fallacies of Generalization, it remains to be said, that the most fertile source of them is bad classification: bringing together in one group, and under one name, things which have no common properties, or none but such as are too unimportant to allow general propositions of any considerable value to be made respecting the class. The misleading effect is greatest, when a word which in common use expresses some definite fact, is extended by slight links of connection to cases in which that fact does not exist, but some other or others, only slightly resembling it. Thus Bacon,(261) in speaking of the Idola or Fallacies arising from notions temere et inæqualiter à rebus abstractæ, exemplifies them by the notion of Humidum or Wet, so familiar in the physics of antiquity and of the Middle Ages. "Invenietur verbum istud, Humidum, nihil aliud quam nota confusa diversarum actionum, quæ nullam constantiam aut reductionem patiuntur. Significat enim, et quod circa aliud corpus facile se circumfundit; et quod in se est indeterminabile, nec consistere potest; et quod facile cedit undique; et quod facile se dividit et dispergit; et quod facile se unit et colligit; et quod facile fluit, et in motu ponitur; et quod alteri corpori facile adhæret, idque madefacit; et quod facile reducitur in liquidum, sive colliquatur, cum antea consisteret. Itaque quum ad hujus nominis prædicationem et impositionem ventum sit; si alia accipias, flamma humida est; si alia accipias, aer humidus non est; si alia, pulvis minutus humidus est; si alia, vitrum humidum est: ut facile appareat, istam notionem ex aquâ tantum, et communibus et vulgaribus liquoribus, absque ullâ debitâ verificatione, temere abstractam esse."
Bacon himself is not exempt from a similar accusation when inquiring into the nature of heat: where he occasionally proceeds like one who, seeking for the cause of hardness, after examining that quality in iron, flint, and diamond, should expect to find that it is something which can be traced also in hard water, a hard knot, and a hard heart.
The word κίνησις in the Greek philosophy, and the words Generation and Corruption, both then and long afterward, denoted such a multitude of heterogeneous phenomena, that any attempt at philosophizing in which those words were used was almost as necessarily abortive as if the word hard had been taken to denote a class including all the things mentioned above. Κίνησις, for instance, which properly signified motion, was taken to denote not only all motion but even all change: ἀλλοίωσις being recognized as one of the modes of κίνησις. The effect was, to connect with every form of ἀλλοίωσις or change, ideas drawn from motion in the proper and literal sense, and which had no real connection with any other kind of κίνησις than that. Aristotle and Plato labored under a continual embarrassment from this misuse of terms. But if we proceed further in this direction we shall encroach upon the Fallacy of Ambiguity, which belongs to a different class, the last in order of our classification, Fallacies of Confusion.
Fallacies Of Ratiocination.
§ 1. We have now, in our progress through the classes of Fallacies, arrived at those to which, in the common books of logic, the appellation is in general exclusively appropriated; those which have their seat in the ratiocinative or deductive part of the investigation of truth. Of these fallacies it is the less necessary for us to insist at any length, as they have been most satisfactorily treated in a work familiar to almost all, in this country at least, who feel any interest in these speculations, Archbishop Whately's Logic. Against the more obvious forms of this class of fallacies, the rules of the syllogism are a complete protection. Not (as we have so often said) that ratiocination can not be good unless it be in the form of a syllogism; but that, by showing it in that form, we are sure to discover if it be bad, or at least if it contain any fallacy of this class.
§ 2. Among Fallacies of Ratiocination, we ought perhaps to include the errors committed in processes which have the appearance only, not the reality, of an inference from premises; the fallacies connected with the conversion and æquipollency of propositions. I believe errors of this description to be far more frequently committed than is generally supposed, or than their extreme obviousness might seem to admit of. For example, the simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition, All A are B, therefore all B are A, I take to be a very common form of error: though committed, like many other fallacies, oftener in the silence of thought than in express words, for it can scarcely be clearly enunciated without being detected. And so with another form of fallacy, not substantially different from the preceding: the erroneous conversion of an hypothetical proposition. The proper converse of an hypothetical proposition is this: If the consequent be false, the antecedent is false; but this, If the consequent be true, the antecedent is true, by no means holds good, but is an error corresponding to the simple conversion of a universal affirmative. Yet hardly any thing is more common than for people, in their private thoughts, to draw this inference. As when the conclusion is accepted, which it so often is, for proof of the premises. That the premises can not be true if the conclusion is false, is the unexceptionable foundation of the legitimate mode of reasoning called reductio ad absurdum. But people continually think and express themselves, as if they also believed that the premises can not be false if the conclusion is true. The truth, or supposed truth, of the inferences which follow from a doctrine, often enables it to find acceptance in spite of gross absurdities in it. How many philosophical systems which had scarcely any intrinsic recommendation, have been received by thoughtful men because they were supposed to lend additional support to religion, morality, some favorite view of politics, or some other cherished persuasion: not merely because their wishes were thereby enlisted on its side, but because its leading to what they deemed sound conclusions appeared to them a strong presumption in favor of its truth: though the presumption, when viewed in its true light, amounted only to the absence of that particular evidence of falsehood, which would have resulted from its leading by correct inference to something already known to be false.
Again, the very frequent error in conduct, of mistaking reverse of wrong for right, is the practical form of a logical error with respect to the Opposition of Propositions. It is committed for want of the habit of distinguishing the contrary of a proposition from the contradictory of it, and of attending to the logical canon, that contrary propositions, though they can not both be true, may both be false. If the error were to express itself in words, it would run distinctly counter to this canon. It generally, however, does not so express itself, and to compel it to do so is the most effectual method of detecting and exposing it.
§ 3. Among Fallacies of Ratiocination are to be ranked, in the first place, all the cases of vicious syllogism laid down in the books. These generally resolve themselves into having more than three terms to the syllogism, either avowedly, or in the covert mode of an undistributed middle term, or an illicit process of one of the two extremes. It is not, indeed, very easy fully to convict an argument of falling under any one of these vicious cases in particular; for the reason already more than once referred to, that the premises are seldom formally set out: if they were, the fallacy would impose upon nobody; and while they are not, it is almost always to a certain degree optional in what manner the suppressed link shall be filled up. The rules of the syllogism are rules for compelling a person to be aware of the whole of what he must undertake to defend if he persists in maintaining his conclusion. He has it almost always in his power to make his syllogism good by introducing a false premise; and hence it is scarcely ever possible decidedly to affirm that any argument involves a bad syllogism: but this detracts nothing from the value of the syllogistic rules, since it is by them that a reasoner is compelled distinctly to make his election what premises he is prepared to maintain. The election made, there is generally so little difficulty in seeing whether the conclusion follows from the premises set out, that we might without much logical impropriety have merged this fourth class of fallacies in the fifth, or Fallacies of Confusion.
§ 4. Perhaps, however, the commonest, and certainly the most dangerous fallacies of this class, are those which do not lie in a single syllogism, but slip in between one syllogism and another in a chain of argument, and are committed by changing the premises. A proposition is proved, or an acknowledged truth laid down, in the first part of an argumentation, and in the second a further argument is founded not on the same proposition, but on some other, resembling it sufficiently to be mistaken for it. Instances of this fallacy will be found in almost all the argumentative discourses of unprecise thinkers; and we need only here advert to one of the obscurer forms of it, recognized by the school-men as the fallacy _à dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter_. This is committed when, in the premises, a proposition is asserted with a qualification, and the qualification lost sight of in the conclusion; or oftener, when a limitation or condition, though not asserted, is necessary to the truth of the proposition, but is forgotten when that proposition comes to be employed as a premise. Many of the bad arguments in vogue belong to this class of error. The premise is some admitted truth, some common maxim, the reasons or evidence for which have been forgotten, or are not thought of at the time, but if they had been thought of would have shown the necessity of so limiting the premise that it would no longer have supported the conclusion drawn from it.
Of this nature is the fallacy in what is called, by Adam Smith and others, the Mercantile Theory in Political Economy. That theory sets out from the common maxim, that whatever brings in money enriches; or that every one is rich in proportion to the quantity of money he obtains. From this it is concluded that the value of any branch of trade, or of the trade of the country altogether, consists in the balance of money it brings in; that any trade which carries more money out of the country than it draws into it is a losing trade; that therefore money should be attracted into the country and kept there, by prohibitions and bounties; and a train of similar corollaries. All for want of reflecting that if the riches of an individual are in proportion to the quantity of money he can command, it is because that is the measure of his power of purchasing money's worth; and is therefore subject to the proviso that he is not debarred from employing his money in such purchases. The premise, therefore, is only true secundum quid; but the theory assumes it to be true absolutely, and infers that increase of money is increase of riches, even when produced by means subversive of the condition under which alone money can be riches.
A second instance is, the argument by which it used to be contended, before the commutation of tithe, that tithes fell on the landlord, and were a deduction from rent; because the rent of tithe-free land was always higher than that of land of the same quality, and the same advantages of situation, subject to tithe. Whether it be true or not that a tithe falls on rent, a treatise on Logic is not the place to examine; but it is certain that this is no proof of it. Whether the proposition be true or false, tithe-free land must, by the necessity of the case, pay a higher rent. For if tithes do not fall on rent, it must be because they fall on the consumer; because they raise the price of agricultural produce. But if the produce be raised in price, the farmer of tithe-free as well as the farmer of tithed land gets the benefit. To the latter the rise is but a compensation for the tithe he pays; to the first, who pays none, it is clear gain, and therefore enables him, and if there be freedom of competition, forces him, to pay so much more rent to his landlord. The question remains, to what class of fallacies this belongs. The premise is, that the owner of tithed land receives less rent than the owner of tithe-free land; the conclusion is, that therefore he receives less than he himself would receive if tithe were abolished. But the premise is only true conditionally; the owner of tithed land receives less than what the owner of tithe-free land is enabled to receive _when other lands are tithed_; while the conclusion is applied to a state of circumstances in which that condition fails, and in which, by consequence, the premise will not be true. The fallacy, therefore, is _à dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter_.
A third example is the opposition sometimes made to legitimate interferences of government in the economical affairs of society, grounded on a misapplication of the maxim, that an individual is a better judge than the government of what is for his own pecuniary interest. This objection was urged to Mr. Wakefield's principle of colonization; the concentration of the settlers, by fixing such a price on unoccupied land as may preserve the most desirable proportion between the quantity of land in culture and the laboring population. Against this it was argued, that if individuals found it for their advantage to occupy extensive tracts of land, they, being better judges of their own interest than the legislature (which can only proceed on general rules), ought not to be restrained from doing so. But in this argument it was forgotten that the fact of a person's taking a large tract of land is evidence only that it is his interest to take as much as other people, but not that it might not be for his interest to content himself with less, if he could be assured that other people would do so too; an assurance which nothing but a government regulation can give. If all other people took much, and he only a little, he would reap none of the advantages derived from the concentration of the population and the consequent possibility of procuring labor for hire, but would have placed himself, without equivalent, in a situation of voluntary inferiority. The proposition, therefore, that the quantity of land which people will take when left to themselves is that which is most for their interest to take, is true only secundum quid: it is only their interest while they have no guarantee for the conduct of one another. But the arrangement disregards the limitation, and takes the proposition for true simpliciter.
One of the conditions oftenest dropped, when what would otherwise be a true proposition is employed as a premise for proving others, is the condition of time. It is a principle of political economy that prices, profits, wages, etc., "always find their level;" but this is often interpreted as if it meant that they are always, or generally, at their level, while the truth is, as Coleridge epigrammatically expresses it, that they are always finding their level, "which might be taken as a paraphrase or ironical definition of a storm."
Under the same head of fallacy (_à dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter_) might be placed all the errors which are vulgarly called misapplications of abstract truths; that is, where a principle, true (as the common expression is) in the abstract, that is, all modifying causes being supposed absent, is reasoned on as if it were true absolutely, and no modifying circumstance could ever by possibility exist. This very common form of error it is not requisite that we should exemplify here, as it will be particularly treated of hereafter in its application to the subjects on which it is most frequent and most fatal, those of politics and society.(262)
Fallacies Of Confusion.
§ 1. Under this fifth and last class it is convenient to arrange all those fallacies in which the source of error is not so much a false estimate of the probative force of known evidence, as an indistinct, indefinite, and fluctuating conception of what the evidence is.
At the head of these stands that multitudinous body of fallacious reasonings in which the source of error is the ambiguity of terms: when something which is true if a word be used in a particular sense, is reasoned on as if it were true in another sense. In such a case there is not a mal-estimation of evidence, because there is not properly any evidence to the point at all; there is evidence, but to a different point, which from a confused apprehension of the meaning of the terms used, is supposed to be the same. This error will naturally be oftener committed in our ratiocinations than in our direct inductions, because in the former we are deciphering our own or other people's notes, while in the latter we have the things themselves present, either to the senses or to the memory. Except, indeed, when the induction is not from individual cases to a generality, but from generalities to a still higher generalization; in that case the fallacy of ambiguity may affect the inductive process as well as the ratiocinative. It occurs in ratiocination in two ways: when the middle term is ambiguous, or when one of the terms of the syllogism is taken in one sense in the premises, and in another sense in the conclusion.
Some good exemplifications of this fallacy are given by Archbishop Whately. "One case," says he, "which may be regarded as coming under the head of Ambiguous Middle, is (what I believe logical writers mean by Fallacia Figuræ Dictionis) the fallacy built on the grammatical structure of language, from men's usually taking for granted that paronymous (or conjugate) words, i.e., those belonging to each other, as the substantive, adjective, verb, etc., of the same root, have a precisely corresponding meaning; which is by no means universally the case. Such a fallacy could not indeed be even exhibited in strict logical form, which would preclude even the attempt at it, since it has two middle terms in sound as well as sense. But nothing is more common in practice than to vary continually the terms employed, with a view to grammatical convenience; nor is there any thing unfair in such a practice, as long as the meaning is preserved unaltered; e.g., 'murder should be punished with death; this man is a murderer, therefore he deserves to die,' etc. Here we proceed on the assumption (in this case just) that to commit murder, and to be a murderer--to deserve death, and to be one who ought to die, are, respectively, equivalent expressions; and it would frequently prove a heavy inconvenience to be debarred this kind of liberty; but the abuse of it gives rise to the Fallacy in question; e.g., projectors are unfit to be trusted; this man has formed a project, therefore he is unfit to be trusted: here the sophist proceeds on the hypothesis that he who forms a project must be a projector: whereas the bad sense that commonly attaches to the latter word, is not at all implied in the former. This fallacy may often be considered as lying not in the Middle, but in one of the terms of the Conclusion; so that the conclusion drawn shall not be, in reality, at all warranted by the premises, though it will appear to be so, by means of the grammatical affinity of the words; e.g., to be acquainted with the guilty is a presumption of guilt; this man is so acquainted, therefore we may presume that he is guilty: this argument proceeds on the supposition of an exact correspondence between presume and presumption, which, however, does not really exist; for 'presumption' is commonly used to express a kind of slight suspicion; whereas, 'to presume' amounts to actual belief. There are innumerable instances of a non-correspondence in paronymous words, similar to that above instanced; as between art and artful, design and designing, faith and faithful, etc.; and the more slight the variation of the meaning, the more likely is the fallacy to be successful; for when the words have become so widely removed in sense as 'pity' and 'pitiful,' every one would perceive such a fallacy, nor would it be employed but in jest.(263)
"The present Fallacy is nearly allied to, or rather, perhaps, may be regarded as a branch of, that founded on etymology--viz., when a term is used, at one time in its customary, and at another in its etymological sense. Perhaps no example of this can be found that is more extensively and mischievously employed than in the case of the word representative: assuming that its right meaning must correspond exactly with the strict and original sense of the verb 'represent,' the sophist persuades the multitude that a member of the House of Commons is bound to be guided in all points by the opinion of his constituents; and, in short, to be merely their spokesman; whereas law and custom, which in this case may be considered as fixing the meaning of the term, require no such thing, but enjoin the representative to act according to the best of his own judgment, and on his own responsibility."
The following are instances of great practical importance, in which arguments are habitually founded on a verbal ambiguity.
The mercantile public are frequently led into this fallacy by the phrase "scarcity of money." In the language of commerce, "money" has two meanings: currency, or the circulating medium; and _capital seeking investment_, especially investment on loan. In this last sense the word is used when the "money market" is spoken of, and when the "value of money" is said to be high or low, the rate of interest being meant. The consequence of this ambiguity is, that as soon as scarcity of money in the latter of these senses begins to be felt--as soon as there is difficulty of obtaining loans, and the rate of interest is high--it is concluded that this must arise from causes acting upon the quantity of money in the other and more popular sense; that the circulating medium must have diminished in quantity, or ought to be increased. I am aware that, independently of the double meaning of the term, there are in the facts themselves some peculiarities, giving an apparent support to this error; but the ambiguity of the language stands on the very threshold of the subject, and intercepts all attempts to throw light upon it.
Another ambiguous expression which continually meets us in the political controversies of the present time, especially in those which relate to organic changes, is the phrase "influence of property"--which is sometimes used for the influence of respect for superior intelligence or gratitude for the kind offices which persons of large property have it so much in their power to bestow; at other times for the influence of fear; fear of the worst sort of power, which large property also gives to its possessor, the power of doing mischief to dependents. To confound these two, is the standing fallacy of ambiguity brought against those who seek to purify the electoral system from corruption and intimidation. Persuasive influence, acting through the conscience of the voter, and carrying his heart and mind with it, is beneficial--therefore (it is pretended) coercive influence, which compels him to forget that he is a moral agent, or to act in opposition to his moral convictions, ought not to be placed under restraint.
Another word which is often turned into an instrument of the fallacy of ambiguity, is Theory. In its most proper acceptation, theory means the completed result of philosophical induction from experience. In that sense, there are erroneous as well as true theories, for induction may be incorrectly performed, but theory of some sort is the necessary result of knowing any thing of a subject, and having put one's knowledge into the form of general propositions for the guidance of practice. In this, the proper sense of the word, Theory is the explanation of practice. In another and a more vulgar sense, theory means any mere fiction of the imagination, endeavoring to conceive how a thing may possibly have been produced, instead of examining how it was produced. In this sense only are theory and theorists unsafe guides; but because of this, ridicule or discredit is attempted to be attached to theory in its proper sense, that is, to legitimate generalization, the end and aim of all philosophy; and a conclusion is represented as worthless, just because that has been done which, if done correctly, constitutes the highest worth that a principle for the guidance of practice can possess, namely, to comprehend in a few words the real law on which a phenomenon depends, or some property or relation which is universally true of it.
"The Church" is sometimes understood to mean the clergy alone, sometimes the whole body of believers, or at least of communicants. The declamations respecting the inviolability of church property are indebted for the greater part of their apparent force to this ambiguity. The clergy, being called the church, are supposed to be the real owners of what is called church property; whereas they are in truth only the managing members of a much larger body of proprietors, and enjoy on their own part a mere usufruct, not extending beyond a life interest.
The following is a Stoical argument taken from Cicero, De Finibus, book the third: "Quod est bonum, omne laudabile est. Quod autem laudabile est, omne honestum est. Bonum igitur quod est, honestum est." Here the ambiguous word is laudabile, which in the minor premise means any thing which mankind are accustomed, on good grounds, to admire or value; as beauty, for instance, or good fortune: but in the major, it denotes exclusively moral qualities. In much the same manner the Stoics endeavored logically to justify as philosophical truths, their figurative and rhetorical expressions of ethical sentiment: as that the virtuous man is alone free, alone beautiful, alone a king, etc. Whoever has virtue has Good (because it has been previously determined not to call any thing else good); but, again, Good necessarily includes freedom, beauty, and even kingship, all these being good things; therefore whoever has virtue has all these.
The following is an argument of Descartes to prove, in his a priori manner, the being of a God. The conception, says he, of an infinite Being proves the real existence of such a being. For if there is not really any such being, I must have made the conception; but if I could make it, I can also unmake it; which evidently is not true; therefore there must be, externally to myself, an archetype, from which the conception was derived. In this argument (which, it may be observed, would equally prove the real existence of ghosts and of witches) the ambiguity is in the pronoun I, by which, in one place, is to be understood my will, in another the laws of my nature. If the conception, existing as it does in my mind, had no original without, the conclusion would unquestionably follow that I made it; that is, the laws of my nature must have somehow evolved it: but that my will made it, would not follow. Now when Descartes afterward adds that I can not unmake the conception, he means that I can not get rid of it by an act of my will: which is true, but is not the proposition required. I can as much unmake this conception as I can any other: no conception which I have once had, can I ever dismiss by mere volition; but what some of the laws of my nature have produced, other laws, or those same laws in other circumstances, may, and often do, subsequently efface.
Analogous to this are some of the ambiguities in the free-will controversy; which, as they will come under special consideration in the concluding Book, I only mention memoriæ causâ. In that discussion, too, the word I is often shifted from one meaning to another, at one time standing for my volitions, at another time for the actions which are the consequences of them, or the mental dispositions from which they proceed. The latter ambiguity is exemplified in an argument of Coleridge (in his Aids to Reflection), in support of the freedom of the will. It is not true, he says, that a man is governed by motives; "the man makes the motive, not the motive the man;" the proof being that "what is a strong motive to one man is no motive at all to another." The premise is true, but only amounts to this, that different persons have different degrees of susceptibility to the same motive; as they have also to the same intoxicating liquid, which, however, does not prove that they are free to be drunk or not drunk, whatever quantity of the fluid they may drink. What is proved is, that certain mental conditions in the person himself must co-operate, in the production of the act, with the external inducement; but those mental conditions also are the effect of causes; and there is nothing in the argument to prove that they can arise without a cause--that a spontaneous determination of the will, without any cause at all, ever takes place, as the free-will doctrine supposes.
The double use, in the free-will controversy, of the word Necessity, which sometimes stands only for Certainty, at other times for Compulsion; sometimes for what can not be prevented, at other times only for what we have reason to be assured will not; we shall have occasion hereafter to pursue to some of its ulterior consequences.
A most important ambiguity, both in common and in metaphysical language, is thus pointed out by Archbishop Whately in the Appendix to his Logic:
"Same (as well as One, Identical, and other words derived from them) is used frequently in a sense very different from its primary one, as applicable to a single object; being employed to denote great similarity. When several objects are undistinguishably alike, _one single description_ will apply equally to any of them; and thence they are said to be all of one and the same nature, appearance, etc. As, e.g., when we say 'this house is built of the same stone with such another,' we only mean that the stones are undistinguishable in their qualities; not that the one building was pulled down, and the other constructed with the materials. Whereas sameness, in the primary sense, does not even necessarily imply similarity; for if we say of any man that he is greatly altered since such a time, we understand, and indeed imply by the very expression, that he is one person, though different in several qualities. It is worth observing also, that Same, in the secondary sense, admits, according to popular usage, of degrees: we speak of two things being nearly the same, but not entirely: personal identity does not admit of degrees. Nothing, perhaps, has contributed more to the error of Realism than inattention to this ambiguity. When several persons are said to have one and the same opinion, thought, or idea, many men, overlooking the true simple statement of the case, which is, that they are all thinking alike, look for something more abstruse and mystical, and imagine there must be some One Thing, in the primary sense, though not an individual which is present at once in the mind of each of these persons; and thence readily sprung Plato's theory of Ideas, each of which was, according to him, one real, eternal object, existing entire and complete in each of the individual objects that are known by one name."
It is, indeed, not a matter of inference, but of authentic history, that Plato's doctrine of Ideas, and the Aristotelian doctrine (in this respect similar to the Platonic) of substantial forms and second substances, grew up in the precise way here pointed out; from the supposed necessity of finding, in things which were said to have the same nature, or the same qualities, something which was the same in the very sense in which a man is the same as himself. All the idle speculations respecting τὸ ὄν, τὸ ἔν, τὸ ὄμοίον, and similar abstractions, so common in the ancient and in some modern schools of thought, sprang from the same source. The Aristotelian logicians saw, however, one case of the ambiguity, and provided against it with their peculiar felicity in the invention of technical language, when they distinguished things which differed both specie and numero, from those which differed _numero tantum_, that is, which were exactly alike (in some particular respect at least) but were distinct individuals. An extension of this distinction to the two meanings of the word Same, namely, things which are the same specie tantum, and a thing which is the same numero as well as specie, would have prevented the confusion which has been a source of so much darkness and such an abundance of positive error in metaphysical philosophy.
One of the most singular examples of the length to which a thinker of eminence may be led away by an ambiguity of language, is afforded by this very case. I refer to the famous argument by which Bishop Berkeley flattered himself that he had forever put an end to "skepticism, atheism, and irreligion." It is briefly as follows: I thought of a thing yesterday; I ceased to think of it; I think of it again to-day. I had, therefore, in my mind yesterday an idea of the object; I have also an idea of it to-day; this idea is evidently not another, but the very same idea. Yet an intervening time elapsed in which I had it not. Where was the idea during this interval? It must have been somewhere; it did not cease to exist; otherwise the idea I had yesterday could not be the same idea; no more than the man I see alive to-day can be the same whom I saw yesterday if the man has died in the mean while. Now an idea can not be conceived to exist anywhere except in a mind; and hence there must exist a Universal Mind, in which all ideas have their permanent residence during the intervals of their conscious presence in our own minds.
It is evident that Berkeley here confounded sameness numero with sameness specie, that is, with exact resemblance, and assumed the former where there was only the latter; not perceiving that when we say we have the same thought to-day which we had yesterday, we do not mean the same individual thought, but a thought exactly similar: as we say that we have the same illness which we had last year, meaning only the same sort of illness.
In one remarkable instance the scientific world was divided into two furiously hostile parties by an ambiguity of language affecting a branch of science which, more completely than most others, enjoys the advantage of a precise and well-defined terminology. I refer to the famous dispute respecting the vis viva, the history of which is given at large in Professor Playfair's Dissertation. The question was, whether the force of a moving body was proportional (its mass being given) to its velocity simply, or to the square of its velocity: and the ambiguity was in the word Force. "One of the effects," says Playfair, "produced by a moving body is proportional to the square of the velocity, while another is proportional to the velocity simply:" from whence clearer thinkers were subsequently led to establish a double measure of the efficiency of a moving power, one being called vis viva, and the other momentum. About the facts, both parties were from the first agreed: the only question was, with which of the two effects the term force should be, or could most conveniently be, associated. But the disputants were by no means aware that this was all; they thought that force was one thing, the production of effects another; and the question, by which set of effects the force which produced both the one and the other should be measured, was supposed to be a question not of terminology, but of fact.
The ambiguity of the word Infinite is the real fallacy in the amusing logical puzzle of Achilles and the Tortoise, a puzzle which has been too hard for the ingenuity or patience of many philosophers, and which no less a thinker than Sir William Hamilton considered as insoluble; as a sound argument, though leading to a palpable falsehood. The fallacy, as Hobbes hinted, lies in the tacit assumption that whatever is infinitely divisible is infinite; but the following solution (to the invention of which I have no claim) is more precise and satisfactory.
The argument is, let Achilles run ten times as fast as the tortoise, yet if the tortoise has the start, Achilles will never overtake him. For suppose them to be at first separated by an interval of a thousand feet: when Achilles has run these thousand feet, the tortoise will have got on a hundred; when Achilles has run those hundred, the tortoise will have run ten, and so on forever: therefore Achilles may run forever without overtaking the tortoise.
Now the "forever," in the conclusion, means, for any length of time that can be supposed; but in the premises, "ever" does not mean any length of time; it means any number of subdivisions of time. It means that we may divide a thousand feet by ten, and that quotient again by ten, and so on as often as we please; that there never needs be an end to the subdivisions of the distance, nor consequently to those of the time in which it is performed. But an unlimited number of subdivisions may be made of that which is itself limited. The argument proves no other infinity of duration than may be embraced within five minutes. As long as the five minutes are not expired, what remains of them may be divided by ten, and again by ten, as often as we like, which is perfectly compatible with their being only five minutes altogether. It proves, in short, that to pass through this finite space requires a time which is infinitely divisible, but not an infinite time; the confounding of which distinction Hobbes had already seen to be the gist of the fallacy.
The following ambiguities of the word right (in addition to the obvious and familiar one of a right and the adjective right) are extracted from a forgotten paper of my own, in a periodical:
"Speaking morally, you are said to have a right to do a thing, if all persons are morally bound not to hinder you from doing it. But, in another sense, to have a right to do a thing is the opposite of having no right to do it, i.e., of being under a moral obligation to forbear doing it. In this sense, to say that you have a right to do a thing, means that you may do it without any breach of duty on your part; that other persons not only ought not to hinder you, but have no cause to think worse of you for doing it. This is a perfectly distinct proposition from the preceding. The right which you have by virtue of a duty incumbent upon other persons, is obviously quite a different thing from a right consisting in the absence of any duty incumbent upon yourself. Yet the two things are perpetually confounded. Thus, a man will say he has a right to publish his opinions; which may be true in this sense, that it would be a breach of duty in any other person to interfere and prevent the publication: but he assumes thereupon that, in publishing his opinions, he himself violates no duty; which may either be true or false, depending, as it does, on his having taken due pains to satisfy himself, first, that the opinions are true, and next, that their publication in this manner, and at this particular juncture, will probably be beneficial to the interests of truth on the whole.
"The second ambiguity is that of confounding a right of any kind, with a right to enforce that right by resisting or punishing a violation of it. People will say, for example, that they have a right to good government, which is undeniably true, it being the moral duty of their governors to govern them well. But in granting this, you are supposed to have admitted their right or liberty to turn out their governors, and perhaps to punish them, for having failed in the performance of this duty; which, far from being the same thing, is by no means universally true, but depends on an immense number of varying circumstances," requiring to be conscientiously weighed before adopting or acting on such a resolution. This last example is (like others which have been cited) a case of fallacy within fallacy; it involves not only the second of the two ambiguities pointed out, but the first likewise.
One not unusual form of the Fallacy of Ambiguous Terms is known technically as the Fallacy of Composition and Division; when the same term is collective in the premises, distributive in the conclusion, or vicè _ versa_; or when the middle term is collective in one premise, distributive in the other. As if one were to say (I quote from Archbishop Whately), "All the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles: A B C is an angle of a triangle; therefore A B C is equal to two right angles.... There is no fallacy more common, or more likely to deceive, than the one now before us. The form in which it is most usually employed is to establish some truth, separately, concerning each single member of a certain class, and thence to infer the same of the whole collectively." As in the argument one sometimes hears, to prove that the world could do without great men. If Columbus (it is said) had never lived, America would still have been discovered, at most only a few years later; if Newton had never lived, some other person would have discovered the law of gravitation; and so forth. Most true: these things would have been done, but in all probability not till some one had again been found with the qualities of Columbus or Newton. Because any one great man might have had his place supplied by other great men, the argument concludes that all great men could have been dispensed with. The term "great men" is distributive in the premises and collective in the conclusion.
"Such also is the fallacy which probably operates on most adventurers in lotteries; e.g., 'the gaining of a high prize is no uncommon occurrence; and what is no uncommon occurrence may reasonably be expected; therefore the gaining of a high prize may reasonably be expected;' the conclusion, when applied to the individual (as in practice it is), must be understood in the sense of 'reasonably expected by a certain individual;' therefore for the major premise to be true, the middle term must be understood to mean, 'no uncommon occurrence to some one particular person;' whereas for the minor (which has been placed first) to be true, you must understand it of 'no uncommon occurrence to some one or other;' and thus you will have the Fallacy of Composition.
"This is a Fallacy with which men are extremely apt to deceive themselves; for when a multitude of particulars are presented to the mind, many are too weak or too indolent to take a comprehensive view of them, but confine their attention to each single point, by turns; and then decide, infer, and act accordingly; e.g., the imprudent spendthrift, finding that he is able to afford this, or that, or the other expense, forgets that all of them together will ruin him." The debauchee destroys his health by successive acts of intemperance, because no one of those acts would be of itself sufficient to do him any serious harm. A sick person reasons with himself, "one, and another, and another, of my symptoms do not prove that I have a fatal disease;" and practically concludes that all taken together do not prove it.
§ 2. We have now sufficiently exemplified one of the principal Genera in this Order of Fallacies; where, the source of error being the ambiguity of terms, the premises are verbally what is required to support the conclusion, but not really so. In the second great Fallacy of Confusion they are neither verbally nor really sufficient, though, from their multiplicity and confused arrangement, and still oftener from defect of memory, they are not seen to be what they are. The fallacy I mean is that of Petitio Principii, or begging the question; including the more complex and not uncommon variety of it, which is termed Reasoning in a Circle.
Petitio Principii, as defined by Archbishop Whately, is the fallacy "in which the premise either appears manifestly to be the same as the conclusion, or is actually proved from the conclusion, or is such as would naturally and properly so be proved." By the last clause I presume is meant, that it is not susceptible of any other proof; for otherwise, there would be no fallacy. To deduce from a proposition propositions from which it would itself more naturally be deduced, is often an allowable deviation from the usual didactic order; or at most, what, by an adaptation of a phrase familiar to mathematicians, may be called a logical inelegance.(264)
The employment of a proposition to prove that on which it is itself dependent for proof, by no means implies the degree of mental imbecility which might at first be supposed. The difficulty of comprehending how this fallacy could possibly be committed, disappears when we reflect that all persons, even the instructed, hold a great number of opinions without exactly recollecting how they came by them. Believing that they have at some former time verified them by sufficient evidence, but having forgotten what the evidence was, they may easily be betrayed into deducing from them the very propositions which are alone capable of serving as premises for their establishment. "As if," says Archbishop Whately, "one should attempt to prove the being of a God from the authority of Holy Writ;" which might easily happen to one with whom both doctrines, as fundamental tenets of his religious creed, stand on the same ground of familiar and traditional belief.
Arguing in a circle, however, is a stronger case of the fallacy, and implies more than the mere passive reception of a premise by one who does not remember how it is to be proved. It implies an actual attempt to prove two propositions reciprocally from one another; and is seldom resorted to, at least in express terms, by any person in his own speculations, but is committed by those who, being hard pressed by an adversary, are forced into giving reasons for an opinion of which, when they began to argue, they had not sufficiently considered the grounds. As in the following example from Archbishop Whately: "Some mechanicians attempt to prove (what they ought to lay down as a probable but doubtful hypothesis)(265) that every particle of matter gravitates equally: 'why?' 'because those bodies which contain more particles ever gravitate more strongly, i.e., are heavier:' 'but (it may be urged) those which are heaviest are not always more bulky;' 'no, but they contain more particles, though more closely condensed:' 'how do you know that?' 'because they are heavier:' 'how does that prove it?' 'because all particles of matter gravitating equally, that mass which is specifically the heavier must needs have the more of them in the same space.' " It appears to me that the fallacious reasoner, in his private thoughts, would not be likely to proceed beyond the first step. He would acquiesce in the sufficiency of the reason first given, "bodies which contain more particles are heavier." It is when he finds this questioned, and is called upon to prove it, without knowing how, that he tries to establish his premise by supposing proved what he is attempting to prove by it. The most effectual way, in fact, of exposing a petitio principii, when circumstances allow of it, is by challenging the reasoner to prove his premises; which if he attempts to do, he is necessarily driven into arguing in a circle.
It is not uncommon, however, for thinkers, and those not of the lowest description, to be led even in their own thoughts, not indeed into formally proving each of two propositions from the other, but into admitting propositions which can only be so proved. In the preceding example the two together form a complete and consistent, though hypothetical, explanation of the facts concerned. And the tendency to mistake mutual coherency for truth--to trust one's safety to a strong chain though it has no point of support--is at the bottom of much which, when reduced to the strict forms of argumentation, can exhibit itself no otherwise than as reasoning in a circle. All experience bears testimony to the enthralling effect of neat concatenation in a system of doctrines, and the difficulty with which people admit the persuasion that any thing which holds so well together can possibly fall.
Since every case where a conclusion which can only be proved from certain premises is used for the proof of those premises, is a case of _petitio principii_, that fallacy includes a very great proportion of all incorrect reasoning. It is necessary, for completing our view of the fallacy, to exemplify some of the disguises under which it is accustomed to mask itself, and to escape exposure.
A proposition would not be admitted by any person in his senses as a corollary from itself, unless it were expressed in language which made it seem different. One of the commonest modes of so expressing it, is to present the proposition itself in abstract terms, as a proof of the same proposition expressed in concrete language. This is a very frequent mode, not only of pretended proof, but of pretended explanation; and is parodied when Molière (Le Malade Imaginaire) makes one of his absurd physicians say,
Mihi a docto doctore,
Demandatur causam et rationem quare
Opium facit dormire.
A quoi respondeo,
Quia est in eo
Cujus est natura
The words Nature and Essence are grand instruments of this mode of begging the question, as in the well-known argument of the scholastic theologians, that the mind thinks always, because the essence of the mind is to think. Locke had to point out, that if by essence is here meant some property which must manifest itself by actual exercise at all times, the premise is a direct assumption of the conclusion; while if it only means that to think is the distinctive property of a mind, there is no connection between the premise and the conclusion, since it is not necessary that a distinctive property should be perpetually in action.
The following is one of the modes in which these abstract terms, Nature and Essence, are used as instruments of this fallacy. Some particular properties of a thing are selected, more or less arbitrarily, to be termed its nature or essence; and when this has been done, these properties are supposed to be invested with a kind of indefeasibleness; to have become paramount to all the other properties of the thing, and incapable of being prevailed over or counteracted by them. As when Aristotle, in a passage already cited, "decides that there is no void on such arguments as this: in a void there could be no difference of up and down; for as in nothing there are no differences, so there are none in a privation or negation; but a void is merely a privation or negation of matter; therefore, in a void, bodies could not move up and down, which it is in their nature to do."(266) In other words, it is in the nature of bodies to move up and down, ergo any physical fact which supposes them not so to move, can not be authentic. This mode of reasoning, by which a bad generalization is made to overrule all facts which contradict it, is Petitio Principii in one of its most palpable forms.
None of the modes of assuming what should be proved are in more frequent use than what are termed by Bentham "question-begging appellatives;" names which beg the question under the disguise of stating it. The most potent of these are such as have a laudatory or vituperative character. For instance, in politics, the word Innovation. The dictionary meaning of this term being merely "a change to something new," it is difficult for the defenders even of the most salutary improvement to deny that it is an innovation; yet the word having acquired in common usage a vituperative connotation in addition to its dictionary meaning, the admission is always construed as a large concession to the disadvantage of the thing proposed.
The following passage from the argument in refutation of the Epicureans, in the second book of Cicero, "De Finibus," affords a fine example of this sort of fallacy: "Et quidem illud ipsum non nimium probo (et tantum patior) philosophum loqui de cupiditatibus finiendis. An potest cupiditas finiri? tollenda est, atque extrahenda radicitus. Quis est enim, in quo sit cupiditas, quin recte cupidus dici possit? Ergo et avarus erit, sed finite: adulter, verum habebit modum: et luxuriosus eodem modo. Qualis ista philosophia est, quæ non interitum afferat pravitatis, sed sit contenta mediocritate vitiorum?" The question was, whether certain desires, when kept within bounds, are vices or not; and the argument decides the point by applying to them a word (cupiditas) which implies vice. It is shown, however, in the remarks which follow, that Cicero did not intend this as a serious argument, but as a criticism on what he deemed an inappropriate expression. "Rem ipsam prorsus probo: elegantiam desidero. Appellet hæc desideria naturæ; cupiditatis nomen servet alio," etc. But many persons, both ancient and modern, have employed this, or something equivalent to it, as a real and conclusive argument. We may remark that the passage respecting cupiditas and cupidus is also an example of another fallacy already noticed, that of Paronymous Terms.
Many more of the arguments of the ancient moralists, and especially of the Stoics, fall within the definition of Petitio Principii. In the "De Finibus," for example, which I continue to quote as being probably the best extant exemplification at once of the doctrines and the methods of the schools of philosophy existing at that time; of what value as arguments are such pleas as those of Cato in the third book: That if virtue were not happiness, it could not be a thing to boast of: That if death or pain were evils, it would be impossible not to fear them, and it could not, therefore, be laudable to despise them, etc. In one way of viewing these arguments, they may be regarded as appeals to the authority of the general sentiment of mankind which had stamped its approval upon certain actions and characters by the phrases referred to; but that such could have been the meaning intended is very unlikely, considering the contempt of the ancient philosophers for vulgar opinion. In any other sense they are clear cases of Petitio Principii, since the word laudable, and the idea of boasting, imply principles of conduct; and practical maxims can only be proved from speculative truths, namely, from the properties of the subject-matter, and can not, therefore, be employed to prove those properties. As well might it be argued that a government is good because we ought to support it, or that there is a God because it is our duty to pray to him.
It is assumed by all the disputants in the "De Finibus" as the foundation of the inquiry into the summum bonum, that "sapiens semper beatus est." Not simply that wisdom gives the best chance of happiness, or that wisdom consists in knowing what happiness is, and by what things it is promoted; these propositions would not have been enough for them; but that the sage always is, and must of necessity be, happy. The idea that wisdom could be consistent with unhappiness, was always rejected as inadmissible: the reason assigned by one of the interlocutors, near the beginning of the third book, being, that if the wise could be unhappy, there was little use in pursuing wisdom. But by unhappiness they did not mean pain or suffering; to that it was granted that the wisest person was liable in common with others: he was happy, because in possessing wisdom he had the most valuable of all possessions, the most to be sought and prized of all things, and to possess the most valuable thing was to be the most happy. By laying it down, therefore, at the commencement of the inquiry, that the sage must be happy, the disputed question respecting the summum bonum was in fact begged; with the further assumption, that pain and suffering, so far as they can co-exist with wisdom, are not unhappiness, and are no evil.
The following are additional instances of Petitio Principii, under more or less of disguise.
Plato, in the Sophistes, attempts to prove that things may exist which are incorporeal, by the argument that justice and wisdom are incorporeal, and justice and wisdom must be something. Here, if by something be meant, as Plato did in fact mean, a thing capable of existing in and by itself, and not as a quality of some other thing, he begs the question in asserting that justice and wisdom must be something; if he means any thing else, his conclusion is not proved. This fallacy might also be classed under ambiguous middleterm; something, in the one premise, meaning some substance, in the other merely some object of thought, whether substance or attribute.
It was formerly an argument employed in proof of what is now no longer a popular doctrine, the infinite divisibility of matter, that every portion of matter however small, must at least have an upper and an under surface. Those who used this argument did not see that it assumed the very point in dispute, the impossibility of arriving at a minimum of thickness; for if there be a minimum, its upper and under surface will of course be one; it will be itself a surface, and no more. The argument owes its very considerable plausibility to this, that the premise does actually seem more obvious than the conclusion, though really identical with it. As expressed in the premise, the proposition appeals directly and in concrete language to the incapacity of the human imagination for conceiving a minimum. Viewed in this light, it becomes a case of the a priori fallacy or natural prejudice, that whatever can not be conceived can not exist. Every fallacy of Confusion (it is almost unnecessary to repeat) will, if cleared up, become a fallacy of some other sort; and it will be found of deductive or ratiocinative fallacies generally, that when they mislead, there is mostly, as in this case, a fallacy of some other description lurking under them, by virtue of which chiefly it is that the verbal juggle, which is the outside or body of this kind of fallacy, passes undetected.
Euler's Algebra, a book otherwise of great merit, but full, to overflowing, of logical errors in respect to the foundation of the science, contains the following argument to prove that minus multiplied by minus gives plus, a doctrine the opprobrium of all mere mathematicians, and which Euler had not a glimpse of the true method of proving. He says minus multiplied by minus can not give minus; for minus multiplied by plus gives minus, and minus multiplied by minus can not give the same product as minus multiplied by plus. Now one is obliged to ask, why minus multiplied by minus must give any product at all? and if it does, why its product can not be the same as that of minus multiplied by plus? for this would seem, at the first glance, not more absurd than that minus by minus should give the same as plus by plus, the proposition which Euler prefers to it. The premise requires proof, as much as the conclusion; nor can it be proved, except by that more comprehensive view of the nature of multiplication, and of algebraic processes in general, which would also supply a far better proof of the mysterious doctrine which Euler is here endeavoring to demonstrate.
A striking instance of reasoning in a circle is that of some ethical writers, who first take for their standard of moral truth what, being the general, they deem to be the natural or instinctive sentiments and perceptions of mankind, and then explain away the numerous instances of divergence from their assumed standard, by representing them as cases in which the perceptions are unhealthy. Some particular mode of conduct or feeling is affirmed to be unnatural; why? because it is abhorrent to the universal and natural sentiments of mankind. Finding no such sentiment in yourself, you question the fact; and the answer is (if your antagonist is polite), that you are an exception, a peculiar case. But neither (say you) do I find in the people of some other country, or of some former age, any such feeling of abhorrence; "ay, but their feelings were sophisticated and unhealthy."
One of the most notable specimens of reasoning in a circle is the doctrine of Hobbes, Rousseau, and others, which rests the obligations by which human beings are bound as members of society, on a supposed social compact. I waive the consideration of the fictitious nature of the compact itself; but when Hobbes, through the whole Leviathan, elaborately deduces the obligation of obeying the sovereign, not from the necessity or utility of doing so, but from a promise supposed to have been made by our ancestors, on renouncing savage life and agreeing to establish political society, it is impossible not to retort by the question, Why are we bound to keep a promise made for us by others? or why bound to keep a promise at all? No satisfactory ground can be assigned for the obligation, except the mischievous consequences of the absence of faith and mutual confidence among mankind. We are, therefore, brought round to the interests of society, as the ultimate ground of the obligation of a promise; and yet those interests are not admitted to be a sufficient justification for the existence of government and law. Without a promise it is thought that we should not be bound to that which is implied in all modes of living in society, namely, to yield a general obedience to the laws therein established; and so necessary is the promise deemed, that if none has actually been made, some additional safety is supposed to be given to the foundations of society by feigning one.
§ 3. Two principal subdivisions of the class of Fallacies of Confusion having been disposed of; there remains a third, in which the confusion is not, as in the Fallacy of Ambiguity, in misconceiving the import of the premises, nor, as in Petitio Principii, in forgetting what the premises are, but in mistaking the conclusion which is to be proved. This is the fallacy of Ignoratio Elenchi, in the widest sense of the phrase; also called by Archbishop Whately the Fallacy of Irrelevant Conclusion. His examples and remarks are highly worthy of citation.
"Various kinds of propositions are, according to the occasion, substituted for the one of which proof is required; sometimes the particular for the universal; sometimes a proposition with different terms; and various are the contrivances employed to effect and to conceal this substitution, and to make the conclusion which the sophist has drawn, answer practically the same purpose as the one he ought to have established. We say, 'practically the same purpose,' because it will very often happen that some emotion will be excited, some sentiment impressed on the mind (by a dexterous employment of this fallacy), such as shall bring men into the disposition requisite for your purpose; though they may not have assented to, or even stated distinctly in their own minds, the proposition which it was your business to establish. Thus if a sophist has to defend one who has been guilty of some serious offense, which he wishes to extenuate, though he is unable distinctly to prove that it is not such, yet if he can succeed in making the audience laugh at some casual matter, he has gained practically the same point. So also if any one has pointed out the extenuating circumstances in some particular case of offense, so as to show that it differs widely from the generality of the same class, the sophist, if he finds himself unable to disprove these circumstances, may do away the force of them, by simply _referring the action to that very class_, which no one can deny that it belongs to, and the very name of which will excite a feeling of disgust sufficient to counteract the extenuation; e.g., let it be a case of peculation, and that many mitigating circumstances have been brought forward which can not be denied; the sophistical opponent will reply, 'Well, but after all, the man is a rogue, and there is an end of it;' now in reality this was (by hypothesis) never the question; and the mere assertion of what was never denied ought not, in fairness, to be regarded as decisive; but, practically, the odiousness of the word, arising in great measure from the association of those very circumstances which belong to most of the class, but which we have supposed to be absent in this particular instance, excites precisely that feeling of disgust which, in effect, destroys the force of the defense. In like manner we may refer to this head all cases of improper appeal to the passions, and every thing else which is mentioned by Aristotle as extraneous to the matter in hand (ἔξω τοῦ πράγματος)."
Again, "instead of proving that 'this prisoner has committed an atrocious fraud,' you prove that the fraud he is accused of is atrocious; instead of proving (as in the well-known tale of Cyrus and the two coats) that the taller boy had a right to force the other boy to exchange coats with him, you prove that the exchange would have been advantageous to both; instead of proving that the poor ought to be relieved in this way rather than in that, you prove that the poor ought to be relieved; instead of proving that the irrational agent--whether a brute or a madman--can never be deterred from any act by apprehension of punishment (as, for instance, a dog from sheep-biting, by fear of being beaten), you prove that the beating of one dog does not operate as an example to other dogs, etc.
"It is evident that Ignoratio Elenchi may be employed as well for the apparent refutation of your opponent's proposition, as for the apparent establishment of your own; for it is substantially the same thing, to prove what was not denied or to disprove what was not asserted. The latter practice is not less common, and it is more offensive, because it frequently amounts to a personal affront, in attributing to a person opinions, etc., which he perhaps holds in abhorrence. Thus, when in a discussion one party vindicates, on the ground of general expediency, a particular instance of resistance to government in a case of intolerable oppression, the opponent may gravely maintain, 'that we ought not to do evil that good may come;' a proposition which of course had never been denied, the point in dispute being, 'whether resistance in this particular case were doing evil or not.' Or again, by way of disproving the assertion of the right of private judgment in religion, one may hear a grave argument to prove that 'it is impossible every one can be _right in his judgment_.' "
The works of controversial writers are seldom free from this fallacy. The attempts, for instance, to disprove the population doctrines of Malthus, have been mostly cases of ignoratio elenchi. Malthus has been supposed to be refuted if it could be shown that in some countries or ages population has been nearly stationary; as if he had asserted that population always increases in a given ratio, or had not expressly declared that it increases only in so far as it is not restrained by prudence, or kept down by poverty and disease. Or, perhaps, a collection of facts is produced to prove that in some one country the people are better off with a dense population than they are in another country with a thin one; or that the people have become more numerous and better off at the same time. As if the assertion were that a dense population could not possibly be well off; as if it were not part of the very doctrine, and essential to it, that where there is a more abundant production there may be a greater population without any increase of poverty, or even with a diminution of it.
The favorite argument against Berkeley's theory of the non-existence of matter, and the most popularly effective, next to a "grin"(267)--an argument, moreover, which is not confined to "coxcombs," nor to men like Samuel Johnson, whose greatly overrated ability certainly did not lie in the direction of metaphysical speculation, but is the stock argument of the Scotch school of metaphysicians--is a palpable Ignoratio Elenchi. The argument is perhaps as frequently expressed by gesture as by words, and one of its commonest forms consists in knocking a stick against the ground. This short and easy confutation overlooks the fact, that in denying matter, Berkeley did not deny any thing to which our senses bear witness, and therefore can not be answered by any appeal to them. His skepticism related to the supposed substratum, or hidden cause of the appearances perceived by our senses; the evidence of which, whatever may be thought of its conclusiveness, is certainly not the evidence of sense. And it will always remain a signal proof of the want of metaphysical profundity of Reid, Stewart, and, I am sorry to add, of Brown, that they should have persisted in asserting that Berkeley, if he believed his own doctrine, was bound to walk into the kennel, or run his head against a post. As if persons who do not recognize an occult cause of their sensations could not possibly believe that a fixed order subsists among the sensations themselves. Such a want of comprehension of the distinction between a thing and its sensible manifestation, or, in metaphysical language, between the noumenon and the phenomenon, would be impossible to even the dullest disciple of Kant or Coleridge.
It would be easy to add a greater number of examples of this fallacy, as well as of the others which I have attempted to characterize. But a more copious exemplification does not seem to be necessary; and the intelligent reader will have little difficulty in adding to the catalogue from his own reading and experience. We shall, therefore, here close our exposition of the general principles of logic, and proceed to the supplementary inquiry which is necessary to complete our design.