Page:Blackwood's Magazine volume 044.djvu/566

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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness.

never thinking of the word, or troubling ourselves about it; perhaps we shall encounter the phenomenon itself, when the expression of it is the last thing in our thoughts; perhaps we shall find it to be something very different from what we suspected; perhaps we shall find that it exists in deeper regions, presides over a wider sphere, and comes into earlier play than we had any notion of.

The law of causality is the great law of nature. Now, what do we precisely understand by the law of causality? We understand by it the keeping up of an uninterrupted dependency throughout the various links of creation; or the fact that one Being assumes, without resistance or challenge, the state modification, or whatever we may choose to call it, imposed upon by another Being. Hence the law of causality is emphatically the law of virtual surrender or assent.

Now the natural man—man as he is born—is clearly placed entirely under the dominion of this law. He is, as we have often said, a mere passive creature throughout. He dons the sensations and the passions that come to him, and bends before them like a sapling in the wind. But it is by no means so obvious that the conscious man—the man become "I"—is also placed under jurisdiction of this law.

The "I" stands in a direct antithesis to the natural man; it is realized through consciousness, an act of antagonism against his passive modifications. Are we then to suppose that this "I" stands completely under the law of causality, or of virtual surrender—that the man entirely assents, and offers no resistance to the passive states into which he may be cast?—then, in this case, no act of antagonism taking place, consciousness, of course, disappears, and the "I" becomes extinct. If, therefore, consciousness and the "I" become extinct beneath the law of causality, their appearance and realization cannot depend upon that law, but must be brought about by a direct violation of the law of causality. If the "I" disappears in consequence of the law of causality, it must manifest itself (if it manifests itself at all) in spite of that law. If the law of virtual assent is its death, nothing but the law of actual dissent (the opposite of causality) can give it life.

Here, then, in the realization of the "I," we find a counter-law established to the law of causality. The law of causality is the law of assent—and upon this law man's natural being and all its modifications, depend. But the life of the "I" depends upon the law of dissent—of resistance to all his natural or derivative states. And if the one of these laws—the law of assent—is known by the name of causality—the other of them, the law of dissent, which, in man, clashes with the law of causality at every point, is, or ought to be, known by the designation of will; and this will, this law of dissent, which embodies itself in an act of antagonism against the states which depend upon the law of causality—and which may therefore be called the law of freedom, as the other is the law of bondage, is the ground-law of humanity, and lies at the bottom of the whole operation of consciousness, at the roots of the existence of the "I." Much more might be said concerning these two great laws, which may be best studied and understood in their opposition or conflict with one another.

But we have dug sufficiently deep downwards. It is now time that we should begin to dig upwards, and escape out of these mines of humanity, in which we have been working hard, although, we know, with most imperfect hands. We have trod, we trust with no unhallowed step, but with a foot venturous after truth, on the confines of those dread abysses which, in all ages, have shaken beneath the feet of the greatest thinkers among men. We have seen and handled the dark ore of humanity in its pure and elemental state. It will be a comparatively easy task to trace it forth in its general currency through the ranks of ordinary superficial life. In our next and concluding discussion, we will endeavour to point out the consequences of the act of consciousness; and we trust that the navigation through which we shall then have to steer will be less intricate and perplexing than that through which our present course has lain.