Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/February 1874/Replies to Criticisms II
By HERBERT SPENCER.
OBJECTIONS of another, though allied, class have been made in a review of the "Principles of Psychology," by Mr. H. Sidgwick—a critic whose remarks on questions of mental philosophy always deserve respectful consideration.
Mr. Sidgwick's chief aim is, to show what he calls "the mazy inconsistency of his [my] metaphysical results." More specifically he expresses thus the proposition he seeks to justify: "His view of the subject appears to have a fundamental incoherence, which shows itself in various ways on the surface of his exposition, but of which the root lies much deeper, in his inability to harmonize different lines of thought."
Before dealing with the reasons given for this judgment, let me say that, in addition to the value which candid criticisms have, as showing where more explanation is needed, they are almost indispensable as revealing to a writer incongruities he had not perceived. Especially where, as in this case, the subject-matter has many aspects, and where the words supplied by our language are so inadequate in number that, to avoid cumbrous circumlocution, they have to be used in senses that vary according to the context, it is extremely difficult to avoid imperfections of statement. But while I acknowledge sundry such imperfections and the resulting incongruities, I cannot see that these are, as Mr. Sidgwick says, fundamental. Contrariwise, their superficiality seems to me proved by the fact that they may be rectified without otherwise altering the expositions in which they occur. Here is an instance:
Mr. Sidgwick points out that, when treating of the "Data of Psychology," I have said (in § 56) that, though we reach inferentially "the belief that mind and nervous action are the subjective and objective faces of the same thing, we remain utterly incapable of seeing, and even of imagining, how the two are related" (I quote the passage more fully than he does). He then goes on to show that in the "Special Synthesis," where I have sketched the evolution of intelligence under its objective aspect, as displayed in the processes by which beings of various grades adjust themselves to surrounding actions, I "speak as if" we could see how consciousness "naturally arises at a particular stage" of nervous action. The chapter here referred to is one describing that "differentiation of the psychical from the physical life which accompanies advancing organization, and more especially advancing development of the nervous system. In it I have aimed to show that, while the changes constituting physical life continue to be characterized by the simultaneity with which all kinds of them go on throughout the organism, the changes constituting psychical life, arising as the nervous system develops, become more and more distinguished by their seriality: that with the advance of nervous integration "there must result an unbroken series of these changes—there must arise a consciousness." Now, I admit that here is an apparent inconsistency. I ought to have said that "there must result an unbroken series of these changes," which, taking place in the nervous system of a highly-organized creature, gives coherence to its conduct, and along with which we assume a consciousness, because consciousness goes along with coherent conduct in ourselves. If Mr. Sidgwick will substitute this statement for the statement as it stands, he will see that the arguments and conclusions remain intact. A survey of the chapter as a whole proves that its aim is not in the least to explain how nervous changes, considered as waves of molecular motion, become the feelings constituting consciousness; but that, contemplating the facts objectively in living creatures at large, it points out the cardinal distinction between vital actions in general, and those particular vital actions which, in a creature displaying them, lead us to speak of it as intelligent. It is shown that the rise of such actions becomes marked in proportion as the changes taking place in the part called the nervous system are made more and more distinctly serial, by union in a supreme centre of coördination. The introduction of the word consciousness arises in the effort to show what fundamental character there is in the physiological changes which is parallel to a fundamental character in the psychological changes.
Another instance of the way in which Mr. Sidgwick evolves an incongruity, which he considers fundamental, out of what I should have thought he would see is a defective expression, I will give in his own words. Speaking of a certain view of mine, he says:
"He tells us that 'logic.... contemplates in its propositions certain connections predicated, which are necessarily involved with certain other connections given: regarding all these connections as existing in the non-ego—not, it may be, under the form in which we know them, but in some form.' But in § 473, where Mr. Spencer illustrates by a diagram his 'Transfigured Realism,' the view seems to be this: although we cannot say that the real non-ego resembles our notion of it in 'its elements, relations, or laws,' we can say that 'a change in the objective reality causes in the subjective state a change exactly answering to it—so answering as to constitute a cognition of it.' Here the 'something beyond consciousness' is no longer said to be unknown, as its effect in consciousness 'constitutes a cognition of it.'"
This apparent inconsistency, marked by the italics, would not have existed, if, instead of "a cognition of it," I had said, as I ought to have done, "what we call a cognition of it"—that is, a relative cognition as distinguished from an absolute cognition. In ordinary language we speak of as cognitions those connections in thought which so guide us in our dealings with things that actual experience verifies ideal anticipation. There is no direct resemblance whatever between the sizes, forms, colors, and arrangements, of the figures in an account-book, and the moneys or goods, debts or credits, represented by them; and yet the forms and arrangements of the written symbols are such as to answer in a perfectly exact way to stocks of various commodities and to various kinds of transactions. Hence we say, figuratively, that the account-book will "tell us" all about these stocks and transactions. Similarly, the diagram Mr. Sidgwick refers to illustrates the way in which symbols, registered in us by objects, may have forms and arrangements wholly unlike their objective causes and the nexus among those causes, while yet they are so related as to guide us correctly in our transactions with those objective causes, and in that sense constitute cognitions of them; though they no more constitute cognitions in the absolute sense than do the guiding symbols in the account-book constitute cognitions of the things to which they refer. So repeatedly is this view implied throughout the "Principles of Psychology," that I am surprised to find a laxity of expression raising the suspicion that I entertain any other.
To follow Mr. Sidgwick through sundry criticisms of like kind, which may be similarly met, would take more space than I can here afford. I must restrict myself now to that which he seems to regard as the "fundamental incoherence" of which these inconsistencies are signs. I refer to that reconciliation of Realism and Idealism considered by him as an impossible compromise. A difficulty is habitually felt in accepting a coalition after long conflict. Whoever has espoused one of two antagonist views, and, in defending it, has gained a certain comprehension of the opposite view, becomes accustomed to regard these as the only alternatives, and is puzzled by an hypothesis which is at once both and neither. Yet, since it turns out in nearly all cases, that of conflicting doctrines each contains an element of truth, and that controversy ends by combination of their respective half-truths, there is an a priori probability on the side of an hypothesis which qualifies Realism by Idealism.
Mr. Sidgwick expresses his astonishment, or rather bespeaks that of his readers, because, while I accept idealistic criticisms, I nevertheless defend the fundamental intuition of Common-Sense, and, as he puts it, "fires his [my] argument full in the face of Kant, Mill, and 'metaphysicians' generally."
"He tells us that 'metaphysicians' illegitimately assume that 'beliefs reached through complex intellectual processes' are more valid than 'beliefs reached through simple intellectual processes;' that the common language they use refuses to express their hypotheses, and thus their reasoning inevitably implies the common notions which they repudiate; that the belief of Realism has the advantage of 'priority,' 'simplicity,' 'distinctness.' But surely this prior, simple, distinctly affirmed belief is that of what Mr. Spencer terms 'crude Realism,'
belief that the non-ego is per se extended, solid, even colored (if not resonant and odorous). This is what common language implies; and the argument by which Mr. Spencer proves the relativity of feelings and relations, still more the subtile and complicated analysis by which he resolves our notion of extension into an aggregate of feelings and transitions of feeling, leads us away from our original simple belief—that, e. g., the green grass we see exists out of consciousness as we see it—just as much as the reasonings of Idealism, Skepticism, or Kantism."
On the face of it the anomaly seems great; but I should have thought that, after reading the chapter on "Transfigured Realism," a critic of Mr. Sidgwick'swould have seen the solution of it. He has overlooked an essential distinction. All which my argument implies is that the direct intuition of Realism must be held of superior authority to the arguments of Anti-Realism, where their deliverances cannot be reconciled. The one point on which their deliverances cannot be reconciled is, the existence of an objective reality. But, while, against this intuition of Realism, I hold the arguments of Anti-Realism to be powerless, because they cannot be carried on without postulating that which they end by denying, yet, having admitted objective existence as a necessary postulate, it is possible to make valid criticisms upon all those judgments which Crude Realism joins with this primordial judgment: it is possible to show that a transfigured interpretation of properties and relations is more tenable than the original interpretation.
To elucidate the matter, let us take the most familiar case in which the indirect judgments of Reason correct the direct judgments of Common-Sense. The direct judgment of Common-Sense is that the Sun moves round the Earth. In course of time, Reason finds certain difficulties in accepting this dictum as true. Eventually, Reason hits upon an hypothesis which explains the anomalies, but which denies this apparently certain dictum of Common-Sense. What is the reconciliation? It consists in showing to Common-Sense a mode of interpretation which equally well corresponds with direct intuition, while it avoids all the difficulties. Common-Sense is reminded that the apparent motion of an object may be due either to its actual motion or to the motion of the observer; and that there are terrestrial experiences in which the observer thinks an object he looks at is moving, when the motion is in himself. Extending the conception thus given, Reason shows that, if the Earth revolves on its axis, there will result that apparent motion of the Sun which Common-Sense interpreted into an actual motion of the Sun; and the common-sense observer becomes thereupon able to think of sunrise and sunset as consequent on his position as a spectator on a vast revolving globe. Now, if the astronomer, setting out by recognizing these celestial appearances, and proceeding to evolve the various anomalies following from the common-sense interpretation of them, had drawn the conclusion that there externally exist no Sun and no motion at all, he would have done what idealists do; and his arguments would have been equally-powerless against the intuition of Common-Sense. But he does nothing of the kind. He accepts the intuition of Common-Sense respecting the reality of the Sun and the motion; but replaces the old interpretation of it by a new interpretation reconcilable with all the facts.
Just in the same way that, here, acceptance of the inexpugnable element in the Common-Sense judgment by no means involves acceptance of the accompanying judgments, so, in the case of Crude Realism, it does not follow that, while against the consciousness of an objective reality the arguments of Anti-Realism are utterly futile, they are therefore futile against the conceptions which Crude Realism forms of the objective reality. If Anti-Realism can show that, granting an objective reality, the interpretation of Crude Realism contains insuperable difficulties, the process is quite legitimate. And, its primordial intuition remaining unshaken, Realism may, on reconsideration, be enabled to frame a new conception which harmonizes with all the facts.
To show that there is not here the "mazy inconsistency" alleged, let us take the case of sound as interpreted by Crude Realism, and as reinterpreted by Transfigured Realism. Crude Realism assumes the sound present in consciousness to exist as such beyond consciousness. Anti-Realism proves the inadmissibility of this assumption in sundry ways (all of which, however, set out by talking of sounding bodies beyond consciousness, just as Realism talks of them); and then AntiRealism concludes that we know of no existence save the sound as a mode of consciousness: which conclusion and all kindred conclusions, I contend, are vicious—first, because all the words used connote an objective activity; second, because the arguments are impossible without postulating at the outset an objective activity; and third, because no one of the intuitions, out of which the arguments are built, is of equal validity with the single intuition of Realism that an objective activity exists. But, now, the Transfigured Realism which Mr. Sidgwick thinks "has all the serious incongruity of an intense metaphysical dream" neither affirms the untenable conception of Crude Realism, nor, like Anti-Realism, draws unthinkable conclusions by suicidal arguments; but, accepting that which is essential in Crude Realism, and admitting the difficulties which Anti-Realism insists upon, reconciles matters by a reinterpretation analogous to that which an astronomer makes of the solar motion. Continuing all along to recognize an objective activity which Crude Realism calls sound, it shows that the sensation is produced by a succession of separate impacts which, if made slowly, may be separately identified, and which will, if progressively increased in rapidity, produce tones higher and higher in pitch. It shows by other experiments that sounding bodies are in states of vibration, and that the vibration may be made visible. And it concludes that the objective activity is not what it subjectively seems, but is proximately interpretable as a succession of aërial waves. Thus Crude Realism is shown that while there unquestionably exists an objective activity corresponding to the sensation known as sound, yet the facts are not explicable on the original supposition that this is like the sensation; while they are explicable by conceiving it as a rhythmical mechanical action. Eventually this reinterpretation, joined with kindred reinterpretations of other sensations, comes to be itself further transfigured by analysis of its terms, and reëxpression of them in terms of molecular motion; but, however abstract the interpretation ultimately reached, the objective activity continues to be postulated: the primordial judgment of Crude Realism remains unchanged, though it has to change the rest of its judgments.
In another part of his argument, however, Mr. Sidgwick implies that I have no right to use those conceptions of objective existence by which this compromise is effected. Quoting sundry passages to show that, while I hold the criticisms of the Idealist to be impossible without "tacitly or avowedly postulating an unknown something beyond consciousness," I yet admit that "our states of consciousness are the only things we can know," he goes on to argue that I am radically inconsistent, because, in interpreting the phenomena of consciousness, I continually postulate not an unknown something, but a something of which I speak in ordinary terms, as though its ascribed physical characters really exist as such, instead of being, as I admit they are, synthetic states of my consciousness. His objection, if I understand it, is, that, for the purposes of Objective Psychology, I apparently profess to know Matter and Motion in the ordinary realistic way; while, as a result of subjective analysis, I reach the conclusion that it is impossible to have that knowledge of objective existence which Crude Realism supposes we have. Doubtless there seems here to be what he calls "a fundamental incoherence." But I think it exists, not between my two expositions, but between the two consciousnesses of subjective and objective existence, which we cannot suppress and yet cannot put into definite forms. The alleged incoherence I take to be but another name for the inscrutability of the relation between subjective feeling and its objective correlate which is not feeling—an inscrutability which meets us at the bottom of all our analyses. An exposition of this inscrutability I have elsewhere summed up thus:
"See, then, our predicament. We can think of Matter only in terms of Mind. We can think of Mind only in terms of Matter. When we have pushed our explorations of the first to the uttermost limit, we are referred to the second for a final answer; and, when we have got the final answer of the second, we are referred back to the first for an interpretation of it. We find the value of x in termsof y; then we find the value of y in terms of x; and so on we may continue forever without coming nearer to a solution." (Principles of Psychology, § 272.)
Carrying a little further this simile, will, I think, show where lies the insuperable difficulty felt by Mr. Sidgwick. Taking x and y as the subjective and objective activities, unknown in their natures and known only as phenomenally manifested, and recognizing the fact that every state of consciousness implies, immediately or remotely, the action of object on subject, or subject on object, or both, we may say that every state of consciousness will be symbolized by some modification of x y—the phenomenally-known product of the two unknown factors. In other words, xy' x'y, x'y', x"y', x'y", etc., etc., will represent all perceptions and thoughts. Suppose, now, that these are thoughts about the object; composing some hypothesis respecting its character as analyzed by physicists. Clearly, all such thoughts, be they about shapes, resistances, momenta, molecules, molecular motions, or what not, will contain some form of the subjective activity x. Now, let the thoughts be concerning mental processes. It must similarly happen that some mode of the unknown objective activity, y, will be in every case a component. Now, suppose that the problem is the genesis of mental phenomena, and that, in the course of the inquiry, bodily organization and the functions of the nervous system are brought into the explanation. It will happen, as before, that these, considered as objective, have to be described and thought about in modes of x y. And when by the actions of such a nervous system, conceived objectively in modes of x y, and acted upon by physical forces which are conceived in other modes of x y, we endeavor to explain the genesis of sensations, perceptions, and ideas, which we can think of only in other modes of x y, we find that all our factors, and therefore all our interpretations, contain the two unknown terms, and that no interpretation is imaginable that will not contain the two unknown terms.
What is the defense for this apparently circular process? Simply that it is a process of establishing congruity among our symbols. It is the finding a mode of so symbolizing the unknown activities subjective and objective, and so operating with our symbols, that all our acts may be rightly guided—guided, that is, in such ways that we can anticipate when, where, and in what quantity, one of our symbols will be found. Mr. Sidgwick's difficulty arises, I think, from having insufficiently borne in mind the statements made at the outset, in "The Data of Philosophy," that such conceptions as "are vital, or cannot be separated from the rest without mental dissolution, must be assumed true provisionally;" that "there is no mode of establishing the validity of any belief except that of showing its entire congruity with all other beliefs," and that "Philosophy, compelled to make those fundamental assumptions without which thought is impossible, has to justify them by showing their congruity with all other dicta of consciousness." In pursuance of this distinctly-avowed mode of procedure, I assume as true, provisionally, certain modes of formulating the manifestations of the unknown objective activity, certain modes of formulating the manifestations of the unknown subjective activity, and certain resulting modes of conceiving the operations of the one on the other. These provisional assumptions having been carried out to all their consequences, and these consequences proved to be congruous with one another and with the original assumptions, these original assumptions are justified; and, if, finally, I assert, as I have repeatedly asserted, that the terms in which I express my assumptions and carry on my operations are but symbolic, and that all I have done is to show that, by certain ways of symbolizing, perfect harmony results—invariable agreement between the symbols in which I frame my expectations and the symbols which occur in experience—I cannot be blamed for incoherence. Lastly, should it be said that this regarding of every thing constituting experience and thought as symbolic has a very shadowy aspect, I reply that these which I speak of as symbols are real relatively to our consciousness, and are symbolic only in their relation to the Ultimate Reality.
That these explanations will make clear the coherence of views which before seemed "fundamentally incoherent," I feel by no means certain; since, as I did not perceive the difficulties presented by the exposition as at first made, I may similarly fail to perceive the difficulties in this explanation. Originally, I had intended to complete the "Principles of Psychology" by a division showing how the results reached in the preceding divisions, physiological and psychological, analytic and synthetic, subjective and objective, harmonized with one another, and were but different aspects of the same aggregate of phenomena. But the work was already bulky; and I concluded that this division might be dispensed with, because the congruities to be pointed out were sufficiently obvious. So little was I conscious of the alleged "inability to harmonize different lines of thought." Mr. Sidgwick's perplexities, however, show me that such an exposition of concords is needful.
I have reserved to the last one of the first objections made to the metaphysico-theological doctrine set forth in "First Principles," and implied in the several volumes that have succeeded it. I refer to one urged by an able metaphysician, the Rev. James Martineau, in an essay entitled "Science, Nescience, and Faith," and which, effective against my argument as it stands, shows the need for some further development of my argument. That Mr. Martineau's criticism may be understood, I must quote the passages it concerns. Continuing the reasoning employed against Hamilton and Mansel, to show that our consciousness of that which transcends knowledge is positive, and not, as they allege, negative, I have said:
"Still more manifest will this truth become when it is observed that our conception of the Relative itself disappears, if our conception of the Absolute is a pure negation. It is admitted, or rather it is contended, by the writers I have quoted above, that contradictories can be known only in relation to each other—that Equality, for instance, is unthinkable apart from its correlative Inequality; and that thus the Relative can itself be conceived only by opposition to the Non-relative. It is also admitted, or rather contended, that the consciousness of a relation implies a consciousness of both the related members. If we are required to conceive the relation between the Relative and Non-relative without being conscious of both, 'we are in fact (to quote the words of Mr. Mansel differently applied) required to compare that of which we are conscious with that of which we are not conscious; the comparison itself being an act of consciousness, and only possible through the consciousness of both its objects.' What, then, becomes of the assertion that 'the Absolute is conceived merely by a negation of conceivability,' or as 'the mere absence of the conditions under which consciousness is possible?' If the Non-relative or Absolute is present in thought only as a mere negation, then the relation between it and the Relative becomes unthinkable, because one of the terms of the relation is absent from consciousness. And if this relation is unthinkable, then is the Relative itself unthinkable, for want of its antithesis: whence results the disappearance of all thought whatever."—(First Principles, § 26.)
On this argument Mr. Martineau comments as follows; first restating it in other words:
"Take away its antithetic term, and the relative, thrown into isolation, is set up as absolute, and disappears from thought. It is indispensable, therefore, to uphold the Absolute in existence, as condition of the relative sphere which constitutes our whole intellectual domain. Be it so; but, when saved on this plea—to preserve the balance and interdependence of two co-relatives—the 'Absolute' is absolute no more; it is reduced to a term of relation; it loses therefore its exile from thought; its disqualification is canceled; and the alleged nescience is discharged. "So, the same law of thought which warrants the existence, dissolves the inscrutableness, of the Absolute."—(Essays, Philosophical and Theological, pp. 186, 187.)
I admit this to be a telling rejoinder; and one which can be met only when the meanings of the words, as I have used them, are carefully discriminated, and the implications of the doctrine fully traced out. We will begin by clearing the ground of minor misconceptions.
First, let it be observed that, though I have used the word Absolute as the equivalent of Non-relative, because it is used in the passages quoted from the writers I am contending against, yet I have myself chosen for the purposes of my argument the name Non-relative, and I do not necessarily commit myself to any propositions respecting the Absolute, considered as that which includes both Subject and Object. The Non-relative, as spoken of by me, is to be understood rather as the totality of Being minus that which constitutes the individual consciousness, present to us under forms of Relation. Did I use the word in some Hegelian sense, as comprehensive of that which thinks and that which is thought about, and did I propose to treat of the order of things, not as phenomenally manifested but as noumenally proceeding, the objection would be fatal. But, the aim being simply to formulate the order of things as present under relative forms, the antithetical Non-relative here named as implied by the conception of the Relative is that which, in any act of thought, is independent of and beyond it, rather than which is inclusive of it. Further, it should be observed that this Non-relative, spoken of as a necessary complement to the Relative, is not spoken of as a conception but as a consciousness; and I have in sundry passages distinguished between those modes of consciousness which, having limits, and constituting thought proper, are subject to the laws of thought, and the mode of consciousness which persists when the removal of limits is carried to the uttermost, and when distinct thought consequently ceases.
This opens the way to the reply here to be made to Mr. Martineau's criticism, namely: that while by the necessities of thought the Relative implies a Non-relative; and while, to think of this antithesis completely, requires that the Non-relative shall be made a conception proper; yet, for the vague thought which is alone in this case possible, it suffices that the Non-relative shall be present as a consciousness which though undefined is positive. Let us observe what necessarily happens when thought is employed on this ultimate question.
In a preceding part of the article criticised, I have, in various ways, aimed to show that, alike when we analyze the product of thought and when we analyze the process of thought, we are brought to the conclusion that invariably "a thought involves relation, difference, likeness;" and that, even from the very nature of Life itself, we may evolve the conclusion that, "thinking being relationing, no thought can ever express more than relations." What now must happen if thought, having this law, occupies itself with the final mystery? Always implying terms in relation, thought implies that both terms shall be more or less defined; and, as fast as one of them becomes indefinite, the relation also becomes indefinite, and thought becomes indistinct. Take the case of magnitudes. I think of an inch; I think of a foot; and, having tolerably definite ideas of the two, I have a tolerably definite idea of the relationship between them. I substitute for the foot a mile; and, being able to represent a mile much less definitely, I cannot so definitely think of the relation between an inch and a mile—cannot distinguish it in thought from the relation between an inch and two miles, as clearly as I can distinguish in thought the relation between an inch and one foot from the relation between an inch and two feet. And now if I endeavor to think of the relation between an inch and the 240,000 miles from here to the moon, and the relation between an inch and the 92,000,000 miles from here to the sun, I find that while these distances, practically inconceivable, have become little more than numbers to which I frame no answering ideas, so, too, have the relations between an inch and either of them become practically inconceivable. Now, this partial failure in the process of forming thought-relations, which happens even with finite magnitudes when one of them becomes immense, becomes complete failure when one of the magnitudes cannot be brought within any limits. The relation itself becomes unrepresentable at the same time that one of its terms becomes unrepresentable. Nevertheless, in this case it is to be observed that the almost blank form of relation preserves a certain qualitative character. It is still distinguishable as belonging to the consciousness of extensions, not to the consciousnesses of forces or durations; and in so far remains a vaguely-identifiable relation. But now suppose we ask what happens when one term of the relation has not simply magnitude having no known limits, and duration of which neither beginning nor end is cognizable, but is also an existence not to be defined? In other words, what must happen if one term of the relation is not only quantitatively but also qualitatively unrepresentable? Clearly in this case the relation does not simply cease to be thinkable except as a relation of a certain class, but it lapses completely. When one of the terms becomes wholly unknowable, the law of thought can no longer be fulfilled; both because one term cannot be present, and because at the same time relation itself cannot be framed. That is to say, the law of thought, that contradictories can be known only in relation to each other, fails when thought attempts to transcend the Relative; and yet, when it attempts to transcend the Relative, it must make the attempt in conformity with its law—must in some dim mode of consciousness posit a Non-relative, and, in some similarly dim mode of consciousness, a relation between it and the Relative. In brief, then, to Mr. Martineau's objection I reply, that the insoluble difficulties he indicates arise here, as elsewhere, when thought is applied to that which transcends the sphere of thought; and that, just as, when we try to pass beyond phenomenal manifestations to the Ultimate Reality manifested, we have to symbolize it out of such materials as the phenomenal manifestations give us, so we have simultaneously to symbolize the connection between this Ultimate Reality and its manifestations as somehow allied to the connections among the phenomenal manifestations themselves. The truth Mr. Martineau's criticism adumbrates is, that the law of thought fails where the elements of thought fail; and this is a conclusion quite conformable to the general view I defend. Still holding the validity of my argument against Hamilton and Mansel, that in pursuance of their own principle the Relative is not at all thinkable as such, unless in contradistinction to some existence posited, however vaguely, as the other term of a relation conceived, however indefinitely, it is, I think, consistent on my part to hold that, in this effort which thought inevitably makes to pass beyond its sphere, not only does the product of thought become a dim symbol of a product, but the process of thought becomes a dim symbol of a process; and hence any predicament inferable from the law of thought cannot be asserted.
I may fitly close this reply by a counter-criticism. To the direct defense of a proposition, there may be added the indirect defense that results from showing the untenability of an alternative proposition. This criticism on the doctrine of an unknowable existence, manifested to us in phenomena, Mr. Martineau makes in the interests of the doctrine held by him, that this existence is, to a considerable degree, knowable. We are quite at one in holding that there is an indestructible consciousness of Power behind Appearance; but, whereas I contend that this Power cannot be brought within the forms of thought, Mr. Martineau contends that there can be consistently ascribed certain attributes of personality—not, indeed, human characteristics so concrete as were ascribed in past times; but still, human characteristics of the more abstract and higher class. Regarding matter as independently existing; regarding, as also independently existing, those primary qualities of Body "which are inseparable from the very idea of Body, and may be evolved a priori from the consideration of it as solid extension or extended solidity;" and saying that to this class "belong Triple Dimension, Divisibility, and Incompressibility;" Mr. Martineau goes on to say that as these
"cannot absent themselves from Body, they have a reality coeval with it, and belong eternally to the material datum objective to God; and his mode of activity with regard to them must he similar to that which alone we can think of his directing upon the relations of space, viz., not Volitional, to cause them, but Intellectual, to think them out. The Secondary Qualities, on the other hand, having no logical tie to the Primary, but, being appended to them as contingent facts, cannot be referred to any deductive thought, but remain over as products of pure Inventive Reason and Determining Will. This sphere of cognition a posteriori to us—where we cannot move a step alone, but have submissively to wait upon experience—is precisely the realm of Divine originality: and we are most sequacious where He is most free. While on this Secondary field his Mind and ours are thus contrasted, they meet in resemblance again upon the Primary; for the evolutions of deductive Reason there is but one track possible to all intelligences; no merum arbitrium can interchange the false and true, or make more than one geometry, one scheme of pure Physics for all worlds; and the Omnipotent Architect himself, in realizing the Cosmical conception, in shaping the orbits out of immensity and determining seasons out of eternity, could but follow the laws of curvature, measure, and proportion."—(Essays, Philosophical and Theological, pp. 163, 164.)
Before the major criticism which I propose to make on this hypothesis, let me make a minor one. Not only of space relations, but also of primary physical properties, Mr. Martineau asserts the necessity: not a necessity to our minds simply, but an ontological necessity. What is true for human thought, is, in respect of these, true absolutely: "the laws of curvature, measure, and proportion," as we know them, are unchangeable even by Divine power; as are also the Divisibility and Incompressibility of Matter. But, if, in these cases, Mr. Martineau holds that a necessity in thought implies an answering necessity in things, why does he refrain from saying the like in other cases? Why, if he tacitly asserts it in respect of space-relations and the statical attributes of Body, does he not also assert it in respect of the dynamical attributes of Body? The laws conformed to by that mode of force now distinguished as "energy" are as much necessary to our thought as are the laws of space-relations. The axioms of Mechanics lie on the same plane with the axioms of pure Mathematics. Now, if Mr. Martineau admits this, as he cannot but do—if he admits, as he must, the corollary that there can be no such manifestation of energy as that displayed in the motion of a planet, save at the expense of equivalent energy which preëxisted—if he draws the further necessary corollary that the direction of a motion cannot be changed by any action, without an equal reaction in an opposite direction on something acting—if he bears in mind that this holds not only of all visible motions, celestial and terrestrial, but that those activities of Body which affect us as secondary properties are also known only through other forms of energy which are equivalents of mechanical energy—and if, lastly, he infers that none of these derivative energies can have given to them their characters and directions, save by preexisting forces, statical and dynamical, conditioned in special ways—what becomes of that "realm of a Divine originality" which Mr. Martineau describes as remaining within the realm of necessity? Consistently carried out, his argument implies a universally-inevitable order, in which volition can have no such place as that he alleges.
Not pushing Mr. Martineau's reasoning to this conclusion, so entirely at variance with the one he draws, but accepting his statement just as it stands, let us consider the solution it offers us. We are left by it without any explanation of Space and Time; we are not helped in conceiving the origin of Matter; and there is afforded us no idea how Matter came to have its primary attributes. All these are tacitly assumed to exist uncreated. Creative activity is represented as under the restrictions imposed by mathematical principles, and as having for datum (mark the word) a substance which, in respect of certain characters, defies modification. But surely this is not an interpretation of the mystery of things. The mystery is simply relegated to a remoter region, respecting which no inquiry is to be made. But the inquiry must be made. After every such solution there arises afresh the question, What are the origin and nature of that which imposes these limits on creative power? what is the primary God which dominates over this secondary God? For, clearly, if the "Omnipotent Architect himself" (to use Mr. Martineau's somewhat inconsistent name) is powerless to change the "material datum objective" to him, and powerless to change the conditions under which it exists, and under which he works, there is obviously implied a power to which he is subject. So that, in Mr. Martineau's doctrine also, there is an Ultimate Unknowable; and it differs from the doctrine he opposes only by intercalating a partially Knowable between this and the wholly Knowable.
Finding, as explained above, that this interpretation is not consistent with itself, and finding, as just shown, that it leaves the essential mystery unsolved, I do not see that it has an advantage over the doctrine of the Unknowable in its unqualified shape. There cannot, I think, be more than temporary rest in a proximate solution which takes for its basis an ultimate insolubility. Just as thought cannot be prevented from passing beyond Appearance, and trying to conceive the Cause behind, so, following out the interpretation Mr. Martineau offers, thought cannot be prevented from asking what Cause it is which restricts the Cause he assigns. And if we must admit that the question under this eventual form cannot be answered, may we not as well confess that the question under its immediate form cannot be answered? Is it not better candidly to acknowledge the incompetence of our intelligence, rather than to persist in calling that an explanation which does but disguise the inexplicable? Whatever answer each may give to this question, he cannot rightly blame those who, finding in themselves an indestructible consciousness of an Ultimate Cause, whence proceed alike what we call the Material Universe and what we call Mind, refrain from affirming any thing respecting it, because they find it as inscrutable in nature as it is inconceivable in extent and duration.