Progress of Metaphysics in Germany: Cousin's Philosophical Fragments

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Art. III.—Fragmens Philosophiques, par Victor Cousin, Professeur Suppléant de l'histoire de la Philosophie moderne à la Faculté des Lettres de l'Academie de Paris, Maitre de Conference à l'ancienne Ecole Normale. Paris, 1826. 8vo.


Professor Cousin informs us, in the work which stands at the head of this article, that he is employed in effecting a reformation in the metaphysical opinions current in France. He says that the age is already prepared for a change, and that that change will terminate in a system, probably not very dissimilar to his own. The facility with which foreign, particularly French, theories are received by us, makes it incumbent on some one to present them naked and undisguised to the public, lest the ornaments of style and manner should give currency to opinions, which in themselves can add little to our knowledge or happiness. In the execution of his work we think M. Cousin quite felicitous; he always writes perspicuously and elegantly. But we have a heavy charge to make against him on the score of candour. Any reader would imagine that the opinions advanced in the Fragmens Philosophiques were the result of M. Cousin's own invention. The constant recurrence of the phrase, "selon moi," appended to each particular theory, gives to it the relish of novelty, and to the author the merit of originality. But the German scholar knows, that in nine cases out of ten in which the "selon moi" occurs, the opinion so appropriated is "selon tout le monde" in Germany; and in the tenth case, it is usually a trivial modification.

In order to give the reader a notion of M. Cousin's work, it will be necessary to take an historical view of the progress of metaphysics in Germany since the time of Kant. For the Fragmens Philosophiques may be looked upon as an attempt to introduce the modern German metaphysics into France. We fear, that in the execution of this task, we shall not always be so intelligible as we could wish. The German language possesses expressions which are scarcely translateable into any other. But in addition to the natural difficulties, the German metaphysics afford a most eminent example of that dialect which Swift calls the "Babylonic." We have avoided all the scholastic jargon, and, wherever we could, preferred stating the sense, in plain English, to giving it packed up in those short expressions which stand for a whole proposition. The reader, however, we fear, will still find many barbarisms, but we trust to his indulgence and proceed with our task.

It may be easily shown that Locke's account of the origin of our knowledge leads to atheism. He himself possessed too much good sense and piety to be consistent with his own philosophy. Berkeley, however, and Hume, drew from his premises, though for very different objects, the conclusions to which they strictly led.

All our knowledge, says Locke, is derived from sensation or from reflection. By the former we are made conscious of things external, by the latter we are made conscious of things internal, or of the operation of our own minds; the amount of which doctrine is, that we know nothing but that of which we are immediately conscious.

Berkeley, taking the truth of Locke's doctrine for granted, showed that there could be no such thing as matter, or an external world. For, by our senses we were made conscious of sensations only, and not of matter itself; and sensations were affections of mind. From Aristotle to Locke, it had been asserted that our sensations were copies of the real objects which produced them. Berkeley proved that a sensation, that is, an affection of mind, could never be a copy of any thing that did not resemble mind, namely matter.

Hume, however, was not content to stop at this point of the investigation, but used Berkeley's own weapons to overturn his doctrines. We are not more conscious, he argued, of mind in itself, than we are of matter in itself. All that we are immediately conscious of, are ideas and impressions; consequently nothing but ideas and impressions exist. Following up this chain of reasoning with his unrivalled sagacity, Hume attacked the principle of causation; and by debasing our notion of cause into a mere habit of thought, he struck at the very root of all order and all religion. Whence is our notion of cause derived? said he, Is it from sensation? Surely not; for our senses only show that the two events, which we call cause and effect, follow each other, and never that they are necessarily connected. Is it then from reflection? But we only reflect on our sensations; and as these do not contain the notion of cause, so no reflection can discover it in them. Finding, therefore, that those sources of our knowledge, which Hume believed with Locke to be the only ones, afforded no clue to that firm belief which mankind have in the notion of cause, he declared it to be a mere idea, a habit of the mind acquired by seeing two events always succeeding each other in the same order. Power, efficacy, necessary connexion, &c. he looked upon as sounds without real meaning.

It is impossible for the mind to remain long in doubt, and where it cannot cling to truth it embraces error. Even in those cases in which scepticism has been indulged, the penalty has not been trifling, which attends a wilful separation from the feelings and thoughts common to our species. The picture which the calm and philosophic Hume has given us of the state of his own mind, is truly appalling. He describes himself as afraid to think; for he knows not to what conclusions he may arrive, and what barriers he may create between himself and the rest of mankind. Perhaps it was at some such moment of mental solitude, that the Essay on Suicide was written.[1]

An effect not dissimilar to that which his own notions had on Hume, seems to have been produced by his scepticism on the philosophic mind in general.

By a careful examination of Hume's reasonings their foundation was traced to the false account which Locke had presented of the origin of our knowledge. Dr. Reid began this work, and Dugald Stewart has continued it. The opinions of these philosophers are familiar to every metaphysician; we shall only stop, therefore, to say that they fully confute Locke's account of the sources of knowledge, and establish as a fact that there are certain necessary truths, or first principles, which are laws of the mind, and not derived from sensation.

While Hume's doubts gave rise to the labours of these philosophers in Great Britain, they had fixed the attention of an extraordinary man, living obscurely in an obscure part of Germany, who, after long and silent meditation on the mysterious functions of the mind, at last brought forth a work which gave a new impulse to philosophy.

Kant himself has told us how much he was struck with Hume's remarks on causation. He was struck first with the arguments adduced by Hume to show that the notion was not acquired from experience; and secondly, he was no less so with the impossibility of the mind getting quit of the notion. Instead of giving up the fact in despair, or resolving it into a mere habit of thought, Kant perceived that the law of causation was a law of the mind, not derived from experience, but arising with it; not innate, but connate; written as it were in invisible ink, and requiring only the scorch of experience,—the contact of an external world,—to make it legible. He then inquired whether there were other laws of the mind, and the result was, his "Critique of Pure Reason."

From Plato down to himself, every philosopher had traced the origin of our knowledge to something without us; Kant began to examine the mind in itself, and to try to determine what its laws were in themselves; to see what the machinery, as it were, was capable of before it was put in motion; to ascertain what it could perform, and thus to determine the rationale of its action.

On looking into the principle of causation, he found that the marks which characterized it, were, that it was universal, and that it was necessary; for it is impossible for us not to admit "that every thing which begins to exist must have a cause." There are other truths, however, which did not possess this character of universality and necessity, but were, what is termed, generalizations. Thus, that all substances are heavy is a general truth, but it is not one which is universally or necessarily believed; for light, electricity, &c. are not heavy. Human knowledge, therefore, according to Kant, is made up of these two classes of truths; the one class characterised as universal and necessary, the other as contingent or general. The contingent truths were derived from experience, that is, through the medium of the senses. The necessary truths, he asserted, could not be derived from experience; for a multitude of experiments only gave you a general conclusion, and you could say that as far as the induction went, such and such was the case; but you could never assert, that what is true of a hundred, or a hundred thousand instances, is true of every other instance that can possibly take place. The truth grows, as it were, with the number of the experiments, and a conclusion derived from one hundred of them is not so firm as one derived from ten times that number.

Now with respect to the necessary truths, the mind does not wait for a multitude of experiments to draw the conclusion, but the truth is perceived in the very first, and perceived as necessary and universal; and a hundred repetitions neither add to nor diminish its force.

All our knowledge begins with experience, but all our knowledge does not flow out of it. These necessary truths, therefore, must be presented to us, enveloped, as it were, in some individual fact; for without some impression on the senses, that is, without some individual fact, we should never be conscious. If, for example, I will any thing, that which I will is an individual and determinate fact, a matter of experience; but in this fact I observe two parts, one of which is variable, the other invariable. The variable part of the fact is that which I will. I may will any thing; I may produce a movement on myself, or on the matter around me: but whatever movement be produced, I look on myself as the cause, and on the movement as the effect. This is the invariable part of the fact. I may change the terms as much as I please, but the relation of cause to effect, the notion of causality, remains unchanged. And a hundred different facts of willing do not add a tittle to the belief derived from the first fact.

It is in vain to seek for the origin of these necessary truths in sensation. We may torment that faculty as much as we please, but it will never give us any other knowledge but that derived from experience. And as no experience can be infinite, so from experience we can but arrive at general conclusions, and never at absolute certainty. Our notion of space, in which pure mathematics are founded, is not a matter of experience; for, no man, by any of his senses, can measure, or see, or feel any thing but a particular space, which would be limited, but never an infinite space. Space, time, substance, cause, are necessary notions, existing in the mind à priori, and evolved, but not constituted by experience. It is the existence of the notion of space in the mind, prior to, and independent, in a certain sense, of experience, that gives to mathematical demonstration the character of absolute necessity.

There are other notions, those of the good and the beautiful, which cannot be derived from sensation. Thus, therefore, the origin of morals and of art is snatched from the variable philosophy of sensation, and fixed on a basis as firm as the mind itself.

It was the great object of Kant to ascertain the number of these necessary truths, and thus to give a complete picture of the mind itself, as well as a more noble account of the origin of our knowledge. These necessary truths have been traced to the Reason, and hence this word is not used as we use it. The Germans do not define reason to be a source of knowledge by means of conclusions, or reasoning, but a source of immediate knowledge, a source of these necessary truths, a faculty which perceives truths without the intervention of any thing else. To limit reason to a mere reasoning faculty is fraught with great danger; for, as it is by no syllogism, no logical process, no reasoning, that we come to a notion of cause, so that notion might be resolved into a mere feeling, which might vary in various individuals; and so with all the rest of the necessary truths. But if these necessary truths constitute the reason in itself, then nothing can shake their validity and reality. And surely these truths are eminently reasonable, since we can neither get quit of them, nor suppose a contrary to them, without involving an absurdity.

It was the contemplation of these necessary truths, and the impossibility of deriving our notions of the beautiful, the true, and the good, from the objects of this sensible world, that led the imaginative Plato to form the splendid fiction of the human soul. That it once was pure and happy, and dwelt in a celestial abode; that it was then imprisoned in our clay, and thus lost all traces of its heavenly origin, save these immutable ideas. Hence he inculcates upon us to elevate ourselves from the objects of sense and passion, and once more, by the contemplation of these, to hold communion with higher spheres.

After establishing the distinction between contingent and necessary truths, Kant proceeds to analyse the faculties by which we acquire knowledge, namely, sense, understanding, and reason. It is not our object to give a detailed view of his system, but merely to put the reader in possession of so much of it as will show how it has given rise to the modern metaphysical doctrines in Germany.

Kant's system leads to pure Idealism; this, we are aware, is not admitted by many of his followers, but it is nevertheless true. He denied that the mind was ever capable of knowing what things were in themselves. All that we imagine to be external and extended, is not really so; we make it so; for space is not a real existence, but a mode of the mind; a law, by which the mind perceives things extended, just as the eye perceives all things coloured red, if viewed through red glass. Neither is time a reality out of the mind, but a mode or law of the mind, by which it takes cognizance of things in succession. The laws which we perceive to exist in nature, are not really laws which exist out of us, but are laws of the mind, categories, which we impose on nature; and we are obliged to see nature in this order, and under these laws, in order to see her at all. Neither have we, according to Kant, any notion of the supernatural or the divine essence. "In order to know, the perception must have an object to correspond with it. But we have no perception of a Deity as an object; we, therefore, have no knowledge of him." The idea which every one possesses of an Eternal he declared to be a mere conception, in the same sense that a centaur is a mere conception, having no existence out of the mind. This conception he called a logical regulator of the mind. It was a law of the reason to strive after the greatest unity: man was constantly governed by a want of it. He unites all the phenomena of mind, and refers them to one substance called the soul. He unites all the phenomena of the sensible world, and calls them matter. After having constituted these two unities, he then elevates his mind to the highest unity, or the Eternal first Cause.

What then has Kant left us that we do know as real and out of the mind? All the phenomena of nature are modifications of mind, and all the laws which govern these phenomena but laws of the mind. And all supernatural ideas but mere conceptions of the mind. Thus nature and nature's law, the soul, the Deity, &c. are, as far as we are concerned, but modes of thought. It is true that he takes for granted that there are realities external to us, which are the causes of these modifications of the mind: but what is the meaning of causes out of us, existences besides our own, when outness or space has no reality except in the mind? To us, therefore, the philosophy of Kant seems the most disheartening, cold and miserable, possible. It opposes reason to our firmest convictions, and thus shakes the very foundations of knowledge.

His celebrated exposition of time and space fits in well with Hume's definition of scepticism. It admits of no answer, and leaves no conviction. We have read it once and again with all the attention of which we are capable, and this seems to us the result of his reasoning. He proves that the notions of time and space cannot be derived from experience; that they are not general ideas; that they exist in the mind à priori. Granted; but surely there is a hiatus in the reasoning, when it is asserted that because these notions are intuitive notions of the mind, therefore space and time are not real existences out of the mind.

In the moral part of his system, Kant was most happily guilty of a great inconsistency. He proved the existence of a moral law, which unconditionally forced us to judge between the good and the evil, and from this law he deduced the certainty of liberty, immortality, and God. He therefore assigned to this law of the reason a reality which he denied to the others; as if reason were less reasonable at one time than another. The latter furnished us with no notions of other existences; the former was a revelation which implied a revealer. We may say, therefore, with M. Cousin, that the "Critique of the Practical Reason" must always be looked upon as one of the most splendid monuments which philosophic genius has ever erected to disinterested virtue.

Fichte, viewing Kant's system as one of pure idealism, tried to complete it, and endeavoured to show how every thing was constructed by the Ego[2] out of itself. According to him the Ego was the only existence; it was an infinite self-moving energy; and by its own inherent powers, it formed nature and her laws. It would be irksome to enter into the details of a system so opposed to the common sense of mankind. In Germany Fichte is esteemed one of the deepest thinkers among her philosophers; his premises once being granted, it is said, the conclusions are irresistible. But few have allowed him his postulates, and he has more than once modified his views to those of Schelling, whose system we shall now detail, after premising a few observations.

The doctrine of matter being composed of hard, impenetrable atoms, is, we believe, universally given up by the Germans. Natural philosophy has become spiritualised; laws and forces are alone objects of discovery; and matter is declared to be an energy or "activity," as they term it. Matter is that which fills space by its resistance; but resistance is only possible through a power that resists. What we term inertia, or the passiveness of matter, is but the equilibrium of opposing forces; and when this equilibrium is destroyed, as for example in chemical changes, motion and activity become visible, and continue until the equilibrium be restored. Common language assigns energy to mind. In Schelling's system, therefore, this world is declared to be a system of forces or energies, where all is combat, and all is change. All these forces are but modifications of one eternal substance, which in the modern German school is called the absolute, or that which is absolutely necessary, and beyond which the mind seeks for no other existence. It is unnecessary to remind the reader that the notion of something eternal is inherent in the human mind. Each of the four forms of belief which comprise all others, start with it. The Atheist calls it eternal nature; the Hylozoist, anima mundi; the Pantheist styles it the absolute; and the Theist, God. Without stopping to dwell on the nature of this absolute force, we shall merely say, that it is considered as an unconscious reason, which is, at the same time, the same as the principle of life.[3] This view is similar to, if not the same with, that on which the ancient mythos was founded; and intellectual beings, the gods of heathenism, were made to spring out of powers which possessed no intellect, namely, chaos and night.

We have already said that conception is not knowledge; and should the reader be involved in the Cimmerian obscurity of metaphysical doubts, he will do well to bear our remark in mind, for it will assist him in a world of difficulties. A centaur is a conception, but no reality: we can and do conceive "nothing;" that is, the word has a meaning, but to say that "nothing" is a reality out of the mind, is a palpable absurdity, for then nothing would be something. Now we can form a notion of reason, and another of unconsciousness, and coupling them together, we conceive an unconscious reason. But these are empty sounds, or "mere conceits," as they are termed in common parlance. We have no more notion of a real unconscious reason, than we have of a real unextended piece of matter; and the latter idea may exist in the imagination just as well, and with as much pretension to sound philosophy, as the former.

Schelling, not contented with determining what we do know, and what the mind is capable of knowing, attempted to solve the question, How we know that matter acts on mind? And he answered it by supposing that mind and matter were the same, in the eternal or absolute force, or, to use his own expression, were neutralized (indifferenzired). He believed that this identity of matter and mind was a fact perceived by the reason spontaneously; and according to him, they who cannot feel this revelation, want the first requisite of philosophising.

Another set of absolutists endeavour to prove the identity of mind and matter by reasoning. Spinoza, Giordano Bruno, in former times, and Professor Hegel, of Berlin, in the present day, may be regarded as the representatives of this school, although they differ from one another in their modes of proof.

It is a fact that we can so think of the Eternal, the Absolute, the Ens Realissimum, that all separate existences are merged in it, just as all particular portions of space are contained in, and form parts of, an infinite space. Now the question is, Is this a mere conception, or are all existences only forms of one eternal existence, as all measurable spaces are but parts of one immensurable space? The absolutists draw their conclusions from our metaphysical notions of possibility and necessity, existence and creation.—(seyn and werden.[4]) If it can be shown that all attempts to deduce the finite from the infinite, the temporal from the eternal, resolve themselves into mere logical quibbles, the doctrines of the absolutists must necessarily fall to the ground.

We shall translate Bruno's argument, from Bouterwek's "Religion of Reason," one of the best works, and one of the least mystified, of the German metaphysical school.

"The principle of all existence is one and the same as the foundation of all possibility: The principle of all existence must be Thought, as that which is absolutely necessary: consequently, possibility and necessity are the same, in the principle of all existence. But besides the principle of all existence, Nothing is absolutely necessary in a metaphysical sense; Nothing, therefore, is possible. And as this principle of all existence, or the Absolute force, is necessarily Thought as one, so all things are at bottom but the same. And the different phenomena of nature are but different modes or aspects of this one force."

In viewing this chain of reasoning, it is undoubtedly true that we must think all existences to be grounded in the principle of all existence, and likewise all that is possible, and all that is necessary. But what are the meanings of these words, possibility and necessity?

These terms are used relatively, and that relation is to the principle of causation. We say such an effect necessarily follows from such a cause; and here the idea of necessity gives us no notion whatever of the nature of the two realities constituting the cause and the effect. Of the essence of the two things we positively know nothing.

We say, also, that nothing is possible without a cause; and here, too, the term "possible" expresses nothing but the relation between things, of the nature of which things we know nothing. We consider the Absolute, or the principle of all existence, as necessary, because by a law of our nature we must have a first cause. Without a cause nothing is possible. Hence, too, the Absolute must be looked upon as the foundation of all things possible. But separate these terms from the relation they express between things, and they have no meaning. What is a possibility in itself? What is a necessity in itself? If possibility meant something real, as for example let us suppose it meant Matter, a real existence, and necessity meant Mind, another real existence, then it is true that when we think of an Absolute or principle of all existence, we think also of the grounds of all possibility and necessity in it. And in this case we should be forced to allow that mind and matter, God and nature, were one. But since the terms possible and necessary possess no meaning, except when they connect, in a certain relation, things, which we necessarily think as separate, in order to render their connexion possible, it is evident that we are just as wise as before, as to the nature of the first cause, or how mind and matter proceed from it, and what they are in themselves.

Again, when we call the Absolute the principle of all existence, we have the notion merely of a first cause. When, however, we call it the essence of things, and then prove from it that all things are but modes of this first cause, it is evident that we are begging the question. We first make the Absolute the essence of all things, and then prove that all things are but this essence.

Besides, the attempt to deduce the finite from the infinite also involves a petitio principii. For suppose all things are one, the very moment we are about to show by reasoning how individual realities are separated, we have already thought them separate. The fact is, the notion of individual existences separate from the eternal, is not derived from any consideration of the notion of the eternal or absolute, but from a conviction of our own individuality; and no man in his senses believes he is not a being separate and distinct. The mind never confounds itself with matter, or either with the first cause. The enigma of Creation, in spite of the reasoning of the absolutists, is not a whit cleared; and it may be safely asserted, that the human mind is wholly incapable of showing how individual realities proceed from a first cause.

After the absolutist has, either by reasoning, or by a direct act of the reason, been convinced of the existence of a force or power of which all things are but modifications; after calling this force the Absolute, and debasing it by declaring it to be at once the Principle of Life, and a Reason Unconscious of its own existence, until, by a succession of organizations, it attains to consciousness in Man,—he then proceeds to show how all those truths which we have called necessary, are revelations of the absolute. It is at this point we shall take up M. Cousin. He has carefully kept out of sight any very direct explanation of the nature of the absolute; and the names of Schelling or Hegel occur so very rarely in the pages of his work, that the reader is unacquainted with the fact, that all that appears to be original in the Fragmens Philosophiques is to be traced to the Germans in general, and to these two in particular.

If we examine our own minds, we are conscious of three different classes of facts. Facts of reason, facts of volition, and facts of sense. These three classes comprise, according to the Germans and M. Cousin, the whole of the mind. The analysis of reason, therefore, the will, and sensation, will afford a complete analysis of mind.

1. The Reason—judges the true, the good, and the beautiful.
2. The Will[5]—contains attention, comparison, and a portion of memory, viz. reminiscence.
3. The Sensation—comprehends all the objects of our senses, and all our passions and appetites.

1. The Imagination, or the Productive faculty, is the same as the Reason, at least so they say; and pure mathematics are adduced to prove that the Reason is a creative faculty. Few persons, we think, will subscribe to this dogma, since few can persuade themselves that fancying is knowing. The facts of sense are necessary, that is, they are not contingent or dependent on us: we do not make them, but are forced to know them. Rational facts are also necessary; and we neither make a proposition more nor less reasonable; we simply perceive it, just as passively as we do any object of sense, and can no more help being convinced, than we can help seeing with our eyes open.

Voluntary facts are the only ones which we impute to ourselves; we feel we are the authors, and the sole authors, of them. The will is not something different from the Ego or person, but is the person itself. For if this were not the case, if the person, was one thing, and will another, then there would be, says M. Cousin, impersonal volitions.

We find ourselves, therefore, placed in a world foreign to us, and between two orders of phenomena, which do not belong to us; those of sense, and those of reason. We perceive, moreover, only by a light, which is not ours; for our personality is our will, and nothing more. It is the Reason which perceives; for to perceive is to know, and the Reason alone knows.

Consciousness is composed of three integrant and inseparable elements. Its most immediate foundation is the Reason. Had we no organs of sense, we should never be conscious. Sense is therefore the exterior condition of consciousness. The Will or the person is its centre, and Reason the light.

Reason is impersonal in its nature. It is not we who make it; and so little is it individual, that its characteristic is precisely the reverse, namely, universality and necessity. In a mathematical demonstration, for example, we are not the authors of our conviction. No act of ours makes it more or less true. Neither is the conviction of the truth confinable to us; for we feel that at all times, in all places, and to all men, the proposition must be true; that is, it is absolutely true; true of an absolute truth. The Reason is manifested in other sciences besides the mathematical. All science[6] is only science inasmuch as it contains necessary truths: we acknowledge these implicitly, and it is out of our power not to acknowledge them.

As every truth is necessarily this or that truth, and contains, moreover, something that constitutes it a truth, so every science is necessarily some particular science, but contains, moreover, an element in it which impresses it with the character of science. What is this element common to all the sciences, and independent of their individual application? It is the Reason. Observation discovers certain principles in every science which appear superior to mere observation, independent, true at all times and places, because they are true in themselves.

An enumeration of these necessary truths has been attempted by Aristotle, Kant, and Reid. The two latter have not given us a complete set. But M. Cousin is of opinion that the categories of Aristotle contain them all, and also thinks that these may be further simplified and reduced to two: the law of causality, and the law of substance. The law of causality is thus enunciated. "Every thing which begins to exist must have a cause. The law of substance is—Every quality supposes a subject, a real existence, of which it is the quality. The law of causality leads us to a first cause, and the law of substance to a real being. Thus reason reveals to us, as absolutely true, the existence of things, of which the senses cannot take any cognizance."

The laws of Reason are therefore absolute; they do not belong to me more than to you; they do not belong to humanity, but govern it, inasmuch as we are forced to acknowledge them, forced to be convinced, forced mentally to obey. They oblige the Will, but do not constrain it. Neither do they belong to external nature. The universe represents them; the universe belongs to them, since it is ordered by them. They constitute, therefore, a world of themselves, towering above man and nature, and governing both. This is the intelligible world of Plato; the independent sphere of ideas. The law of causality refers them to an intelligent substance; but man of himself could never elevate himself to the contemplation of this substance. It descends to him. "So Reason," says M. Cousin, "is literally a revelation universal and necessary; the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world; the necessary mediator between God and man; the logos of Pythagoras and Plato; the Word made flesh; at once both God and man."—(p. xliii. preface.) Such is the analysis of Reason.

2. Of all active phenomena the most striking is undoubtedly the Will. It is a fact, that amid all the movements which exterior agents excite in us in spite of ourselves, we possess the power of beginning an opposite movement. We first conceive it; we next deliberate if we shall carry it into execution; and then we resolve and carry it into effect. The fact is certain, and what is no less so, is, that the movement to be effected puts on a new character; for we impute it to ourselves as its cause. "To will, to cause, to exist for ourselves, are synonymous terms;" for we never refer or impute any thing to ourselves which we do not cause, and we cause nothing but what we will.

"The phenomenon of willing contains, therefore, the following points. 1. We predetermine an act to be done. 2. We deliberate as to the means. 3. We choose or resolve. If we look well into these three steps of willing, it will be seen that the Reason constitutes the first and even the second entirely; for the Reason alone predetermines and deliberates." The third step is not, however, that of the Reason, but of the Will or person.

The Reason, therefore, mixes in every voluntary act or resolve; but, to use M. Cousin's words, "it mixes in a reflected form; for to predetermine and deliberate is reflection." But, continues he, "can a reflected operation be a primitive one? to will is to know you can resolve and act, that you can deliberate and choose; and whence do we know this, but from knowing that we have acted otherwise, without deliberation, or predetermination; that is to say, without reflection, or spontaneously." The act prior to reflection, therefore, is the result of what M. Cousin calls, the spontaneity. It is a fact attested by common language, and common experience, that, by a sort of inspiration, an immediate perception, without reflection, and without any impulse from without, we see what is to be done, and do it. Hence the expressions,—the "thought flashed across me"—"it struck me."

The characteristic of all voluntary acts is, that they may be repeated, and can be evoked before our faculty of consciousness, and examined at leisure. But the spontaneous act, once past, is past for ever; and when by an act of the Will it is recalled, it is no longer spontaneous, but voluntary; that is, it is accompanied with reflection. Reflection, in principle and in fact, says M. Cousin, must be posterior to spontaneity. Reflection is a retrograde act, and implies a state prior to retrogression; but as nothing can be in the reflected act which was not previously in the spontaneous, so what has been said of the one is true of the other, and they are both causes, and both refer to the Ego or person.

We have hitherto been speaking of two sets of actions, the spontaneous and the voluntary. But actions imply an actor; these actions must be the result of some force; now what is this force or power which reveals itself by its acts?

That which is common to both these acts is, that they are free; that is, they refer to a cause which has its point of departure from within itself. This is the proper notion of liberty. If it be said that voluntary acts are alone free, then every free act must be accompanied by deliberation, and preceded by predetermination. And we must assert, says M. Cousin, that the enthusiasm of the poet or the painter at the moment of creation is the result of reflection, that the actions of the mass of mankind are all preceded by reflection. But so far is the Will from being in itself free, that common language has appended to it the epithet of Free-will; thus referring its freedom to something less limitedly free than itself. The Will, therefore, is only a form, a mode, or phenomenon of a force; which force is the "liberty," (la liberté) in itself. The spontaneity is another form of the same force. The liberty in itself never falls under our observation. We observe acts which are free: these reflect the liberty in act, but do not constitute the liberty in power. Contrasted with its phenomena, the liberty, says M. Cousin, is that which is indetermined; that which contains in itself the power of action, but has not yet passed into any determinate act, either spontaneous or voluntary: like every thing simple, it is difficult to be defined.

This force, which is sometimes called the activity, (activitat, German,) sometimes the liberty, sometimes the personal force, sometimes the human force, is the intellectual activity in itself, it is Man; not this or that individual, but Man. The individual or person, our personality, in short, is an effect of this force. In the will our personality is most fully declared, for every act of the will is accompanied by deliberation and choice. I deliberate, I choose. In the spontaneous act our personality is more obscurely declared, for there is no deliberation or choice, merely action. In the liberty or activity, the foundation of spontaneity and will, there is no reference to an individual, no personality. "Here," says M. Cousin, "we are at the analysis of the Ego, a real substance, active, anterior and superior to all phenomenal activity, immortal and inexhaustible amid all its temporary modes."—Preface, p. xxxiii.

3. We have but a few words to say on Sensation, the third and last faculty of man. We are conscious of sensations; the law of causality forces us to refer them to a cause external to us, for we ourselves are not the causes of our sensations. We may vary the phenomena of sensation as much as we please, says M. Cousin, yet our experience only developes the notion of cause. Thus, we learn the existence of something which causes in us the sensations of heat, cold, hard, soft, &c. but what that something is in itself, we never learn from sensation. Hence, the external world is but an assemblage of causes, corresponding to our sensations real and possible. Now, in the analysis of Will, the personal force or the activity was a cause; and as the other force or matter is also a source of causes," so nature is sister to man—animated, active, and alive, like him."—p. xxxv.

To sum up, then,—three phenomena are necessary to constitute consciousness, and they must be co-existent. Without the activity or I, there could be no consciousness, for the person, to be conscious, would not be there; without the external world there could be no cause of sensation; and as the person is conscious only by perceiving, that is by the intervention of the reason, so Reason must be there too. This is the triplicity which constitutes the unity of conscience.

The Reason being only the action of the two great laws of causality and substance refers sensation to an external cause, a force called matter: and the interior action to an internal cause or the I. But these two causes, viz. the external and internal, nature and man, must have their cause, for the law of causality forces us to seek an existence beyond which no other is to be thought. Now, nature and man being two, neither of them can be the first cause or the absolute. As the first cause is the only substance, it follows that nature, man, and God, are one.—p. xl.

Such is a sketch of the philosophical system which M. Cousin hopes to introduce into France. The reader must look into the Fragmens Philosophiques for a further detail: we wished merely to give an outline. He will there find much to astonish, and not a little to improve his mind. As to that portion of this philosophy which treats of the moral, the good, and the beautiful, we are not aware that there is any thing to object to it. It is founded on Kant's most excellent work, "The Critique of the Practical Reason." It may seem strange how any moral can be appended to a philosophy which is decidedly pantheistical. But the history of the human mind proves how little our moral notions are dependent on our philosophical reasonings. Locke was a pious Christian in spite of his philosophy; and, in spite of his doctrine, Spinosa was one of the best and most guileless of men. Fichte and Schelling are numbered among the most eloquent advocates of virtue, although the God of the one is a result of the personal force, the Ego—and that of the other, an eternal unconscious Reason. Nature has most happily been more bountiful of instinct than reason. And though philosophy may elevate the instinct of devotion to the contemplation of a Being which reason can worship, yet mankind will bow down with fervor to the work of their own hands, to stocks and stones, rather than remain without a God. Among the followers of Schelling[7] there are, and there must be, some who have a holy yearning towards the infinite, who live in the consciousness that all around them is alive, and die with the hope of being resolved into that power, which is all in all, the beauty and might of nature, and the majesty of man. To such, it is in vain to say, that a power which is unconscious of its own existence until it knows itself in man, is not, and cannot be, an object of adoration to the conscious reason. We feel that our consciousness is a higher faculty than that unconscious power; which, after all, is a phantasy of the mind. There may, therefore, be much truth in the moral part of the philosophy of Schelling, or of M. Cousin, and little in the theoretical. No philosophy is entirely false; it is only from its containing some fragment of truth that it ever imposes upon man. The reader will find in M. Cousin's Syllabus of his Lectures some most important hints to further the establishment of a just theory of morals in this country, a developement, indeed, of Dugald Stewart's excellent work, "Outlines of Moral Philosophy." Surely, virtue is something more than the expediency of Paley, or a feeling of disinterestedness of the Scotch school. Expediency is variable, and that feeling, for aught we know, is but an impulse of the hearts of those whom the world call the good-hearted. When we contemplate a good action, we unconditionally pronounce it good; all do this, though all do not follow the dictates of that law which judges of good and bad. We feel too that he who has done good, merits reward. No reasoning, no complicated analysis, is necessary to convince us of the heroism of Regulus or Leonidas. If our assent be the effect of reasoning, only show us the process, and we give up the argument. Men differ in what they call good and bad, because it is not in man to dive into the motives of an action; were all motives known, there would be no difference of judgment about them. Reason about the matter as much as you please, there is the fact that we possess a faculty of judging good and evil; a law which we did not make, which we cannot alter, which, therefore, is not our creation, but should be our regulator. With this law, which says to the will "thou shall," which fixes the obligation on us to follow its dictates, although it does not constrain:—with this law on the one hand, and our passions and appetites on the other, man is placed a free agent between two worlds, both attached to his nature, but not identical with himself, to choose. This is the very condition of virtue, and constitutes the sublime spectacle of a good man struggling to do his duty.

Schelling's philosophy appears to have produced a great sensation in Germany. The facility with which it seems to solve all the doubts and difficulties of metaphysics, the great relish it imparts to the investigation of nature, and, above all, the immense acquirements of its author, have made it the fashionable system of the day. But a nearer examination of its principles shows, how totally incapable it is to answer in particulars what it would appear to solve in generals. The reader cannot fail to have seen how inadequate it is to account for the existence of any thing individual. It often overpowers the imagination, but rarely instructs the understanding; and instead of throwing light on those convictions by which mankind have ever acted, and will ever act, it either obscures them, or denies their validity. The effect which it has had on the German language is not among the least remarkable of its phenomena. There is scarcely a book now published in which we do not find words which the severe simplicity of Lessing would have abhorred. In matters of science, half the new-published works are unintelligible, unless the reader has some notion of Schelling. Polarity, organisms, identity, infinite in finite, absolute, &c. are strewed thickly over every page. We will not say whether the boldness of the German theologians is to be traced to the influence of a philosophy which renders all systems of religion of little consequence, or nugatory; or whether both the philosophy and the religion are effects of other circumstances which have determined the age. But it is a fact, that religious licence is countenanced by the philosophical.

Schelling, however, has met with an opponent in Jacobi, whose philosophy is daily acquiring ground in Germany, and daily inculcating the maxim, that the boasted absolute reason, which must solve every enigma contained in it, because it is the absolute reason, is, after all, but a poor faculty of a poor worm, man. Jacobi has been called a dreamer, because he has shown that the foundations of reason itself are first principles, which we implicitly believe, and for which there is no evidence from reasoning. These he has called feelings, and hence an outcry has been raised against him for making philosophic certainty rest on a mere feeling. The ambiguity of the term may deserve censure, but whatever name we attach to our conviction of certain primary truths, it is a fact that we do take these for granted, "certissima scientia, clamanti conscientia." And these facts should teach us the limitation of our faculties, and the existence of One, whose ways cannot be as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts.


Notes[edit]

  1. In his Treatise on Human Nature.
  2. We are forced to use this old scholastic term here; for mind itself is, in Fichte's system, created out of it. It meant simply "the person divested of the other qualities of mind.
  3. The reader may be curious to know, how such a notion as an unconscious reason can possibly be entertained, and on what grounds. Bouterwek, in his "Religion of Reason," has the following paragraph on the subject, which we transcribe as a curiosity:—"That such a Reason is not the Self-knowing Reason of Man, and that it is opposed to every meaning assigned to the word Reason in common life, needs no proof. But the self-conscious human Reason developes itself with the developement of the Body, and, by degrees, becomes conscious of itself. Must it not therefore, in order to develope itself, in order to be able to attain to consciousness, exist already as a spiritual capacity, prior to attaining consciousness? The notion of an Unconscious Reason, therefore, does not contradict itself, inasmuch as we can look upon it as a mere spiritual Capacity or Energy. This Energy may further be considered as Eternal and dwelling in Nature, and from Nature entering into Man. According to the Pantheist, an Eternal Unconscious Reason is the Absolute. It is the Absolute Spiritual Energy: out of it Nature arises as a totality or sum of Actions and Powers, and those Actions and Powers, in their turn, give rise to those phenomena, which are objects of sense. The Absolute Energy, the Eternal Unconscious Reason, is, at the same time, the Universal Principle of Life. Material objects, therefore, according to this doctrine, are only phenomena of the Universal Life of Nature. This life becomes individualised by organisation; and as the series of organisations is gradually perfected, this Principle of Life at last attains to consciousness; and thus an individual, which at first was but a mode of the Universal Life, learns to know, and to separate itself from objects around it. Notwithstanding, it is still, in essence, the same in kind with the rest of Nature. The Conscious Human Reason, according to this view, is but a manifestation of the Eternal Unconscious Reason."—Religion der Vernunft, p. 46.

    It is scarcely worth while commenting on so wild a doctrine. It is evident we can have no experience of such an unconscious reason in ourselves. For if an intellectual process, or capacity, or energy, ever did exist without consciousness, as we are by the supposition not at yet conscious, so we cannot know of its existence.

    The puzzling phenomena of instinct are looked upon by some as an unconscious reason. A bee constructs its cell, and practically solves a very difficult mathematical proposition, and that without being conscious that the form of the cell is the best possible. But are we to conclude from this that the bee and its instincts are the results of an unconscious reason . We might just as well assert, that a watch or a steam engine is the result of an unconscious reason, because, in sooth, the effects produced are unaccompanied by consciousness in the machine! A man who can look on the wonderful instincts of Nature, and see the minutest and humblest of living atoms producing the greatest revolutions in the face of the globe, who can observe the nice balance established between the different grades of animated beings, and see how all is beautiful, and all is order,—a man, we say, that can see this, and see it as the result of an unconscious reason, will believe any thing. If this be Philosophy, this the boasted superiority of enlightened minds, we fervently hope that its light may never shine on us; or the very fear of it might induce us to write, like Franklin, in our journal, "From this day I have renounced the study of metaphysics."

  4. Werden is not quite correctly translated by creation, inasmuch as that implies a creator, but it simply means "to become."
  5. "L'activité volontaire." The term will be explained when the will is analysed.
  6. The Science of sciences, Primary science, are terms used by the Germans to denote necessary truths, which necessary truths are but the manifestations of the absolute reason. We quote a passage from Bacon, which probably gave rise to the thought.

    "But as the division of the sciences are not like different lines that meet at one angle, but rather like the branches of trees that join in one trunk: it is first necessary to constitute an universal science as a parent to the rest, and making a part of the common road before the ways separate. This knowledge we call "Philosophia prima," Primitive or Primary Philosophy. It has no other for its opposite, and differs from other sciences in the limits whereby it is confined."

    "But what we mean is without ambition to design some general science for the reception of axioms not peculiar to any one science, but common to them all."—De. Aug. Sc. (Philosophy.)

  7. Schelling has not completed his Philosophy, although thirty years have elapsed since the publication of his first work. His notions of the Deity have not as yet been fully stated. He has, however, typified his "absolute," under the symbol of a magnet! one pole of which is mind, the other matter, and the middle a neutralisation of the two, which neutralisation is the absolute.


This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.