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THE SOURCE OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE.
DEAR SIR,- I trust, from what was stated in my last letter, it will be sufficiently clear that the existence, per se, of matter and spirit, is not assured to us by the power of the logical faculty. That, on the contrary, did our reception of their reality depend upon this faculty, we should neither have known nor believed anything respecting them. And this, not because their independent existence is overthrown by it, but simply on account of its incompetency to know or judge of anything beyond that which is actually brought to it for consideration. It combines known truths, but never discovers them; and the accuracy of this power of combination is tested by the operations of another faculty, on whose teachings it must always rely. More fully to illustrate the meaning of these remarks, we will take Mr. Hume's conclusion, " that ideas are the only certainties.” Now, assuming that the logical faculty is the basis of truth and the source of knowledge, we are unable upon this foundation to raise one single stone towards the erection of that splendid fabric, in the existence of which we are, nevertheless, firm believers. Moreover, we assume, in the outset, the very position we have to establish by a logical proof. Ideas are the only certainties, inasmuch as they are the immediate subjects of consciousness. But why are ideas certain? Why are we to believe either in our own consciousness, or the states of mind of which we are conscious ? Certainly not because either the one or the other is assured to us by any logical process whatever, but simply because we must believe. The sceptic may tell us, that, while our own consciousness cannot be doubted, yet, that the world around us, and the minds that we possess as distinct substances, independent of our ideas of them, are reasonable subjects of scepticism. We have merely to reply, that, if for our own consciousness he can bring forward no better proof than the impossibility of doubt, the same impossibility meets him with regard to an external world; and we defy any man for an instant of time, unless he be a madman, to think and act upon the supposition that all things around him are but the phantoms of his own imagination. In sober truth, a man must become insane before he can act out the philosophy of Pyrrho.
Thus, then, it seems evident that the understanding is not the faculty by which truth is either derived or established; and that the primary truths on which all men are agreed, are made known and confirmed to us by a faculty that, upon examination, will be found to be at once man's grand distinguishing feature from the brute creation, and his noble alliance to the supreme intelligence. “In the image of God made he man.”
And here we may, with profit, pause and reflect upon the scepticism of that profound thinker, who has conducted us by his genius to the portals of the sanctuary, that, with all humility and admiration, we are now endeavouring to explore. Oh! that a live coal from the altar of
God had touched his heart, and imparted to him that faith (reason) which he in vain endeavoured to extinguish ; but to do which, would have been to destroy the essential element of man's existence. To annihilate faith, would be to annihilate the human soul. Had he seen this grand truth, his scepticism must have ceased, the riddle of man's constitution and of the world would have been explained to him, and he would have thronged with the heart-thrilling worshippers into * the Holy of Holies.” He would not then have said, that because the understanding is unable to discover and confirm truth or solve doubts, " is seen the whimsical condition of mankind; who must act, and reason, and believe, though they are not able, by their most diligent inquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the foundation of these operations, or to remove the objections that may be raised against them.” "Man must believe !" It is a solemn truth, a truth we should all do well continually to recognise. The fact is loudly proclaimed to each one of us by the workings of our own hearts; by the gloomy doubts that ever and anon cast their dismal shadows across the bright path of faith ; by the light heart never separated from the believing beart; by grandeur of soul never co-existent with the spirit of unbe- . bef“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things was seen." Take away faith, then, and what have yon left ? Destroy faith, and, so far as you are concerned, you annihilate the glorious Torld around you, ever inviting you, as it does, to waft the hymn of praise to its eternal Creator. You rob yourself of every sympathy that exists for you in the hearts of those that love you. You turn even paradise itself into a “waste howling wilderness.”
“Faith, 'tis a precious grace,
Where'er it is bestowed;
And is the gift of God." I safely leave the consciousness of your readers to bear testimony to the truth of these observations; and if I am instrumental in showing them that this faith-the first element of the human soul, so far from being a blind, superstitious feeling, is the very perfection of intelligence, I shall be thankful. I would claim no praise; but simply the merit of conducting them to the feet of great and good men, where also I have sat, and endeavoured to realise the calm and holy feelings that have lifted them beyond “ time and sense."
It is remarkable how completely Mr. Locke appears to have overlooked the nature of the faculty which we have called faith, but which has been defined by Leighton and Kant as the reason ; and by which term we shall afterwards designate it. Thus Mr. Locke, in alluding to those who affirmed there was no evidence to show that the senses were true leporters, says, “ They will have no controversy with me, inasmuch as they have no means of ascertaining whether I really differ from them.” A more shrewd and convincing answer could not well have been framed; but it does not seem to have been suggested to him, that there is a faculty of the human mind, which, contrary to the understanding (by whose aid we really are unable to know anything beyond actual ideas), looks beyond the appearance, and really and truly discerns truth beyond or out of the ideas presented to the understanding.
Dr. Reid says, “ that nature declines the tribnnal of reason, and laughs at the artillery of the logician.” What does he here mean by nature, but that faculty which, discerning truth intuitively and not by the aid of any experience or sensation whatever, pays no heed to the inefficiency of the understanding, and appeals to itself, as Coleridge says, as “the ground and substance of the truth of its conclusions"?
Dr. Brown, whose uncommon penetration would not allow him to overlook this important faculty, says, “ What I term my perception of colour, or softness, or shape, or fragrance, or taste of a peach, is a certain state of my own mind, for my mind, surely, can be conscious only of its own feelings; or, rather, as the consciousness of present feelings is a redundancy of language, my mind affected in a certain manner, whether it be with what is termed sensation, or knowledge, or belief, can still be nothing more than my mind itself affected in a certain manner —my mind itself existing in a certain state. Against this argument, I confess that I know no mere argument which can be adduced in opposition, any more than I know any mere argument which can be adduced against the strange conclusions that are most legiti, mately drawn from the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of matter, and various other physical and mathematical applications of the notion of infinity. In no one of these cases, however, do we feel our belief shaken; because it is founded either on associations, so early, and strong, and indissoluble, as those which we have been endeavouring to trace; or if not in those, or in principles of direct intention, in that species of internal revelation which gives to reason itself, in the primary truths in which every argument proceeds, its divine authority."
The sum and substance of the whole is, and which I shall endeavour more to fully illustrate and enforce in my next letter, that there is a faculty of which we are each conscious, that perceives truths apart from the ideas of sensation or of reflection; and that concludes that there is an external world, altogether independent of the mere perception of solidity, extension, &c. In one word, a super-sensuous faculty, which is pre-eminently entitled to the name of redson, judging, as it does, of things as they really are, and which would appear different, if viewed as mere sensuous ideas. With respect, I remain, yours most truly,
A communication upon the subject of “ A Student's” letter that appeared in our last number, has been received from a correspondent who signs himself “A Sceptic;" an appellation, which, from the purport of his remarks, we should presume, is intended to signify, one who has doubts as to the existence of substances independently of his perceptions of them. We would willingly publish our correspondent's candid and modest, yet withal acute observations on “ A Student's” letter, did we not think that he has on several momentous points mistaken the spirit and scope of the latter's reasoning. And we think it unadvisable, upon so abstruse a question, to lay before our readers any but real differences, so that the most unreflecting of them may clearly distinguish between things that differ. That there is a oneness of thought between our two correspondents, and that they agree much more than "A Seeptic” is willing to allow, seems to us evident, from the following:
1. They each of them consider that the existence per se, of a material world cannot be proved by a logical process.
Thus, " A Student” says, “Who ever affirmed that logic is the ground on which the existence of matter is to be received ?" And “ A Sceptic” takes that which, he says, is generally considered irrefutable, and considers it an assumption, and labours to prove (and often succeeds in proving) that it is no warrant for belief.” Both, therefore, are agreed upon the fact that matter cannot be proved by logic, and that this consequently is no warrant for belief. But then there appears to arise an important difference,—and this, after all, is the point of discussion which we could have wished “ A Sceptic” had remarked
on.—Is the existence of an external world to be denied and disbeleved, because it cannot be proved by logic? Do we consider matter to have a true and independent existence, because such existence is evident to the understanding? “ A Sceptic” says, the existence of matter is "generally considered irrefutable." Is it so considered because it can be demonstrated by logic, or, because it is assured to us upon other, and totally different grounds ? We are as sure as “A Sceptic," that a perception of a thing is no proof of anything beyond that perception. But is this just cause why we should doubt, or disbelieve, that anything exists beyond our perception of it ? Now, making the supposition that matter did exist per se, we should, in such case, be able to realise nothing but a perception of it; and this position, that it is possible, appears to us quite sufficient to satisfy the mind, coupled with the firm belief every man has that it does so exist. Indeed, upon “ A Sceptic's" ground, we do not see how the existence of matter is ever to be known, even supposing that it did exist, which is an hypothesis quite warrantable. For, if sensation is the only source of our knowledge of matter, it follows, of course, that apart from sensation we could know nothing about it. And will not “ A Sceptic" allow, that, so far from this warranting our disbelief of a material world, it only shows, that to be able to prove it from sensation would be an absurdity. So that, when he says “it cannot be proved,” he in truth only says that sensation can be nothing but sensation, and so states a perfect truism. Thus we are compelled, from the certainty we feel with regard to an external world—for we do not believe any man, our worthy correspondent included, really acts at all doubtingly with regard to it,—we are compelled to refer this certainty to another source, and to conclude, that, after all, sensation is not the faculty by which it is assured to us. And we cannot but consider that “ A Sceptic” is somewhat too hasty in assuming, à priori, as a “A Student" expresses it, that the sensuous faculty is the source of our belief, rather than, as a philosophical inquirer, exploring nature to the fountain head.
*** We beg leave to inform our correspondents that it is not our intention to continue the Prize Essay, the department of Inquiries and Correspondence having been considered as better adapted to interest and enlighten our readers. Also, that the announced discussion on Railways was, through unavoidable circumstances, postponed, and will not now be carried out.
W. M. J. inquires of us, “how the discoveries of geologists are to be reconciled with the declaration of the fourth commandment, that . in six days God created the heavens and the earth.'".
Two or three considerations will, we trust, furnish our inquirer with a satisfactory reply.
I. Do we interpret the “six days” rightly, in supposing that they are to be considered as of the same duration as our own days?
It appears evident that the language of this commandment will not allow the same latitude of interpretation as the Mosaic narrative in Genesis, inasmuch as the “six days " in which the world was created are compared to the six days of labour. It may be said that the former expression is a figurative type of the latter; such an assumption, how. ever, seems quite gratuitous. An excellent friend has suggested to us that the term "day" in the original, according to Gesenius, signifies “ time generally," and therefore would denote that period during which light continued to impinge upon, or emanate from, the forming mass (Gen.i.5): consequently, that the time is undefined. However well this construction may harmonise with the narrative in Genesis, it does not seem to us tenable, on account of the identity that is established in this commandment of “a day” of creation and “ a day" of labour. Moreover, in both cases, we presume that the word “ day” is rendered the same in Hebrew, so that if it leaves one undefined, it leaves the other also. Thus this argument proves too much.
II. How do the discoveries of geologists oppose the interpretation, that the six days of creation are of the same duration as our own?
The arguments of geologists appear to us to be entirely analogical. Thus it is inferred from the law of geological formations, as at present developed, that the same law held good at the creation of the world. Now it is apparent, if the Mosaic narrative be an inspired one, and the interpretation we have given correct, that our world would have proceeded from the hands of its Creator bearing at once all the marks of antiquity that geologists would from present laws deem themselves entitled to affirm were the result of innumerable ages.
To make the matter clearer, we will contemplate the formation of