MR. MANSEL'S REPLY TO MR. MILL.*
Tars is a very sharp reply by Mr. Memel to Mr. Mill's very sharp criticism upon Hamilton and himself. Agreeing with neither party in the controversy, neither with Mr. Mill's sensational scepticism, nor with Mr. Mansel's speculative scepticism, our chief interest in the discussion has always lain on the religious side of the dispute, namely, with regard to Mr. Mansel's assertion that God is both unknown and unknowable by man, and that revela- tion consists rather in a distinct apprehension of the impenetrable • The Philosophy of the Conditioned, comprising some Remarks on Sir Willies Hamilton's Philosophy, and on Mr./. a Mill's Examen-felon of that Philosophy. By H. L. Manse), MD. Laudon: Stream. 1866. veil which covers the life of God, and in the declaration of a few " regulative " truths which we may reasonably conjecture to be authentic messages from behind it, rather than in the display of His true character and nature to us, in however inadequate a degree. Mr. Mill's refutation of this view, although proceeding on the principle of a hypothetical rather than a declared faith, seems to us one of the very finest passages in philosophical litera- ture, and we regard this little book of Mr. Mansel's, though victorious in some minor points, as a complete failure in its attempt to reply to it. Those who take any interest in the controversy may remember the nature of Mr. Mansel's argument that we can reach no speculative truth in religion, on the ground that God is infinite, and a finite mind cannot take in even a sufficient part of the in- finite to admit of anything but an infinite distortion of the reality ; and they may remember his inference that God's goodness may be and probably is something different in kind from human good- ness, and must be so far different that we have no right to gauge the revealed moral law of the Bible by any conscience of ours. To this, Mr. Mill, after discussing the supposed theoretical diffi- culty, had eloquently replied :-- " If, instead of the glad tidings that there exists a Being in whom all the excellences which the highest human mind can conceive, exist in a degree inconceivable to us, I am informed that the world is ruled by a Being whose attributes are infinite, but what they are we cannot learn, nor what are the principles of his government, except that the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving' does not sanction them; convince me of it, and I will bear my fate as I may. But when I am told that I must believe this, and at the same time call this being by the names which express and affirm the highest human morality, I say in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power such a being may have over me, there is one thing which he shall not do ; he shall not compel me to worship him. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures ; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go."
Mr. Mansel's rejoinder to this is very feeble,—consisting chiefly in showing that even if God's goodness be essentially the same as man's, yet by the very fact of His infinite difference in power, and providence, and knowledge, the conditions of action must be entirely changed. Doubtless ; but this is nothing to the point, because, first, the practical controversy is not as to what is good in God, but as to what is good in man, in cases where our consciences, given by Him, are at issue with commands claiming, and only claiming, to come from Him on uncertain historical evidence. Can the latter override the former ? And, secondly, to maintain that there is essential identity between the divine goodness and human goodness, with only such variations as belong to our respective powers and positions, is in fact a complete abandonment by Mr. Mansel of his speculative theory, which, resting on the ground that the finite cannot apprehend the infinite, requires it to be infinitely improbable that human goodness should in essence resemble the divine at all, and maintains that revela- tion is not the removal of the veil, but the transmission of a few practical moral rules for our conduct from behind it. Therefore, when Mr. Mansel tries to combine the advantages of a philosophy so modest as to resign all hope of knowing God, so long as men are ' finite ' beings, with the advantages of a faith that professes to tell us what He is like, he is playing fast and loose with his own notions, and falls an easy prey into Mr. Mill's hands.
The truth is that the whole of the philosophy which tries, in defiance of revelation, to prove that God is inaccessible to man (and which would equally prove, by the way, and has often been used to prove, that man is inaccessible to God, for the gulf which is supposed to divide metaphysically the finite from the infinite is as impassable to one as to the other), rests on the radically false assumption, that while we cannot conceive (in the imagination) or comprehend (in the understanding), we cannot intellectually even apprehend, cannot in any sense know. We maintain, on the other hand, that most things, even finite things, as they are called, are in this condition, and things finite quite as much as things infinite. Who can either conceive or comprehend himself? Who can compre- hend how personal identity is consistent with variety of attributes, with change of nature, purposes, character ? Mr. Mengel main- tains that we can have no knowledge where we cannot understand the "how." He thinks we have knowledge, and not merely a faith, that two straight lines cannot enclose a space, because we can see, by representing them in imagination, how it is impossible they should do so. Well, then, we surely can have no knowledge of ourselves? We certainly cannot 'represent to ourselves how the same person unites a number of different characteristics, and changes those characteristics from time to time, so that he abhors one day the very act he took pride in on another? Mr. Mengel Makes the impossibility of knowing God to consist in the inability to conceive how certain attributes are to be combined in Him:— " The reader may now, perhaps, understand the reason of an asser- tion which Mr. Mill regards as supremely absurd,—namely, that we must believe in the existence of an absolute and infinite Being, though unable to conceive the nature of such a Being. To believe in such a Being, is simply to believe that God made the world; to declare the nature of such a Being inconceivable, is simply to say that we do not know how the world was made. If we believe that God made the world, we must believe that there was a time when the world was not, and when God alone existed, out of relation to any other being. But the mode of that sole existence we are unable to conceive, nor in what manner the first act took place by which the absolute and self-existent gave existence to the relative and dependent. The contradictions,' says Mr. Mill, which Mr. Mansel asserts to be involved in the notions, do not follow from an imperfect mode of apprehending the Infinite and the Absolute, but lie in the definitions of them, in the meaning of the words themselves.' They do no such thing : the meaning of the words is perfectly intelligible, and is exactly what is expressed by their defi- nitions: the contradictions arise from the attempt to combine the attributes expressed by the words in one representation with others, so as to form a positive object of consciousness. Where is the incon- gruity of saying, 'I believe that a being exists possessing certain attributes, though I am unable in my present state of knowledge to conceive the manner of that existence ?' "
If that be the only difficulty, it applies equally to the knowledge of man. We are entirely unable to conceive how our free-will is to be combined with the law of causation or creation to which we assign the origin of our free wills. If there is no knowledge where there is no imagining and comprehending power, there is very little indeed either of finite personality, so called, or infinite personality of which there is knowledge. But apprehension is quite con- sistent with inability to comprehend, to grasp the whole, and still more with inability to conceive and imagine it. The so-called contradictions (or antinomies) which Kant, Mr. Manse), and Sir W. Hamilton make so much of, are, we believe, never real con- tradictions at all, but mere failures to comprehend, to hold completely in our grasp, realities that we cannot compass, but nevertheless can apprehend. Ta lie Mr. Mansel's assertion about metaphysical infinity (which he is quite at issue with Kant, by the way, in contrasting with mathematical infinity, Kant ex- pressly identifying the two;—see foot-note to the proof of the thesis that the world has a beginning in time in the Reine Vernunft) in his attempted refutation of Mr. de Morgan :—
"One of the ablest mathematicians, and the most persevering Hamil- tono-mastix of the day, maintains the applicability of the metaphysical notion of infinity to mathematical magnitudes ; but with an assumption which unintentionally vindicates Hamilton's position more fully than could have been done by a professed disciple. I shall assume,' says Professor de Morgan, in a paper recently printed among the Transac- tions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 'the notion of infinity and of its reciprocal infinitesimal : that a line can be conceived infinite, and therefore having points at an infinite distance. Image apart, which we cannot have' it seems to me clear that a line of infinite length without points at an infinite distance is a contradiction.' Now, it is easy to show, by mere reasoning, without any image, that this assnmp- tion is equally a contradiction. For if space is finite, every line in space must be finite also; and if space is infinite, every point in space must have infinite space beyond it in every direction, and therefore can- not be at the greatest possible distance from another point. Or thus : Any two points in space are the extremities of the line connecting them ; but an infinite line has no extremities ; therefore no two points in space can be connected together by an infinite line."
Mr. Mansel does not really show in the least the contradiction that he asserts that he shows. He virtually assumes what is not true, —that all infinitudes are equaL In his first proof he is quite wrong in speaking of infinite distance as a maximum distance, as Kant, who knew more mathematics as well as metaphysics than Mr. Mansel, admits. ("The idea of an infinite whole," says Kant, "is not the idea of a maximum ; but you only express by it, its relation to a unit to be assumed at pleasure, in respect to which it is greater than any number of that unit.") In point of fact, it is easy to assign an infinite distance between two points which shall be infinitely smaller than some other infinite dis- tance, and that, again, infinitely smaller than another infini- tude, and so on ad infinitum. If A is distant from B only one- fifth of the distance of B from C, and B from C only one-fifth of the distance of B from D, the relative distances would remain the same, whatever the actual distance of A from B. And this would obviously be equally true, if it were one-millionth or one-billionth, instead of one-fifth. A might be a billion miles from B, and yet only one-billionth part of the distance of B from C, and B, again, from C only one-billionth part of the distance of C from D. How can you deny, then, that A might be at an infinite distance from B, and yet infinitely nearer to B than B to C, and B infinitely nearer to C than C to I), though infinitely farther from C than B from A? And in point of fact, mathematics cannot do without the assumption of such relative infinitudes even among infinitudes. Mr. Mansel's second form of proof is as bad as his first. To assume that an infinite line can have no extremities is wholly gratuitous. All we know of an infinite line is, that it can never be exhausted by any finite multiplication of a finite line. True, we find it easier to represent to ourselves infinitude with at least one extremity beyond our reach, while the other extremity, and as much of the line as we can measureforwards, is within our reach. It is easier (for us, taking our analogy from the flight of time) to conceive an infinity stretch- ing immeasurably from a fixed point, than to think of one bounded between two fixed points with an infinite middle or intermediate length. But the last idea is absolutely as logical and as devoid of any latent contradiction as the first. Two points, with the sepa- rating line infinite, are every bit as much within the limits of both comprehension and imagination, as a line made by one point flowing on infinitely. " Extremity " no doubt implies an end, but it does not imply that we could reach it in any finite time, or by the reduplication of any finite measure, and that is all that is im- plied in infinitude. Take two points, even close together, and sup- pose the curve which joins them to go an infinite number of times round the earth, like an infinite thread round a bobbin, and we have the general conception of an infinite line between two given extremities. Even Kant's assertion that an expired eternity in- volves a contradiction seems to us altogether false. All we mean by eternity is that which is not measurable by any finite number of finite times. No doubt if we try to conceive a beginning at all, we date it millions of years, or billions of billions of years, back, and then the expired billions and billions of years are not an expired eternity. But though we admit, of course, that by measuring either forward or backward for billions and billions of years, we shall never reach an eternity, we may still speak correctly of an expired eternity. When we say an eternity can " never " expire, we are really dating the flight of eternity by time, for " never " only means "in no finite time," and it is of course a contradiction in terms to suppose that an eternity can elapse in any finite time. But the whole difficulty of an expired eternity is centred in the diffi- culty of conceiving any Being without a beginning. If there is any Being without a beginning the expired eternity is assumed at once, nor can we point to any principle of reason which contradicts this assumption. All we can say is that we cannot conceive the lapse of an eternity from any specific date, because' we can only add years to years, finite times to finite times. But because we cannot even in imagination construct an eternity from a fixed date in time, we have no intellectual justification for denying that for any uncreated being an eternity has already run out. We can only say that we can't even approximate to the comprehension of it. There is no contradiction, however, unless we begin to time eternity ; and then the contradiction lies in a,ur own bad logic, not in the matter itself.
The same criticism applies to Mr. Mansel's mode of dealing with the moral attributes of God. We cannot comprehend or exhaust Him. We find how unable we are in every direction to grasp Him, as Mr. Mansel says, "in any act of conception." Therefore, he reasons, we cannot know Him at all, but only obtain a certain tolerably confident conviction that certain predicates may be analogically applied to the "Unknown and Unknowable," with less moral error than would be involved in not thinking about Him or finding any predicates proper to apply to Him at all. Mr. Mansel tells us expressly many times that we have no direct knowledge of God, and in one place that what we can know are only certain propositions about Him (as we might make more or less true propositions about the central fire which we have never seen, but only by using analogies and inference) ; that the imme- diate object of faith is not a person, but a proposition :—
" Mr. Mill endeavours," says Mr. Mansel, "to overthrow this distinction between knowledge and belief, by means of Hamilton's own theory of consciousness. Hamilton maintains that we cannot be conscious of a mental operation without being conscious of its object. On this Mr. Mill retorts that if, as Hamilton admits, we are conscious of a belief in the Infinite and the Absolute, we must be conscious of the Infinite and Absolute themselves ; and such consciousness is knowledge. The fallacy of this retort is transparent. The immediate object of belief is a proposition which I hold to be true, not a thing apprehended in an act of conception. I believe in an infinite God ; s e., I believe that God is infinite ; I believe that the attributes which I ascribe to God exist in Him in an infinite degree. Now, to believe this proposition, I mut, of course, be conscious of its meaning ; but I am not therefore conscious of the Infinite God as an object of conception ; for this would require, further, an apprehension of the manner in which these infinite attributes coexist so as to form one object."
If the italicized assertion be true, faith gets at God only through a string of intellectual judgments, and is not a living act connecting the human soul with the divine spirit, but a theoretic inference about an inaccessible being. Mr. Mansel would not, we suppose, say that when a child talks of believing in a good father, it means "believing that its father is good ;" it means a great deal more,—leaning on, trusting in, a good living guidance. And that is the primary form of the child's faith, the theoretic conviction
that he is good, being only a flake of abstraction which (as it were) peels off that living trust much later. Now, why are we to be denied this same living tie with God, this living apprehension of His goodness, only because that goodness has a vague term affixed to it called "infinite," which debars us from supposing that we can compass or comprehend it ? We maintain, on the other hand, that just as we learn suddenly in mathematics, in our study of finite magnitudes, that we are actually in contact, almost before knowing it, with infinite magnitudes following the same laws,--so we learn in ethics, while studying human right, that we are in contact, almost before knowing it, with laws applying equally to the divine as to human nature. We have no more reason to believe that divine love or divine justice is something different in kind from human love and human justice, than that the laws affecting infinite magnitude are something different in kind from those affecting finite magnitudes.
We have, as we believe, direct knowledge of the infinite in both cases, though imperfect knowledge,—apprehension, not compre- hension,—knowledge which has in it germs capable of infinite ex- pansion, but still knowledge, and not mere analogical conjecture. Certainly, if the divine mind be not in direct communion with the human conscience, the supernatural message the value of which Mr. Mansel wants to enhance by elevating it to the highest authority we have concerning God, is a deception. But if it be in direct communion, our apprehension of infinite goodness must be direct, and not analogical ;—or, to use Mr. Manses technical language, must be "speculative," and not merely regulative. We know the divine nature whenever we obey it as divine, though we do not know and cannot exhaust "its length and breadth and depth and height."
On the whole, Mr. Manse' has not answered, and we believe cannot answer, Mr. Mill's moral criticism. On some of the more minute and technical points of Sir W. Hamilton's metaphysics, he appears to have shown that Mr. Mill has misapprehended Sir W. Hamilton, and that he himself understands his master better.