PROFESSOR MARTINEAU'S PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS.* THE American publishers, in the exercise of their " unchartered freedom" as to the republication of English writings, frequently anticipate for us by many years services which the interests of • English literature absolutely demand. The issue of the present volume is one such service, which we trust may Dot long anti- cipate Professor Martineau in collecting for English readers in many respects the most striking philosophical and theological essays which have appeared in England during the last ten years. For, these kindly spontaneities of the American publishers have -not only the defect for English purposes of being contraband in this
• Essays, Philosophical and Theological. By James Martineau. Boston: Willian
V. Speucer. 1866, • country, but their literary judgment is sometimes in default, and among the essays here republished and attributed to Mr. Martineau is one on "Revelation" from the National Review, which is not only obviously due to a much less brilliant and original pen, but contains a line of thought that represents pretty closely the theology of our own columns instead of Mr. Martineau's well known devout Unitarianism. Powerful as his theological essays are, we confess that they are to us far less satisfactory than those on pure philo- sophy. While he deals with the recipient intellectual, moral, and spiritual constitution of man, his analysis is refined and to the last degree truthful, his power of exposition and illustration most brilliant, and his grasp of all the salient facts bearing on the great metaphysical problems, at once large and minute. But when he passes the boundary between the mind of the recipients and that which they receive from God, while always reverent, he is apt to be a little jealous of accepting anything that seems to overpass the limits of our spiritual faculty to anticipate ; he scrutinizes the revelation with a doubtful eye, and if he finds it mixed up with any human error, such as the belief that the earth is the centre of the physical universe, he "strikes his finger on the place" and pleads the unconscious egotism of humanity in thus exaggerating its import- ance in the universe in mitigation of the claim on our spiritual faith which the miraculous element in Christianity,—by which we mean all the intrusions of the supernatural into the physical order of the universe, for in the spiritual sense Mr. Martineau is the most profound of supernaturalists,—makes.
But it is not now of his theological essays that we wish to speak. The present volume contains essays on Comte, Mr. John Stuart Mill, Mr. Herbert Spencer, and Mr. Bain which are likely to be permanent contributions of the highest value to English philosophy. As it would be impossible in a newspaper article to touch on more than the merest specimen of the many fine things in these Essays, we propose to select a single philosophical point alone, the charge which Comte and his disciples, and those who, not being his disciples, still agree with him in denouncing meta- physical and extolling physical science, have made against psycho- logy and the allied mental studies,—that they are utterly false in method, unprogressive even in form, and sterile of all practical result. First, as to the false method. The sort of argument brought by Comte and others to prove that a priori psychology must be false is well known. It is that psychology is a science of observa- tion in which the same person is both the observer and the ob- served. "The thinking individual," says Comte, "cannot divide himself in two,—cannot let one reason while the other looks at the reasoning. The organ observed and the organ observing being in this case the same, how is it possible that observation should.take place?" We should have thought it almost sufficient in reply to appeal to the common facts of life. Do we, each of us, keep a private reporter to tell us what we have done, thought, and felt in the day, or not? And if not, are we wholly ignorant of our own actions, thoughts, or feelings, till some one accidentally reports to us what they have been, by virtue of his external posi- tion? The question is simply ludicrous. Yet if Comte's criticism on the method of psychology were a true one, we should be as ignorant of our own minds as we are of the circulation of our blood or the process of digestion. We should not only be obliged to keep a private detective to draw up a daily report on our con- duct if we wished to make any acquaintance, however imperfect, with ourselves, but even then, as he could not tell us more than our actions and apparent expressions of countenance,—and not even this, for no man would be able to recognize expression in another if he had no knowledge of his own mental states,—the greater part of our inward life would be lived like a flower's in a solitary place, without any means whatever of recording it, or even momentarily reflecting it. If a man can report to himself his own feelings, motives, wishes,—if a little attention will enable him frequently to disentangle the true from the false in his own conceptions of his own actions, then the mind can become an object of scientific observation to itself, and, to deny this, seems even a greater insult to common sense than to metaphysics. This would seem enough, but the reply actually given by Mr. Mar- tineau to this criticism seems to us subtler. He remarks that while philosophy has delighted to assert that mind knows nothing but itself, it has never till now asserted that the only thing it is for ever incapable of knowing is precisely itself. Comte inquires how it is possible that we should know our own state, since we must cease our mental activity in order to observe it?' In other words, if our activity is spent on observing, it is withdrawn from the state to be observed ; if it is continued in the state to be observed, it cannot be at our disposal for observation. To this Mr. Martineau replies that the objection, even if true,
assumes the impossibility of memory. Even if the observing self is separated from the observed self by a minute interval of time, why should this interposed minute interval of time be an effectual non-conductor of intelligent perception, any more than a minute interval of space? "If our intelligence can bridge the chasm of local separation, what hinders it from uniting the termini of suc- cession ?" Besides, all perception of outward things, Mr. Marti- neau observes, reports not only the outward fact, but the relation of the outward fact to the perceiving self, and therefore involves the very act of self-consciousness which Comte declares to be in itself impossible. If I perceive a balloon I perceive that it is I who per- ceive it, I am conscious not only of the balloon but of the rela- tion of the balloon to my own eyes. And we might add that if, as seems likely, all which Comte really relies upon in this absurd argument is the inadequate and disturbed character of self- observation, not its real impossibility,—then that much observation of the outward world is far more turbid than self-observation. Comte would probably admit the evidence of a man as to a thun- derbolt, even though he saw its fall with terror, while expecting it to strike him down, but would reject as scientific evidence the same man's most tranquil account of his own thoughts and feelings.
But Comte and his school not only charge the psychological method with intrinsic imbecility, but bring the more telling charge against it of an utterly unprogressive character. It does not, they say, get on. It does not enable us to foresee the future. It is always telling us about the same abstract entities, and never unfolding to us new prospects. To the first assertion Mr. Martineau replies very finely in the following words :— "Above all, is it absurd to test the validity of theological and meta,- physical conceptions by their power of movement and progress ? ' Why, the very sameness with which they are taunted,—their patience from age to age,—is precisely the sole conceivable evidence they could offer that they are what they profess to be, the representation in us of the constancies of the universe. And nothing could more effectually discredit them as the steady shadows of eternal entity, than a history of growth and change. If they indeed be, as they pretend, the back- ground of cognition answering to the abiding realities which hold all - phenomena, it is their business and function to keep still. Their vin- dication lies in their permanence. They are the conservative elements of all knowledge ; the base and condition of movement, but not the moving thing ; the vital atmosphere that sustains it, but not its beating wing. Do you complain that the ideas of Causality, of Soul, of God, of Substance, never get on, but are essentially what they always were ? Instead of damaging them, you give the highest possible testimony to their veracity and authority. Did they sweep forward, as you desire, they would belie their word, and be detected as belonging to the tide of physical change, not to the infinite deep below. If on account of this stationary character any one denies to these ideas the name of knowledge ; if this word, as implying distinction and plurality, be refused to the self- identical and simple —we shall not object, provided it be understood that they are, if not knowledge, the conditions of knowledge ; if not the object seen, the light by which we see ; that reliance on them is indis- pensable to reading the universe as it is, and that the enlarging field of phenomena and law finds them still equal to their all-comprehensive function, though needing revision in their special form and application."
We may add that if, as Comte wishes us, we were to dismiss the idea of " causality " altogether from our minds,—an impossible thing to do, by the way,—and replace it with the notion of constant succession, we should lose one of the great conditions of scientific progress. The eagerness with which we look for the generation of phenomena from forces which we believe to have produced them would not survive the conviction that there were no such forces at all, only a kaleidoscopic succession of events, always recurring indeed in the same order, as far as experience goes, but no more welded together in that order by any power than a word uttered by A in England one moment is connected with a word uttered by B in France or C in Russia the next.
Finally, say the Comtists, not only is psychology false in method and destitute of scientific movement, but it is wholly bar- ren of any sort of result. Not only is it not fruitful of new results, but it can show no permanent results of its past studies. Here is Mr. Martineau's reply :—
"The objection, however, which Comte is most zealous in urging against the psychologists is, that their method has never been crowned with any success, great or small, and that their labour has been absolutely barren. Even if this statement be tried by the test present to the author's own mind, viz., the amount of direct discovery respecting the processes of the mind, it is a monstrous exaggeration. The logical doctrine of Aristotle, the modern theory of vision, the ascertainment of laws of association and abstraction Butler's exposition of the moral con- stitution of man,—deserve to be ranked amongst positive achievements of a high order, and are recognized as such by the vast majority of com- petent judges on these points. If perfect unanimity is not attained even on these doctrines, neither is it secured at present in regard to any of the corresponding parts of biological science ; and the only advantage which the positivist has over his predecessors in intellectual philosophy is in'his liberal promises for the future ; his disparagement of the past not being justified, so far as yet appears, by the detection of a single law of our mental or moral nature. These reproaches of backwardness should at least be reserved till they can be uttered from a point of real
advance. Perhaps, too, the test by which the fruitfulness or sterility of a pursuit is estimated by Comte may not be altogether admissible. His demand obviously is for some new field of 'prevision' special to psychology : the demand is disappointed, because intrinsically unreason- able. From objective studies we expect objective results ; from sub- jective studies it is natural to look for subjective results ; not so much for afresh sphere brought into knowledge, as for a more refined knowing power, for quickened faculties self-protected from beguiling errors, for intellec- tual implements of more ethereal temper and disciplined skill. That this appropriate effect of reflective studies has been their habitual attendant, is undeniable; every period of intense speculative activity being the precursor of the next advance of even physical science, and educating the faculties up to the point when the discovery of new laws becomes possible ; setting the previous gains of human research in due order and relation, and preparing language and method for new service. Alternately acting and studying its action, the mind, whether by systole or diastole, sustains the pulsation of its living thought ; and to demand the one operation without the other, is not less absurd than to complain that the heart does not always propel without resilience. Nor is it only in the successive periods of human culture that this need of reflective studies is observable. No fact is more conspicuous in individual biography and the comparative experiences of education, than the sys- tematic superiority, in pliancy and balance of faculty, of men not strange to metaphysical and moral studies, over those who never quit the circle of mathematical relations and physical laws. Were the methods of intellectual and moral philosophy altogether illusory, it is inconceivable that a certain habituation to them should be an indispensable gymnastic for the mind, and a needful check to the narrowing tendency of the 'positive sciences,' when exclusively pursued."
That seems to us as complete an answer as it is possible to give. We doubt if any one uses words with precision in relation to his meaning at all, who has not had some considerable education in the art of discriminating his own meaning from all the vaguely allied notions. As a rule, men take a shot at their real meaning, and usually miss it, often miss the target altogether, always the bull's-eye, unless they have had some metaphysical culture. Comte, for instance, constantly shows the want of the culture he despised. Mr. Martineau quotes a good instance of this in relation to the doctrine we have just been criticizing :- "In spite of Comte's contempt for psychology, he is one of the most resolute of psychologists himself; and freely appeals, when convenient, to that very self-consciousness which at other times he declares to be quite blank and dumb. Thus we find him announcing that the phe- nomena of life' are 'known by immediate consciousness' (Phil. Pos., vol. ii., p. 648; vol. iii., p. 8); an assertion standing in accurate contradiction to the doctrine on which we have been commenting. Nay, so completely does be forget his denial of any possible self-knowledge, as to affirm, when required for his purpose, that' man at first knows nothing but him- self'—so as to apply his self-knowledge as a universal formula for the interpretation of nature. But how could man erect his self-conscious- ness into a rule for explaining all phenomena, if no inward fact were cognizable by him at all? Perhaps, however, it is only since monotheism came in, that psychology has become impossible and absurd ; for, while denying it to modern metaphysicians, Comte is frill of admiration of its use among the ancient augurs. He claims for polytheism the honour of instituting the first careful observation of nature ; laments that we have to put up with our poor meteorological registers in place of the far superior weather tables of the Etruscan soothsayers ; and affirms that, with a view to the interpretation of dreams, the intellectual and moral phenomena were made the subject of the most delicate observations, pursued day by day with a perseverance not to be again expected till the positive philosophy has reached its final development. (Phil. Pos., vol. v., p. 135.) It is to be presumed that, as dreams are altogether inward facts, this marvellous store of scientific observation accumulated in their service, and throwing light on the intellectual and moral life, could be no other than psychological capital. How is it that it may be invested in Divination; but must be inaccessible to Science, at least until Posi- tivism finds a profitable use for it?"
Finally we cannot help quoting from the very fine essay on Mr. Bain the exposure of the abominable and utterly unscientific jargon into which the physiological metaphysicians (if we may use the term) fall, by virtue of their foolish aversion to keep mental and physical facts properly apart :— " Dr. Hartley's theory of Vibrations was not, in our judgment, a more questionable incumbrance on his doctrine of Association, than Mr. Bain's corrector physiological exposition on his subsequent intellectual analyses. While it throws not a ray of real light into them, it tinctures them with a language of materialistic description at once unphilosophical and repulsive. When we are told of the high charge of nervous power' needful for susceptibility to delicate emotions,'—of the numerous currents of the brain ' involved in wandering of the thoughts,'—of the
full development of a wave of emotion' from the cerebral centres,'— of the eminently glandular' nature of 'the tender affections ;'—when it is observed that 'Irascibility may draw to itself a large share of the vital sap ;'—and that the tender emotion usurps largely a great portion of mankind, being so alimented by the natural conformation of the system as to maintain its characteristic wave with considerable persist- ence,' and that this gives great capacity for the affections,' especially with 'requisite support' from the structure of the glandular organs ;'— we lose all sense of psychological truth, and no more know ourselves again than if, on looking in the glass, we were to see an anatomical figure staring at us. There is no more occasion for such phraseology than for an artist to paint his Madonna with the skin off. It is recommended neither by scientific precision, nor by illustrative good taste. The one only excellence of psychological description is to speak truly and search- ingly to our self-consciousness: and of vital sap, and high charges, and Ittrverful currents, and diffusive waves, we certainly are not conscious : vrf do we know of any writer resorting to this style of exposition, with-
out forfeiture of all fineness and sharpness in his delineations of spiritual
facts, and quite degenerating from the purity of Berkeley, the neatness of Stewart, the severity of Kant, the transparency of .Thuffroy."
Professor Martineau is not one of those who undervalue the physiological antecedents of mental states. The true psycho- logist, he says, "is well aware that the light of discovered order radiates forwards as well as backwards, and that if unifor- mities of successions or co-existences can be discovered in the physical condition, they will become exponents of similar relations among the mental facts. He simply leaves this in- direct method of classification to the physiologist, and himself resorts to the direct, willinglyavailing himself of every help supplied by researches into the vital organism, and giving no countenance to the narrow-minded assumption that the selection of one order of relations for special attention is a disparagement of another." But it is obvious that before you can discuss the physiological antecedents of mental phenomena at all, you must know the mental phenomena directly, or how could you construe the physiological signs into the mental equivalents ? The physiologists pride them- selves, for instance, on the distinction between the motory and sensory nerves,—but how could they have discriminated the nerves, had not psychologists first discriminated the active from the sensitive states of the mind ? Thus it is obvious that the very facts by the aid of which the physiological school propose to supersede mental classifications themselves involve mental classifi- cations, and mental classifications of a far higher order of certainty than the physical classifications by which they propose in future to supersede them.
We have illustrated Mr. Martineau's remarkable philosophical power by the discussion of but one small point among the many which are thoroughly and most ably examined in these Essays. But in all alike the reader finds the impress of the same power- ful mind,—of an intellect that holds abstract ideas and abstract truth with greater force and precision, and with far greater reality of thought, than any other living English thinker,—an intellect that has grappled as long and as powerfully with the higher problems of philosophy as our greatest statesmen with the higher problems of political life,—an intellect that has probably given more weeks of subtle analysis and profound reflection to examining the great positions of the different metaphysical schools, and to deciding which are tenable and which are untenable, than Stephenson gave to his first line of railroad, or Cavour to the policy by which the future of Italy was made. It is by such thinkers as these, who strain their thoughts after abstract truth apparently without influence on the world and even with- out meaning for one man in a thousand, that the great thoughts which move the intellect of the world are prepared for the birth. Other and more popular minds are needed to translate them to the million, but it is thinkers like Mr. Martineau who first rouse the disinterested enthusiasmfor pure philosophical truthin the student's mind, and awaken that eager intellectual life which, once in exist- ence, must ever after distinguish all who have it from the merely practical men, to whom abstract questions of truth and falsehood are mere curious riddles until they begin to have some obvious bearing on wealth, or private happiness, or social estimation, or the power for which ambition longs.