THE WILL AND THE SENSES.*
Bone the books whose titles are given below deserve to be read by those who take an interest in the questions treated of in them. Each is the work of a writer well acquainted with his subject, each deals with his subject in a lucid manner, and with a dis- position to do justice to the opinions he combats, and both compress their matter into a very moderate compass. To us, however, their main interest lies in their illustrating a tendency to agreement which, we believe, to be growing up under appa- rently irreconcilable differences, among the students of metaphysics, owing to the growing clearness -with which they appreciate the weak as well as the strong points in rival systems of thought. To this concordant tendency Dr. Travis avowedly lays claim, and that in virtue of a principle which, when fully understood, seems to form a bond of union between the opposite schools of philo- sophy represented by Mr. Stirling and Mr: J. S. Mill, whose discussion of Sir W. Hamilton's doctrines we reviewed at length last summer.
Dr. Travis deals with the most important questions of the inner life of man. Do our characters depend to any, and what, extent on ourselves ? Are our actions the result of our free agency, or are they to be attributed to an action upon us which we cannot regulate? The common sense of man- kind, speaking through their laws, has uniformly pronounced in favour of free agency. It has held every sane man responsible for all his acts not done under physical compulsion, because it has assumed that, however strong the temptation presented to the man to overstep the limits prescribed to his acts by the law, he always could have kept within them ; and it has held him to possess the power to modify his habits, and thus gradually influence his thoughts and feelings. Dr. Travis arrives at the same conclusion by a road longer than the short cut of common sense, but care- fully guarded against various bypaths, attractive at first but ending in bogs or labyrinths, into which the intellect is liable to stray when it begins to ask what proof it has that the road of common sense is the road to truth. He was long perplexed by the subtle reason- ing employed by Mr. Mill with consummate skill, in the work to which we have referred, to disprove the existence of that self- determining will of which in the same work he affords, by his noble protest against the religion of fear, one of the most striking modern instances. He had analyzed will into the consequences of motives, and motives into a contest of strength between impulses over which man has no control, and hence denying that man is a free agent, had endeavoured to justify the practice of common sense by what excuses he best could. But the consciousness of freedom obstinately survived the logic which sought to refute it, and Dr. Travis now points out a way of escape, through the consideration that although we cannot control the affections acting upon our organization at any particular moment, we may indefinitely increase or diminish the force of any one, by dwelling or refusing to dwell upon the thoughts adapted to keep it before our minds. By this spontaneous power, says Dr. Travis, man can gradually moula his character, and is therefore a free agent, not in the sense of being able to withdraw himself from the law of causality, but * Moral Freedom Reconciled with Causation. By Henry Traria, M.D. London Longman& 1885. Sir- W. Hamilton, bang the Philosophy of rerception. By James HutchinsOn Stirling. London: Longman& 1885. because these acts of attention are one of the causes by which his character at any particular instant is formed.
The theory is after all only an expansion of the Aristotelian doctrine, that by acting we strengthen the energy which enables. us to act; and Dr. Travis forms, we think, too sanguine expecta- tions of the immense good to arise from the philosophical recogni- tion of a principle on which most sensible men have always instinctively acted ; yet the acknowledgment that the principle of spontaneity is an element in the theory of causation, coming from
one long swayed to an opposite conclusion by the logical objections adduced against the freedom of the will, is a significant fact. It
is also a fact wherein it is satisfactory to find Professor Bain in agreement with Dr. Travis ; one conclusion of his profound re- searches into the physiology of the mind being that the human organism possesses a force of spontaneous movement as well as a.
capacity of passive sensibility, a power of generating active nerve- currents from within outwards, as well as a liability to sensitive
nerve-currents from without inwards. Still we fear that these statements do not carry us quite beyond the range of the neces- sitarian skirmishers. Since a reasonable will must be able to give a reason for its acts, the claim of motives acting from without to cause our action may steal in under the guise of showing why we attend to one thought rather than another, and dash the cup of freedom from our lips at the moment when we hoped to quaff it in safety. To make Dr. Travis's position thoroughly defensible,. we require to show that there is some internal principle of action belonging to our minds, which accounts for our acts of attention
without recourse to any external motive. We think that such a principle may be proved to exist, by the fact that what the mine takes to pieces it has always first put together, that the reflections of
thought always relate to previous constructions of the imagination.. Our space forbids our doing more than state this principle, which,.
simple as it may appear, nevertheless casts a marvellous light on many of the obscurest questions of metaphysics, not least on this. question of the freedom of the will. Construction implies selec- tion and arrangement. Now these are essentially free acts, because they involve the power of rejection. The bird chooses and com- bines the materials for its nest according to an idea supplied by ita own mind, throwing aside those unsuitable to its purposes. Its. range of selection may be limited, but within these limits its choice is free. Now in man this constructive power is unlimited.. His imagination determines alike ends and means, under the guid- ance of principles admitting the widest scope, ideas of utility, beauty, harmony, unity, &c. If the will which sways such a.
faculty is not free, what does freedom mean? If it is free, then acts of attention, which are one form of selective power, logically involve the freedom claimed for them by Dr. Travis.
We proceed to show the light cast by this same principle on the opposing philosophies of Mr. Mill and Mr. Stirling, in relation to that of Sir W. Hamilton. Mr. Mill is the ablest living defender of the doctrine that all our knowledge concerns something entirely external to that which in us is capable of knowing ; even the certainties of mathematics he ascribes to generalization from an experience uniformly pointing the same way. Mr. Stirling ia a powerful champion of the theory built up by Hegel on the foundation laid by Kant, that sensation presents to our intelligence only the concrete results of a process constituting our own think- ing being, a process which we can detect by studying the action of thought in ourselves, and thence follow out into nature, where thought externalizes itself, and back again through the maze of man's religious and philosophical history, to the point where men grow conscious of this vast divine movement ever going on within and without their intelligence, and learn to trace its great outlines into their connected details. Sir W. Hamilton took up a position of apparent see-saw between these opposite schools.
If our knowledge is only what Mr. Mill asserts, it must be entirely relative to our sensations or emotions, and there is no.
possibility of our ever knowing what is at the bottom of them. If our knowledge is what Hegel and Mr. Stirling assert, it is in ita nature absolute ; we may know little, but what we do know is. knowledge not only of what to our faculty of intelligence appears. to be, but of what is in itself.
Now Sir W. Hamilton declares our knowledge to be at once relative and absolute, dependent upon the nature of our perceptive faculties, and therefore relative, yet in the most important particu- lars an immediate knowledge of the thing perceived, and therefore absolute, i. e., a something which can change only if the thing to be known changes, as our thoughts may change, but while they con- tinue are known to us as they are in themselves. And these conflicting assertions Sir William flings at us, on the strength of the alleged authority of consciousness, from which, though quietly
netting it aside whenever it is inconvenient to himself, he will allow no appeal by any other thinker. 'Hence his philosophy is very open to attack, and attatked it is most vigorously by both- the writers we have named,—by Mr. Mill because Sir William-claims ' for part of our knowledge an authority surpassing the limits of experience; by Mr. Stirling, became he treats this part as merely -relative to our faculties, and contemptuously rejects the evidence proving for it a higher character.
The difference of position taken in these attacks -gives to. Mr. -Stirling's criticism an interest not destroyed by an acquaintance -with that of Mr. Mill, while -we may learn from it much more 'clearly the relation of Sir William's philosophy to that of -Kant, and what advance Sir William supposed himself to have mnde on that great German thinker. But supposing -the two assailants to have sunk Hamilton, they must continue to blaze at each other, (unless they can be brought to look on themselves as consorts -who have sailed from the same port in opposite directions. We shall endeavour to show that this is their true character, and by the same argument- to prove that Sir William's vessel is also a friendly ship entitled to sail-on in their company.
'Mr. Mill most candidly admits that his theory does not explain -how man's intelligence can do what -it certainly -does. It receives A -knowledge of something essentially transitory and local, and transforms it into something assumed to be permanent and bound- less. It receives a knowledge of appearances, and transforms it into conceptions of that which underlies appearance, and is known -only through its effects. The astronomer stretches into boundless- ness the space which to sensation is always bounded, and sees in the changing phenomena of falling-bodies the proof of an invisible, Aver present power-of attraction. The-geologist expands into em- • numbered.myriads of -ages-the existence present to his senses, and peoples it with a long succession of living forms which no human eye Aver beheld. The optician reads in the fading colour the effects of an unceasing series of motions, in rapidity-and-minuteness as far sur- passing his powers of perception as the distances assigned by the Astronomer to the stars surpass his powers of locomotion. Every- -inhere we find that our-intelligence gives to the sensations -perceived -by it a unity not perceived, but conceived. It binds them up -according to the laws of its own imaginative power, and is 'constantly occupied with conclusions depending entirely -upon the Analysis of -what it has thus brought together. 'Surely, then, if we deal fairly-with the- teachings -of experience, -we must admit that 'ear-intelligence possesses something beyond a bare power of re- flection, namely, a power of construction, -which, -applied to the -materials 'furnished by sense, can build -up for itself worlds -of 4' possible sensations ;"-as applied to the materials furnished by its own movements, it can build up for itself a world of absolute 'certainties in the-science of mathematics.
-Now, -when -we have got thus far, we have quietly passed into the sphere of Hegelian- ideas. For Hagel's philosophy undertakes to prove that our intelligence does possess suah a constructive power, by showing how the universe is -perpetually built up by -the ever present action of- thought, through a law of movement, which Hegel imagined that we can get hold of by studying it in our own minds, under its most abstract and therefore universal -expression, and can- then- follow through all the stages of its -eternal-self-realization in the universe back into our own power of -perception. Bat.a philosophy which professes to -deduce the concrete realities manifested to -us - by sensation out of a pro- ows of thought, -can not consistently-refuse the right of appeal to those-realities to test the correctness of its deductions. It claims or -thought the power of leading us down from the heights of 'speculative abstraction to the level -ground of common experi- ence. But then it must be possible for our guide to take us up the road by which we-have come down. Hegel, by his claim to bare made perception transparent to thought, inevitably sends us to perception to satisfy ourselves that this transparency exists..
Thus,--if Mill conducts us to Hegel, Hegel brings us back to Mill, and if we look into both systems impartially we may us- .cover-that each really covers the weak parts of the other. Hegel fails to-make-the details of sensible phenomena intelligible. Mill's system is the generalization of that scientific method through which these phenomena are every day more and more reduced under the obedience of our intelligence. Mill, then, is the true guide to the philosophy of the external ; but Mill fails to explain satisfactorily whence the mini obtains its notions of space, time, substance, causality, &c., or how it is able to retain past and anticipate future sensations. For the philosophy of these internal- effects we must turn to the constructive mental action traced by Hegel. . . Then we learn that these notions are only expressions -of what this action invelves. They are found in all our thoughts
of objects, because they belong to the process on which thought depends: and -we can recall or anticipate sensation because our sensations are only materials used by our imagination to build -up its own edifices, and capable of being replaced more or leas perfectly by its spontaneous movements when the external agency is wanting.
In the sketch of Hegel's philosophy presented here we have supplied what we consider to be its radical defect, namely, the ascribing to thought, which we take to be essentially reflective, the constructive action belonging to the imagination. This sup- plement is necessary, in -our judgment, to save Hegel's universe from the imputation -of being utterly hollow, a vast pile of reflections with nothing on which to eeflect ; and it --is needed, also, to establish the true relation of thought to sensation. The constructive action of the imagination is obviously the internal application of the -power echiels enables us to originate motion externally. Now physiology tesohes us that all our sensations are only -modes of motion. Through our sensa- tions, then, we become aware of motions originating; not in our own spontaneous power, but in some power acting upon it, evhich we by the constructive spontaneity of our imaginations bring together into objects of thought. "In reality each of us therefore forms his own world for himself. But whether this world corresponds to that which causes the sensations thus combined we can tell only by careful observation. The very freedom-of. selection and com- bination possessed by our imagination makes it impossible for us -to rely upon its constructions as true presentations of the external universe, till by long testing we have found that our,conceptions and our perceptions fit. . And yet this action from without is truly, of the same kind with the reaction from within. Modern science appears to be coming to the conclusion that the so-called elements of matter are only centres of motions diversely combineel. Nature, then, is the expression of a power which acts as do our imaginations, so that the study of her phenomena to which Mill sends us must ultimately bring us to the goal sought by Hegel, where the gates of the great mystery of existence-will open before our eyes, to disclase—the Being made known to us by consciousness.
Once more, sin e:e all motion involves the notion of extension, we gain in the conception explained above an intelligible founda- tion for that immediate conviction of an external reality, and that direct consciousness of the so-called primary qualities of things, which Sir William Hamilton asserts. And yet, since this percep- tion depends entirely upon the power of our nervous system to take up and .transmit different modes of motion, fill this immediate knowledge is essentially relative.
Dr. Tyndal has recently shown that the optic nerve is insensible to waves of heat many millions of times more intense than waves of light to which it is perfectly sensitive. It lets the one through, but takes up the other, because the rates of its own movements accord with the latter, but differ from the former. So with every other.sense. Each conveys to the united faculty of imagination and reflection constituting our intelligence some peculiar succession of movements. Out of these our imaginations, by their spontaneous energy, construct what Sir William Hamilton calls "concepts," which reflection analyzes. By that analysis we make the external world intelligible toourselves; and at the same time bring to light the links of that internal combining power residing inourselves, which by their unchangeableness and universality form the base of-meta- physical science, while by their subtle interblending they have given rise to its manifold perplexities. E.