13 JANUARY 1855, Page 21


PROFESSOR FERRIER'S INSTITUTES OF METAPHYSIC.* METAPHYSIC, in this country, is habitually extended to cover the ground occupied by Logic and Psychology as well as its own pro- per region. But, strictly speaking, while Logic enunciates the uni- versal laws of rational human thinking, and Psychology describes the processes of all mental action that comes within the range of human experience, Metaphysic has to deal with the actual constitution of things in themselves, out of all relation to our think- ing or perceptive faculties,—with the ground of all phenomena, whether they are outward and apprehended by our senses, or in- ward and known only by an act of immediate consciousness. It is not difficult to understand how. inquiry took this direction from the earliest known period of history, and how men have ever since pursued the same path, undeterred by the utter failure of their predecessors to make good a footing or even to indicate a method. The world about us never remains the same for two moments to- gether ; the world of consciousness within is subject to a similar law of incessant change ; yet we are persuaded that the objects we look upon exist independently of our perceptions, and we recog- nize in ourselves a permanent and invariable element in the midst of perpetual fluctuation. The conception of something that endured amid all the changes experienced both in the outward and in- ward consciousness, must have very soon arisen among men as a simple result of reflection upon every-day experience • and once conceived, however dimly and vaguely, it would naturally become the object of curious and anxious thought. Whether this process came in only to confirm and give a practical meaning to a revela- tion of the Supreme Being made in some other way to our infant race, or whether it constituted itself the mode and instrument of that revelation, makes no great difference to our present object. ' Certain it is that this tendency to speculate on that which is per- =anent amid the changing, would easily ally itself with the con- - cept of a personal God or Gods, and that the two concepts would aid in preserving each other from forgetfulness and decay. Re- ligion and Metaphysic are in truth but the two sides of man's na- ture, the practical and the speculative—tending towards the same object, that real absolute Being in whom heart and reason may re- pose in fulness of satisfaction for the demands of both. Till both are so satisfied, it seems not likely that either religion or meta- - physic will consent to be demonstrated out of existence or activity : the only annihilation possible for them is an apotheosis, when,

• attaining full fruition of their object, they will change their most obvious characteristic, which is longing and seeking for an object not yet clearly seen or steadfastly grasped.

In spite, therefore, of uniform experience, which warns us that all attempts to solve the problem of Being have been failures,—in spite of the a priori difficulty that we can only know and think under the conditioning laws of human knowing and human think- ing, and that consequently neither knowledge nor thought of what things are out of relation to our minds would seem possible,—we cannot witness any fresh attempt in this direction without sym- pathy for the inquirer, and interest in the results he attains or fancies he attains. We know with tolerable certainty beforehand that he will either fly away on fancy's wing to a limbo of pure emptiness or, if of a more trained and rigorous intellect, will un- consciously mistake the formal laws of thought and knowledge for objective realities binding the universe and even God himself in moulds from 'which they cannot escape. Plato was often in one of these regions, Hegel was never out of the other. If direct positive results were always and the only measure of utility, a class of writers whose inevitable destiny is either this Scylla or that Charybdis would certainly be useless, however entertaining to students of human delusions. But in human pursuits gene- rally, the direct result is less valuable than the training and exercise of the pursuit, or the unexpected treasures which turn up by the way : and this has been eminently true of metaphysical inquiry ; to which, though we owe no one well-established fact or confirmation of an instinctive belief, we are indebted for a fine and powerful analysis, which, embodying its results in language, ren- ders human speech more and more articulate—enables us ever to frame our questions to the Universe-Sphinx more cunningly—to see more and more clearly where the ultimate mystery lies, what are the boundaries of finite • intelligence, and where belief, trust, love, must arrest Reason hanging over the abyss, where they can find a medium buoyant enough for their wings, but her foot would sink like lead into the unfathomable darkness.

The noticeable points in Professor Ferrier's Theory of Knowing and Being are, the startling confidence with which he announces a solution of difficulties which have hitherto baffled all philoso-

• Institutes of Metaphysic ; the Theory of Knowing and Being. By James F. Ferrier, A.B., Oxon, Professor of Moral Philosophy and Political Economy, St. An- drews. Published by Blackwood and Sons.

phers—the rigorously demor strative form which he gives to his argument—the self-evident sharacter of the principle from which he sets out—the clear and vigorous style in which he writes—the felicity of his illustrations—and, we regret but are not surprised to be compelled to add, the disastrous failure of his conclusion, the complete break-down of the bridge by which he passes from Knowing to Being, from a condition binding upon finite intelli- gence to a condition binding absolute existence.

An excellently-written introduction discusses the cause of the different opinions which have ever existed, and continue to exist, among philosophers. It maintains the main cause to be, that they have not gone to the root of the matters in dispute ; that they have attempted to answer questions in the order in which they arise, not perceiving that the first question that occurs to a man is the most complex, is but a mere mask of another, it of an- other, and so till the very ultimate question of all comes to be asked, and turns out to be, What can we know ? what are the con- ditions of Knowing ? Till this is settled, it is vain to ask what are Being and the conditions of Being; because, though these lat- ter may be quite independent of the former, it is plain that any knowledge of Being must be dependent on the universal conditions of knowledge in general. We have but one fault to find with the introduction—it does not enter at all adequately upon the motives and origin of metaphysical inquiry ; a branch of the subject which would throw a strong light on the real meaning of most of those controversies that afterwards are found to arise in the course of speculation—controversies that seem to be 'many of them very idle logomachies, till their relation to the original wants which guided inquiry in their direction is fully made out.

Mr. Ferrier having settled that the deepest question of all specie- lationis "What is knowledge ? under what conditions is all in- telligence bound ?" proceeds to lay down the answer in the propo- sitions of what he calls the Epistemology or Institutes of Knowing. Ile puts the question into the following definite form- " What is the one feature which is identical, invariable, and essential, in all the varieties of our knowledge ? What is the standard factor which never varies while all else varies ? What is the ens unum in omnibus

notitiis ?"

Ms first proposition, which he does not pretend to demonstrate, but simply to explain, is indeed, as we said, apparently self-evi- dent. It is, that "along with whatever any intelligence knows, it must, as the ground or condition of its knowledge, have some cog- nizance of itself." Couple this with another statement—that no mind, ego, me, subject, (for all these terms he uses indiscriminately and as synonyms of intelligence,) can apprehend itself in a state of pure indetermination : and we get as the basis of the system the folloting twofold axiom—that no mind can apprehend not-self without apprehending itself, or apprehend itself without appre- hending not-self. We do not mean that Mr. Ferrier has put down this proposition in so many words as his starting-point, but we have this form eliminated from much talk. The argument then proceeds by rapid strides, if we touch only the salient points, though the talk fills nearly five hundred pages. Since apprehension of thing involves apprehension of self, and apprehension of self apprehen- sion of thing, it follows that the minimum of knowledge, and of thought as representative of knowledge, consists of two factors— self, and something that is not-self, be the latter a sensible object or a determination of the self. Of these two factors, the former— the self—is permanent, invariable, universal in all cognitions ; the latter—the not-self—is transient, variable, changes in each cog- nition. Thus we attain a predicate that can be affirmed of all knowledge, and find the answer to the question raised.

But absolute Being is either that which some intelligence can by possibility know, or that which no intelligence can know. As, however, there is nothing contradictory in the notion of absolute Being, it follows that it must be potentially at least apprehensible by intelligence. But for whatever knowledge any intelligence can attain, a predicate has been found in the universal and necessary condition that all knowledge must consist of the two factors self and not-self in synthesis. This condition, therefore, must apply to knowledge of absolute Being as well as to other knowledge. The intelligence which apprehends absolute Being must apprehend it in synthesis with the apprehending self. But unless the universe has always been apprehended by some intelligence, it must at some time have been purely contradictory,—as matter not in syn- thesis with some intelligence is strictly called,—and this cannot be allowed. Therefore it has always been so apprehended, and there must always have been intelligence to apprehend it; and this amounts to a demonstration of the eternal existence of

synthesis-with-things. In other words, absolute Being is from eternity, and we can predicate of it that it is Mind-in-synthesis- with-things.

This result Mr. Ferrier calls "the crowning truth of the onto- logy." We are not conscious of having omitted a single essential link in his demonstration, though we have necessarily weakened the power of persuasion which a fluent style and abundant illus-

trations lend to his exhibition of his system. It appears marvellous to us that a clever man can have seduced himself into seeing in this so-called demonstration any argumentative force whatever. It begins with a latent flew, which at the close widens into an im- passable gulf between the premiss and the conclusion ; as we will proceed to show. The first proposition, so seemingly self-evident and harmless, involves the assertion, be it a fallacy or not, that there is no infinite mind. Infinite has no strict meaning if it can be applied to a mind which defines the universe into self +not-self. We are not disposed to dwell on speculations which aim at render- ing God intelligible ; but if we use such terms as finite and infinite at all, let us be careful to use them with some sense of what is implied by them. The first proposition, therefore, requires to be stated with the following limitation. "No intelligence which ap- prehends under the fundamental distinctions of self and not-self, can apprehend either without at the same time apprehending its correlative." If this law of double consciousness, as we may be

allowed to call it, be applied in detail, we retain Mr. Ferrier's con- clusions as to the minimum of knowledge, (finite knowledge, be it still remembered,) consisting of two factors in synthesis, all his valuable and highly interesting criticisms on the great philosophi- cal controversies viewed under the light of this law, and his uni- versal predicate of finite cognition. Let us then proceed to the problem of Being, with our predicate thus corrected by limitation. Absolute Being is either that which no finite intelligence can know, or that which some finite intelligence may know. If it can be known by such intelligence, the knowledge of it must consist of the two factors of which it has been shown that all knowledge of which finite intelligence is capable consists. If it cannot be so known, we call it the inconceivable. So far, we get no light upon the problem of absolute Being, except what is involved in the assertion that whatever is known of it must be known according to the condition- ing laws of knowledge ; and this evidently does not touoh the pro- blem of Being, but only that of Knowing,—a fact which Dir. Ferrier, however, nowhere perceives, lie is perpetually deluded by the ambiguity that lurks in the phrase what we know, as im- plying both our cognition and the unknown not-self which enters as one factor into that cognition. Can we not, however, assert positively that absolute Being is the inconceivable ? It seems to us that we can, and must if Mr. Ferrier's first proposition is true. By that proposition, whatever cannot be apprehended by. the mind in synthesis with itself and vet as distinguishable from itself, is the utterly unintelligible. We accept the proposition, and assert that absolute Being cannot be so apprehended, either by the Su- preme Intelligence as transcending all distinctions, or by finite intelligence, because it can never separate itself in reflection from the chain of causes by which it is linked on to absolute Being. Or, to put it in another form, the concept of absolute Being in- volves the concept of an absolute beginning in time, or that of an existence wholly independent of time. Mr. Ferrier may have one or both of these positive conceptions, but we ourselves have them not, and never knew any one that had them. To us they appear impossible to all beings whose mental states are conditioned by time ; and to all such beings the conception of absolute Being is impossible, however familiarly they may use phrases about it. No doubt, absolute Being is intelligible to the Supreme Mind—to that mind which transcends all the limiting conditions of finite intelli- gence, which is "the beginning and the end," the "all in all" : but Mr. Ferrier has only shown his own audacity in attempting to extend a necessary law of finite thought to this intelligence, and has fur- nished the best testimony to the wisdom of Immanuel Kant, whom he frequently condemns for having limited his necessary laws of reason to such reasonable beings as we are acquainted with. We must end as we began, by saying, that, in our opinion, a more complete break-down has not of late years been exhibited in public by a man of great talent, as Mr. Ferrier unquestionably is, and as this book furnishes abundant proof that he is. We regret that the space of a weekly newspaper is not adequate to doing full justice even to the argumentative force of a series of dependent proposi- tions; but we have honestly endeavoured to draw out the really essential links of the chain. Of the many interesting disquisitions that are contained in the copmentaries that follow each proposi- tion we can say nothing but that they are interesting, and throw much new light on the philosophic controversies they deal with. We will quote a single passage from the Introduction, which gives excellently one main reason for the obscurity of metaphysical writers, and has an extended applicability beyond metaphysics, to all books written to establish truth on the ruins of error. -

"Even a slight acquaintance with the history of philosophy may satisfy any one that the neglect to place the truths to be learned in prominent and conspicuous contrast with the errors to be relinquished, has been the cause, for the most part, of the unintelligibility of all previous speculations. Why are the Platonic ideas' generally unintelligible ? Simply because Plato has not told us distinctly, and because no one knows exactly, what natural opinion this doctrine was advanced to controvert. Why is the unica substantia ' of Spinoza still without a meaning ? For precisely the same reason ; we do not exactly know what popular delusion it stands opposed to. Why are the monads' of Leibnitz, and the 'preUstablished harmony' of the same philo- sopher, still without a key, or provided only with one which will not fit the wards of the lock ? Just because he has not shown us distinctly what inad- vertencies of common thought these doctrines were designed to take the place of. Why is Hegel impenetrable, almost throughout, as a mountain of adamant ? Because he has nowhere set before us and explained the prevalent errors which, for aught we know to the contrary, he may, like a gigantic boa-constrictor, be crushing within its folds. He may be breaking every bone in their body in his stringent circumvolutions, but we do not know that ; for he treats us to no observations bearing directly, or even bearing remotely, on the natural opinions which his doctrines are, no doubt, in some obscure and unexplained fashion of their own, intended to subvert." Perhaps we shall be doing Mr. Ferrier more justice by allowing him to state in his own words the summary results of his Epis- temology, than by quoting any ,passage more interesting in itself. "The main result of the epistemology is this: in answer to the question, what is knowledge or knowing? it replies, that all knowing is the apprehen- sion of oneself along,with all that one apprehends. This cognizance of self in addition to whatever things, or thoughts, we may be cognizant of—this, and this alone, is knowledge. In answer to the question, what is known? it replies, that ob'ect-Esubject—things or thoughts mecum—constitute the only object which it is possible for any intelligence to know : further, that this synthesis constitutes the only object which it is possible for any intelligence to conceive or think of; because there can be a conception only of that of which the i type or pattern may possible be given: in cognition ; further, that the only way n which it is possible for any individual intel- ligence to transcend his own consmoursness of himself and things, s by con- ceiving the total synthesis of which he himself is conscious repeated or mul- tiplied, either with or without certain variations; in other words, by con- ceiving other intelligences conscious of themselves in the same way in which


he s conscious of himself, and cognizant of things either as he is cognizant of them, or in ways of which he is totally ignorant : no consciousness can transcend itself in any other way than this, without falling sheer over into the abyss of the contradictory : but the mode of transcendence which these Institutes contend for, as the only possible mode, is quite easy and legiti- mate, and is as satisfactory as any that could be desired ; indeed, much more satisfactory, both in itself and in its conclusions, than the contradictory transcendence of consciousness (the transcendence, namely, by which it as supposed to pass out of and beyond itself, and to, lay hold of material things in a state of absolute secernment from itself) for which psychology usually contends : further, in answer to the question, what is absolutely unknown and unknowable? it replies that everything without a me ' known along with it, and that every 'me' without a thing or thought known along with it, is absolutely unknown and unknowable ; in other words, that the two factors (universal and particular) which are required to constitute every cognition present nothing but contradictions to the mind when taken sing:s- karn, or apart from one another."

If this proves to our readers how imperfect our_ analysis of the author's argument has been, it gives them an opportunity of seeing at a glance what the essentials of that argument are, and how far what we have omitted to notice bears upon the "crowning pro- blem."