17 APRIL 1880, Page 18



WE have endeavoured, in a previous article, to set before the reader that portion of Mr. Balfour's argument which seems -to us at once most easily apprehended and most directly connected with the aim of his work,—that aim being, if we have rightly understood it, a demonstration that Science is not possible, unless we take our start from assumptions neither unquestioned, like the axioms of geometry, nor demonstrable, like its theorems ; and that the difficulties supposed to invalidate one kind of ultimate truth, therefore, are really applicable to all. We would now follow the steps of our author rather as imitator than as critic, and turning from the book to the problem it opens, would ask,—What are the ultimate grounds of that which we may be said to know ? What is the gradation in which our thoughts, beliefs, convictions—call them what you will—approach to certainty ?

As to one point, there is no difference of opinion,—the -very type of certainty is taken from the evidence of the senses. Yet it cannot be said that their reports convey to us information about the external world of an exactly equal degree of trustworthiness. Perception, says Mr. Spencer, may be regarded as filling up the space between sensa- tion and reasoning ; and we have sometimes thought that the senses might, from this point of view, be arranged on a -scale corresponding to the spectrum, in which the heat-rays should be represented by pure sensation, the chemical rays at the other end by pure reasoning, the scale of colour itself representing the five senses The gradation is not in both cases equally regular, and different persons would have different opinions as to its amount, but we believe most would agree with as in assigning hearing to the subjective end of the scale. Audible impressions are, in fact, connected with an external -cause by a purely intellectual link, and there are noises which we learn by experience to have no external cause whatever. Silence is not the habitual condition of every one in the absence of external sound, as darkness is in the absence of illumination. Any impression on the sight equally positive with a singing in the ears stands in a much more obvious connection with some external cause (such as recent contemplation of a brilliant light), and it is much more easy to imagine some slight sound, than to be similarly deceived in the case of sight. Sight is indeed the purely objective sense, and as such has become the type of all perception. It borders on intellect, as hearing borders -on sensation ; a mere sound is, almost as much as odour, either agreeable or disagreeable; a simple colour is to a healthy eye, as a matter of sensation, neither the one nor the other. In the impressions of the ear the element of feeling predominates, in the impressions of the eye that of knowing ; and we find, accordingly, that hearing shares with all feeling an almost -exclusive relation to time ; we hear sound in time, as we see objects in space. Its "form of intuition" is that of the in- ternal sense. A person who was not at all deaf would not necessarily know even that he heard with his ears. No local idea is necessarily suggested by anything audible, and if we had only the sense of hearing, it is hard to conceive how any notion -of space could ever be acquired by us.

We know not if what seems to us an important connection between this subjective character of the sense of sound and another, in which it stands alone, has ever been dwelt upon. Hearing is the only one of the five senses entirely dissociated (among human beings) with muscular effort. Of course, we often change our position with a view either to avoid or approach a -source of sound, but in this case our guide of direction is the eye. In hearing alone of the five senses we are absolutely passive.

• A Defence of Philosophic Doubt. By Arthur James Balfour. London Mac. milieu and 0o. The muscular sense may be subserved to this object, as to all intellectual objects, but there is no unconscious, habitual connec- tion between them, like that between sight and the movement of the eyes. Now, the muscular sense, we believe, is the only simple sensation in which we never mistake a subjective for an objective fact. It is to its association with this that touch owes all its objectivity. If the back of the hand has been brushed by an insect's wing, for instance, or any other light object which does not awaken the sense of resistance, we are per- petually inclined to suppose the light touch repeated when it is not. But touch so much more often than not means muscular effort, that we have incorporated the two things, and there is no doubt that when we reach muscular effort we are in contact with an outward world, the two phrases, indeed, are different ways of describing the same fact. And in this fact we have a clue to the gradation of certainty in the world of sense. The only sense that never misleads is the muscular sense,—that is, the sense which calls the person who perceives into direct activity. May we not say, then, that what we call the evidence of the senses is the evidence of the senses plus muscular effort ? And is not muscular effort the material side of that event which we know from within as Will The law which we would here indicate is no less true, we believe, in the world of thought than in the world of sense. It is the practical reason that lays hold of reality. "Any beginning of an action," says Professor Clifford, "is what we call a judgment. If you consider what a proposition means, you will see that it must correspond to the begin- ning of some sort of exertion. When you say that A is B, you mean that you are going to act as if A were B." Amid all the exaggeration of that statement, we believe there lies entangled one of the most important truths the intellect can grasp. It is indeed a truth open to much exaggeration, even to a distortion that is the very opposite of truth. To sup- pose that we can create that which we believe, is the most pernicious form of scepticism. And the very distinction between a feeble memory and a strong imagination lies in the independence of the former upon will ; memory indeed seems to us one of those spiritual facts which admit of no analysis whatever,—we can say nothing of it but that it is. Nevertheless, we hold that in all knowledge but that of the past, belief is an active condition of the mind. Just as we see whatever we do see through organs that are in a perpetual state of movement, always readjusting them- selves in accordance with the idea of space, so we know what we do know through a mental condition in which will must be as much a factor, as that muscular sense which is its symbol in the external world is of any sensible perception.

We turn from the subjective to the objective reference of this law. The one thing supposed to be no less a matter of certainty to every one than his own sensations, is the fact that they have a cause. Just as we are obliged to con- ceive objects in space and events in time, we are, by our mental structure, forced to contemplate all change by the light of this belief in a law of change which no amount of evidence would shake, and no amount of evidence could prove. Though we are not now following Mr. Balfour, we may refer to his chapler on this subject (that on "Empirical Logic ") as one of the best specimens of the kind of reasoning with which the book is filled. The impossibility of proving the condition of proof is, indeed, obvious. That Mr. Mill, in his proof, "assumes the whole question at issue" (p. 24), is only another way of saying that he does attempt to prove it. Once suggested, the outward world becomes orderly and coherent by means of its operation ; it is confirmed by every observation and every experiment which men have made since they began to experiment and to observe; but neither experiment nor observation could have been made without assuming it. The world without us needs, but does not supply, this instrument for its own investigation. 'Whence, then, is it derived ?

Surely it is the natural product of the world within. Are we not at every moment conscious of exactly that fountain of agency of which we feign some shadow in every scientific ex- planation, or in every popular explanation? If I did not know myself as a cause, I could know nothing else as a cause,—the idea would be wanting to me. As it is, I know nothing else so well. In the dawn of thought, every event was represented as an action, all movement took the aspect of will; and in the dawn of every fresh science men have studied the nature of different bodies under the illusion that they could find the same kind of

connection between qualities and effects in things, as between character and behaviour in persons. "The difficulty is," says Boyle (in inquiring into the cause of" induration and lapi- descence"), " to conceive how a secret internal principle, by some called a form, produces these effects." Just as any one might say it is difficult to conceive how such an education has pro- duced such a character. Boyle did not see, and very few of his contemporaries saw, that the conception he was in search of was not difficult, but impossible, to creatures such as we are.

He was trying to analyse the impersonal world into personal elements. Perhaps the true inference from such a fact may appear to be that this personifying instinct has been a mere clog on the history of Science,—that the idea of Will is the enemy, not as we assert, the parent of the true idea of Cause. But the truth is that men needed this illusion, before they could make a step in any real apprehension of the true nature of that which they were investigating. Chemistry, we believe, owed its very existence to this primitive importation of spiritual ideas into the material world. "La theosophie alchimique rendit d'eminents services h l'humanite," says one of the strong- est opponents of the mystic notions to the value of which he here bears testimony,—Sprengel, the historian of medicine. If ever the history of Science comes to be written, not, as it would be in our day, in the interest of the reaction against the pre- tensions of theologians, but in the light of an unbiassed appre- ciation of all that has furthered our knowledge of the external world, a large space will be given, we are convinced, to this anthropomorphic stage of science. And though the reactionary stage which succeeds it is that in which it makes most visible progress, it is only as the plant makes most visible progress when it first puts its leaves above the soil. The roots have been penetrating to a greater depth downwards, long before they appear.

The reader who is familiar with this discussion in the pages of Hume may bring forward an objection to this view of the genesis of Cause, which is, indeed, not so much an objection, as a total rejection of all that has been here advanced. Hume says that the connection of will with movement is as little in. telligible as the connection of one material cause with another. "The will, considered as a cause, has no more a discoverable connection with its effects than any material cause has with its proper effect." The fact that this sentence has elicited so little protest, has always seemed to us a marvellous tribute to the spell of a great name. Of course, analysis must stop somewhere ; there must be a last connection, between which we can intercalate no other connection. If will and movement do not respectively afford such a connection, we are unable to conceive what would do so. The very structure of language bears witness to the relation of subject and object as a fundamental one ; grammar itself has been moulded by it; a neuter noun has properly no nominative case,—it is conceived as always an object. And what do I know of myself, but as a being that is con- tinually putting forth some kind of energy upon the out- ward world ? How do I distinguish other selves from mere things but by the same test ? Surely we know the fitness of will to produce movement in a sense in which we hardly know anthing else. To look for an explanation of this connection is, indeed, in the words of Aristotle, to take away reason, through seeking a reason for everything. If the connection of mind and matter is unintelligible, it is because it is funda- mental. Our conception of mind being that which acts, our conception of matter being that which is acted on, there can be no explanation of their connection which is not contained in the ideas themselves. It is inexplicable, because there is nothing to explain.

But what, it may be asked, can there be similar in the con- nection between the impulse by which,I raise my hand, and the connection, whatever it be, between the application of a spark to gunpowder and an explosion ? Unless we begin by assuming that will is no more than a link in the chain of causation which binds the world (and in that case it cannot explain causation), how can the initial impulse of change throw any light on the trans- mission of change from one phenomenon to another? If all we know of the material world is that it is unlike the personal, what light can the fact most characteristic of the personal world throw on the fact which is to explain the material world? Unless, after all, we are a mere fragment of the world of Nature, what do we know of Cause but that it must be unlike will?

We would, aalr, in answer, if there is no mediator between Cause and Will, no conception common to the man of science' and the moral thinker, bridging the chasm which divides their worlds ? Surely we have such a conception in the idea of Force. It is, on the one hand, the ultimate conception of the world. What we mean by Matter, except as a cause for certain sensations which we know cannot possibly re- semble their cause, or as a centre of force, is not only utterly inconceivable to creatures such as we are, but we cannot translate it into any hypothetical reality, intelli- gible from within. What we mean by Force is something we are obliged to think of in terms of our experi- ence. "Our notion of Force," says Mr. Herbert Spencer (here, we think, successfully replying by anticipation to an argument of Mr. Balfour's), "is a generalisation of those muscular sensations which we have when we are ourselves the producers of changes in outward things." All other effects of the outward world upon us being ultimately resolvable into this, we cannot resolve this into anything but itself. And we find in experience an exact equivalence, as to all appreciable result, between the force we can exert and the force which is exerted upon us, which justifies and sanctions our recourse to this familiar conception as that which, in judging of the world beyond ourselves, brings us nearest the truth. If my sen- sations are identical in striking against a hard projection and being struck by a stone, if it is the same thing whether I press down one scale of a balance with my hand or put a weight into it, if the force I exert in straining a bow becomes force in the arrow precisely similar to the force given to the bullet by the explosion of gunpowder, then surely the generali- sation to which I am driven by mere want of an alternative receives something as near confirmation as it is capable of receiving from the teaching of experience. Do you then,. it may be asked, think of all the forces of Nature as things that are confined by the two limits of all mus- cular exertion,—initial will and growing fatigue. We would reply that the two must not be bracketed together. So far as the analogy leads us to a spiritual source, we believe the associa- tion to be a clue to the troth. So far as it suggests a human limitation—though of course this association is quite as in- variable as the other—it is a misleading result of experience.. There is no inconsistency in accepting one invariable association and discarding the other.

The idea of Will must be lost sight of in the progress of Science, just as a lofty building must be lost sight of as we approach it. Afar off, our goal is clear ; as we draw near it, it becomes hidden from us by very much lower objects which are nearer the eye, instead of towering above them, as at first. So- there was a period—and it is to that that the eyes of students are now chiefly turned—when the personifying instinct be- came as much a hindrance as would be the expectation of seeing a distant elevation above a tree immediately in front of the eye. For centuries it was the work of Science to separate the personal and impersonal worlds. Comte's "meta- physic stage" fills the larger part of the history of science, and the metaphysic stage seems to us little more than the history of this disentanglement. Men had to learn in every variety of illustration that the antithesis of the ego and the non-ego, of mind and matter, of spirit and nature, is a fundamental one..

They had to be taught, again and again, that all we can know of connections between outward timings may be arranged under- two heads,—first, positively, their invariable sequences ; second,. negatively, their total dissimilarity to the world within. Now we think another lesson has to be learnt. Our progress through the domain of Science has brought us in sight of its boundaries,. and it is time that we ask ourselves what lies beyond.

What we have valued in the volume which has suggested these remarks, is the argument that in crossing this barrier thought does not pass from the certain to the uncertain. This

argument is purely negative, and we have only attempted so far to widen its scope as to include the preliminary inquiry—

What do we mean by certainty ? If, as we have aimed at show- ing, a conviction, as contrasted with an opinion, is a belief that contains the seed of will, it is easy to see why theories of the visible world are apt to seem, in contrast with theories of the- invisible, as the certain to the doubtful. Our view of the outer world is a close web, of which some threads are woven in with

the needs of every-day life; they bear the strain of expectation,. and associate themselves with the constant testing of experience.. Our view of the inner world, to be similarly tested, demands that in like manner we make that world our abode, and with a

like regularity refer its events to its laws. We cannot make a belief true by acting upon it, but only thus can we make true beliefs certain. And while, in the one case, we have no choice as to this certifying process, in the other, the bulk of mankind pass their lives without even suspecting its possibility.