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William Hamilton makes us painfully conscious of in the human mind.
The work of the associationists therefore is largely systemization. This strikes one specially in Comte and Spencer, and Mr. Mill is even more the teacher of method than the others, since he was among the first to lay it down. Mr. Mill well states the work of all these thinkers, himself included, in laying down the basis of the Positive Philosophy of Comte.
“We have no knowledge of anything but Phenomena ; and our knowledge of phenomena is relative, not absolute. We know not the essence, nor the real mode of production, of any fact, but only its relatious to other facts in the way of succession or of similitude. These relations are constant; that is, always the same in the same circumstances. The constant resemblances which link phenomena together, and the constant sequences which unite them as antecedent and consequent, are termed their laws. The laws of phenomena are all we know respecting them. Their essential nature, and their ultimate causes, either efficient or final, are unknown and unscrutable to us."
This is not indeed original with Comte. "The conviction that knowledge of the successions and co-existences of phenomena is the sole knowledge accessible to us” has been held by all accurate thinkers. Mr. Mill says that " among the direct successors of Hume, the writer who has best stated and defended Comte's fundamental philosophy is Dr. Thomas Brown”; but this honor so generously given to another must now be claimed for Mr. Mill himself, whose recent exposition of the Positive Philosophy is unquestionably the ablest and the kindest statement it has ever had. This qualification must be always conceded to him, that he states accurately the position of another, whether he be friend or foe. Even when dealing his hardest blows at Sir William Hamilton, he always tries to be fair; and yet there is a mental obliquity, a want of imaginative perception or insight, which often causes him to just miss, and only that, the highest levels of speculation. What a mental philosopher needs quite as much as logical acuteness,is the power to adequately understand opposite modes of thinking. This Hamilton has far more than Mill. Bating this, and remembering that his central doctrine is the invariable uniformity of law, and that he never goes
· The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. pp. 7, 8.
beyond phenomena to noumena, save when his very reason and common sense compel him to in order to escape from the difficulties of his theory, his writings upon philosophy and morals have very high value as practically reducing to science and system things known. The excellence which he claims for Bentham, the method which he applied to the investigation of the truth of things established, is his in a deeper sense.
His speculations upon morals seem to us of less value than anything else he has written, since they are vitiated by his theory. But to these in their order.
His claims as a metaphysician are but recently known through his criticism of Hamilton ; and yet that work contains nothing which was not fully set forth in his System of Logic, twenty years before, so far as his own opinions go. To examine this work critically we have neither time nor space, but some general account of it is necessary. Its purpose is :
“To embody and systematize the best ideas which have been promulged on its subject by speculative writers, or conformed to by accurate thinkers in their scientific inquiries. Its originality consists in this : it is an attempt to cement together the detached fragments of a subject, never yet treated as a whole ; to harmonize the true portions of discordant theories, by supplying the links of thought necessary to connect them, and by disentangling them from the errors with which they are always more or less interwoven." Of the technical rules of logic, it says almost nothing ; but dating from a familiar knowledge of these rules, it begins with a recasting of the old opinions upon names and propositions, and thence goes on to "generalize the modes of investigating truth and estimating evidence, by which so many important and recondite laws of nature have, in the various sciences, been aggregated to the stock of human knowledge.” The concluding book, though his opinions are cropping out continually throughout the treatise, on the same topics, is the one which chiefly relates to our special purpose.
It is a contribution, says Mr. Mill, "towards the solution of a question, which the decay of old opinions, and the agitation that disturbs European society to its inmost depths, render as important in the present day to the practical interests of human life, as it must at all times be to the completeness of our speculative knowledge : that is, whether moral and social phenomena are really exceptions to the general certainty and uniformity of the course of nature; and how far the methods, by which so many of the laws of the physical world have been numbered among truths irrevocably acquired and universally assented to, can be made instrumental to the gradual formation of a similar body of received doctrine in moral and political science :” and he calls attention to Dr. Brown's treatise on Cause and Effect, since, in his opinion, that philosopher has taken a more correct view than any other English writer, on the subject of the ultimate intellectual laws of scientific inquiry. It is here that Mill becomes a Positivist, his object being identically the same as Comte's. He confines himself to the knowledge of phenomena as gained by observation and experience, and if he only stopped here it would be well enough; but, in his examination of Hamilton, he applies these weapons to the denial and the destruction of the only philosophy which grants to man the full power and scope of an intellectual being, since the explanation of all knowledge, as the product of association and experience, reduces the mind to a mere machine which does not act till set agoing by external means.
He thus stands out in deadly antagonism to Hamilton and the Scottish school in metaphysics, and by the very narrowness of his own philosophy is unable to appreciate Sir William's. In his Examination he gains an apparent advantage from crossexamining Hamilton, who, as his opinions changed, modified these largely, and thus laid himself open, in his entire writings, to the charge of inconsistency. The interminable word-battle which Mr. Mill keeps up on this point throughout the examination is wearisome. In every charge he quotes Sir William in flat contradiction to himself, while Mr. Mill is open to the counter charge that he has not advanced from his original basis as laid down in his system of logic at all, which is just as fatal to the consistency of one whose high claim is to be a progressive philosopher. His first charge against Hamilton is, that he denies the Relativity of human knowledge, which he professed to hold. This is the chief dictum of Hamilton and the foundation of his great specialty, the Philosophy of the Conditioned. But it clashes with his original beliefs and with his opinion that we have an immediate consciousness of the non ego, as, for instance,
the primary qualities of matter, and these inconsistencies Mr. Mill states at the outset, with crushing weight against him. This point established, his Philosophy of the Conditioned, that the Infinite and the Absolute are to us both unconditionally limited, so that neither one can be conceived of, because to think is to condition, is also affected. For knowledge of an exterior existence can not be relative in one case and not in another; and this immediate consciousness of the external world he expressly insists upon in other places. We agree with Mr. Mill, that when you attempt to define Sir William's theory of the Absolute and the Infinite, for want of comprehensible terms, it melts away into thin air. We are between two inconceivables, neither of which we can grasp. As against Cousin, Mr. Mill says,
"Whatever relates to God I hold with Sir W. Hamilton to be a matter of inference; I would add, of inference a posteriori." But Mr. Mill has himself shown the method of escape from the error of Sir W. Hamilton's and Mr. Mansel's logic, by showing that we can conceive of attributes which are infinite or absolute, as goodness, justice, power, and that, as these can not be other than absolute or completed goodness and infinite or perfect power, and not different, save in degree, from man's incomplete goodness and imperfect power, we do have a practical conception of the infinite and the absolute. Hence we are not left in the dark as to the knowledge of God, though it is limited by our faculties. In upsetting, first by analysing its own inconsistency, and then substituting practical ideas in its place, this Philosophy of the Conditioned, Mr. Mill has done good service to philosophy and to religion.
It seems to us that, while this authoris so vigorously contesting the philosophy of the Conditioned, he abdicates the very position which he takes later on in the more positive part of the examination. He grants that we may conceive of God by "inference a posteriori”; and his method of argument we have just given : but it is essential to this that our views of truth, justice, goodness shall be the same as the infinite Being's ; and hence our minds have the same original sense of the good, the right, the just, which belongs to God; or, in other words, we are made in God's image, having a living soul. Mr. Mill's inference is from the analogy of our own
1 Examination of Sir William Hamilton. Vol. I., p. 48.
In his indignation at Mr. Mansel, he admits the very point whose exclusion elsewhere vitiates his theory of utilitarianism, and thus furnishes the best proof of a deeply-seated moral instinct in man. Again, Mr. Mill and Sir W. Hamilton, by different methods, are at one in regard to the impossibility of our knowing anything beyond phenomena. Sir W. Hamilton denies this here (to affirm it again when needed) because it is inconsistent with his favorite dogma of the unconditioned. Mr. Mill denies it because it claims to know more than is gained through observation and experience. And yet each philosopher recoils from the shock given by his logic to the moral sense; and each then has recourse to the only valid ground upon which theology and metaphysics can stand.' To our thinking, each of the theories is true in what it affirms, false in what it denies. Sir W. Hamilton is led by his philosophical theory to bring back the knowledge which is shut down to the finite alone, in the shape of original beliefs given in consciousness; and here he is at one with Reid and the Scottish school, and, as we believe, on right ground. But Mr. Mill is now unsparing in his attacks upon an intuitive philosophy. He aptly says: "When we know what any philosopher considers to be revealed in consciousness, we have the key to the entire character of his metaphysical system. Sir W. Hamilton's consciousness is not solely of the ego
and 1 This is excellently brought out in an article on Mill's Hamilton, probably by Prof. Fraser, in the recent September number of the North British Review, which always sheds light on philosophical subjects.
We wish to refer in this connection to two little volumes by Prof. Fraser. “Rational Philosophy in History and System,” Edinburgh, 1858, and" Essays in Philosophy,” ibid. 1856 ; both of which are valuable additions, though not more than this article in the North British, to a new constructive system of philosphy. We can not forbear quoting his own words at the end of an essay on Leibnitz, in this connection : “We love to anticipate a future history of Metaphysics and Theology in this country more encouraging than these omens seem to forebode; and to have disclosed before us in imagination, as one of the characteristics of the succeeding age, an ethically disciplined spirit operating according to the canons of a well applied Logic, under the increasing light of biblical science, towards the production of a nobly intellectual and yet profoundly scriptual theology, and the attainment, for the Christian religion and the Christian church, of a position among the forces at work in society, which the human agency charged with their maintenance and propagation is not at liberty to disregard.” We can only say that he has himself done more than any recent philosopher to bring about this very object.
* Examination, Vol. I., p. 137.