Imágenes de páginas

less worthy. Nay more, it tends to select for enfranchisement, those who have the moral and intellectual qualities especially required for judicious political conduct. For what general mental characteristic does judicious political conduct presuppose ? The power of realizing remote consequences. People who are misled by demagogues, are those who are impressed with the proximate results set forth to them, but are not impressed by the distant results, even when these are explained-regard them as vague, shadowy, theoretical, and are not to be deterred by them from clutching at a promised boon. Conversely, the wise citizen is the one who conceives the distant evils so clearly, that they are practically present to him, and thus outweigh the immediate temptation. Now these are just the respective characteristics of the two classes of tenants whom a ratepaying-qualification separates :the one having their rates paid by their landlords, and so losing their votes; the other paying their own rates, that they may get votes the one unable to resist present temptations, unable to save money, and therefore so inconvenienced by the payment of rates as to be disfranchised rather than pay them; the other resisting present temptations and saving money, with the view, among other ends, of paying rates and becoming electors. Trace their respective traits to their sources, and it becomes manifest, that, on the average, the pecuniarily improvident must be also the politically improvident; and that the politically provident must be far more numerous among those who are pecuniarily provident. Hence, it is a folly to throw aside a regulation under which these spontaneously separate themselves—severally disfranchise themselves and enfranchise themselves.



BRITISH speculation, to which, notwithstanding



, lished truths of Modern Philosophy are due, is no longer dormant. By his System of Logic, Mr. Mill probably did more than any other writer to re-awaken it. And to the great service he thus rendered some twenty years ago, he now adds by his Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy-a work which, taking the views of Sir William Hamilton as texts, reconsiders sundry ultimate questions that still remain unsettled.

Among these questions is one of great importance which has already been the subject of controversy between Mr. Mill and others; and this question I propose to discuss afresh. Before doing so, however, it will be desirable to glance at two cardinal doctrines of the Hamiltonian philosophy from which Mr. Mill shows reasons for dissenting

- desirable, because comment on them will elucidate what is to follow.

In his fifth chapter, Mr. Mill points out that “what is rejected as knowledge by Sir William Hamilton," is “ brought back by him under the name of belief.” The

We com

quotations justify this description of Sir W. Hamilton's position; and warrant the assertion that the relativity of knowledge was held by him in but a nominal sense. His inconsistency may, I think, be traced to the use of the word “belief” in two quite different senses. monly say we “believe" a thing for which we can assign some preponderating evidence, or concerning which we have received some indefinable impression. We believe that the next House of Commons will not abolish Churchrates; or we believe that a person on whose face we look is good-natured. That is, when we can give confessedlyinadequate proofs or no proofs at all for the things we think, we call them “beliefs.” And it is the peculiarity of these beliefs, as contrasted with cognitions, that their connections with antecedent states of consciousness may be easily severed, instead of being difficult to sever. But unhappily, the word “belief” is also applied to each of those temporarily or permanently indissoluble connections in consciousness, for the acceptance of which the only warrant is that it cannot be got rid of. Saying that I feel a pain, or hear a sound, or see one line to be longer than another, is saying that there has occurred in me a certain change of state; and it is impossible for me to give a stronger evidence of this fact than that it is present to my mind. The tissue of every argument, too, is resolvable into affections of consciousness that have no warrants beyond themselves. When asked why I assert some mediately-known truth, as that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, I find that the proof may be decomposed into steps, each of which is an immediate consciousness that certain wo quantities or two relations are equal or unequal-a consciousness for which no further evidence is assignable than that it exists in me. Nor, on finally getting down to some axiom underlying the whole fabric of demonstration, can I say more than that it is a



truth of which I am immediately conscious. But now observe the confusion that has arisen. The immense majority of truths which we accept as beyond doubt, and from which our notion of unquestionable truth is abstracted, have this other trait in common-they are severally established by affiliation on deeper truths. These two characters have become so associated, that one seems to imply the other. For each truth of geometry we are able to assign some wider truth in which it is involved; for that wider truth we are able, if required, to assign some still wider; and so on. This being the general nature of the demonstration by which exact knowledge is established, there has arisen the illusion that knowledge so established is knowledge of higher validity than that immediate knowledge which has nothing deeper to rest on. The habit of asking for proof, and having proof given, in all these multitudinous cases, has produced the implication that proof may be asked for those ultimate dicta of consciousness into which all proof is resolvable. And then, because no proof of these can be given, there arises the vague feeling that they are akin to other things of which no proof can be given—that they are uncertain—that they have unsatisfactory bases. This feeling is strengthened by the accompanying misuse of words. "Belief” having, as above pointed out, become the name of an impression for which we can give only a confessedly-inadequate reason, or no reason at all; it happens that when pushed hard respecting the warrant for any ultimate dictum of consciousness, we say, in the absence of all assignable reason, that we believe it. Thus the two opposite poles of knowledge

he same name; nd by the reverse connotations of this name, as used for the most coherent and least coherent relations of thought, profound misconceptions have been generated. Here, it seems to me, is the source of Sir William Hamilton's error. Classing as 'beliefs” those

go under

[ocr errors]

direct; undecomposable dicta of consciousness which tran scend proof, he asserts that these are of higher authority than knowledge (meaning by knowledge that for which reasons can be given); and in asserting this he is fully justified. But when he claims equal authority for those affections of consciousness which go under the same name of “beliefs," but differ in being extremely-indirect affections of consciousness, or not definite affections of consciousness at all, the claim cannot be admitted. By his own showing, no positive cognition answering to the word “infinite" exists; while, contrariwise, those cognitions which he rightly holds to be above question, are not only positive, but have the peculiarity that they cannot be suppressed. How, then, can the two be grouped together as of like degrees of validity ?

Nearly allied in nature to this, is another Hamiltonian doctrine, which Mr. Mill very effectively combats. I refer to the corollary respecting noumenal existence which Sir William Hamilton draws from the law of the Excluded Middle, or, as it might be more intelligibly called, the law of the Alternative Necessity. A thing must either exist or not exist-must have a certain attribute or not have it: there is no third possibility. This is a postulate of all thought; and in so far as it is alleged of phenomenal existence, no one calls it in question. But Sir William Hamilton, applying the formula beyond the limits of thought, draws from it certain conclusions respecting things as they are, apart from our consciousness. He says, for example, that though we cannot conceive Space as infinite or as finite, yet, “ on the principle of the Excluded Middle, one or other must be admitted.” This inference Mr. Mill shows good reason for rejecting. His argument may be supplemented by another, which at once suggests itself if from the words of Sir William Hamilton's propositions we pass to the thoughts for which they are supposed

« AnteriorContinuar »