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ESSAYS OF A THINKER.
Cogito, ergo sum.
THE field and the farm-yard are open places to the philosopher, and we need not wonder at the accuracy with which he notes down the progressive acts of the duckling as soon as it breaks its egg, or of the lamb as soon as it drops from its mother. Perhaps the chamber in which the human being passes the first four weeks of his existence is a sealed place, or we should not find the general remark, tears and laughter belong to us from our birth, put forward as a strict and literal truth. The monthly nurse knows better; she knows that the early cry, the mere instinctive effect of pain, is without tears, and that the smile never manifests itself till the term of her service is over. During this time the infant man is not a thinker: nor does he become one but by virtue of a fact that happens to him alone, and never to a brute creature. The fact must await a later statement. Meantime he shares so much (though it is very little) of the instinctive intelligence of other creatures as is indispensable, along with the continual anxious tendance he receives, to keep the little flame of life from going out; he no sooner receives the sensation which his mother's bosom occasions, than he seeks the nipple, opens his mouth, and imbibes the fluid with a force of suction that he can never equal in his ripe years of reason. My reader will observe, that in this case perception accompanies sensation-accompanies it so closely, that we may deem the sensation and the perception one and the same thing. With the intelligence of instinct and of habitude, it is always so; a brute at once perceives all that he is concerned to know: he sees, and hears, and feels, and smells, and tastes, the moment his senses are perfect for those ends. Not so with that being almost the whole of whose knowledge is to be derived from reason; in his first week of existence he has sensations from light and colours, but he sees not; from sounds too, but he hears not; from bodies rough or smooth; but he knows them not; neither does he know the substances that affect his senses of smell and taste. It was a fundamental error in Locke, in beginning his essay with sensations, to call them ideas; an error which he never effectually surmounts, although he makes admissions in treating of perception afterwards (see his second book, chapter ix. § 8), which, had he thoroughly weighed them, should have carried him back to a corrected statement of his early doctrine. Yet he only shares an almost universal error; we all take it for granted that perception is an original gift to man as to the creatures below him, and not, what I hope hereafter to make plain, that it is the effect, like human knowledge generally, of his rational understanding. True it is that the rational procedure always happens in that dark part of life which is a blank in recollection afterwards; true also that reason must no sooner have performed her part than she handed over to the intelligence of habitude the knowledge she had gained by her own power through the senses. But the intelligence of habitude, and the intelligence of original instinct, are
practically the same; and thus it is that, practically, there is no difference between perception in man and perception in brutes.
Returning now to the conclusion of my last essay, let me follow up question it suggested.
As to physics, we proposed to include in their domain all the objects in nature-all that we perceive and conceive. But metaphysics bring us to a region that lies out of nature, to things which have no existence in time and place; and our inquiry was, Is there such a region? Are there such things? Whence and how do they exist?
My answer is, that they derive their existence from the peculiarity of our race to understand or know things not directly, not immediately, but relatively; that is, to know one thing only because we know another at the same time-to know red, for instance, only because we know blue, black, or yellow; to know darkness, only because we know light; and hard, only because we know soft. Metaphysical things derive their existence from this peculiarity, and they maintain their existence through that invention which is the result of the peculiarity, namely, through the instrumentality of rational language.
If, reader, in carrying our inquiry onward, I shall be obliged to deviate into tracks where we shall seek in vain the leading steps of ancient sages or modern interpreters, I hope you will not on this account refuse to keep me company. Of physical science it is confessedly untrue that, as it now exists, it is an accumulation of discoveries on the stores of antiquity; we have had to set aside almost all that was formerly taught in order to reach the facts which we now grasp. May not the same kind of renunciation be necessary to an incalculable extent in metaphysics? Let us first, if we can, disperse the clouds of mystery that hang round the region, and perhaps our way will not be very difficult to find.
Metaphysical things are such as are free from the conditions of time and place." There needs be no mystery in this if it shall appear that even that which immediately answers to an ordinary proper name-David, for instance is free from these conditions. David at work in the garden is a physical fact which we may perceive or conceive; but David without connexion or context, what does it mean? It is, in the first place, merely a label ready to be placed in baptism on any son of Adam to whom we may choose to give it. Let it then, in the next place, be the name by which the most intimate of our friends has been known from early infancy to the present moment; and I now again ask what does David mean separate from context or connexion? Does it mean David as we played with him years and years ago at trap-ball or marbles? Does it mean David as we saw him just now at work in his garden? Does it mean David, under any circumstances whatever, of his past or present existence, or any conceivable circumstances of his existence to come? It means none of these in particular till we specially limit it, and, while awaiting the limitation, it means David abstracted-separated-from all special circumstances of existence whatever. But inasmuch as David himself cannot be so abstracted, it follows that the abstraction has existence only in a certain act of the understanding; a temporary act, having no value but as a means to a special end, and to which, accordingly, we should attribute no higher value, did not an embodiment come to hand in the shape of a grammatical noun. Then comes mystery; even with a proper
name we might work a little mystery, for David abstracted from time and place is a very sublime Being, compared to David at work in the garden; but the profundity deepens when we come to names of large indefinite extent,
Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
First fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute.
And we are completely lost, with a pretence, nevertheless, to have reached the highest point of speculation, when, having made our way to the limits of experience, and applied names as far as experience furnished objects, we try to look into the vast abyss beyond, and invent names for what we cannot perceive or conceive, in contradistinction to the things which we can. What we can perceive or conceive within the limits of experience, and even of fancy, are all of them things finite, dependent, contingent; then by the law of contradistinction the things of that other world must be things infinite, absolute, unconditioned. If possible, there are mysteries still deeper. If existence abstracted from things existing be enough to plunge the brains of a Hegel into a sea of pondering, what shall we say to non-existence? What shall we say concerning such noun-substantives as nothing, nobody, nonentity? I leave you, my patient reader, to make the fitting answer, while I attempt to lay down a proposition or two as guides in our progress.
Every state of a rational intellect entertained distinctly-separately— abstractly from the physical things that occasioned it, is a thing metaphysical.
Every word entering as a part into the construction of rational speech is, while separate from the other parts, the sign of a thing metaphysical. But a thing metaphysical having no existence in nature, can have no existence at all beyond the sign, and the rational understanding which makes use of the sign. And its use is, not to furnish a meaning in which we are warranted to rest, but to be instrumental to a meaning not yet attained. Employing the instrumental means for this end, the understanding holds itself in suspense, awaiting what meaning will flow from the union of part with part, such meaning being always less abstract than the meanings from which it is evolved, till we reach natural things, from the suggestions of which, as I hope to show hereafter, all metaphysical things take their beginning, and into which they all return, provided we avoid the abuse of language which lies at the bottom of all metaphysics assuming to be science of transcendental character in contradistinction to physics.
Under the light of these propositions, the truth of which I cannot help believing to be self-evident, I now repeat my former example.
David, the name, as we have supposed, of our very familiar friend, is, as grammar informs us, a part of speech. Accordingly, its meaning is suspensive: when we hear it, we wait to know what will be said with reference to David. No rational being would say "David," and neither say nor mean more than David. Yet it has an independent meaning: it is a sign of the knowledge I have of David apart from every special occasion that has contributed to my knowledge. By itself, it does not correspond to a thing physical-while in suspense, it avoids the inevitable conditions of time and place under which David must be perceived or conceived, as, for instance, David in his garden, or his house, or else
where; David older or younger; well or sick; grieving or rejoicing; and so forth, with exhaustless variety of circumstance. Thus then it is, that David apart from some context into which it is to enter, is the sign of a thing metaphysical, for while the term is held in suspense, we are precluded from all conception of David as he must be in nature and even fancy; and so, for that suspensive moment, the name David is the sign of a thing metaphysical. Now if, as to a proper name, these facts and the appendent argument hold good, the argument and the facts must hold good of all grammatical parts of speech whatever, inasmuch as a proper name is, of all the grammatical parts of speech, the least abstract, or, at least, deemed the least abstract. Nor must the reasoning be questioned because some Aristotelians of the present day choose to call a general or abstract term a concept: I beg, reader, you will with me in my application of the verb to conceive, and not discredit my facts because others choose (and I do not deny their right of choice) to apply it differently.
On the point before us, then, I hope we are agreed, namely, that every part of speech is, if it have any meaning at all, the sign of a thing metaphysical; that it retains this meaning only so long as we keep it in suspense, and loses it, at least in some degree, the moment we join to it another part of speech, inasmuch as from the two there flows a special meaning, as in saying David thinks, or David is-at-work; expressions in which David is in some degree specialised by thinks and by is-atwork, as these latter are specialised by David. We may rest in this special meaning if we please, the verb yielding the permission by implying that the grammatical construction is complete. It would not be so if the verb did not carry this permission-if, for instance, we said David who thinks, or David who is at work-for now we await further specialisation, proceeding perhaps thus: David who thinks favourably-we still await a meaning not yet expressed; David who thinks favourably of-still we await; David who thinks favourably of us-we await still, till at length we get the proposed special meaning, perhaps in the following form: David who thinks favourably of us, will be present.
May I hope, reader, you will now join with me in the following conclusions:
As fast as we join parts of speech together to make meaning, they cease to have separate meanings; each part specialises the meaning of the other, till, the construction being complete, we have only one expression with one meaning.
All meaning, the moment we make it suspensive, is metaphysical, although, while it was conclusive, it may have been the statement of a physical fact. We may have such a fact before us (to repeat a former example) in saying David is at work in the garden; but this is only while we rest in the meaning. The moment, reader, that I utter and you understand it suspensively, it signifies our knowledge of the possible existence of such a fact abstractly from the fact itself, and we conclude or hold nothing further till the projected context is added. What special meaning will be yielded by the two parts, you know not till the union takes place. Suppose I say David is at work in the garden, and-I raise the clause which precedes the conjunction and from being the statement of a physical, that is, a perceptible or conceptible fact, into a
metaphysical abstraction of the fact-I hold my hearer in suspense for a meaning which he has yet to receive, which meaning will arise out of two premises, David-is-at-work-in-the-garden being one; what the other will be the hearer for the present knows not, but the and lets him know thus much, that he is to hold what precedes it suspensively, awaiting some relation, as yet he knows not what, which will manifest itself between what is so far said, and what is to follow. Let us now complete the expression, the one expression for what will be one meaning: David-isat-work-in-the-garden-and-he-wants-your-help; the unity of which communicated thought will be more evident if we drop one or two of the parts of speech which are used in constructing the expression for it, as Davidat-work-in-the-garden, wants-your-help.
Thus much for the origin of things metaphysical in contradistinction to physical things. They are a consequence of the manner in which we gain our knowledge of things physical, namely, not by original instinct, nor by the superinduction of habit independently of a previous rational process, but by apprehending them in their relations to each other, always at the same time with relation to oneself. A brute knows immediately whatever it is necessary he should know; he knows it relatively to himself, but under no other relation. He cannot, therefore, hold his knowledge apart-separately, abstractly-from the occasions of it, and is blind by his inferior nature to metaphysical existence. I have to state this fact with more particularity hereafter, and to evidence it by that striking mark which separates man from all other creatures-the capacity for rational language. In the mean time, let us look a little more closely at these metaphysical existences, that we may know their just use, and how, like ignes fatui, they often dance before us only to betray us into depths in which the understanding is sure to be lost. The things defined in pure mathematics are things metaphysical, and they may be referred to as important examples of the just use of such things. We will begin our examination of them in the next essay.
THE BRIDGE OF COMMERCE.
BY NICHOLAS MICHELL.
MIDNIGHT spreads its ebon wing
On the waters gazing down-
Like man's passions troubled still,
Passions doomed to know no rest.