Lecture 4. Newman's Philosophy

{72} I PROPOSE in this lecture to point out some of the contributions to philosophical thought which are to be found in Newman's writings. And while in my second lecture I emphasised the bearing of his thought on the great enterprise of his life—the strengthening of Christian faith—in this lecture I shall, on the contrary, deal primarily with his philosophy as philosophy, and endeavour to show its value in a field at once wider and narrower than the religious—wider as applying to a more general problem, narrower as appealing to specialists in philosophy rather than to the multitude of religious men.

I should not have the impertinence to pretend to prove Newman's depth as a thinker. I must leave the proof to his own words and thoughts. But experience shows that the care and sympathy requisite for the understanding of deep thought are not bestowed by those who do not look for it. People are apt to find only what they look for. If they look merely for brilliant literary qualities, or ingenious controversy, or persuasive rhetoric, or theological polemics, they find these things and no more. In Newman's writings all these things are actually present, and will be duly noted by all. Many will be satisfied that in noting them they have noted all that is there. The profound philosophy which is also there will not be seen by those who do not look for it.

The rhetorical manner in some portions of his philosophical writing, and the incomplete statement in others, the episodical occurrence of some of his philosophical ideas {73} in the course of theological tracts, as well as, in some cases, the controversial form of his arguments often prevents his contributions to philosophy from being obtrusively obvious. A real effort is needed to find them—and that effort will, in the ordinary course, not be made. Passages will be regarded, from Newman's eventual application of their argument, as special pleading for Rome, which contain in reality a subtle and candid analysis of the human mind, or a dispassionate survey of the forces at work in history. Many readers will note the ingenuity with which certain theories are enlisted on behalf of Roman conclusions, who will not note the deep thought and keen perception of the true character of problems of general interest, philosophical and historical, which created the theories themselves. With a view to obviating this failure I have already, in my first lecture, emphasised the misconception of Newman's genius which is, in so many quarters, current, and have pointed out that he combines what is very seldom combined—namely, the gifts of an advocate and literary artist with the brooding thought and conscientious search for truth of a philosopher.

In the present lecture I shall therefore attempt to put together some lines of his thought which relate to philosophical problems and I shall separate them of set purpose from those applications to the Roman controversy which have disguised their true character from many. When I have so stated them, my task will be done; and they must be left to the judgment of philosophers for an estimate of their value.

The first point that strikes the careful reader is Newman's haunting sense of the difficulty of any adequate philosophy of knowledge, or epistemology, as it is called. In a letter of 1840 he writes:

The human mind in its present state is unequal to its own powers of apprehension; it embraces more than it can master. I think we ought all to set out on our inquiries, I am sure we shall end them, with this conviction. [Note 1] {74}

In this statement that 'the human mind is unequal to its own powers of apprehension; it embraces more than it can master,' we have the key to his philosophy. It anticipates, more or less clearly, certain theories which have, in our own day, made a stir in the philosophical world. I will give three instances. He was the first to point out the immense importance of subconscious reasoning—'implicit reasoning,' as he called it. The processes analysed in the logical text-books which are fairly adequate as an account of conscious reasoning, are in many cases, he maintains, not equal to the complete analysis of the rational motives which actually lead the mind to its conclusions. And this is because those motives are largely subconscious. This is one case where the mind is unequal to its own powers of apprehension. It cannot explain what is subconscious. But secondly, besides his recognition of subconscious reasoning, he traced lines afterwards included, though with some differences, in another modern theory—which has become known as pragmatism,—a theory which estimates the significance of thought by its bearing on what is practical. Further, he was possessed by a third philosophical conception characteristic of our own day—the conception of evolution or development—of the evolution of thought in the human mind on which Hegel laid so much stress, and in the human race, of historical evolution, and, in a lesser degree, by that of biological evolution by which he (as Herbert Spencer did after him) illustrated certain aspects of the development of thought in history.

These three lines of thought were in Newman's mind closely connected. Subconscious reasoning has a large share in the thought that bears the pragmatist's test. Pragmatism aims at avoiding the waste of speculative thought, at keeping theory in touch with actual life and its necessities. Now close observation shows that just the point at which thought comes into closest touch with the practical, where thought throws light on truth in the concrete, is the point where it is apt to be partly subconscious and cannot be fully expressed in logical statement. Our habitual first principles in reasoning have much to say to our practical {75} conclusions, and these are often incomplete or are prior to explicit logical argument. Again, the accuracy of our judgment on the evidence before the mind cannot be reduced to any logical formula. The elements which distinguish an accurate from an inaccurate estimate of the import of the same evidence are necessarily subconscious. Yet it is the difference between accurate judgment and inaccurate that decides again and again between an argument being merely clever or also deep and true. This accuracy of judgment is partly due to a personal gift for the matter in hand,—to intuitive genius, which of course cannot be reduced to a formula. It is partly due also to the lessons which long experience brands unconsciously on the mind. Some of our experiences, no doubt, we can remember and quote explicitly. But it is the mass and variety of experiences in the course of life which really bring the judgment to perfection and make it sure in its decisions. And while these experiences leave their mark on the mind and impart wisdom to the man who has gone through them, he cannot adequately formulate their details because he has largely forgotten them. They have, therefore, become subconscious. Even with those that are roughly remembered their explicit statement is likely just to fall short of what is most valuable in them: the delicate shades of observation in real life which give precision to judgments based thereon can be described only roughly and approximately. Hence Lord Mansfield advised an experienced judge to give his decision confidently as it was likely to be right, but not to give his reasons as they would probably be wrong. This maxim for one profession Newman paralleled from other professions. The experienced general who is also a military genius will, he points out, rapidly draw conclusions as to the dispositions and plans of the enemy which he will rightly act upon promptly, and he is again and again justified by the event; but it is likely enough that, even given time for the fullest reflection, he could not express half the reasons which determine his conclusion. In such instances the subconscious processes of reasoning are those which really count in practical emergencies and meet the necessity pointed out {76} by the pragmatist. Thus Newman's theory of implicit or subconscious reasoning has a close connection with pragmatism. Newman's saying that 'judgment is the highest gift of the intellect' is an integral part of this theory, and it appears more significant the more we consider its full bearing. If the attainment of truth is the principal object of the intellect, then judgment, which truly weighs explicit evidence, and is also guided by the subconscious stores of evidence laid up in the course of past experience and by keen personal perception, is a far more valuable endowment than the more showy dialectical gift of the logician, which may easily be perverse in the all-important matter of drawing the just conclusion. The 'heart and the eye for truth' in passing judgment, which cannot be translated into formal logic, are supremely necessary to make sure of this result. From the very clearness with which logic examines and defines selected portions of the field of reasoning, it is apt to overlook other portions, and to make little of what it cannot define. Thus the mere logician may see the evidence with only half an eye for truth, and the heart for truth is a quality which is outside his purview. It is as much moral as intellectual. Logic then does not reach the personal qualities, powers, and dispositions on which a right conclusion often principally depends.

But again, different men have the eye for truth pre-eminently in different spheres. They are specialists by endowment, by taste, and by experience. If then such personal perceptions cannot be dispensed with in the search for all attainable knowledge, and if A possesses these perceptions in one field and B in another, a true theory of human knowledge necessarily regards it as cooperative. And here the theory of organic development in the race completes the theory of the illative sense in the individual. The combination of personal achievements in the course of history is indispensable to a complete theory of human knowledge. The knowledge of the race is, of course, a matter of gradual evolution. One generation learns both from the successes and the failures of its predecessor. Thus there is no contradiction between Newman's famous theory {77} on the intensely personal nature of the highest knowledge in the individual, and his emphatic words on the necessity of free cooperation among various thinkers in the search for truth. Both are appeals from the sterile formula of paper logic to the fruitful work of living minds. It is the author of the theory of the 'illative sense,' a theory which the Germans charged with excessive subjectivity, who also wrote the sentence 'truth is wrought out by many minds working freely together,' which indicates a method directly opposed to the subjective. But Newman had the same thought in both theories. In each personal perception and judgment are viewed as indispensable in the various fields of knowledge. The formulę of the pedantic logician are recognised in both theories as falling short of what is most essential. The true correction of the one-sidedness of the single living mind, however penetrating, is effected by coordinating his intellectual perceptions with those of his fellows—other living minds. This prevents mere subjectivity of view, without reducing our knowledge to the sterile platitudes of the mere logician. Here then, Newman's insistence on the evolution or development of thought in the race comes in to complete what the insistence on subconscious reasoning and within certain limits on the pragmatist's aim began. All these three lines of thought, implicit reasoning, the pragmatist's insistence on what is useful, and the evolution of thought among many minds, are inspired by Newman's sense that the human mind is not equal to its own powers of apprehension. When thought is largely subconscious our analysis naturally cannot reach all its elements. Pragmatism aims at restraining the mind from travelling outside the sphere of its really significant apprehensions—a temptation which arises partly from the failures of logic in that sphere. For when logic cannot succeed in the field that really matters it is apt, in irritation, to make a showy display in other fields. And finally it is obvious that if analysis cannot even keep pace with the apprehensions of one mind, it is still more unequal to the thought of the community and the developing thought of the race. {78}

I will now illustrate from Newman's works his line of thought on these three heads.

I will first take his anticipation of subconscious reasoning. If the human mind is, as Newman writes, 'unequal to its own powers of apprehension,' plainly conscious logic cannot always adequately test the accuracy of its apprehension. And a philosophy which disregards this—a philosophy which justifies belief only in cases where logical analysis can keep pace with our apprehension—is, he argues, an insufficient account of our reasoning powers as a whole. It will not work. It leaves theory and practice impossibly far apart. It leaves without rational justification, convictions on which the whole world is content to act confidently, because in holding them men are conscious that they do apprehend, although they are not conscious of the whole process which leads to their apprehension. Let us at least, he pleads, abandon the pedantry of a symmetrical theory against which the facts cry aloud.

This is the point urged first by him in some of the 'University Sermons' preached in the 'thirties and 'forties. Newman showed in these sermons that not formal logic but a man's spontaneous reasoning, which is largely 'implicit' or 'unconscious' of its own methods, is the process that does the important work in most of the practical convictions of this life. The subsequent attempt of the mind to analyse that process, to trace its steps in terms of formal logic and thus show their reliability, though not without value, fails to give anything like a complete account of it. It is only an outline sketch. Logic is, he holds, unequal to the complete ascertainment or expression of the actual mental process. And it is obviously unequal to testing the validity of what it does not fully master.

The phrase 'implicit reason' is used in the 'University Sermons' as equivalent to a man's spontaneous reasoning, which is largely unconscious of its own nature, 'explicit' reasoning being the formal arguments of which it is conscious.

I will read two extracts from the sermon on Explicit and Implicit Reason which present his position, the first clearly, and the second picturesquely. He first notes the {79} distinction between the spontaneous process of reasoning, which is largely subconscious, and its conscious analysis.

Here, then, are two processes, distinct from each other;—the original process of reasoning, and next, the process of investigating our reasonings. All men reason, for to reason is nothing more than to gain truth from former truth, without the intervention of sense, to which brutes are limited; but all men do not reflect upon their own reasonings, much less reflect truly and accurately, so as to do justice to their own meaning; but only in proportion to their abilities and attainments. In other words, all men have a reason, but not all men can give a reason. We may denote, then, these two exercises of mind as reasoning and arguing, or as conscious and unconscious reasoning, or as Implicit Reason and Explicit Reason. And to the latter belong the words, science, method, development, analysis, criticism, proof, system, principles, rules, laws, and others of a like nature ... The exercise of analysis is not necessary to the integrity of the process analysed. The process of reasoning is complete in itself, and independent. The analysis is but an account of it; it does not make the conclusion correct; it does not make the inference rational. It does not cause a given individual to reason better. It does but give him a sustained consciousness, for good or for evil, that he is reasoning. How a man reasons is as much a mystery as how he remembers. He remembers better and worse on different subject-matters, and he reasons better and worse. [Note 2]

I will now read the second extract, a singularly eloquent and picturesque passage, in which he describes how a man of active mind often reaches his conclusion by a path largely subconscious, which baffles the pursuit of slow and systematic logic, and which yet—notably in the case of a great intuitive genius—again and again lands him in a true conclusion.

Reason, according to the simplest view of it, is the faculty of gaining knowledge without direct perception, or of ascertaining one thing by means of another. In this way it is able, from small beginnings, to create to itself a world of ideas, which do or do not correspond to the things themselves for which they stand, or are true or not, according as it is exercised soundly or otherwise. {80} One fact may suffice for a whole theory; one principle may create and sustain a system; one minute token is a clue to a large discovery. The mind ranges to and fro, and spreads out, and advances forward with a quickness which has become a proverb, and a subtlety and versatility which baffle investigation. It passes on from point to point, gaining one by some indication; another on a probability; then availing itself of an association; then falling back on some received law; next seizing on testimony; then committing itself to some popular impression, or some inward instinct, or some obscure memory; and thus it makes progress not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff, who, by quick eye, prompt hand, and firm foot, ascends how he knows not himself, by personal endowments and by practice, rather than by rule, leaving no track behind him, and unable to teach another. It is not too much to say that the stepping by which great geniuses scale the mountains of truth is as unsafe and precarious to men in general, as the ascent of a skilful mountaineer up a literal crag. It is a way which they alone can take; and its justification lies in their success. [Note 3]

The case of men of genius shows Newman's theory at its best advantage. For the process is for them far more than in ordinary minds, beyond the power of analysis, whether of the thinker himself or of those who would reproduce his thought. And the confidence of the reasoner and the extent and accuracy of his actual achievement are also at their highest point when genius is present.

It is not too much to say [he writes] that there is no one of the greater achievements of the Reason, which would show to advantage, which would be apparently justified and protected from criticism, if thrown into the technical forms which the science of argument requires. The most remarkable victories of genius, remarkable both in their originality and the confidence with which they have been pursued, have been gained, as though by invisible weapons, by ways of thought so recondite and intricate that the mass of men are obliged to take them on trust, till the event or other evidence confirms them ... Consider the preternatural sagacity with which a great general knows what his friends and enemies are about, and what will be the final result, and where, of their combined movements,—and then say {81} whether, if he were required to argue the matter in word or on paper, all his most brilliant conjectures might not be refuted, and all his producible reasons exposed as illogical. [Note 4]

But the spontaneous process of the mind, even in smaller men, constantly baffles analysis. It may represent accurate reasoning or it may not. But we cannot test its accuracy by analysis. In order to analyse it we have to delineate accurately all that the living mind 'sees and feels'—and in such delineation, as in painting a face, the slightest wrong stroke may change the whole expression. The logician's formal methods cannot succeed in a task at once so difficult and so delicate. A writer does indeed often profess to analyse his arguments logically and to give his reasons in words. But he really cannot succeed in analysing them. The reasons he adduces as the equivalents of his mind's action are really but suggestions of it.

It is hardly too much to say, that almost all reasons formally adduced in moral inquiries, are rather specimens and symbols of the real grounds, than those grounds themselves. They do but approximate to a representation of the general character of the proof which the writer wishes to convey to another's mind. They cannot, like mathematical proof, be passively followed with an attention confined to what is stated, and with the admission of nothing but what is urged. Rather, they are hints towards, and samples of, the true reasoning, and demand an active, ready, candid, and docile mind, which can throw itself into what is said, neglect verbal difficulties, and pursue and carry out principles. [Note 5]

Such is the nature of the distinction drawn in the 'University Sermons' between the reasoning process in the living mind which is spontaneous, and largely subconscious or implicit, and the attempts to reduce it to explicit argument which are never wholly adequate, and result at best only in its partial expression.

The 'Grammar of Assent' pursues the same subject more formally, and with great variety of illustration. The illative sense is the term used in its pages to express the {82} mind's power of spontaneously reasoning and concluding, whether its action can be explicitly analysed or not. And Newman shows that in obvious instances the minds of all men do reason and conclude with invincible confidence, and even come to a common conclusion, in cases where the attempt to analyse the process logically and to make it explicit has not even been made, and when made proves impossible to complete quite satisfactorily. Moreover the mind retains its confidence in such a conclusion, even though this subsequent attempt at analysis has been made and has failed to justify that confidence. This testifies to the fact that all men do actually rely in many cases on their subconscious reasons, quite apart from all explicit logical justification of them. No man can consistently hold to a theory of knowledge which denies this. Newman gives such instances as the belief of each of us that he will die; and the belief which the mass of Englishmen who have never sailed round Britain confidently entertain, that Britain is an island. Of the second instance he writes thus:

We are all absolutely certain, beyond the possibility of doubt, that Great Britain is an island. We give to that proposition our deliberate and unconditional adhesion. There is no security on which we should be better content to stake our interests, our property, our welfare than on the fact that we are living in an island. We have no fear of any geographical discovery which may reverse our belief …

Our reasons for believing that we are circumnavigable are such as these:—first, we have been so taught in our childhood, and it is so in all the maps; next, we have never heard it contradicted or questioned; on the contrary, every one whom we have heard speak on the subject of Great Britain, every book we have read, invariably took it for granted; our whole national history, the routine transactions and current events of the country, our social and commercial system, our political relations with foreigners, imply it in one way or another. Numberless facts, or what we consider facts, rest on the truth of it; no received fact rests on its being otherwise. If there is anywhere a junction between us and the continent, where is it? and how do we know it? is it in the north or in the south? There is a manifest reductio {83} ad absurdum attached to the notion that we can be deceived on such a point as this. [Note 6]

Yet, he argues, these reasons are not at all adequate to the confidence of the conclusion.

Negative arguments and circumstantial evidence are not all, in such a matter, which we have a right to require. They are not the highest kind of proof possible. Those who have circumnavigated the island have a right to be certain: have we ever ourselves even fallen in with any one who has? And as to the common belief, what is the proof that we are not all of us believing it on the credit of each other? And then, when it is said that every one believes it, and everything implies it, how much comes home to me personally of this 'every one' and 'everything?' The question is, Why do I believe it myself? A living statesman is said to have fancied Demerara an island; his belief was an impression; have we personally more than an impression, if we view the matter argumentatively, a lifelong impression about Great Britain, like the belief, so long and so widely entertained, that the earth was immovable and the sun careered round it? I am not at all insinuating that we are not rational in our certitude; I only mean that we cannot analyse a proof satisfactorily, the result of which good sense actually guarantees to us. [Note 7]

We are certain, then, that Great Britain is an island, although we are unable to give explicit reasons fully justifying that certainty. Our minds habitually entertain the conviction with absolute certainty on grounds which we cannot reduce to conscious and explicit argument. But, even supposing that, after much reflection, we did eventually obtain a complete logical justification of the belief, we should not be more certain that Britain is an island after we had got the proof: we should not have the faintest doubt of its truth while we were in process of looking for the proof. Nor are we made the least uncertain of the fact when first we realise that we have not as yet got a complete proof. Thus it is clear that our certainty is caused by subconscious grounds for belief, and not by the conscious proof, the very need for which is an afterthought, and the gaining of which is a later discovery. In a very happy sentence Newman {84} expresses this dependence of the mind for its confidence not on later analysis, but on its primary spontaneous judgment.

'The mind [is] unequal to a complete analysis of the motives which carry it on to a particular conclusion, and is swayed and determined by a body of proof, which it recognises only as a body, and not in its constituent parts.' [Note 8]

Some of the most important determining causes in such a proof are often, he says, 'recondite and impalpable.' Such recondite and impalpable reasons we owe often to lessons of experience, forgotten in detail, leaving their mark on the mind and yet giving us a power of sound judgment on the ground they cover. Often a man with a 'heart and an eye for truth' whom self-interest makes both cautious and alert, whom special experience makes wise in the particular field, can form a confident opinion on the evidence before him when the bare facts, plain to all alike, and thrown into syllogistic form, warrant no confidence at all. Here is a case in point given in the 'Grammar of Assent':

I will take a question of the present moment. 'We shall have a European war, for Greece is audaciously defying Turkey.' How are we to test the validity of the reason, implied, not expressed, in the word 'for'? Only the judgment of diplomatists, statesmen, capitalists, and the like, founded on experience, strengthened by practical and historical knowledge, controlled by self-interest, can decide the worth of that 'for' in relation to accepting or not accepting the conclusion which depends on it. The argument is from concrete fact to concrete fact. How will mere logical inferences, which cannot proceed without general and abstract propositions, help us on to the determination of this particular case? It is not the case of Switzerland attacking Austria, or of Portugal attacking Spain, or of Belgium attacking Prussia, but a case without parallels. To draw a scientific conclusion, the argument must run somewhat in this way:—'All audacious defiances of Turkey on the part of Greece must end in a European war; these present acts of Greece are such: ergo;' where the major premiss is more difficult to accept than the conclusion, and the proof becomes an 'obscurum per obscurius.' But, in truth, I should not betake myself to some one universal proposition to defend my own view of the matter; {85} I should determine the particular case by its particular circumstances, by the combination of many uncatalogued experiences floating in my memory, of many reflections, variously produced, felt rather than capable of statement; and if I had them not, I should go to those who had. [Note 9]

Does Newman then, it will be asked, simply set aside logic as a corrective to false reasoning? He is not so foolish. He in no sense denies the value of formal logic or the importance of logical training. He only denies the adequacy of logic as an instrument of analysis for the subtler processes of reasoning. Logic can detect false reasoning in simple cases and in a limited field, but it cannot keep pace with the subtler or more extended operations of the human reason. Logical training has all the value of sham fights in military manœuvres. We rehearse our operations under chosen conditions at first simpler, then more complicated and difficult, and learn to perform them successfully. This is excellent practice for those yet more extended operations of actual warfare in which the conditions are not of our making. Trained skill guides us in a complex situation which we cannot completely analyse in all its details. The value of logical training for the mind is as unquestionable on Newman's theory as the importance of experience, of habits of sober and wise judgment, of an impartial survey of all relevant facts where this is possible. Such habits and discipline train the living mind, and enable it to do its work effectively and accurately in the unexpected conditions that life brings. But logic and analysis of the data before the mind cannot, as a rule, keep pace with its larger and more important operations, and so they cannot test its more important conclusions. There is no test of such conclusions beyond the confident assertion of the disciplined mind itself, the positive decision of the illative sense that the conclusion is warranted.

Now it is obvious that the theory of an 'illative sense' incapable of analysis might be made to consecrate the mere prejudice of an individual as reasoning of the highest kind. It is important, therefore, to remember Newman's pregnant {86} maxim, 'truth is wrought out by many minds working freely together.' He fully realised that the thought and knowledge of others may be often necessary to enable an individual to reach a definite justifiable conclusion. One man's own experience and capacity may not cover the case. The accumulation from all quarters of really relevant explicit evidence is obviously in many cases a necessity for reliable judgment, though the individual brings also his own store of implicit evidence; and inevitably he must use his powers of judgment in drawing his own conclusion. We must not forget the important line of argument in the Lecture on 'Christianity and Scientific Investigation,' in which he notes that every science has its bearing on the universe of knowable truth. This, as I have already said, does not clash with Newman's theory of the illative sense, but it supplements it. It does not impugn the view that the individual mind outstrips the logic it uses: though it shows that many minds see further and more widely than one. Newman seems to hold that a perfectly disciplined mind will not conclude positively beyond its own capacity, knowledge, and right to conclude. Many minds may be enabled to reach the truth on a given subject when one mind fails to do so; but a well-trained mind will not regard a conclusion as certain where certainty is not warranted. These two important lines of thought—on the individual reason as transcending logic, and the corporate reason as transcending the individual—are set forth by Newman. They are mutually corrective; he nowhere works out their full reconciliation, but it is suggested in his theory of the evolution of thought in the community and in the race, of which I shall speak later.

Such then, in outline; is Newman's theory of implicit or subconscious reason and the illative sense. I now come to his anticipation of 'pragmatism.' Pragmatism, like the illative sense, is concerned with bringing the theory of reasoning more closely into touch with the spontaneous reasoning of a healthy mind which is practical. 'I recognise,' writes Professor Schiller in a letter to myself, 'that Newman was one of the forerunners and anticipators of pragmatism, and that he discovered in a quite original and independent {87} manner the great discrepancy there is between the actual course of human reasoning and the description of it in the logical text-books.' The natural spontaneous reasonings of man in the affairs of life satisfy the pragmatist's requirements: but the scientific thinkers, while they often fail in analysing them by their science, are apt—so the pragmatist maintains—to elaborate instead artificial reasonings in spheres which are wholly apart from the needs of life. Their science thus fails doubly in its attempts to give a theory of knowledge. It fails to keep pace with our real and practical knowledge, and it directs attention into useless channels.

The term 'pragmatism' was first used by Mr. Charles Sanders Pierce in an article written in 1878. Professor William James, in his 'Varieties of Religious Experience,' thus summarises Mr. Pierce's account of what he meant by the term:

Thought in movement has for its only conceivable motive the attainment of belief, or thought at rest. Only when our thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the subject firmly and safely begin. Beliefs, in short, are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits. If there were any part of a thought that made no difference in the thought's practical consequences, then that part would be no proper element of the thought's significance ... Our conception of these practical consequences is for us the whole of our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all. [Note 10]

Professor James goes on to apply Mr. Pierce's principle of pragmatism in disparagement of the metaphysical attributes of God as distinguished from His moral qualities, an application which, as we shall see, Newman disputes. The metaphysical qualities have no practical consequences for us, the moral have. Theologians speak of God's 'aseity,' of His necessity, His immateriality, His simplicity, &c. And Mr. James contends, on the pragmatic principle, that such attributes have no practical bearing on our conduct and therefore cannot have any positive significance. {88}

Pray, what specific act can I perform in order to adapt myself the better to God's simplicity? Or how does it assist me to plan my behaviour, to know that his happiness is anyhow absolutely complete? ... What is the deduction of metaphysical attributes [by the theologians] but a shuffling and matching of pedantic dictionary-adjectives, aloof from morals, aloof from human needs, something that might be worked out from the mere word 'God' by one of those logical machines of wood and brass which recent ingenuity has contrived as well as by a man of flesh and blood ... One feels that in the theologians' hands, they are only a set of titles obtained by a mechanical manipulation of synonyms; verbality has stepped into the place of vision, professionalism into that of life. Instead of bread we have a stone; instead of a fish, a serpent. [Note 11]

Far other, says Professor James, is the significance of the moral attributes of God. Here we are in a territory of really fruitful and practical knowledge. He continues as follows:

What shall we now say of the attributes called moral? Pragmatically, they stand on an entirely different footing. They positively determine fear and hope and expectation, and are foundations for the saintly life. It needs but a glance at them to show how great is their significance.

God's holiness, for example: being holy, God can will nothing but the good. Being omnipotent, he can secure its triumph. Being omniscient, he can see us in the dark. Being just, he can punish us for what he sees. Being loving, he can pardon too. Being unalterable, we can count on him securely. These qualities enter into connection with our life, it is highly important that we should be informed concerning them. That God's purpose in creation should be the manifestation of his glory is also an attribute which has definite relations to our practical life. Among other things it has given a definite character to worship in all Christian countries. If dogmatic theology really does prove beyond dispute that a God with characteristics like these exists, she may well claim to give a solid basis to religious sentiment. [Note 12] {89}

Newman appears to me to have been keenly alive to the incidental truths in these passages. And yet he guarded himself carefully against the exaggerations they contain. In his theory of implicit reason and the illative sense, he emphasised the fact that all the thought that most matters for us in life relates to the concrete, and bears on our actions. But he had even earlier—in his famous letters on the Tamworth reading-room—dwelt strongly on the pragmatist's initial plea that life is for action, and that action presupposes belief. He had argued on this ground for a generous faith prompted largely by the practical instinct and in excess of formal proof. There is, he pointed out, an over-cautious way of regarding and using the human reason which prevents it from keeping pace with the inevitable necessities of action. This is, to some extent, in line with the pragmatist's thought. The passage from the Tamworth letters is less guarded than his later treatment of the subject, but it is so eloquent and characteristic that I will quote it:

Life is not long enough for a religion of inferences; we shall never have done beginning, if we determine to begin with proof. We shall ever be laying our foundations; we shall turn theology into evidences, and divines into textuaries. We shall never get at our first principles. Resolve to believe nothing, and you must prove your proofs and analyse your elements, sinking farther and farther, and finding 'in the lowest depth a lower deep,' till you come to the broad bosom of scepticism. I would rather be bound to defend the reasonableness of assuming that Christianity is true, than to demonstrate a moral governance from the physical world. Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action: to act you must assume, and that assumption is faith.

Let no one suppose that in saying this I am maintaining that all proofs are equally difficult, and all propositions equally debatable. Some assumptions are greater than others, and some doctrines involve postulates larger than others, and more numerous. I only say, that impressions lead to action, and that reasonings lead from it. Knowledge of premises, and inferences upon them,—this is not to live. It is very well as a matter of liberal curiosity and of philosophy to analyse our modes of thought: but let this come second, and when there is leisure {90} for it, and then our examinations will in many ways even be subservient to action. But if we commence with scientific knowledge and argumentative proof, or lay any great stress upon it as the basis of personal Christianity, or attempt to make man moral and religious by libraries and museums, let us in consistency take chemists for our cooks, and mineralogists for our masons. [Note 13]

As we have seen, the theory of the illative sense is an attempt to include in his avowed Philosophy of belief, the maximum of actually existing and practically influential evidence (explicit and implicit), not to limit it to that portion only which is scientific in form. All this is in accord with Mr. Pierce's and Professor James's principle of pragmatism. For it accords minor importance to arguments, however scientific, which fall short of the requirements of action. Again, it is to be observed that in dealing with Natural Religion in the 'Grammar of Assent,' Newman goes some way with the passages on the attributes of God which I have read from Professor James's pages. He concentrates his main attention on the knowledge of God which we gain through the human conscience—knowledge of a most practical kind. Conscience represents God primarily as our Judge (he holds). Yet also it presents God in His moral beauty, a God whom we can trust and love, a Father as well as a Judge. He also in large measure admits the principle which later pragmatists have avowed, that a belief which works is thereby shown to have truth in it. That truth may, of course, be only relative truth, as in the case of the astronomical beliefs of our forefathers in the Middle Ages who steered their ships by the stars, and yet wrongly analysed the causes of the phenomena which practically helped them.

But Newman entered a caveat against exaggerations of pragmatism in this field. While he recognised the primary importance of those beliefs which guide our actions, he also saw that we have no right to disparage dogmatically the importance of further truths of which we cannot see the {91} pragmatic value. They may have a bearing on our welfare which our limited minds do not know, and may be in reality inseparably connected with truths whose connection with our well-being we do not see. If so they have real significance for us. Here his point is most clearly brought out by an analogy on which he often touches, though he never develops it. A blind man knows very little of the external world which, as we who have sight know, is constantly acting on him in multifarious ways. For him, only the knowledge gained through touch and hearing has pragmatic value. It may well be, Newman suggests, that we men have equally little direct knowledge of the full reality of things which act on us and affect our destiny. Yet if by inference or by testimony we gain some indirect or imperfect knowledge of it, we have no right to dismiss it as without significance for us. The blind man might be unable to understand the pragmatic value of information concerning distant objects which we who have sight might communicate to him. To him they might appear wholly unrelated to his own well-being, because the science tracing the relationship might be unintelligible without sight. Yet the information we communicate to him is true and of really practical importance to him. Similarly men have no right to dismiss the metaphysical side of theology as untrue, or even as having no practical significance for them. Newman holds that Divine Truth really affects us, yet is so imperfectly understood by us that we cannot know its full relation to ourselves. Dogmatic formulę are human attempts to express the revelation of portions of that truth which is imparted to us by a higher mind with wider knowledge than our own, and in reality—though we do not understand how—closely affects our destiny, just as we impart knowledge to the blind man which he can only partly understand.

It is, of course, obvious that to the end, while our faculties are as limited as they are in this life, the truths which stand for us the pragmatic test whose bearing on ourselves we do understand, affect our practical religious life and action in a far higher degree than the others of which the practical importance for us is understood only by a mind with wider {92} knowledge than our own. Yet here, too, the analogy of the information given by one who sees to the sightless holds good. His warning vision may tell the blind man of dangers which he cannot himself descry—of an approaching fire, of a falling house. The blind man moves in obedience to the information of one who sees its pragmatic value, though such movement is not inspired by any personal perception on his own part of that value. So, too, if we have indeed a revelation from God, we may most reasonably accept truths of which we cannot see the use, as being really the completion of what we can understand, as the world known to the blind by touch is more fully known by sight, and warnings based on such truths may be providential and wise.

In comparing John Henry Newman's teaching with William James's pragmatism, then, we have this difference. Professor James rejects, as having no real significance, what does not for us satisfy the pragmatic test. Newman also dwells on what does satisfy it as most practical for us. So far they are agreed. But Newman holds, and Mr. James seems to deny, that truths above the full comprehension of man may well have a practical significance for us which we do not adequately understand. Newman fully appreciates the value of the pragmatic test, and yet he regards it as intellectual impertinence to measure the reality or its significance by our direct and complete knowledge. He recognises half knowledge, things seen through a glass darkly, of which we shall not know the bearing on ourselves until the day when we see them face to face.

I will now speak of the philosophical views set forth in Newman's famous 'Essay on Development,' and in the almost equally famous University Sermon on the same subject. It is in these two works that we find his views on metaphysics outlined. And we find in them also, as I have already indicated, a valuable complement to his theory of the illative sense, for they deal with cooperative thought—with the evolution of thought in the community. In combining the evolution of thought with a theory of metaphysics Newman, however informal his manner, however {93} far it is removed from that of a Professor of Metaphysics, challenges a comparison with Hegel. True thinkers are apt to touch the same lines of thought, however different their method and their point of departure. Few would have suspected an affinity between Comte and Hegel before Caird pointed it out in his work on the social philosophy of Comte. And the theological object of Newman's essays makes one even slower to anticipate such affinity in his case. Yet there is in Newman's informal suggestions enough of resemblance to be worth noting. The idea of the gradual deepening of thought in the synthesis of aspects of objective reality is certainly common to Newman's idea of development and Hegel's conception of evolution.

Lord Haldane in his 'Pathway to Reality' thus speaks of evolution as conceived by Hegel:

The world in which we live, the world as it seems, has an infinity of aspects … The nature of thought is not to rest satisfied with any one of these aspects or with any one of the conceptions under which they arise ... It is not only in time that you have evolution; you have evolution in thought, in the stages of comprehension, and evolution in which what comes last in time is first in thought, because all the stages that precede it in time are really only fragments of it isolated by the abstractions of reflection. [Note 14]

Now I will read some sentences from the account of Newman's philosophical theory of development in his famous essay.

'When,' Newman asks, 'does an idea represent an object'? This is ascertained, he replies, by its development. The individual mind or the collective mind of the community gradually comprehends the whole from the synthesis of its various aspects. And this constitutes the development of the idea relatively to us.

It is a characteristic of our minds [he writes] that they cannot take an object in, which is submitted to them simply and integrally. We conceive by means of definition or description; {94} whole objects do not create in the intellect whole ideas, but are, to use a mathematical phrase, thrown into series, into a number of statements, strengthening, interpreting, correcting each other, and with more or less exactness approximating, as they accumulate, to a perfect image ... We cannot teach except by aspects or views, which are not identical with the thing itself which we are teaching. [Note 15]

Newman applies this view to the whole field of knowledge of the 'things which come before us'—knowledge of the material universe, knowledge of the animal kingdom and of mankind, knowledge of the genius of a movement of human thought in history, knowledge of a philosophy or of a faith. All of these things make an impression on those who contemplate them. Each mind contemplates the object under one or more aspects. The complete idea of the object is the sum total of the aspects.

The idea which represents an object or supposed object [Newman writes] is commensurate with the sum total of its possible aspects, however they may vary in the separate consciousness of individuals; and in proportion to the variety of aspects under which it presents itself to various minds is its force and depth, and the argument for its reality. Ordinarily an idea is not brought home to the intellect as objective except through this variety; like bodily substances, which are not apprehended except under the clothing of their properties and results, and which admit of being walked round, and surveyed on opposite sides, and in different perspectives, and in contrary lights, in evidence of their reality. And, as views of a material object may be taken from points so remote or so opposed, that they seem at first sight incompatible, and especially as their shadows will be disproportionate, or even monstrous, and yet all these anomalies will disappear and all these contrarieties be adjusted, on ascertaining the point of vision or the surface of projection in each case; so also all the aspects of an idea are capable of coalition, and of a resolution into the object to which it belongs; and the prima facie dissimilitude of its aspects becomes, when explained, an argument for its substantiveness and integrity, and their multiplicity for its originality and power. [Note 16] {95}

In applying this view especially to our knowledge of material objects, Newman notes that, though we may rightly speak of them as objects, the object is only known to us in terms of such ideas as belong to our human intellects and senses, and we have no security that these are adequate to comprehending the full reality. In this connection especially he uses an analogy of which I have already spoken. A race without sight would picture objects under ideas derived from touch, smell, hearing, and muscular sensations. This would be an inadequate symbol of the world which we men know by sight. Our world would not be wholly conceivable to those who lacked the sense of sight. Similarly there may be a deeper knowledge of reality inconceivable to us which a further development of our intellectual and sense faculties might give. This view is enforced in the last of the University Sermons. We conceive external nature in terms of our present senses, its colours, shapes, scents, sounds. Our ideas of its objects are made up of the various aspects which these qualities represent. Yet they may be quite inadequate to the full reality; and Newman suggests that the reality might be more truly known by other senses, as different from our present ones as they are from each other. The Divine mind only, the perfect intelligence, can know the reality as it is in itself.

Newman's account of the evolution of human thought in its relation to an idea precedes his study of the development of an idea in history. They are two sides of the same process. History reveals the fortunes of an idea in the busy scene of life impinging on many minds, and by its action on them at once moulding the course of history and itself being modified by other ideas existing in those minds. It shows empirically how the various aspects reveal themselves gradually and successively to the community. Readers who study the 'Essay on Development' as mere history and controversy, giving little attention to the first chapters, which deal with the evolution of thought in relation to an idea, miss the character of the work, which is at once philosophical and historical. The junction between these two modes of looking at the process is given in a remarkable {96} section. Its length makes it impossible for me to quote here; but I will read the opening paragraph:

Let [an] idea get possession of the popular mind, or the mind of any portion of the community, and it is not difficult to understand what will be the result. At first men will not fully realise what it is that moves them, and will express and explain themselves inadequately. There will be a general agitation of thought, and an action of mind upon mind. There will be a time of confusion, when conceptions and misconceptions are in conflict, and it is uncertain whether anything is to come of the idea at all, or which view of it is to get the start of the others. New lights will be brought to bear upon the original statements of the doctrine put forward; judgments and aspects will accumulate. After a while some definite teaching emerges; and, as time proceeds, one view will be modified or expanded by another, and then combined with a third; till the idea to which these various aspects belong, will be to each mind separately what at first it was only to all together. It will be surveyed too in its relation to other doctrines or facts, to other natural laws or established customs, to the varying circumstances of times and places, to other religions, politics, philosophies, as the case may be. How it stands affected towards other systems, how it affects them, how far it may be made to combine with them, how far it tolerates them, when it interferes with them, will be gradually wrought out. It will be interrogated and criticised by enemies, and defended by well-wishers. The multitude of opinions formed concerning it in these respects and many others will be collected, compared, sorted, sifted, selected, rejected, gradually attached to it, separated from it, in the minds of individuals and of the community. It will, in proportion to its native vigour and subtlety, introduce itself into the framework and details of social life, changing public opinion, and strengthening or undermining the foundations of established order. Thus in time it will have grown into an ethical code, or into a system of government, or into a theology ... according to its capabilities: and this body of thought, thus laboriously gained, will after all be little more than the proper representative of one idea, being in substance what that idea meant from the first, its complete image as seen in a combination of diversified aspects, with the suggestions and corrections of many minds, and the illustration of many experiences. [Note 17] {97}

Here we are brought by another path to the subject dealt with in the lecture on 'Christianity and Scientific Investigation'—that 'truth is wrought out by many minds working freely together.' In that lecture he points out that human knowledge is gained by a synthesis of the sciences; each science deals with an aspect of nature, and their synthesis is attained adequately only by free discussion among the experts. In the Development Essay the process is described in relation to the development of a living idea amid the haphazard reasonings, feelings and prejudices of a large community. The process is indicated in the Irish lecture as applying to the work of experts in the whole field of knowledge. The first is an empirical account of what happens when a crowd of men who reason, some well and some badly, get hold of an idea. The last is the ideal condition for the truest development. It is the energy of human minds in cooperation that actually develops knowledge. If that energy is among the experts, whose knowledge is full and whose heart is set on truth, each in his own department, the progress is obviously towards ever exacter knowledge. Here, as in the individual illative sense, there can be no final external test. A perfectly trained mind and a heart set on truth, make the illative sense sure in its action so far as its knowledge goes. The same condition among the several thinkers who cooperate makes their action fruitful in a wider field.

Where an idea develops not among experts, but in the community at large, amid minds many of them incompetent or prejudiced, Newman still holds that if the idea is a real one it may be preserved and developed by a community which on the whole apprehends it truly and is possessed by it, although, of course, it may also be corrupted and become erroneous if false principles or principles inconsistent with the idea prevail in that community. He gives in his famous essay certain tests which indicate whether the process is leading to a true exhibition of the idea and not corrupting it. And as the living character of thought is what he preaches from first to last, these tests are not unnaturally taken from the science of life,—biology. {98}

Seven tests of a true development—a development which preserves the same living idea—as distinguished from a corruption which changes or kills the living idea, are given by him: (1) preservation of type, as the type of the child is preserved, though altered and strengthened in the man; (2) continuity of principles, in the sense in which the principle of one language favours compound words, while that of another does not; (3) the power of assimilating apparently foreign material, as a plant will grow luxuriantly in one habitat and only sparely in another, but assimilates more or less foreign material in any habitat in which it will grow at all; (4) 'early anticipation' of the mature form, as the Russian nation began to aim at Constantinople centuries before they were a great Power even on the Black Sea, and as Athanasius was made a bishop by his playfellows in anticipation of his genius for ecclesiastical government, or as Sir Walter Scott delighted his schoolfellows by relating stories to them when he was a mere child; (5) 'logical sequence' of ideas, as when Jeroboam, in his anxiety to prevent a return of the ten tribes to their old allegiance, set up a worship that might wean them from their attachment to Jerusalem, on the express ground that if he did not, their religious instinct would be taking them back to their great Temple; (6) 'preservative additions,' such, for instance, as courts of justice, to the authority of government, which strengthens the government by protecting the obedient and punishing the rebellious; and finally, (7) 'chronic continuance,' as the chronic continuance of the American Union shows that the republican principle is still alive, whereas the gradual engrafting of imperial institutions on republican forms showed that the republican principle or idea was dying out in ancient Rome.

All these tests of true, as distinguished from corrupt or deteriorating, development [writes Mr. Hutton] are discussed by Newman with admirable subtlety, and a very fine sense for the scientific character of the conception of evolution itself … which was certainly very remarkable in the year 1845. [Note 18] {99}

We see, I think, in the outline I have given of Newman's positions that he was fully alive to the problems of epistemology and metaphysics. The characteristic of his treatment is a keen sense of fact and a dislike of the pedantry involved in theory which does not correspond to fact. Better an incomplete theory than this. It may be said that his minute study of the psychology of knowledge led him to the conclusion that no adequate epistemology is possible. Thus I am brought back to his saying: 'The human mind is unequal to its own powers of apprehension,' as limiting his view of the scope for fruitful work in philosophy. A complete theory presupposes that the human mind is equal to its powers of apprehension. To Newman such a complete theory had, I think, some of the absurdity of the famous recipe for catching a bird by putting salt on its tail. When you can catch the bird you will be able to put the salt on its tail, and when you can discern and submit to the philosopher's microscope all the elements of the living mind which thinks and knows, you can form a complete theory of knowledge.

But, impatient though he is of exaggerated claims for philosophy, he did not deny the necessity of noting the methods which ensure precision in our mental operations, and carefully investigating and roughly defining the sphere in which human reason may be exercised with fruitful results. The living energy of reasoning was fruitful where the mechanism of formal logic was sterile. Logic could not test the subtler and more important operations of the mind. Philosophy could not adequately describe regions beyond our present human experiences. But this did not mean that truth was in his view what each man troweth. The rules of the logician may help the living mind to be exact in its operations, though they cannot do its work or test its conclusions. The metaphysician could outline the relation of our mind to reality though he could do no more. As to the sphere in which our reasoning powers are competent and fruitful, like the pragmatist, he looked primarily to the region of experience; but he conceived of it as wider than our present human experience, just as that {100} is wider than the experience of the sightless or the lower animals.

In the field of human experience, as we have seen, he looked to cooperation among trained specialists for the fullest knowledge, the completest experience; and each field of their observation obviously had its own scientific methods. The synthetic mind that combines the results of experience in different fields must obviously be trained in logical habit. That the living mind said the last word did not mean that untrained instinct was to be allowed to determine its utterance or its field of action.

But while the perceptive experience of the race, which was at its highest in the experts, is for Newman the field of direct human knowledge, his metaphysic admits of indirect and imperfect knowledge transcending human experience. Human experience is only one stage in experience more widely conceived, which is the growing knowledge of reality corresponding to various existing and conceivable grades of consciousness. He seeks for knowledge of reality in the deepening of experience. So far he would endorse Mr. James, who writes:

The absolutely true, meaning what no further experience will ever alter, is that ideal vanishing-point towards which we imagine that all our temporary truths will some day converge. It runs on all fours with the perfectly wise man and with the absolutely complete experience. [Note 19]

But Newman places Mr. James's vanishing-point above the experience of even the wisest man. He conceives the whole field of experience as including what is above all possible human experience on earth (just as human experience is above that of lower grades of consciousness). We have no conceivable right to regard man's experience as the highest conceivable in the ever-growing relations between reality and knowledge which the animal kingdom reveals in its stages of consciousness. Experience as a whole thus includes for Newman what is transcendent to man's direct knowledge. Man's consciousness is itself transcendent to the sphere accessible to lower animals. An angel's is {101} transcendent to the human sphere. Yet we might conceivably receive intimations from the angels' higher sphere, as a dog learns from his master's orders, which are determined by his master's fuller knowledge. What is transcendent to the dog's own perceptions may thus be indirectly conveyed to it by a higher mind. So it may be with man in relation to truths above his own experience.

The results of this conception are most apparent in Newman's views of religious knowledge. Conscience is the point at which human experience touches the borders of the divine, and it supplies a touchstone for testing a revelation which comes from a mind whose direct experience is of Divine Truth. And Christ, who is at once God and Man, supplies the meeting-ground for human experience and divine. The Christian revelation is the fulfilment and further development of the voice in conscience which speaks to us of God and our duty, and is accepted by us as completing its intimations and expressed by the symbols of dogmatic formulę. Conscience, though developed in various degrees in individuals, is universal to man. Marcus Aurelius speaks as distinctly as a Christian of that inner voice which told him, as it tells Newman, of the Divine Presence.

This line of thought is different from the traditionary arguments which argue logically from the seen to the unseen as its cause. It goes to meet the Kantian arguments against the validity of our reason beyond the sphere of experience. It depends on a certain view of experience as deepening with the evolution of thought, and full knowledge of reality as coinciding with the divine knowledge. Hence Newman's argument necessarily involved indications of those views on metaphysics and epistemology which I have brought together from scattered indications throughout his essays and sermons. Huxley said in his sketch of Hume's philosophy that here and there there was more of his own thread than of Hume's beads; and a similar defect has been quite inevitable in my account of Newman's philosophy, because lines of thought often thrown out in an occasional sentence are too deep to be lost, yet they are not developed or set firmly in their philosophical context by the author.


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1. Letters and Correspondence of. J. H. Newman, edited by Anne Mozley, vol. ii. p. 311.
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2. Oxford University Sermons, pp. 258-9.
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3. Oxford University Sermons, pp. 256-7.
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4. Oxford University Sermons, p. 216, seq.
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5. Ibid., p. 275.
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6. Grammar of Assent, pp. 294-5.
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7. Ibid., pp. 295-6.
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8. Grammar of Assent, p. 292.
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9. Grammar of Assent, p. 303-4.
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10. Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 444-5.
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11. Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 446.
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12. Ibid., p. 447. It is not to my purpose to follow Professor James in his queries on this last question.
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13. Discussions and Arguments, Art. iv., pp. 295-6. Quoted by himself in Grammar of Assent, pp. 94-5.
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14. 'The Pathway to Reality.' Gifford Lectures, vol. ii. pp. 109-10.
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15. Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 55.
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16. Ibid., pp. 34-5.
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17. Development of Christian Doctrine, pp. 37-8.
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18. Cardinal Newman, by R. H. Hutton, p. 166.
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19. Pragmatism, by William James, p. 222.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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