Chapter 4. Notional and Real Assent

{36} 1. I HAVE said that our apprehension of a proposition varies in strength, and that it is stronger when it is concerned with a proposition expressive to us of things than when concerned with a proposition expressive of notions; and I have given this reason for it, viz. that what is concrete exerts a force and makes an impression on the mind which nothing abstract can rival. That is, I have argued that, because the object is more powerful, therefore so is the apprehension of it.

I do not think it unfair reasoning thus to take the apprehension for its object. The mind is ever stimulated in proportion to the cause stimulating it. Sights, for instance, sway us, as scents do not; whether this be owing to a greater power in the thing seen, or to a greater receptivity and expansiveness in the sense of seeing, is a superfluous question. The strong object would make the apprehension strong. Our sense of seeing is able to open to its object, as our sense of smell cannot open to its own. Its objects are able to awaken the mind, take possession of it, inspire it, act through it, {37} with an energy and variousness which is not found in the case of scents and their apprehension. Since we cannot draw the line between the object and the act, I am at liberty to say, as I have said, that, as is the thing apprehended, so is the apprehension.

And so in like manner as regards apprehension of mental objects. If an image derived from experience or information is stronger than an abstraction, conception, or conclusion—if I am more arrested by our Lord's bearing before Pilate and Herod than by the "Justum et tenacem" &c. of the poet, more arrested by His Voice saying to us, "Give to him that asketh thee," than by the best arguments of the Economist against indiscriminate almsgiving, it does not matter for my present purpose whether the objects give strength to the apprehension or the apprehension gives large admittance into the mind to the object. It is in human nature to be more affected by the concrete than by the abstract; it may be the reverse with other beings. The apprehension, then, may be as fairly said to possess the force which acts upon us, as the object apprehended.

2. Real apprehension, then, may be pronounced stronger than notional, because things, which are its objects, are confessedly more impressive and affective than notions, which are the objects of notional. Experiences and their images strike and occupy the mind, as abstractions and their combinations do not. Next, passing on to Assent, I observe that it is this variation in the mind's apprehension of an object to which it assents, and not any incompleteness in the assent itself, that leads us to speak of strong and weak assents, as {38} if Assent itself admitted of degrees. In either mode of apprehension, be it real or be it notional, the assent preserves its essential characteristic of being unconditional. The assent of a Stoic to the "Justum et tenacem" &c. may be as genuine an assent, as absolute and entire, as little admitting of degree or variation, as distinct from an act of inference, as the assent of a Christian to the history of our Lord's Passion in the Gospel.

3. However, characteristic as it is of Assent, to be thus in its nature simply one and indivisible, and thereby essentially different from Inference, which is ever varying in strength, never quite at the same pitch in any two of its acts, still it is at the same time true that it may be difficult in fact, by external tokens, to distinguish given acts of assent from given acts of inference. Thus, whereas no one could possibly confuse the real assent of a Christian to the fact of our Lord's crucifixion, with the notional acceptance of it, as a point of history, on the part of a philosophical heathen (so removed from each other, toto cœlo, are the respective modes of apprehending it in the two cases, though in both the assent is in its nature one and the same), nevertheless it would be easy to mistake the Stoic's notional assent, genuine though it might be, to the moral nobleness of the just man "struggling in the storms of fate," for a mere act of inference resulting from the principles of his Stoical profession, or again for an assent merely to the inferential necessity of the nobleness of that struggle. Nothing, indeed, is more common than to praise men for their consistency to {39} their principles, whatever those principles are, that is, to praise them on an inference, without thereby implying any assent to the principles themselves.

The cause of this resemblance between acts so distinct is obvious. Resemblance exists only in cases of notional assents; when the assent is given to notions, then indeed it is possible to hesitate in deciding whether it is assent or inference, whether the mind is merely without doubt or whether it is actually certain. And the reason is this: notional Assent seems like Inference, because the apprehension which accompanies acts of Inference is notional also,—because Inference is engaged for the most part on notional propositions, both premiss and conclusion. This point, which I have implied throughout, I here distinctly record, and shall enlarge upon hereafter. Only propositions about individuals are not notional, and these are seldom the matter of inference. Thus, did the Stoic infer the fact of our Lord's death instead of assenting to it, that proposition as inferred would have been as much an abstraction to him as the "Justum," &c.; nay further, the "Justus et tenax" was at least a notion in his mind, but "Jesus Christ" would, in the schools of Athens or of Rome, have stood for less, for an unknown being, the x or y of a formula. Except then in some of the cases of singular conclusions, inferences are employed on notions, unless, I say, they are employed on mere symbols; and, indeed, when they are symbolical, then are they clearest and most cogent, as I shall hereafter show. The next clearest are such as carry out the necessary results of previous classifications, and therefore may be called definitions or conclusions, {40} as we please. For instance, having divided beings into their classes, the definition of man is inevitable.

4. We may call it then the normal state of Inference to apprehend propositions as notions; and we may call it the normal state of Assent to apprehend propositions as things. If notional apprehension is most congenial to Inference, real apprehension will be the most natural concomitant on Assent. An act of Inference includes in its object the dependence of its thesis upon its premisses, that is, upon a relation, which is an abstraction; but an act of Assent rests wholly on the thesis as its object, and the reality of the thesis is almost a condition of its unconditionality.

5. I am led on to make one remark more, and it shall be my last.

An act of assent, it seems, is the most perfect and highest of its kind, when it is exercised on propositions, which are apprehended as experiences and images, that is, which stand for things; and, on the other hand, an act of inference is the most perfect and highest of its kind, when it is exercised on propositions which are apprehended as notions, that is, which are creations of the mind. An act of inference indeed may be made with either of these modes of apprehension; so may an act of assent; but when inferences are exercised on things, they tend to be conjectures or presentiments, without logical force; and when assents are exercised on notions, they tend to be mere assertions without any personal hold on them on the part of those who make them. If this be so, the paradox is true, that, {41} when Inference is clearest, Assent may be least forcible, and, when Assent is most intense, Inference may be least distinct;—for, though acts of assent require previous acts of inference, they require them, not as adequate causes, but as sine quâ non conditions; and, while the apprehension strengthens Assent, Inference often weakens the apprehension. {42}

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§ 1. Notional Assents

I shall consider Assent made to propositions which express abstractions or notions under five heads; which I shall call Profession, Credence, Opinion, Presumption, and Speculation.

1. Profession

There are assents so feeble and superficial, as to be little more than assertions. I class them all together under the head of Profession. Such are the assents made upon habit and without reflection; as when a man calls himself a Tory or a Liberal, as having been brought up as such; or again, when he adopts as a matter of course the literary or other fashions of the day, admiring the poems, or the novels, or the music, or the personages, or the costume, or the wines, or the manners, which happen to be popular, or are patronized in the higher circles. Such again are the assents of men of wavering restless minds, who take up and then abandon beliefs so readily, so suddenly, as to make it appear that they had no view (as it is called) on the matter they professed, and did not know to what they assented or why. {43}

Then, again, when men say they have no doubt of a thing, this is a case, in which it is difficult to determine whether they assent to it, infer it, or consider it highly probable. There are many cases, indeed, in which it is impossible to discriminate between assent, inference, and assertion, on account of the otiose, passive, inchoate character of the act in question. If I say that tomorrow will be fine, what does this enunciation mean? Perhaps it means that it ought to be fine, if the glass tells truly; then it is the inference of a probability. Perhaps it means no more than a surmise, because it is fine today, or has been so for the week past. And perhaps it is a compliance with the word of another, in which case it is sometimes a real assent, sometimes a polite assertion or a wish.

Many a disciple of a philosophical school, who talks fluently, does but assert, when he seems to assent to the dicta of his master, little as he may be aware of it. Nor is he secured against this self-deception by knowing the arguments on which those dicta rest, for he may learn the arguments by heart, as a careless schoolboy gets up his Euclid. This practice of asserting simply on authority, with the pretence and without the reality of assent, is what is meant by formalism. To say "I do not understand a proposition, but I accept it on authority," is not formalism, but faith; it is not a direct assent to the proposition, still it is an assent to the authority which enunciates it; but what I here speak of is professing to understand without understanding. It is thus that political and religious watchwords are created; first one man of name and then another {44} adopts them, till their use becomes popular, and then every one professes them, because every one else does. Such words are "liberality," "progress," "light," "civilization;" such are "justification by faith only," "vital religion," "private judgment," "the Bible and nothing but the Bible." Such again are "Rationalism," "Gallicanism," "Jesuitism," "Ultramontanism"—all of which, in the mouths of conscientious thinkers, have a definite meaning, but are used by the multitude as war-cries, nicknames, and shibboleths, with scarcely enough of the scantiest grammatical apprehension of them to allow of their being considered in truth more than assertions.

Thus, instances occur now and then, when, in consequence of the urgency of some fashionable superstition or popular delusion, some eminent scientific authority is provoked to come forward, and to set the world right by his "ipse dixit." He, indeed, himself knows very well what he is about; he has a right to speak, and his reasonings and conclusions are sufficient, not only for his own, but for general assent, and, it may be, are as simply true and impregnable, as they are authoritative; but an intelligent hold on the matter in dispute, such as he has himself, cannot be expected in the case of men in general. They, nevertheless, one and all, repeat and retail his arguments, as suddenly as if they had not to study them, as heartily as if they understood them, changing round and becoming as strong antagonists of the error which their master has exposed, as if they had never been its advocates. If their word is to be taken, it is not simply his authority that moves them, which would be sensible enough and suitable in them, both {45} apprehension and assent being in that case grounded on the maxim "Cuique in arte suâ credendum," but so far forth as they disown this motive, and claim to judge in a scientific question of the worth of arguments which require some real knowledge, they are little better, not of course in a very serious matter, than pretenders and formalists.

Not only authority, but Inference also may impose on us assents which in themselves are little better than assertions, and which, so far as they are assents, can only be notional assents, as being assents, not to the propositions inferred, but to the truth of those propositions. For instance, it can be proved by irrefragable calculations, that the stars are not less than billions of miles distant from the earth; and the process of calculation, upon which such statements are made, is not so difficult as to require authority to secure our acceptance of both it and of them; yet who can say that he has any real, nay, any notional apprehension of a billion or a trillion? We can, indeed, have some notion of it, if we analyze it into its factors, if we compare it with other numbers, or if we illustrate it by analogies or by its implications; but I am speaking of the vast number in itself. We cannot assent to a proposition of which it is the predicate; we can but assent to the truth of it.

This leads me to the question, whether belief in a mystery can be more than an assertion. I consider it can be an assent, and my reasons for saying so are as follows:—A mystery is a proposition conveying incompatible notions, or is a statement of the inconceivable. Now we can assent to propositions (and a mystery is a {46} proposition), provided we can apprehend them; therefore we can assent to a mystery, for, unless we in some sense apprehended it, we should not recognize it to be a mystery, that is, a statement uniting incompatible notions. The same act, then, which enables us to discern that the words of the proposition express a mystery, capacitates us for assenting to it. Words which make nonsense, do not make a mystery. No one would call Warton's line—Revolving swans proclaim the welkin near"—an inconceivable assertion. It is equally plain, that the assent which we give to mysteries, as such, is notional assent; for, by the supposition, it is assent to propositions which we cannot conceive, whereas, if we had had experience of them, we should be able to conceive them, and without experience assent is not real.

But the question follows, Can processes of inference end in a mystery? that is, not only in what is incomprehensible, that the stars are billions of miles from each other, but in what is inconceivable, in the co-existence of (seeming) incompatibilities? For how, it may be asked, can reason carry out notions into their contradictories? since all the developments of a truth must from the nature of the case be consistent both with it and with each other. I answer, certainly processes of inference, however accurate, can end in mystery; and I solve the objection to such a doctrine thus:—our notion of a thing may be only partially faithful to the original; it may be in excess of the thing, or it may represent it incompletely, and, in consequence, it may serve for it, it may stand for it, only to a certain point, in certain cases, but no further. After that point is reached, the {47} notion and the thing part company; and then the notion, if still used as the representative of the thing, will work out conclusions, not inconsistent with itself, but with the thing to which it no longer corresponds.

This is seen most familiarly in the use of metaphors. Thus, in an Oxford satire, which deservedly made a sensation in its day, it is said that Vice "from its hardness takes a polish too." [Note] Whence we might argue, that, whereas Caliban was vicious, he was therefore polished; but politeness and Caliban are incompatible notions. Or again, when some one said, perhaps to Dr. Johnson, that a certain writer (say Hume) was a clear thinker, he made answer, "All shallows are clear." But supposing Hume to be in fact both a clear and a deep thinker, yet supposing clearness and depth are incompatible in their literal sense, which the objection seems to imply, and still in their full literal sense were to be ascribed to Hume, then our reasoning about his intellect has ended in the mystery, "Deep Hume is shallow;" whereas the contradiction lies, not in the reasoning, but in the fancying that inadequate notions can be taken as the exact representations of things.

Hence in science we sometimes use a definition or a formula, not as exact, but as being sufficient for our purpose, for working out certain conclusions, for a practical approximation, the error being small, till a certain point is reached. This is what in theological investigations I should call an economy.

A like contrast between notions and the things which {48} they represent is the principle of suspense and curiosity in those enigmatical sayings which were frequent in the early stage of human society. In them the problem proposed to the acuteness of the hearers, is to find some real thing which may unite in itself certain conflicting notions which in the question are attributed to it: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness;" or, "What creature is that, which in the morning goes on four legs, at noon on two, and on three in the evening?" The answer, which names the thing, interprets and thereby limits the notions under which it has been represented.

Let us take an example in algebra. Its calculus is commonly used to investigate, not only the relations of quantity generally, but geometrical facts in particular. Now it is at once too wide and too narrow for such a purpose, fitting on to the doctrine of lines and angles with a bad fit, as the coat of a short and stout man might serve the needs of one who was tall and slim. Certainly it works well for geometrical purposes up to a certain point, as when it enables us to dispense with the cumbrous method of proof in questions of ratio and proportion, which is adopted in the fifth book of Euclid; but what are we to make of the fourth power of a, when it is to be translated into geometrical language? If from this algebraical expression we determined that space admitted of four dimensions, we should be enunciating a mystery, because we should be applying to space a notion which belongs to quantity. In this case algebra is in excess of geometrical truth. Now let us take an instance in which it falls short of geometry, {49} —What is the meaning of the square root of minus a? Here the mystery is on the side of algebra; and, in accordance with the principle which I am illustrating, it has sometimes been considered as an abortive effort to express, what is really beyond the capacity of algebraical notation, the direction and position of lines in the third dimension of space, as well as their length upon a plane. When the calculus is urged on by the inevitable course of the working to do what it cannot do, it stops short as if in resistance, and protests by an absurdity.

Our notions of things are never simply commensurate with the things themselves; they are aspects of them, more or less exact, and sometimes a mistake ab initio. Take an instance from arithmetic:—We are accustomed to subject all that exists to numeration; but, to be correct, we are bound first to reduce to some level of possible comparison the things which we wish to number. We must be able to say, not only that they are ten, twenty, or a hundred, but so many definite somethings. For instance, we could not without extravagance throw together Napoleon's brain, ambition, hand, soul, smile, height, and age at Marengo, and say that there were seven of them, though there are seven words; nor will it even be enough to content ourselves with what may be called a negative level, viz. that these seven are a non-existing or a departed seven. Unless numeration is to issue in nonsense, it must be conducted on conditions. This being the case, there are, for what we know, collections of beings, to whom the notion of number cannot be attached, except catachrestically, because, {50} taken individually, no positive point of real agreement can be found between them, by which to call them. If indeed we can denote them by a plural noun, then we can measure that plurality; but if they agree in nothing, they cannot agree in bearing a common name, and to say that they amount to a thousand these or those, is not to number them, but to count up a certain number of names or words which we have written down.

Thus, the Angels have been considered by divines to have each of them a species to himself; and we may fancy each of them so absolutely sui similis as to be like nothing else, so that it would be as untrue to speak of a thousand Angels as of a thousand Hannibals or Ciceros. It will be said, indeed, that all beings but One at least will come under the notion of creatures, and are dependent upon that One; but that is true of the brain, smile, and height of Napoleon, which no one would call three creatures. But, if all this be so, much more does it apply to our speculations concerning the Supreme Being, whom it may be unmeaning, not only to number with other beings, but to subject to number in regard to His own intrinsic characteristics. That is, to apply arithmetical notions to Him may be as unphilosophical as it is profane. Though He is at once Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the word "Trinity" belongs to those notions of Him which are forced on us by the necessity of our finite conceptions, the real and immutable distinction which exists between Person and Person implying in itself no infringement of His real and numerical Unity. And if it be asked how, {51} if we cannot properly speak of Him as Three, we can speak of Him as One, I reply that He is not One in the way in which created things are severally units; for one, as applied to ourselves, is used in contrast to two or three and a whole series of numbers; but of the Supreme Being it is safer to use the word "monad" than unit, for He has not even such relation to His creatures as to allow, philosophically speaking, of our contrasting Him with them.

Coming back to the main subject, which I have illustrated at the risk of digression, I observe that an alleged fact is not therefore impossible because it is inconceivable; for the incompatible notions, in which consists its inconceivableness, need not each of them really belong to it in that fulness which would involve their being incompatible with each other. It is true indeed that I deny the possibility of two straight lines enclosing a space, on the ground of its being inconceivable; but I do so because a straight line is a notion and nothing more, and not a thing to which I may have attached a notion more or less unfaithful. I have defined a straight line in my own way at my own pleasure; the question is not one of facts at all, but of the consistency with each other of definitions and their logical consequences.

"Space is not infinite, for nothing but the Creator is such:"—starting from this thesis as a theological information to be assumed as a fact, though not one of experience, we arrive at once at an insoluble mystery; for if space be not infinite, it is finite, and finite space is a contradiction in notions, space, as such, implying the {52} absence of boundaries. Here again it is our notion that carries us beyond the fact, and in opposition to it, showing that from the first what we apprehend of space does not in all respects correspond to the thing, of which indeed we have no image.

This, then, is another instance in which the juxtaposition of notions by the logical faculty lands us in what are commonly called mysteries. Notions are but aspects of things; the free deductions from one of these aspects necessarily contradict the free deductions from another. After proceeding in our investigations a certain way, suddenly a blank or a maze presents itself before the mental vision, as when the eye is confused by the varying slides of a telescope. Thus, we believe in the infinitude of the Divine Attributes, but we can have no experience of infinitude as a fact; the word stands for a definition or a notion. Hence, when we try how to reconcile in the moral world the fulness of mercy with exactitude in sanctity and justice, or to explain that the physical tokens of creative skill need not suggest any want of creative power, we feel we are not masters of our subject. We apprehend sufficiently to be able to assent to these theological truths as mysteries; did we not apprehend them at all, we should be merely asserting; though even then we might convert that assertion into an assent, if we wished to do so, as I have already shown, by making it the subject of a proposition, and predicating of it that it is true. {53}

2. Credence

What I mean by giving credence to propositions is pretty much the same as having "no doubt" about them. It is the sort of assent which we give to those opinions and professed facts which are ever presenting themselves to us without any effort of ours, and which we commonly take for granted, thereby obtaining a broad foundation of thought for ourselves, and a medium of intercourse between ourselves and others. This form of notional assent comprises a great variety of subject-matters; and is, as I have implied, of an otiose and passive character, accepting whatever comes to hand, from whatever quarter, warranted or not, so that it convey nothing on the face of it to its own disadvantage. From the time that we begin to observe, think and reason, to the final failure of our powers, we are ever acquiring fresh and fresh informations by means of our senses, and still more from others and from books. The friends or strangers whom we fall in with in the course of the day, the conversations or discussions to which we are parties, the newspapers, the light reading of the season, our recreations, our rambles in the country, our foreign tours, all pour their contributions of intellectual matter into the storehouses of our memory; and, though much may be lost, much is retained. These informations, thus received with a spontaneous assent, constitute the furniture of the mind, and make the difference between its civilized condition and a state of nature. They are its education, as far as general knowledge can so be called; and, though education is discipline as well as {54} learning, still, unless the mind implicitly welcomes the truths, real or ostensible, which these informations supply, it will gain neither formation nor a stimulus for its activity and progress. Besides, to believe frankly what it is told, is in the young an exercise of teachableness and humility.

Credence is the means by which, in high and low, in the man of the world and in the recluse, our bare and barren nature is overrun and diversified from without with a rich and living clothing. It is by such ungrudging, prompt assents to what is offered to us so lavishly, that we become possessed of the principles, doctrines, sentiments, facts, which constitute useful, and especially liberal knowledge. These various teachings, shallow though they be, are of a breadth which secures us against those lacunæ of knowledge which are apt to befall the professed student, and keep us up to the mark in literature, in the arts, in history, and in public matters. They give us in great measure our morality, our politics, our social code, our art of life. They supply the elements of public opinion, the watchwords of patriotism, the standards of thought and action; they are our mutual understandings, our channels of sympathy, our means of co-operation, and the bond of our civil union. They become our moral language; we learn them as we learn our mother tongue; they distinguish us from foreigners; they are, in each of us, not indeed personal, but national characteristics.

This account of them implies that they are received with a notional, not a real assent; they are too manifold to be received in any other way. Even the most practised {55} and earnest minds must needs be superficial in the greater part of their attainments. They know just enough on all subjects, in literature, history, politics, philosophy, and art, to be able to converse sensibly on them, and to understand those who are really deep in one or other of them. This is what is called, with a special appositeness, a gentleman's knowledge, as contrasted with that of a professional man, and is neither worthless nor despicable, if used for its proper ends; but it is never more than the furniture of the mind, as I have called it; it never is thoroughly assimilated with it. Yet of course there is nothing to hinder those who have even the largest stock of such notions from devoting themselves to one or other of the subjects to which those notions belong, and mastering it with a real apprehension; and then their general knowledge of all subjects may be made variously useful in the direction of that particular study or pursuit which they have selected.

I have been speaking of secular knowledge; but religion may be made a subject of notional assent also, and is especially so made in our own country. Theology, as such, always is notional, as being scientific: religion, as being personal, should be real; but, except within a small range of subjects, it commonly is not real in England. As to Catholic populations, such as those of medieval Europe, or the Spain of this day, or quasi-Catholic as those of Russia, among them assent to religious objects is real, not notional. To them the Supreme Being, our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, Angels and Saints, heaven and hell, are as present as if they were objects of {56} sight; but such a faith does not suit the genius of modern England. There is in the literary world just now an affectation of calling religion a "sentiment;" and it must be confessed that usually it is nothing more with our own people, educated or rude. Objects are barely necessary to it. I do not say so of old Calvinism or Evangelical Religion; I do not call the religion of Leighton, Beveridge, Wesley, Thomas Scott, or Cecil a mere sentiment; nor do I so term the high Anglicanism of the present generation. But these are only denominations, parties, schools, compared with the national religion of England in its length and breadth. "Bible Religion" is both the recognized title and the best description of English religion.

It consists, not in rites or creeds, but mainly in having the Bible read in Church, in the family, and in private. Now I am far indeed from undervaluing that mere knowledge of Scripture which is imparted to the population thus promiscuously. At least in England, it has to a certain point made up for great and grievous losses in its Christianity. The reiteration again and again, in fixed course in the public service, of the words of inspired teachers under both Covenants, and that in grave majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a vast benefit. It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high moral standard; it has served them in associating religion with compositions which, even humanly considered, are among the most sublime and beautiful ever written; especially, it has impressed upon them the series of Divine Providences in behalf of man from {57} his creation to his end, and, above all, the words, deeds, and sacred sufferings of Him in whom all the Providences of God centre.

So far the indiscriminate reading of Scripture has been of service; still, much more is necessary than the benefits which I have enumerated, to answer to the idea of a religion; whereas our national form professes to be little more than thus reading the Bible and living a correct life. It is not a religion of persons and things, of acts of faith and of direct devotion; but of sacred scenes and pious sentiments. It has been comparatively careless of creed and catechism; and has in consequence shown little sense of the need of consistency in the matter of its teaching. Its doctrines are not so much facts, as stereotyped aspects of facts; and it is afraid, so to say, of walking round them. It induces its followers to be content with this meagre view of revealed truth; or, rather, it is suspicious and protests, or is frightened, as if it saw a figure in a picture move out of its frame, when our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, or the Holy Apostles, are spoken of as real beings, and really such as Scripture implies them to be. I am not denying that the assent which it inculcates and elicits is genuine as regards its contracted range of doctrine, but it is at best notional. What Scripture especially illustrates from its first page to its last, is God's Providence; and that is nearly the only doctrine held with a real assent by the mass of religious Englishmen. Hence the Bible is so great a solace and refuge to them in trouble. I repeat, I am not speaking of particular schools and parties in England, whether of {58} the High Church or the Low, but of the mass of piously-minded and well-living people in all ranks of the community.

3. Opinion

That class of assents which I have called Credence, being a spontaneous acceptance of the various informations, which are by whatever means conveyed to our minds, sometimes goes by the name of Opinion. When we speak of a man's opinions, what do we mean, but the collection of notions which he happens to have, and does not easily part with, though he has neither sufficient proof nor firm grasp of them? This is true; however, Opinion is a word of various significations, and I prefer to use it in my own. Besides standing for Credence, it is sometimes taken to mean Conviction, as when we speak of the "variety of religious opinions," or of being "persecuted for religious opinions," or of our having "no opinion on a particular point," or of another having "no religious opinions." And sometimes it is used in contrast with Conviction, as synonymous with a light and casual, though genuine assent; thus, if a man was every day changing his mind, that is, his assents, we might say, that he was very changeable in his opinions.

I shall here use the word to denote an assent, but an assent to a proposition, not as true, but as probably true, that is, to the probability of that which the proposition enunciates; and, as that probability may vary in strength without limit, so may the cogency and moment of the opinion. This account of Opinion may seem to confuse it with Inference; for the strength of an inference {59} varies with its premisses, and is a probability; but the two acts of mind are really distinct. Opinion, as being an assent, is independent of premisses. We have opinions which we never think of defending by argument, though, of course, we think they can be so defended. We are even obstinate in them, or what is called "opinionated," and may say that we have a right to think just as we please, reason or no reason; whereas Inference is in its nature and by its profession conditional and uncertain. To say that "we shall have a fine hay-harvest if the present weather lasts," does not come of the same state of mind as, "I am of opinion that we shall have a fine hay-harvest this year."

Opinion, thus explained, has more connection with Credence than with Inference. It differs from Credence in these two points, viz. that, while Opinion explicitly assents to the probability of a given proposition, Credence is an implicit assent to its truth. It differs from Credence in a third respect, viz. in being a reflex act;—when we take a thing for granted, we have credence in it; when we begin to reflect upon our credence, and to measure, estimate, and modify it, then we are forming an opinion.

It is in this sense that Catholics speak of theological opinion, in contrast with faith in dogma. It is much more than an inferential act, but it is distinct from an act of certitude. And this is really the sense which Protestants give to the word when they interpret it by Conviction; for their highest opinion in religion is, generally speaking, an assent to a probability—as even Butler has been understood or misunderstood to teach, {60}—and therefore consistent with toleration of its contradictory.

Opinion, being such as I have described, is a notional assent, for the predicate of the proposition, on which it is exercised, is the abstract word "probable."

4. Presumption

By Presumption I mean an assent to first principles; and by first principles I mean the propositions with which we start in reasoning on any given subject-matter. They are in consequence very numerous, and vary in great measure with the persons who reason, according to their judgment and power of assent, being received by some minds, not by others, and only a few of them received universally. They are all of them notions, not images, because they express what is abstract, not what is individual and from direct experience.

1. Sometimes our trust in our powers of reasoning and memory, that is, our implicit assent to their telling truly, is treated as a first principle; but we cannot properly be said to have any trust in them as faculties. At most we trust in particular acts of memory and reasoning. We are sure there was a yesterday, and that we did this or that in it; we are sure that three times six is eighteen, and that the diagonal of a square is longer than the side. So far as this we may be said to trust the mental act, by which the object of our assent is verified; but, in doing so, we imply no recognition of a general power or faculty, or of any capability or affection of our minds, over and above the particular {61} act. We know indeed that we have a faculty by which we remember, as we know we have a faculty by which we breathe; but we gain this knowledge by abstraction or inference from its particular acts, not by direct experience. Nor do we trust in the faculty of memory or reasoning as such, even after that we have inferred its existence; for its acts are often inaccurate, nor do we invariably assent to them.

However, if I must speak my mind, I have another ground for reluctance to speak of our trusting memory or reasoning, except indeed by a figure of speech. It seems to me unphilosophical to speak of trusting ourselves. We are what we are, and we use, not trust our faculties. To debate about trusting in a case like this, is parallel to the confusion implied in wishing I had had a choice if I would be created or no, or speculating what I should be like, if I were born of other parents. "Proximus sum egomet mihi." Our consciousness of self is prior to all questions of trust or assent. We act according to our nature, by means of ourselves, when we remember or reason. We are as little able to accept or reject our mental constitution, as our being. We have not the option; we can but misuse or mar its functions. We do not confront or bargain with ourselves; and therefore I cannot call the trustworthiness of the faculties of memory and reasoning one of our first principles.

2. Next, as to the proposition, that there are things existing external to ourselves, this I do consider a first principle, and one of universal reception. It is founded on an instinct; I so call it, because the brute creation possesses it. This instinct is directed towards individual {62} phenomena, one by one, and has nothing of the character of a generalization; and, since it exists in brutes, the gift of reason is not a condition of its existence, and it may justly be considered an instinct in man also. What the human mind does is what brutes cannot do, viz. to draw from our ever-recurring experiences of its testimony in particulars a general proposition, and, because this instinct or intuition acts whenever the phenomena of sense present themselves, to lay down in broad terms, by an inductive process, the great aphorism, that there is an external world, and that all the phenomena of sense proceed from it. This general proposition, to which we go on to assent, goes (extensivè, though not intensivè) far beyond our experience, illimitable as that experience may be, and represents a notion.

3. I have spoken, and I think rightly spoken, of instinct as a force which spontaneously impels us, not only to bodily movements, but to mental acts. It is instinct which leads the quasi-intelligent principle (whatever it is) in brutes to perceive in the phenomena of sense a something distinct from and beyond those phenomena. It is instinct which impels the child to recognize in the smiles or the frowns of a countenance which meets his eyes, not only a being external to himself, but one whose looks elicit in him confidence or fear. And, as he instinctively interprets these physical phenomena, as tokens of things beyond themselves, so from the sensations attendant upon certain classes of his thoughts and actions he gains a perception of an external being, who reads his mind, to whom he is responsible, who praises and blames, who promises and threatens. As I am only {63} illustrating a general view by examples, I shall take this analogy for granted here. As then we have our initial knowledge of the universe through sense, so do we in the first instance begin to learn about its Lord and God from conscience; and, as from particular acts of that instinct, which makes experiences, mere images (as they ultimately are) upon the retina, the means of our perceiving something real beyond them, we go on to draw the general conclusion that there is a vast external world, so from the recurring instances in which conscience acts, forcing upon us importunately the mandate of a Superior, we have fresh and fresh evidence of the existence of a Sovereign Ruler, from whom those particular dictates which we experience proceed; so that, with limitations which cannot here be made without digressing from my main subject, we may, by means of that induction from particular experiences of conscience, have as good a warrant for concluding the Ubiquitous Presence of One Supreme Master, as we have, from parallel experience of sense, for assenting to the fact of a multiform and vast world, material and mental.

However, this assent is notional, because we generalize a consistent, methodical form of Divine Unity and Personality with Its attributes, from particular experiences of the religious instinct, which are themselves, only intensivè, not extensivè, and in the imagination, not intellectually, notices of Its Presence; though at the same time that assent may become real of course, as may the assent to the external world, viz. when we apply our general knowledge to a particular instance of that knowledge, as, according to a former remark, the general {64} "varium et mutabile" was realized in Dido. And in thus treating the origin of these great notions, I am not forgetting the aid which from our earliest years we receive from teachers, nor am I denying the influence of certain original forms of thinking or formative ideas, connatural with our minds, without which we could not reason at all. I am only contemplating the mind as it moves in fact, by whatever hidden mechanism; as a locomotive engine could not move without steam, but still, under whatever number of forces, it certainly does start from Birmingham and does arrive in London.

4. And so again, as regards the first principles expressed in such propositions as "There is a right and a wrong," "a true and a false," "a just and an unjust," a "beautiful and a deformed;" they are abstractions to which we give a notional assent in consequence of our particular experiences of qualities in the concrete, to which we give a real assent. As we form our notion of whiteness from the actual sight of snow, milk, a lily, or a cloud, so, after experiencing the sentiment of approbation which arises in us on the sight of certain acts one by one, we go on to assign to that sentiment a cause, and to those acts a quality, and we give to this notional cause or quality the name of virtue, which is an abstraction not a thing. And in like manner, when we have been affected by a certain specific admiring pleasure at the sight of this or that concrete object, we proceed by an arbitrary act of the mind to give a name to the hypothetical cause or quality in the abstract, which excites it. We speak of it as beautifulness, and henceforth, when we call a thing beautiful, we {65} mean by the word a certain quality of things which creates in us this special sensation.

These so-called first principles, I say, are really conclusions or abstractions from particular experiences; and an assent to their existence is not an assent to things or their images, but to notions, real assent being confined to the propositions directly embodying those experiences. Such notions indeed are an evidence of the reality of the special sentiments in particular instances, without which they would not have been formed; but in themselves they are abstractions from facts, not elementary truths prior to reasoning.

I am not of course dreaming of denying the objective existence of the Moral Law, nor our instinctive recognition of the immutable difference in the moral quality of acts, as elicited in us by one instance of them. Even one act of cruelty, ingratitude, generosity, or justice reveals to us at once intensivè the immutable distinction between those qualities and their contraries; that is, in that particular instance and pro hac vice. From such experience—an experience which is ever recurring—we proceed to abstract and generalize; and thus the abstract proposition "There is a right and a wrong," as representing an act of inference, is received by the mind with a notional, not a real assent. However, in proportion as we obey the particular dictates which are its tokens, so are we led on more and more to view it in the association of those particulars, which are real, and virtually to change our notion of it into the image of that objective fact, which in each particular case it undeniably is. {66}

5. Another of these presumptions is the belief in causation. It is to me a perplexity that grave authors seem to enunciate as an intuitive truth, that every thing must have a cause. If this were so, the voice of nature would tell false; for why in that case stop short at One, who is Himself without cause? The assent which we give to the proposition, as a first principle, that nothing happens without a cause, is derived, in the first instance, from what we know of ourselves; and we argue analogically from what is within us to what is external to us. One of the first experiences of an infant is that of his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himself the fact of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of waywardness, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as antagonists of this wilfulness, begin to restrain him, and to bring his mind and conduct into shape, then he has a second series of experiences of cause and effect, and that upon a principle or rule. Thus the notion of causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience, that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will. It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical phenomena, as such, are without sense; and experience teaches us nothing about physical phenomena as causes. Accordingly, wherever the world is young, the movements and changes of physical nature have been and are spontaneously ascribed by its people to the presence and will of hidden agents, who haunt every part of it, the woods, the mountains and the streams, the air and the stars, {67} for good or for evil;—just as children again, by beating the ground after falling, imply that what has bruised them has intelligence;—nor is there anything illogical in such a belief. It rests on the argument from analogy.

As time goes on, and society is formed, and the idea of science is mastered, a different aspect of the physical universe presents itself to the mind. Since causation implies a sequence of acts in our own case, and our doing is always posterior, never contemporaneous or prior, to our willing, therefore, when we witness invariable antecedents and consequents, we call the former the cause of the latter, though intelligence is absent, from the analogy of external appearances. At length we go on to confuse causation with order; and, because we happen to have made a successful analysis of some complicated assemblage of phenomena, which experience has brought before us in the visible scene of things, and have reduced them to a tolerable dependence on each other, we call the ultimate points of this analysis, and the hypothetical facts in which the whole mass of phenomena is gathered up, by the name of causes, whereas they are really only the formula under which those phenomena are conveniently represented. Thus the constitutional formula, "The king can do no wrong," is not a fact, or a cause of the Constitution, but a happy mode of bringing out its genius, of determining the correlations of its elements, and of grouping or regulating political rules and proceedings in a particular direction and in a particular form. And in like manner, that all the particles of matter throughout the universe are attracted to each other with a force varying inversely {68} with the square of their respective distances, is a profound idea, harmonizing the physical works of the Creator; but even could it be proved to be a universal fact, and also to be the actual cause of the movements of all bodies in the universe, still it would not be an experience, any more than is the mythological doctrine of the presence of innumerable spirits in those same physical phenomena.

Of these two senses of the word "cause," viz. that which brings a thing to be, and that on which a thing under given circumstances follows, the former is that of which our experience is the earlier and more intimate, being suggested to us by our consciousness of willing and doing. The latter of the two requires a discrimination and exactness of thought for its apprehension, which implies special mental training; else, how do we learn to call food the cause of refreshment, but day never the cause of night, though night follows day more surely than refreshment follows food? Starting, then, from experience, I consider a cause to be an effective will; and, by the doctrine of causation, I mean the notion, or first principle, that all things come of effective will; and the reception or presumption of this notion is a notional assent.

6. As to causation in the second sense (viz. an ordinary succession of antecedents and consequents, or what is called the Order of Nature), when so explained, it falls under the doctrine of general laws; and of this I proceed to make mention, as another first principle or notion, derived by us from experience, and accepted with what I have called a presumption. By natural law I mean the fact that things happen uniformly according to {69} certain circumstances, and not without them and at random: that is, that they happen in an order; and, as all things in the universe are unit and individual, order implies a certain repetition, whether of things or like things, or of their affections and relations. Thus we have experience, for instance, of the regularity of our physical functions, such as the beating of the pulse and the heaving of the breath; of the recurring sensations of hunger and thirst; of the alternation of waking and sleeping, and the succession of youth and age. In like manner we have experience of the great recurring phenomena of the heavens and earth, of day and night, summer and winter. Also, we have experience of a like uniform succession in the instance of fire burning, water choking, stones falling down and not up, iron moving towards a magnet, friction followed by sparks and crackling, an oar looking bent in the stream, and compressed steam bursting its vessel. Also, by scientific analysis, we are led to the conclusion that phenomena, which seem very different from each other, admit of being grouped together as modes of the operation of one hypothetical law, acting under varied circumstances. For instance, the motion of a stone falling freely, of a projectile, and of a planet, may be generalized as one and the same property, in each of them, of the particles of matter; and this generalization loses its character of hypothesis, and becomes a probability, in proportion as we have reason for thinking on other grounds that the particles of all matter really move and act towards each other in one certain way in relation to space and time, and not in half a dozen ways; that is, that nature acts {70} by uniform laws. And thus we advance to the general notion or first principle of the sovereignty of law throughout the universe.

There are philosophers who go farther, and teach, not only a general, but an invariable, and inviolable, and necessary uniformity in the action of the laws of nature, holding that every thing is the result of some law or laws, and that exceptions are impossible; but I do not see on what ground of experience or reason they take up this position. Our experience rather is adverse to such a doctrine, for what concrete fact or phenomenon exactly repeats itself? Some abstract conception of it, more perfect than the recurrent phenomenon itself, is necessary, before we are able to say that it has happened even twice, and the variations which accompany the repetition are of the nature of exceptions. The earth, for instance, never moves exactly in the same orbit year by year, but is in perpetual vacillation. It will, indeed, be replied that this arises from the interaction of one law with another, of which the actual orbit is only the accidental issue, that the earth is under the influence of a variety of attractions from cosmical bodies, and that, if it is subject to continual aberrations in its course, these are accounted for accurately or sufficiently by the presence of those extraordinary and variable attractions:—science, then, by its analytical processes sets right the primâ facie confusion. Of course; still let us not by our words imply that we are appealing to experience, when really we are only accounting, and that by hypothesis, for the absence of experience. The confusion is a fact, the reasoning processes are not {71} facts. The extraordinary attractions assigned to account for our experience of that confusion are not themselves experienced phenomenal facts, but more or less probable hypotheses, argued out by means of an assumed analogy between the cosmical bodies to which those attractions are referred and falling bodies on the earth. I say "assumed," because that analogy (in other words, the unfailing uniformity of nature) is the very point which has to be proved. It is true, that we can make experiment of the law of attraction in the case of bodies on the earth; but, I repeat, to assume from analogy that, as stones do fall to the earth, so Jupiter, if let alone, would fall upon the earth and the earth upon Jupiter, and with certain peculiarities of velocity on either side, is to have recourse to an explanation which is not necessarily valid, unless nature is necessarily uniform. Nor, indeed, has it yet been proved, nor ought it to be assumed, even that the law of velocity of falling bodies on the earth is invariable in its operation; for that again is only an instance of the general proposition, which is the very thesis in debate. It seems safer then to hold that the order of nature is not necessary, but general in its manifestations.

But, it may be urged, if a thing happens once, it must happen always; for what is to hinder it? Nay, on the contrary, why, because one particle of matter has a certain property, should all particles have the same? Why, because particles have instanced the property a thousand times, should the thousand and first instance it also? It is primâ facie unaccountable that an accident should happen twice, not to speak of its happening always. If {72} we expect a thing to happen twice, it is because we think it is not an accident, but has a cause. What has brought about a thing once, may bring it about twice. What is to hinder its happening? rather, What is to make it happen? Here we are thrown back from the question of Order to that of Causation. A law is not a cause, but a fact; but when we come to the question of cause, then, as I have said, we have no experience of any cause but Will. If, then, I must answer the question, What is to alter the order of nature? I reply, That which willed it;—That which willed it, can unwill it; and the invariableness of law depends on the unchangeableness of that Will.

And here I am led to observe that, as a cause implies a will, so order implies a purpose. Did we see flint celts, in their various receptacles all over Europe, scored always with certain special and characteristic marks, even though those marks had no assignable meaning or final cause whatever, we should take that very repetition, which indeed is the principle of order, to be a proof of intelligence. The agency then which has kept up and keeps up the general laws of nature, energizing at once in Sirius and on the earth, and on the earth in its primary period as well as in the nineteenth century, must be Mind, and nothing else, and Mind at least as wide and as enduring in its living action, as the immeasurable ages and spaces of the universe on which that agency has left its traces.

In these remarks I have digressed from my immediate subject, but they have some bearing on points which will subsequently come into discussion. {73}

5. Speculation

Speculation is one of those words which, in the vernacular, have so different a sense from what they bear in philosophy. It is commonly taken to mean a conjecture, or a venture on chances; but its proper meaning is mental sight, or the contemplation of mental operations and their results as opposed to experience, experiment, or sense, analogous to its meaning in Shakspeare's line, "Thou hast no speculation in those eyes." In this sense I use it here.

And I use it in this sense to denote those notional assents which are the most direct, explicit, and perfect of their kind, viz. those which are the firm, conscious acceptance of propositions as true. This kind of assent includes the assent to all reasoning and its conclusions, to all general propositions, to all rules of conduct, to all proverbs, aphorisms, sayings, and reflections on men and society. Of course mathematical investigations and truths are the subjects of this speculative assent. So are legal judgments, and constitutional maxims, as far as they appeal to us for assent. So are the determinations of science; so are the principles, disputations, and doctrines of theology. That there is a God, that He has certain attributes, and in what sense He can be said to have attributes, that He has done certain works, that He has made certain revelations of Himself and of His will, and what they are, and the multiplied bearings of the parts of the teaching, thus developed and formed, upon each other, all this is the subject of notional assent, and of {74} that particular department of it which I have called Speculation. As far as these particular subjects can be viewed in the concrete and represent experiences, they can be received by real assent also; but as expressed in general propositions they belong to notional apprehension and assent.

Section 2

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"The Oxford Spy," 1818; by J. S. Boone, p. 107.
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