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Title: Essays in Rationalism
Author: Newman, Charles Robert
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Essays in Rationalism" ***

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                         ESSAYS IN RATIONALISM

                         CHARLES ROBERT NEWMAN
                     (Brother of Cardinal Newman.)

                              WITH PREFACE
                         GEORGE JACOB HOLYOAKE.


                          BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
                             J. M. WHEELER.

                      28 Stonecutter Street, E.C.

                      28 STONECUTTER STREET, E.C.



Whether this little volume will find sufficient patrons to defray
the cost of its production is at least doubtful. The writer whose
essays it contains lived in obscurity and will never be popular. But
he possessed a fine intellect, however frustrated by circumstances;
he belonged to an illustrious family; and it is well to let the public
have access to the opinions of a brother of Cardinal Newman and of
Professor Newman, a brother who took his own course, as they did,
and thought out for himself an independent philosophy.

All Charles Robert Newman's writings that are known to have been
printed, appeared in the Reasoner, edited by Mr. George Jacob Holyoake,
at various dates during 1860-61. With trifling exceptions they are
all reprinted in this collection.

Mr. Holyoake has kindly supplied a brief account of the atheistic
Newman, and Mr. J. M. Wheeler has gathered all the information that
is obtainable as to his life and personality.


Of Charles Robert Newman, until the death of his brother, the Cardinal,
almost nothing was known. Some reminiscences of him by Mr. Thomas
Purnell and Precentor Edmund Venables appeared in the Athenæum at
the time of his death in 1884, and these remain the chief sources
of information concerning him. Mr. G. J. Holyoake also, in his paper
The Present Day, wrote: "If the public come to know more of Charles
R. Newman, it will be seen that all the brothers, John Henry, Francis
William, and Charles R. Newman, were men of unusual distinction of
character, and that while each held diverse views, all had the family
qualities of perspicacity, candor and conscience." But these notes
attracted little attention. Most people were under the impression
there were only two brothers, who had long figured in the public eye
as types of the opposite courses of modern thought towards Romanism
and Rationalism. Yet the real type of antagonism to Rome was to be
found in Charles Robert, who is dismissed by the Rev. Thomas Mozley
with the words: "There was also another brother, not without his
share in the heritage of natural gifts."

In a notable passage on change of religion, in his Essay in Aid of
a Grammar of Assent, chap. vii., Cardinal Newman seems to allude
to the career of himself and his brothers. He says: "Thus of three
Protestants, one becomes a Catholic, a second a Unitarian, and a
third an unbeliever: how is this? The first becomes a Catholic,
because he assented, as a Protestant, to the doctrine of our Lord's
divinity, with a real assent and a genuine conviction, and because
this certitude, taking possession of his mind, led him on to welcome
the Catholic doctrines of the Real Presence and of the Theotocos,
till his Protestantism fell off from him, and he submitted himself
to the Church. The second became a Unitarian, because, proceeding
on the principle that Scripture was the rule of faith, and that a
man's private judgment was its rule of interpretation, and finding
that the doctrine of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds did not follow
by logical necessity from the text of Scripture, he said to himself,
'The word of God has been made of none effect by the traditions of
men,' and therefore nothing was left for him but to profess what he
considered primitive Christianity and to become a Humanitarian. The
third gradually subsided into infidelity, because he started with
the Protestant dogma, cherished in the depths of his nature, that a
priesthood was a corruption of the simplicity of the Gospel. First,
then, he would protest against the sacrifice of the Mass; next he gave
up baptismal regeneration and the sacramental principle; then he asked
himself whether dogmas were not a restraint on Christian liberty as
well as Sacraments; then came the question, What after all was the
use of teachers of religion? Why should any one stand between him and
his Maker? After a time it struck him that this obvious question had
to be answered by the Apostles, as well as by the Anglican clergy;
so he came to the conclusion that the true and only revelation of God
to man is that which is written on the heart. This did for a time,
and he remained a Deist. But then it occurred to him, that this inward
moral law was there within the breast, whether there was a God or not,
and that it was a roundabout way of enforcing that law, to say that it
came from God and simply unnecessary, considering it carried with it
its own sacred and sovereign authority, as our feelings instinctively
testified, and when he turned to look at the physical world around
him, he really did not see what scientific proof there was of the
Being of God at all, and it seemed to him as if all things would
go quite as well as at present without that hypothesis as with it;
so he dropped it, and became a purus putus Atheist."

I have transcribed this lengthy, but remarkable passage, not because
I think it correctly describes the process of thought in his two
brothers, but rather as an illustration that his own imaginative
synthesis of their position derives its life and force from the fact
that he had before him concrete instances in the person of his own
nearest relatives.

Charles Robert Newman, younger brother of the Cardinal and elder
brother of the Professor, was born on June 16, 1802, being one year and
four months the junior of the former, and three years the senior of the
latter. [1] Their father, a London man, and friend of Capel the eminent
stockbroker, from having been clerk in a bank, became a partner,
though he afterwards failed at a time of great commercial depression,
both in this business and as a brewer. He was a Freemason, a musician,
and had schemes of social improvement by reclaiming waste land and
planting with trees. In religion his views appear to have been of a
broad cast approximating to those of Benjamin Franklin. The mother,
whose maiden name was Jemima Fourdrinier, was of Hugenot family, and
of religious cast of mind. There were six children, equally divided
as to sex. Harriet, the eldest girl, married the Rev. Thomas Mozley;
Jemima, the second, married Mr. John Mozley; while Mary, the youngest,
died unmarried.

Charles Robert was educated at the same school as his two brothers,
John Henry and Francis William, that of Dr. George Nicholas at Ealing,

Of the influences which moulded his mind we can only speak from what
is known of his brothers. John Henry has told how, in youth, he read
Paine's tracts against the Old Testament--we presume he means the
Age of Reason--and also boasted of reading Hume, though, as he says,
this was possibly but by way of brag.

Evidently, though the family was brought up in the habit of Bible
reading, there was considerable freedom allowed as to the direction of
their studies. While the father lived family prayer was unknown, nor
was there any inculcation of dogma. "We read," says Francis William,
"the Psalms appointed by the church every day, and went to the parish
church on Sunday."

Francis William Newman, in his "Contributions, Chiefly to the Early
History of Cardinal Newman," says: "In opening life, my brother
C. R. N. became a convert to Robert Owen, the philanthropic Socialist,
who was then an Atheist. [2] But soon breaking loose from him,
Charles tried to originate a 'New Moral World' of his own, which
seemed to others absurd and immoral, as well as very unamiable. He
disowned us all, on my father's death, as 'too religious for him.' To
keep a friend, or to act under a superior, seemed alike impossible
to him. His brother (the late Cardinal) humbled himself to beg a
clerkship for him in the Bank of England; but Charles thought it
'his duty' to write to the Directors letters of advice, so they could
not keep him. Nor could he keep any place long. He said he ought to
take a literary degree at Bonn: his two brothers managed it for him,
but he came away without seeking the degree. His brother-in-law,
the Rev. Thomas Mozley, then took him up very liberally; but after
my sister Harriet's death, J. H. N. and I bore his expenses to his
dying day. His meanness seemed to me like that of an old cynic;
yet his moderation was exemplary, and at last he undoubtedly won the
respect of the mother and daughter who waited on him."

In this, which is nearly all he has to say of this elder brother,
it appears to me Professor Newman has either said too little or
too much. The title of his work did not necessitate any reference
to Charles Robert; but having said so much he should at least have
explained further. For instance, in reference to the visit to Bonn,
it was exceedingly natural in the second brother seeking to take a
degree, since both his senior and junior had a college education. That
he did not share in this advantage may have well tended to sour
his life. Mr. Meynell explains why he returned without seeking the
degree. He says: "But he came away without even offering himself for
examination, a step he explained by saying that the judges would not
grant him a degree because he had given offence by his treatment of
faith and morals [it is a Catholic who writes] in an essay which they
call teterrima." Charles may have acted with extreme imprudence, both
in regard to the bank directors and the Bonn examiners; but we should
need to know the cases before we can determine whether he was actuated
by wilful waywardness or by adherence to a higher than common standard
of conduct. Each of the brothers had evidently exquisite sensitiveness
of conscience, though, as proved by the Professor's last book--that
unique criticism of a brother who died at ninety by another aged
eighty-five--they could not always enter into sympathy with each other.

Of this we may be quite sure. The life of one who had thought himself
into Atheism, yet contemplated becoming a tutor, must have been a most
uncomfortable one. The treatment he was likely to receive could not
be calculated to evoke his better qualities. Finding everywhere his
Atheism a bar to his advancement, whose is the fault if it resulted
in a character of petulance and cynicism, and in--what it evidently
did result in--a largely wasted life?

The Rev. Edward Venables, Precentor of Lincoln, speaks of him as having
been, between 1834 and 1844, usher in a large school for farmers' sons,
kept by a Mr. Allfree at Windmill Hill, in the parish of Herstmonceaux,
Sussex, where Julius Charles Hare, Archdeacon of Lewes, was rector,
and John Sterling for a short while curate. Mr. Venables says Newman
"interested Archdeacon Hare very much, and I have often heard him
speak of the long conversations he had had with him on literary
and philosophical subjects, and of the remarkable mental power he
displayed. At that time the future Cardinal's brother had entirely
discarded the Christian faith, and declared himself an unbeliever
in revelation." There can be no doubt the tribute from Hare, a man
of very superior culture, was deserved, though the archdeacon also
expressed the opinion "there was a screw loose somewhere."

The task of teaching the Sussex rustics was, as Precentor Venables
remarks, intolerably irksome to a man of Newman's high intellectual
power. It was like chopping logs with a fine-edged razor. His
relations with his principal became strained, and a tussle between
the usher and his class led to his dismissal. At this time he
was miserably poor. Precentor Venables says: "To Hare he lamented
the narrow-mindedness of his brothers John and Francis, who, as he
asserted, had entirely cast him off, and left him to fight his way in
the world unaided, because of his professed infidelity, in which the
younger of the two, then an ardent Evangelical, was before very long
to follow him." No reproach whatever is due to the younger brother on
this account, and the elder is probably as little blameworthy. John
Henry could not be expected to recommend as tutor one whose views
upon faith and morals he considered unsound. Francis William had
gone to Bagdad with the object of assisting in a Christian mission,
and intercourse with Mohammedans and other studies were but gradually
loosening his orthodoxy. After his return, and when his works and
professorship at London University assured his position, he put himself
into regular monthly communication with his brother. In the meantime
he had been assisted by his sister Harriet's husband. But the iron had
already entered his soul; he was an Atheist and an outcast. Forced to
receive the bounty of relatives who deplored his opinions, he seems to
have resented their kindness as an attempt to bribe his intellectual
conscience. The world rang with the fame--as theologian, historian,
poet, and preacher--of the elder, whose creed he had outgrown and
despised; while his convictions, to the full as honest, everywhere
stood in his way, and were contemned as an offence against faith and
morals. He had no contact with minds congenial to his own, and doomed
himself to the life of a recluse.

Each of the brothers was of a retiring, meditative disposition. Reading
the Apologia Pro Vita Sua of the eldest, one may see how this
contributed towards his seeking a refuge in the Catholic Church. The
same disposition of mind may be traced in the Phases of Faith of
the youngest, equally impelling him from the evangelicalism of his
surroundings and leading to the rejection of historic Christianity,
and finally to the surrender of all belief in revelation. In Charles
Robert Newman the same qualities were seen to excess, removing him
from contact with his fellows to the life of a solitary thinker in
a quiet Welsh watering-place. From about 1853, he had a room in a
small cottage on the Marsh road, Tenby.

Mr. Thomas Purnell, who says he had for years "the inestimable
privilege of enjoying his close intimacy," remarks, "never before
or since have I met a man endowed with as rare an intellectual
equipment." Mr. Purnell thus describes his own first visit to the
recluse: "He stood at the top of the topmost stair. I cannot imagine a
more distinguished head and face. There was a touch of Mephistopheles
in him. There was also a touch of Jupiter Olympius. Although dressed
in ill-fitting clothes, and with a sort of blanket over his shoulders,
he appeared to me to be the ideal of courtly grace. He bowed me without
a word into his apartments. This was in the roof of the building,
and the only light came from a window which opened with a notched iron
bar. The room was as meagrely furnished as Goethe's study in Weimar. A
bed, a chest of drawers, a table and two or three chairs, with a few
books, constituted the whole goods and chattels." Mr. Purnell says
"his health, means and inclination made him averse to society. The
rector called on him, but was not admitted; visitors to the town who
had known his brothers would send in their cards, but they received no
response; local medical men, when they heard he was ill, volunteered
their services, but they were declined with courteous thanks conveyed
by letter."

It appears he but seldom left his house, and when he went out he did
not often enter the town, but took his exercise in the road which
led into the country. Dressed in a pea-jacket, with a shawl or a rug
thrown across his shoulders, and with a sou'-wester over his head, he
marched erect, looking neither to left nor right. He wore shoes, and,
as his trousers were short, displayed an interval of white socks. The
lads and lasses were apt to regard such a figure with derision.

It was through Mr. Purnell that he communicated the papers here
reprinted to the Reasoner. Although but of the character of fragments,
they bespeak an original mind. The secret of the Cardinal's great
influence and strength was that what he spoke and wrote came not
from books, but forthright out of his own head and heart. The topics
with which his brother deals were those only needing the mind,
and his treatment shows they were viewed in the dry light of an
original intellect. The Reasoner ceased soon after the appearance
of these papers, and thus closed the one opening for his literary
activity. Francis William Newman was, at least till the present year,
unaware that his arguments for Theism were challenged by his own
brother under the signature of "A Recluse." He informs me that he
had never heard that anyone would publish anything from his pen, and
that he heard that at his death, in March, 1884, he left a box full
of manuscripts, which were destroyed as useless. Whether this was done
by order of his relatives, whether the landlady decided the question,
or whether the vicar or neighbors were called in, will perhaps remain
as unknown as the worth of the manuscripts. The following specimens
are all by which the latter question can be judged.

Mr. Meynell says that two years before he died he had a short visit
from his eldest brother. It must have been a strange meeting, and
one worthy the brush of a great artist. Surely in all England there
were not two men of eighty whose thoughts were so divergent or two
brothers whose lives were so diversified. The one a saintly cardinal,
called by the Pope the Light of England, who, by his rare urbanity,
had gained the respect of all, replete with all that should accompany
old age--as honor, love, obedience, troops of friends: the other,
fallen, too, into the sere and yellow leaf, and without them all--poor,
solitary, unknown and despised, a scorn and wonderment to his nearest
neighbors. And all from following his own thought that had made him
a purus putus Atheist.

    J. M. Wheeler.


There is little to say and less need to add anything to what
Mr. Wheeler writes, whose industry and discernment collect together all
the accessible facts of his subject. My knowledge of Charles Robert
Newman is confined to his correspondence, which, with my present
engagements, I could not refer to and examine without delaying the
printer longer than would be convenient to you, as Mr. Wheeler's
article is in type. The impression Mr. C. R. Newman conveyed to me by
his letters is, I judge, sufficient for the purpose in hand. Charles
Newman had an intermittent mind. He would write with great force
and clearness, and in another letter, which was confused in parts,
he would frankly say that his mind was leaving him, as was its wont
as I understood him, and after a few months less or more, it would
return to him, when he would write again. In this manly frankness
and strong self-consciousness he resembled his two eminent brothers
Francis and John. I trusted to his friend Mr. Purnell, who was the
medium in communicating with me, to send me further letters when
Mr. Charles was able or disposed to write them. I expected to hear
from him again. Much occupied with debates and otherwise at the time,
I neglected writing further to him myself. Afterwards thinking his
disablement might have grown upon him with years, disinclined me
from asking him to resume his letters. Mr. Wheeler seems ignorant of
Charles Newman's mental peculiarity, and does not recognise what may
be generous delicacy on the part of his brothers in not referring to
it. To do so would have subjected them to the imputation, very frequent
formerly, of imputing difference of opinion to want of saneness. Even
so liberal a preacher as W. J. Fox accounted, in 1841, for my disbelief
in Theism by conjecturing the existence of some mental deficiency. No
doubt many persons with whom Charles Newman had dealings in offices
he held, would regard his Atheism--which it was contrary to his nature
to conceal--as a personal disqualification. He avowed his opinions as
naturally and as boldly as Professor Newman and the Cardinal avowed
theirs. It is not conceivable that Cardinal Newman ever intermitted
his aid--or Professor Newman either--on this account. They were both
incapable of personal intolerance. They might deplore that their
brother Charles's opinions were so alien, so contrary to theirs;
but this they would never make matter of reproach. It was doubtless
a great trial to them that their brother, having fine powers like
their own, making no persistent effort for his own maintenance,
although he knew it must render independence impossible. Possibly
the solitariness which he chose caused his tendency to unusualness
of conduct, not to say eccentricity, to grow upon him--which they
could not control or mitigate without an interference, which might
subject them to resentment and reproach. Charles no doubt inherited
his father's sympathy for social improvement, which led to his sharing
Robert Owen's sociologic views. But he did not acquire his Atheism
from Robert Owen--as Professor Newman has said--for Robert Owen was
not an Atheist--always believing in some Great Power.

Professor Newman has told me that in any further edition of his
little book upon his brother, the Cardinal, he will, on my authority,
correct his description of Robert Owen as an Atheist. Charles owed
his Atheism to himself, as his brothers owed their opinions to their
own conclusions and reflections. Charles not taking a degree was less
likely to be owing to means not being furnished to him than to his
intermittent indecision of mind and his strong discernment, which
produced satisfaction with the world, with others, and with himself.

    George Jacob Holyoake.


In my proof of the invalidity of that argument--it being indeed what
is called "the Argument from Design"--I point out that our experience
simultaneously informs us of two modes of producing order, otherwise
called arrangement, relation of parts to each other and to the whole
direction of means towards some recognisable end; or, to describe
the phenomenon in the most summary, as well as the most practical,
way--two modes of producing effects identical with those that proceed
from design. I explain that, of these two principles of order, the one
is Design itself, a modus operandi of intelligence (such as we find
it here below, of which the human mind affords the best examples),
while the other is something to which no name has been assigned,
and which, consequently, we can only shortly describe by saying that
it is not design. It becomes necessary, therefore, to give a farther
periphrastic account of it as follows:--

This nameless principle of order, considered as a vague popular
surmise, is as familiar to our experience as design. We all
see, for instance, that water has a tendency to form a perfectly
level and horizontal surface, that heavy bodies fall to the earth
perpendicularly, that the plummet performs a straight line in just
the same direction, that dew-drops and soap-bubbles assume a globular
shape, that crystallisation observes similar artist-like rules,
and so on. We are accustomed to say, "It is the nature of things,"
and we ground our daily actions on a confidence in this regularity of
proceeding, without generally attempting to explain it. Science comes
to our help, and shows us that this orderly action of things around
us may be traced to, and is the necessary result of, the operation of
certain powers or properties inherent in these natural things. Grant
that the property called gravitation belongs to moving bodies,
and an innumerable quantity of orderly phenomena may be predicated
as springing of their own accord by inevitable consequence from
this datum; which same phenomena, moreover, intelligence is able
coincidently to reproduce in its own special mental way.

Here, then, is a principle of order, less popularly appreciated,
but not less certainly evidenced and known, than design. It is, no
doubt, a principle infinitely inferior in dignity, for it is blind
and unintelligent, while design sees and understands, but this is
not the question. The question, superseded by an answer derived from
human experience, is to this effect--that nature and natural things
are, with no less propriety, assignable as the doers of a certain
non-designing kind of order, than man is assignable as the doer of
the designing kind; that we just as truly perceive that nature,
in the exercise of certain powers that we find to be inherent in
her, produces order in a dew-drop or in a crystal, as that man, in
the exercise of certain powers that we find to be inherent in him,
produces order in a poem or in a cathedral, and that, consequently,
the argument from design, based as it is on the assertion that our
experience assures us of only one principle of order, is invalid.

Mr. F. W. Newman's argument is one of this erroneous class. He points
to "Animal Instincts" as an effect, which, owing to our knowing of
no other agency by which it could have been produced, can alone
be accounted for by reference to a designer, and consequently as
manifesting the objective existence of that designer, who could only be
the theistic God. The question that Mr. F. Newman's adduced instance
required him to consider was, whether the non-designing principle of
order, which, we are aware, is in many cases able to produce the same
effects as the other, could have been thus operative here, and he had
got to prove that it could not have been so, that there was something
in the nature of the case that forced us exclusively to have recourse
to the intelligent principle of order, and resisted any solution from
the other principle. The result of a proof so conducted would have
been, that Mr. F. Newman was entitled to conclude that (granting our
earthly experience was a sufficient test of the matter) Design must
have been the sole worker of the debated phenomenon. He would then
have established his theistic argument. Instead of doing this, he
simplifies his proceeding by being incognisant of a notorious fact,
and ignoring the non-designing principle altogether.

1. The fact is, that there is not one way only of producing the
phenomena of design (I am here using an ordinary elliptical mode
of speaking, since literal metaphysical correctness is sometimes
cumbrous)--but there are two ways: one, the mind of a designer, and
the other (whatever may be its nature, which the present question
does not call upon me to define) not the mind of a designer.

2. The shortest way of proving this theorem, is to state that there
are two ways of your obtaining a facsimile of your own person. One
is to have your portrait taken, and the other is to stand before
a looking-glass, and that of these two ways the former is that of
design, and the latter confessedly not design, being the well-known
necessary effect of certain so-called second causes, whose operation
in this instance is familiar to modern science.

3. Consequently, S. D. Collet is incorrect in the principle which
she makes the foundation of her argument at p. 27, where it is said,
"What the Theist maintains is this, that when we see the exercise of
Force in the direction of a purpose, we, by an inevitable inference,
attribute the phenomenon to some conscious agent."

4. Force is seen to be exercised in the direction of a purpose--the
purpose being that of producing similitude--with equal evidence in
the two cases just compared; for though the force exercised in said
direction is less in the case of the painter than it is in that of the
looking-glass (for the resemblance produced by the former is in less
degree a resemblance than that produced by the latter), the evidence
cannot be said to be less, since it is no less able to convince. We
are as perfectly sure that the painter could not have produced that
lesser similitude of a man, and a particular man, by chance (the
alternative of this supposition, according to our experience, being
that he must have used design) as we are that the looking-glass could
not have produced that greater similitude of a man, and a particular
man, by chance (the alternative of this supposition, according to
our experience, being that it must have used certain so-called laws
of nature); this collective experience of ours, equally assuring us
on the one hand, that the only way of the painter's achieving these
effects is by design, and on the other, that the only way of the
looking-glass's doing so, is by the natural agencies referred to.

5. The human experience on which the decision of this question must
be founded--though not at the present era essentially different--may
yet be said to be considerably so from what it was in certain former
periods. In no times could mankind think and observe without becoming
aware of these two principles of order--whether you call them facts
or inferences--as a portion of their familiar experience. And so far
as they might have compared them, they must have abundantly seen that
the natural one is more powerful than the artificial one, and that the
straight line or the circle must seek its perfection much rather from
the plummet or the revolving radius, than from the pencil of Apelles.

6. Thus the essential point of the existence of the two principles
has always been known, but the idea of their respective spheres and
limits, of the efficient prevalence of each within our experience, has
fluctuated in society. Art and handicraft are, of course, peculiarly
competent to appreciate the artificial principle of order, while
physical science is especially conversant with the natural one. As the
ancients were equal to the moderns in the former pursuits, but vastly
inferior to them in the latter, they must so far have had a tendency to
think more of the designing principle, and less of the other principle
than we do. But it must be remembered, that one or other of these two
principles, or at least the arbitrament between them, is the animating
basis of all religion, and of all religious sects and persuasions;
and further, that of these two principles, the religion founded on
the artificial one, which is the one traditionally derived to us,
is liable to be, and is wont to be, a far more powerful religion
(because it deals far more intensely in personification, having
reference singly to some supposed artist) than either the religion
that is constituted by the natural principle, or that which results
from a mixture of the two principles. And indeed, I will incidentally
say that this last kind of religion seems to me to have much analogy
on its side, and that the old idea of "the two principles" might,
on several grounds besides the present one, and in several respects,
perhaps, be found to shadow forth a certain amount of most important
truth and applicability.

7. To return. By considering the state of religion and of religious
belief in the times of Socrates and Cicero, in connection with
the state of art, handicraft, and science, in the same time, and
coincidently taking care not to forget that religious sentiment
(that at least of the kind which had in their era already been,
and much more since has been, communicated from the east to the
west) is an incomparably more vigorous impeller of opinion, than
reason and argument; we shall have some of the principal data, and
in a main matter shall be prepared to use them judiciously in any
inquiry we might make, why it was that Socrates and Cicero, having
their attention arrested by the artificial principle of order and
arrangement, seemed absolutely to forget the existence of the natural
one, and why in consequence it was, that the latter wrote to this
effect: "He who can look up to the heavenly vault, and doubt the
existence of a one personal God, the designer and governor of all
things, is equivalent to a madman"; and why, further, we, spite of
our vast physical science, are prone to the same fallacy.

8. Having thus proved that the argument of the Theist generally,
as well as the particular one advanced by S. D. C. at p. 27, is, by
being based on the erroneous statement that there is only one means
known to human experience, of producing phenomena identical with those
that are the product of design, and that this one is design itself;
there being, on the contrary, two such means, one of which is not
design; having, I say, proved that your argument, by being so based,
is invalid, I find I must fully agree with you, that there is evidence
of "an unmistakable cosmical unity."

9. The true inquiry, therefore, is, which of those two principles
of order is, in the agency inquired into, the agent under these
circumstances, and whether both, and how far, under our ignorance of
what may be (a most important point that is carefully to be considered)
we are entitled to affirm as indubitable, to denounce as contradictory,
to advance as probable, to conjecture, to surmise, or to speculate
on this question.


1. You ask "my idea on the impossibility of proving the truth of
First Principles?"

By "truth" you mean the ascertained existence of any idea or thing,
and the ascertained consistency of any statement with some such idea
or thing.

By "principles" you mean not simply cardinal propositions, but cardinal
propositions that we have ascertained to be true.

By "first principles" you mean the indubitably true but unprovable
elementary principles of all our knowledge. You mean that these
principles are the ground whereon we build in our reasonings; all that
we build upon them must, in consequence of being so built, admit of
being "proved" whether we have built rightly--that is, admit of being
subjected to the test whether the reasoning is correct; but these
"first principles" are confessedly exempted from this test, and yet
are received as true, no less than the others that have sustained this
ordeal. You ask the meaning of this privilege, whether it is right;
and, if so, to what propriety or necessity of the case it is due?

2. You ask, "How is truth ascertained to be truth?" or, in other words,
"What is the criterion of truth?"

With respect to the first query--In accordance with the definition I
have above given of truth, it would seem that it must have two sources,
experience and reason, experience who notifies the existence of
certain ideas or things, and reason, who forms propositions suggested
by them. Experience, therefore, acts the simple part of supplying
all the materials of truth; while reason, besides his acknowledged
office of judge of all truth, exercises the quite different function
of being himself the purveyor of a portion of it.

So indubitable is it that truth can have these two sources only,
that even fanaticism would be found confessing the principle; while
it appeals to the experience of those who agree with it, as well as
professes to be reasonable.

First principles must, accordingly, be of two kinds. Of those that
are based upon experience, I will give the following instances:--I
hear the chirping of a bird, and I see an inkstand before me. That
I have the sensation of hearing and seeing in these two cases, are
facts of which it is impossible I can doubt. Reason perceives that
these are primary facts or first principles, neither admitting nor
requiring any proof, testified by consciousness, and self-evidently
verified on that testimony.

By reason, of course is meant the reason of all mankind--that is,
of all who are presumably competent to judge on the subject. So that
any just or reasonable confidence in the verdict of my own reason--in
this or in any other matter, presupposes a due comparison of my own
reason with that of others, nay, in some cases, a consideration of
the supposably more enlightened reason of future times.

I discriminate first principles from derived ones thus:--"I see the
sun," is a first principle to me; "you see it," is a first principle to
you; by comparing these two ideas, each attains the derived principle
that the other sees what he does, and the further derived principle
that the sun is an existence independent of both. His own existence
is, indeed, to every one the first principle, by means of which he
infers the existence of other things and beings.

In coming now to the other kind of first principles, consisting of
propositions formed by reason, we perceive that these show symptoms
of still further difference from the above, than that which results
from the difference of their source, of difference that affects their
philosophical character, and their technical right to the name under
which they present themselves to us. In short, the primary philosophy
has not yet settled their title.

They are perceived by us to be true by an act of reason called
intuition. Not similarly, however, does our reason inform us that they
really are first principles, and our science is hitherto unequal to
this inquiry.

Take, for instance, the following celebrated thesis, so often cited
as the most fundamental of all the propositions of reason, insomuch
as to be tacitly implied in all our reasonings; which yet we are
not sure is a first principle, all that can be said in favor of its
pretensions being that we can find no one who is able to reduce it
to more primary elements:--

It is impossible for a thing at the same time to be and not to be.

Any one agreeing, as every one must, that this is true, might
still justly put the query, Why is it impossible? thereby calling
its assertion in question, demanding its credentials of proof,
seeking some ground for its truth other than its own testimony, and
hypothesising some other proposition more fundamental than it of which
it would be a derivative, and by all and each of these proceedings,
rejecting its claim to be a first principle.

Its resisting our analysis is a good subjective ground for our ranking
this and other similar propositions among our first principles. But
they could only have the true claim by its being made clear that
the inability results from the nature of the case, and not from our
own incompetency.

This test is borne by the former description of first principles; we
are able to see that the instances I adduced, such as the statements,
"I see the sun," "I see an inkstand," "I hear a bird," "I am conscious
that I exist," evade our power of ordinary proving, because they do
not admit of such proof.

When we perceive that no one can answer this query, we are prompted to
another. Why cannot we answer it? whence our inability? what prevents
us? But here also we find ourselves completely in the dark, which is
somewhat strange, considering that in every human pursuit, whether of
science or any other, when we wish to do a thing and cannot do it, we
are generally able to specify some particular, either of self-defect
or outward impediment that is supposed to be in fault. But I imagine,
if the reader were to experiment on the specimen I have given, he
would not only find himself to fail in solving the problem, Why is
it that a thing cannot at once be and not be? but would not have a
word to advance in the way of accounting for his failure.

These remarks apply to all other propositions of the sort. Euclid's
axioms, which undoubtedly aim to be as elementary as possible, and
therefore may be said to aim to be first principles, are confessedly,
under this aspect, unsatisfactory to the learned. "Things that are
equal to the same are equal to each other." Every one is inclined
to ask, Why? "A straight line is the shortest distance between two
points." Again, Why?

The sum of the above strictures on this kind of so-called first
principles, is--1. That they have not made good their title,
and therefore are not to be accredited with it. 2. That there
is a decided presumption against that title from the doubt and
dissatisfaction with which it is met, where want of candor and
intelligence cannot be imputed, especially when it is considered that
the other, the sensuous experimental kind of first principles, have
so frank an acceptance. 3. It seems to be absolutely provable, and I
suppose I have above incidentally proved it, that they are not first
principles. 4. The task is set to metaphysics of supplying the most
satisfactory proof of all by bringing to light such propositions as
would be perceived to underlie these so-called first principles, and to
be the real first principles to which the others would give precedence.

As regards their name, it being so much in point, excuses the old
remark that the elements of our knowledge stand in a reversed order
in respect to this knowledge to what they assume in our process of
acquiring it. A first principle, therefore, means also a last one;
it is the last in whatsoever endeavors to descend to the bottom or
to penetrate to the source of our knowledge, but it becomes the first
when we trace it from this source through its derivative ideas.

The investigating act should not be confounded with the prospecting
one. The sensible horizon of subjective vision can, by no mediation,
be exalted into the real horizon of truth, wherein the genuine first
principles that bound human capability are exclusively to be found.

It may be asked, apart from the inquiry what first principles there
are, Is there a necessity that some first principles should be? So it
seems from the data of the case. It is patent to common observation
that the mind of man is recipient of ideas from the things that
surround it. The contact of its apprehending faculty with the things it
apprehends, must, it would seem, constitute first principles. After it
has got them it might conceivably elicit from them derived principles,
but the original ones cannot be thus derived, since there are none
earlier from which to derive them.

Again, it is to be inquired, Does the mind, in receiving its ideas,
possess and exercise in reference to the things on which it operates,
a copying faculty or a transforming faculty? Does it import them simply
in their native character, in the way a mirror does the object it
reflects, or does it manufacture, cook, and assimilate them, so as
to change them into something partaking of its own?

And, if it changes them, what is the extent of the change? Does it
go so far only as the semi-idealism of Locke, or extend into the
absolute idealism of the German school?

Because these questions have been wont to puzzle either the learned,
or the public, or both, it does not follow that they are difficult. I
suppose them to admit of decided answers before a supposed competent

As I am unprovided with proof, although I suppose it is to be provable,
that first principles of reason must needs be, I must speculate for
a moment on the possibility of a proposition of the form of "two and
two make four," being derived from one of the form of "I scent the
rose," for this seems to be the alternative of there being no first
principles of reason. Evidently I must confess to having no grounds
for pronouncing such a derivation impossible, though I must grant
it to be paradoxical. Our mal-cultivation of non-material science,
and the imperfection of our metaphysics, is probably the only cause
of the strange predicament.

No doubt M. Cousin, and several other eminent teachers of youth,
to whose office it belongs to expound received metaphysics, have
comprised First Principles in their course of philosophy; but as I
have barely met with any of their writings, I must confess such an
ignorance of them, as not even to know how far I am either adopting,
or evading their phraseology, in discussing the same subjects. Mine,
however, cannot be wrong, since the term "first principles," that I
have chosen, is one of familiar popular use; so that were this mode
of speech, as indeed it is, peculiarly liable to ambiguity, it would,
for that very reason, be preferable to any other, till such time as
that ambiguity should have been explained, and the wrong thinking, of
which it might have been the source, exposed and obviated. Not till
this had been done would it be time to inquire whether the current
metaphysics had invented any intrinsically better ways of speaking
on these topics, for though the veriest tyro in such investigations
would be justified in objecting to some of its technicalities,
such as the invention of the word free-will, for instance, for the
same reason that a beginner in zoology might object, were such an
attempt ever made, to the introduction of the word sphynx or griffin
into that branch of inquiry, there can be no doubt that other of its
speculations are more happily conceived. Hence I suppose it would be
a decided mistake to imagine, for example, that no trouve whatever is
to be elicited from the obscurities of Kant, but on the other hand,
one must as much take care to entertain sober conjectures of the
possible value of such unsunned treasures, as to keep in mind that
quackery may be not unqualified with some merit, and I might surmise
that it was perhaps in virtue of his fabulous expectations in this
direction, that Coleridge could not execute his long-meditated plan of
elucidating that writer; or rather, perhaps--to speak more curtly--a
spirit more differing from that which compounded the amalgam, was
necessary to resolve and detect it.

According to this estimate of the value of our achieved studies, it
would be expectable, in regard to my present topic, that almost all
the materials for right conclusions on it must be extant somewhere or
other in our books, no great amount of ability being required to turn
them to proper account: an easily suppliable desideratum being thus
left unsupplied, the public indifference manifested thereby would seem
to bear the ascription of our unsatisfactory metaphysics to the fault,
however apportioned between the many and the few, not of the intellect,
but of the reason.

Indeed, it is held as a pretty general rule, that where there is want
of reform, there is want of reason; and Bacon, by implication, thought
the rule here applicable, when, in defending his "new philosophy"
from the charge of arrogance, he apologised by saying that a "cripple
in the right road would make better progress than a racehorse in the
wrong." That is, he claimed for himself, as he was bound logically to
do, the plain good sense of directing his supposably humble faculties
with an obvious regard to the end he proposed and professed, and he was
ready to concede to his competitors all kinds of superiority but this.

The same simplicity characterises the reforming animus of the other
great patriarch of "the new philosophy," in its sister branch. The
still debated point between the school of Locke and the old philosophy
was, and is, of such a form as may be figured by the following
hypothetical, and it may be, well-founded statement. Locke seems to
have battled mainly for the principle that ideas that every one allows
to be inferences, should be acknowledged by philosophy to be such,
while the adherents of the old ideas maintained, in opposition to
him, that ideas that every one allows to be inferences, should not
be acknowledged by philosophy to be such. Or, in other words, Locke
aimed to realise a certain first principle of reason, which I shall
have hereafter to consider, which stands thus:--"That which it is,"
while his opponents withstood this innovating pretension, finding
it fatal to their doctrine. If the reader is somewhat startled at
the statement I have just made, I will remind him that it amounts
to nothing more than saying that in the contest between the new and
the old philosophy, reason is entirely and absolutely on the side of
the former, an assertion which, of course, I must both think admits
of being substantiated, and must take myself, in some degree, to be
able to aid in its being so.

The existing quarrel between the two philosophies might, perhaps,
be personified through the medium of a principal champion on each
side. For the new ideas I could only choose Locke, since he is admitted
to have had no equally eminent successor; for the old I would choose
M. Cousin, both on account of his superior merit and popularity, and
also of his having made Locke the subject of some elaborate strictures
that I happen to have read. On these, when they come again to hand,
I should perhaps have something to remark; meanwhile I must content
myself with addressing myself to one of them in the following manner:--

In antiquity and the middle ages, the schoolmaster and the
philosopher were one and the same individual. The new philosophy
was the first to separate these two departments; perceiving that the
communication of truth is a distinct office from its investigation,
and that that difference of office in each case necessitates a
corresponding difference in the public, that is the proper object of
its exercise. Since, moreover, society may be discriminated into two
sorts of mind, admitting of being pictured as the childish and the
adults, it is evident that the instructor must find his audience
more especially in the former, while the investigator of truth
must appeal exclusively to the latter. This he must needs do, to
whichever of the sciences he ministers; and not only so, but he must
more particularly address himself to a small and select portion of
this itself selecter class, constitute them the witnesses and judges
of his proceedings, and perceive that both his success in philosophy
and the acknowledgment of it can only be founded first and foremost on
their approbation. As even in jockeyism and prize-fighting, there are
"the knowing ones," similar referees are, by the nature of things,
required for the flourishing estate of any science; and evidently in
proportion as they might be incompetent to such an office, false or
imperfect science must be the result.

Locke, acting on this instinctive view, communicated to the
public certain observations he had made in mental philosophy, and
entitled his work, An Essay on the Human Understanding. He properly
called it an essay, because a person who simply aims to investigate
truth, undertakes to do his best in the way of trial, endeavor, and
experiment, in such sort as to make the word essay appropriate to what
he does. The word moreover implies that the thing done, though it is
the writer's best, is liable to be incomplete, comparatively imperfect,
and, indeed, in the more difficult questions of philosophy, as well as
in the less advanced stages of philosophising, is sure to be so. Locke
accordingly, having had his attention struck with certain phenomena of
the human mind, told the public just what he had observed, and nothing
else. Among the observations that he thus imparted, was the process
through which the mind seems to go in arriving at the sum of its ideas,
and especially the points from which it seems to start in this process.

M. Cousin, having apparently no conception of a way of acting so
proper to legitimate inquiry, and having himself written a Course
of Philosophy, evidently thinks Locke ought to have done the same;
for he says that Locke is erroneous in the method of his philosophy,
that he begins at the wrong end, that instead of having told us as he
has how the ideas arise in the mind, he ought to have told us what
the ideas are, instead of describing their origin to have described
their actuality, to have given a list of the faculties of the mind,
and so on. Which is just the same thing as saying that a traveller
who publishes his explorations in America, ought instead to have gone
to China.

I shall have to make some objections to Locke, but they will be of
a nature exactly contrary to those of which he is usually made the
subject. Instead of accusing his principles I shall have to impute
to him the not sufficiently carrying them out; a fault due to his
position as an early reformer, and perfectly consistent with his high
character as such.

I have the more reason to note this distinction between M. Cousin's
department and the function exercised by Locke, because I am forced
myself to take the benefit of it. Want of erudition would form very
vulnerable points, were I to be judged by the former standard. In
the little I have yet put forth on the subject of First Principles,
I already find two or three errors of that sort, which a greater amount
of reading would no doubt have enabled me to escape. My present letter
may close with some correction of one of these.

Preliminary, I will venture to call "That which is is," a first
principle of reason, and "Two and two make four," one of its
derivatives, leaving this topic for future explanation, and then
proceed thus:--When in my last letter I represented first principles
as bounding the horizon of human knowledge, I left it to be inferred
that both the kinds of "first principles" I had mentioned were thus
describable in common. I find, however, that this metaphysical
character belongs exclusively to first principles of sensuous
experience, and no more belongs to first principles of reason than to
first principles of grammar, or to first principles of rhetoric. That
is, first principles of reason are merely the result of one of those
analytical inquiries in which we arrive at something absolutely simple,
and must there stop, just as in the science of numbers we may thus
arrive at unity.

Having long ago defined First Principles of sensuous experience,
I find there is a difficulty attached to the other kind of first
principles derived from the various use of the word reason--which
I will say betrayed me into a wrong inference in the concluding
paragraph of my last letter.

Locke, in the 17th chapter of his fourth book, confesses that this
word, in the proper use of the English language, is liable to bear
several senses. Due discrimination in such a case, and a cautious
avoidance of the dangers to which philosophy is exposed, and has
so amply incurred, from this kind of source might, above all, have
been, expected from Locke, since he was the first who inculcated it,
and is generally remarkable for the observance of his own precepts
in this matter. Hence the charge I have now got to bring against him
is a little surprising.

Indeed, it might be asserted that his position and circumstances do
not seem very readily to bear the entire responsibility of some of his
proceedings. Perhaps he might be characterised as a writer of somewhat
humorous idiosyncracy in respect to tendency to fixed ideas. His
lapses, indeed, are not many, but they are highly significant, as
I shall have occasion in more than one instance to show, and among
these must evidently be reckoned that I am now going to notice, since
it imports the wrong definition of a word of such cardinal meaning.

In defining the word reason, in its proper and specific sense
wherein it is used to denote a certain well-known quality of the
human mind--that is, as approvedly ascertained and appreciated under
this name, as are certain weights and measures under those of pound,
gallon, or mile, he assigns a meaning to it that comes short of the
proportions thus justly prefigured as belonging to it. He confounds
reason with reasoning--that is, he emerges the entire faculty or modus
operandi, to which we give the name of reason, in that partial exercise
of its function to which we give the name of reasoning. He says that,
in matters of certainty, such as the proof of any of Euclid's theorems,
the acts by which the mind ascertains the fit coherence of the several
links in the chain of reasoning are acts of reason. Granted.

Also, that in weighing probabilities, a similar coherence is similarly
verified by reason. Granted--with liberty of comment that these arts
of reason, in either of the two cases have, by the approved practice
of language, received the name of reasoning.

But he further signifies--that is, he does not expressly affirm, but,
with equivalent certification, he implicitly asserts, and inferentially
states that, in examining such a proposition as the following:--"What
is, is" (an examination to which confessedly no reasoning is attached),
the act by which the mind assents to the truth of this statement
is not to be described as an act of reason. He adopts a different
phraseology, and calls it intuition.

Observe, my objection is not that he invests the idea with this new
name, but that he disparages its old one. I do not object to your
calling a spade a shovel, under a certain view of its use, but it
remains still necessary that you should admit that a spade is, in
the full sense of the word, a spade.

Indeed, I will incidentally remark that I suspect the word "intuition"
has been a very good addition to our vocabulary, and I suppose
its proper import might be represented as follows:--Reason has two
modes of his exercise, the one is called reasoning, and the other
intuition. Intuition is the decision of reason on one single point;
reasoning--a word proper to demonstrative truth--seems to be nothing
more than intuition looking not merely at one point, but at several
points successively. So that intuition and reasoning would constitute
the self-same function of reason, and the difference in their meanings
would be solely owing to the difference in the circumstances under
which that function is exercised.

Observe, that I am here only venturing to speculate, and am now
returning from that digression.

Whether or not Locke is herein psychologically consistent with
himself; whether, indeed, his real theory is not that which I have
just conjecturally intimated, is another question, which I shall
defer to a future occasion; but whether or not he herein opposes the
ordinary, prevailing, and inveterate use of language, which is what
I am charging him with doing, and whether or not he has justifiable
ground for this innovation which I am denying that he has, are points
that must be tried by the ordeal of these three considerations. How
are we accustomed to speak? How are we accustomed to write? and what
sort of a call for changing our customs in either of these particulars
is that which constitutes a genuine call to do so?

In regard to the first of these tests, the literature of all sects
and parties has been accustomed to assert that, both in matters of
science and of worldly business, reason is the judge of all truth
whatever, without exception.

Locke, on the other hand, informs us that reason is the judge of
demonstrative truth, of logical truth, of casuistical truth, and of
lawyers' truth, and of these kinds of truth alone, but is not the
judge of intuitive or self-evident truth. Our writers would tell us
that to deny "what is, is" to be a true statement, would be an offence
against reason; but we learn from Locke that reason has no cognisance
in this matter, but intuition only has, and consequently that the
wrong committed would not be against reason, but against intuition.

Our current speech accords with our literature in this view
of the meaning of the word reason; whose efficiency, moreover,
it endeavors to amplify, by surrounding it with satellites of
adjectives formed from it, the principal of which are "reasonable" and
"unreasonable." Provided with this vocabulary, we pronounce it to be
unreasonable to deny any truth whatever that can be well and clearly
ascertained; and so far are we from reserving these adjectives for
the occasion of demonstrative truth, and holding them inapplicable
where self-evident or intuitive truth comes on the carpet, that we
account it, if possible, still more unreasonable to deny the latter
than the former.

But if the nomenclature adopted by Locke be the right one, there ought
to be a change in these current modes of speaking and writing. One who
should reject the proofs of Euclid, would be unreasonable; one who
should maintain that Thurtel or Greenacre were innocent of murder,
would be unreasonable; but, one who should deny the truth of any
self-evident proposition, would not be unreasonable; for to say this,
would be to say that reason has cognisance of such propositions,
whereas, according to him, it is expressly not reason, but intuition
that takes this office. The words "intuitional" and "unintuitional,"
must be invented to supply the obvious need which the apparent gap
discovers; there seems no other way of supplying it.

Lest I should be suspected of somewhat making up a case; of having,
perhaps, represented not so much what Locke really means, as what he
seems to mean, I will remind the reader that Locke is undertaking the
formal definition of a word, and that on such a critical occasion,
it is proper to give him credit for not meaning otherwise than he
seems to mean.

The passage which is my text, will be found in the earlier part of
the seventeenth chapter of the fourth book. Indeed, I could at once
prove my indictment by citing a few words from it, accompanied by a
comment of my own, had I any right to impose on the reader a belief
in the discriminating fairness and matter-of-fact accuracy, both of
my extracts and my comment.

I will, however, venture on such a step; I will suppose myself
commenting on this passage, and proceed thus: Locke, it will be seen
in this, his foremost and professed definition of the word reason,
contrasts it with "sense and intuition."

Whether he holds these to be identical with what he calls "the
outward and the inward sense," is not quite clear. That, however,
is not the question.

He says, that these two faculties "reach but a very little way";
for that "the greatest part of our knowledge depends upon deductions
and intermediate ideas." Now, reason, he says, may be defined to be
that faculty, whose specific office it is "to find out and apply"
those intermediate ideas and deductions by which we obtain knowledge
that consists of two kinds, one that which exalts us into "certainty,"
the other that which, though less generous diet for the mind, we have
constantly good ground for gladly acquiescing in, and which we call
"probability." So that, says Locke, if you ask, "What room is there
for the exercise of any other faculty but outward sense and inward
perception?" I can abundantly reply, "Very much." I have shown you
that without this "demonstrative" faculty, our knowledge would be
but a skeleton; it would, indeed, not be properly speaking knowledge,
but mere rudiments of knowledge.

Such is my interpretation of Locke's definition of reason, in the
proper and specific sense of this word. If it is strictly correct,
as I believe the intelligent reader will find by reference, then it
is Locke confounds reason with reasoning, mistakes a part for the
whole, and the whole for a part, and acts similarly--to borrow his
own way of illustration--to the representing a gallon to be a quart,
or a half-sovereign to be a sovereign.

It is to be observed, too, that it is entirely in behalf of the more
showy kind of knowledge, that the mistake is made. The respected name
of reason is given exclusively to logic and demonstrating. Good sense,
good feeling, just instinct, if they stand alone, have no claim to
it; they are put on an inferior footing; true, they are intuition;
but what then? they are not reason.

Now, the century introduced by Locke is accused by the present,
and it is generally admitted, with some degree of justice, of having
"materialistic" tendencies. We may see, then, how Locke's doctrine,
as just described, founded though it is only on nomenclature, hinging
merely on definition, incurring whatever wrongness it implicates from
no other lapse than that of confounding a word with its derivative,
doing nothing, in short, but annul the difference of meaning between
the two words, reason and reasoning; we may see how this apparently
harmless experiment might tend to supplying these materialistic
tendencies with a ground, a rationale, a principle, and thus to exalt
their authority, and how, indeed! it just smacks of their spirit.

It may be seen, too, how, from a few slips, such as this on the
part of the champion of the "new philosophy," competing schools of
the present age might be able to make up a case, specious enough to
gain the acquiescence of a portion of the public against both--with
how great futility, I believe, would appear, if the accusations were
weighed by a competent tribunal.

And, finally, it might be expected, that the undue exaltation of
the demonstrative department of reason, should issue in a reaction
into a contrary extreme, and that some Mr. Carlyle might be found to
inveigh against "logic," to sneer at "analysis," to denounce "cause
and effect philosophy" and to praise "mysticism."

I have already assumed that the third test that I promised, goes
against Locke, and requires no examination, simply because he has not
advanced it in his behalf. He has assigned no ground for changing
the meaning of the word reason, and it is presumable that none is

The question, What is the Criterion of Truth?--that is, What are the
proper means of distinguishing whether anything that is asserted to be
true is so or not? claims immediate notice, because such a criterion
exists, and the new philosophy necessarily appeals to it when it comes
before the public, while it has shown with what effect it can do so,
in the case of those of its branches--namely, the purely material
and the mathematical, that flourish in society.

Premising that it is a way of certifying truth that has been
immemorially used by mankind in their daily affairs, and which they
have always, to some extent, instinctively transferred to their
judgments in philosophy, and that it is the only possible general
and summary criterion of truth, I may describe it as consisting in
the unanimous assent to some idea or assertion of all who are thought
competent to pronounce concerning it.

Viewed in connection with the thing it verifies, and the parties who
use it, the criterion may be thus represented: Any idea, assertion,
or opinion, must, by any inquirer, be found true, when he perceives
it to be such as would be unanimously assented to by all presumably
competent judges of the kind of truth to which it refers.

So that those who use this criterion, and are convinced of the truth of
anything through its medium--a proceeding which I have represented as
common and habitual to mankind--in thereby pronouncing certain supposed
persons to be judges of truth in the said matter, claim themselves
to be also judges of it in the matter of so pronouncing. The acts
of judgment they thus tacitly challenge to themselves may be said to
be to the following effect:--1. They assign the qualifications that
constitute competency for a certain function. 2. They decide that there
are persons in the community answering to this character. 3. They
opine that the view such persons take or would take, imports an
assertion of the truth of the idea in question. 4. They accredit
that view with being strictly one, supposing that all qualified to
arbitrate would acquiesce and agree in the same. 5. They attribute
to themselves a similar unanimity. 6. They assume the sufficiency of
their own judgment to make all the above conclusions.

These assumptions on their part, so complicated in description, are
simple enough in performance. It is plain that mankind--more properly
here to be called the public--simply attach themselves to some opinion
which they find current in society; while, however, the assumptions
I have just described are, in their full measure, but a necessary
consequence of their so doing, doubtless their so doing must itself
have been dictated by some kind of anticipation of them, but this may,
to any degree, have been vague, undetermined, partial, and imperfect.

The rationale of this double bench of judges is thus explained. In
reference to almost every kind of truth there is always a certain
portion of the community better able to judge than the rest. Hence
it becomes clearly the part of the latter, if they wish to be
rightly informed, to defer to the opinion of those confessedly
better judges--confessed to be such from the general opinion to that
effect. Thus a second set of judges perforce, in addition to those that
were originally conceived by choice, is implicated in this transaction.

For the primary sort I must seek a name from the French language,
which calls them "experts," the English supplying, I believe, none,
except a very vernacular one, the "knowing ones"; the others have
already got a well-known name--the public.

The public, in deciding on the occasions in question, what are the
qualifications that constitute "experts" may be said to choose them,
thereby, however, choosing persons in idea, and not bodily. The
relation of the public to these conceptions of theirs is the same
as that of the constituencies to the members of Parliament, in the
point of one being the choosers and the others the chosen, with a
common object in view.

I suppose, to stop the current of my discourse, and adjourn its topic,
for the sake of at once bringing the general principle discussed to
the test of exemplification, would have its want of logical harmony
excused by its being desiderated by the reader.

I had undertaken to prove that this principle--which, for distinction's
sake, I will call the unanimity principle--is the proper and only
criterion of scientific truth to the great non-scientific world,
and consequently that modern philosophy necessarily appeals to it
when it comes before the public. What I had thus taken upon myself
to do, obviously was--first, to display and explicate the principle
by definition, and this I had already done; and next--to describe
it theoretically by showing its manner of existing, and this I was
engaged in doing. Leaving this inquiry in the midst, I am now going to
deviate into the practical phase of its description, by showing, not
how it is, but how it acts. This seems necessary for the satisfaction
of the reader, as being the only way of securing him from any, even
were it but temporary, misapprehension as to the working value of
the principle for which his attention is demanded. I therefore select
the six following examples, the two first homely, and the four last
philosophical, of its ordinary use by the public.

They will be at once seen to justify my assertion of its having for
its main characteristics the two facts--first, that mankind habitually
use it, and have always done so; and next, that propositions thus
warranted are universally accepted as established truth, and that no
one thinks of calling them in question.

1. Thus no one doubts, when coming to the intersection of two roads,
he sees a sign-post, on one of whose pointers is written "To London,"
and on the other "To Windsor," no one hesitates to believe that the
information thus conveyed to him is true; because he is aware that
those who give it are competent to do so, and that none similarly
competent will gainsay it.

2. Again, no one doubts that the sun rises and sets once in
every twenty-four hours; no one doubts that he so rose and set
yesterday. Every one is ready to affirm the certainty of these two
facts, but very few can do so, in any great degree, from their
own experience; but they help the lack of this by that of their
neighbors. Neither is it necessary that they should have any near,
nor even the most remote, idea of the personality of those on whose
testimony they thus implicitly rely; it suffices they are sure,
whoever they may be, they have the right qualifications for testifying
in the way they do, and that no one so qualified can contradict their
evidence, or dream of doing so.

The above are examples of the criterion of truth, applied to the ideas
and proceedings of ordinary life. It will be seen therefrom, first
that mankind have in all ages been educated in an acceptance of its
principle, according to my definition of it, the principle, namely, of
an indubitable certainty of truth, resulting from the unanimous assent
to some idea of all who are thought by self and neighbors competent
to pronounce thereon; possibly too they may be said to have been
educated in some imperfect theoretical appreciation of this principle.

It will secondly be seen therefrom, that the two kinds of unanimity
which I have predicated as essential to the proper use and results of
this criterion, an unanimity, namely, on the part of the supposed good
judges of certain descriptions of truth, who may be called the adepts
or knowing ones imagined by the public; and again an unanimity on the
part of the public itself in interpreting and adopting their opinion;
it will be seen, I say, that this double unanimity is perfectly
attainable, nay, perfectly attained, and that too so extensively,
as to constitute a common and familiar occurrence on all manner of
occasions of daily life.

I will now give instances of their similar use of it in directing
their judgments on philosophical questions.

3. Very few of the public are able to examine the proof of any of
the theorems of Euclid, yet there is none of them who would think of
seriously doubting the truth of anything contained in that book, the
ground of their confidence being solely their knowledge of the fact,
that the learned in these matters have unanimously so decided.

Every one, again, believes in certain facts that are asserted by
navigators, explorers, and geographers, respecting the existence,
position, and products of various countries of the globe. Every one,
further, believes in certain deductions derived from these facts by
naturalists, geologists, astronomers, and so forth. The belief is
owing to the unanimous testimony of all these confessedly competent
authorities; but whenever they are seen to differ among themselves, the
public withholds its entire belief, and either doubts or disbelieves
the things asserted. Thus the public is at this day doubtful and
divided whether there is such a creature as the sea-serpent. Similarly
the public is dubious--for it must needs be so if any section of it is
so--whether a certain explorer who was authoritatively sent out about a
dozen years ago conjointly by the French Government and Institute, was,
in any degree, justified in bringing home the account he did of there
being a tribe of men in the interior of Africa having tails, whether
this unexpected information is, in any important particular, true.

The two last examples have been furnished by material science. I will
now draw one from the other department, with the view of indicating
that in non-material science also, numerous propositions circulate
among the public that are franked by the same principle to pass as
undoubted truth. Such is the maxim of heathen philosophy, recorded
by Cicero in his "Officiis": "Do not to another what you would not
he should do to you"; or the same maxim, in its modified form, as
given in the New Testament, with the characteristic omission of the
negative. The truth of this moral maxim is universally admitted,
because it is supposed that no person of presumable moral judgment
has ever been known to call it in question.

It would seem, then, that this criterion of truth is--what confessedly,
or from easy proof, it is predicable that no other criterion of
truth is--a general criterion of truth. I will, however, restrict
this pretension to the statement--to be hereafter more largely
explained--that it is a general criterion of truth to the public
as such, to the public considered as a public; for, indeed, it is
not properly usable at all by anyone except in the character of a
member of the public. This means that it is a general criterion of
truth in the following way: it is applicable to the verification of
all truth, so far as it admits of being verified before the public,
and made the common property of the community.

6. For even where at first sight you might think it most out of place,
I mean in relation to that kind of truth whose primary evidence is
the consciousness of the individual, so that the competent witness
of truth is necessarily but one person, there is oneness of opinion,
there is unanimity, and the testimony of the one competent witness
is not contradicted or doubted by that of any other presumably
competent. When, for instance, I am conscious of the sensation
of seeing an inkstand before me, no one seeing reason to doubt my
assertion to that effect, all presumably competent testimony on the
subject must needs be concentrated in myself; and the fact of my
seeing an inkstand, though for my own conviction verified in a way
independent of any such argument, is, for the conviction of others,
only pronounceable as true, because all presumably competent authority
is of one mind in alleging its truth.

In thus far exemplifying the use of this principle, I have exhibited
it in the exercise of its primary office only, which, however, is
not that which, on behalf of philosophy, I am here demanding from
it. I have shown it, namely, as used by the public to establish truth
positively, and not in the way wherein it may be used to distinguish
truth comparatively.

But it is solely in this latter office that it becomes a criterion of
truth, an arbiter between the true and the false, an indicator of both,
and more especially of what has the character of ascertained truth,
and what has not; and this, it will be remembered, was the office I
sought from it, and constituted the ultimate purpose of my taking up
the consideration of the subject.

Having with as much brevity as just suffices for that purpose,
explained the nature of the principle in question, and its use by
society at large, it now only remains that I should explain that
purpose itself, by theory and example.

What I am doing in tracing the unanimity principle from its first
instinctive use by the public to its secondary and meditated one
by philosophy, is a purely critical act, comparable to that of
the rhetorician who appreciates the character of certain modes of
thinking which have long since been practised by mankind, and shows
what therein is approvable--all the rest being liable to censure.

It was the universal conviction of European Christendom, during
many centuries, that the Church, which was popularly supposed to be
represented by the Pope, enjoyed peculiarly a divine guidance which
made it an infallible judge of truth. This idea was thought to be
warranted by the unanimous assent of all right-minded persons, and the
denial of it to be the mark of a reprobate spirit, as well as contrary
to common sense. We now know the entire futility of this assumption,
and that the heretics were not inferior to the orthodox in the power
of judging such subjects. Hence in discussing the unanimity principle
the question presents itself, How came the public thus wrongly to
apply it? What error did they commit in so doing? When the revival
of learning and the consequent rise of Protestantism had exposed
the error in that form of it, it was still continued under the new
social regimes; so that even Locke, the boldest advocate of the
rights of man that was tolerated even in his time, stigmatised the
dissentients from certain Protestant tenets in the same unjust way
that Popery had done to the dissentients from certain Popish ones;
speaking of them in two or three places of his essay as persons at
once notoriously disreputable in character and weak in intellect;
consistently with which estimate he came to the conclusion that the
reigning theology was established truth, as being accredited by all
those whose opinion was worth taking account of.

Later times have again manifested the futility of the assumption
against the new race of dissentients. No one will say that Goethe
and Neibuhr (to mention only two) must count for nothing on questions
wherein they were as likely to be well informed as their opponents. So
that Locke's side, instead of being warranted by the decisive verdict
he imagines, is but one of two suitors in an undetermined cause,
neither having yet attracted the votes of the whole jury, and neither
consequently yet occupying the position of ascertained truth. Giving
everyone a fair hearing is that trial and test of competency which
yields the only means of learning who said competent judges are.

A little consideration, even in Locke's time of less advanced thought,
might have informed an intelligent mind, if free from prejudice,
that mere prohibitory laws must be of themselves less adverse to the
free expression of people's sentiments than that averted state of the
public mind of which they are one of the symptoms. Both from theory and
experience we may collect that very much the same laws of supply and
demand obtain in matters of opinion as in those of food and raiment;
the tongue and the pen, and the previous thought by which these are
instructed, must evidently hold back from offering to the public,
nay, in a great measure from suggesting to the agent himself, any such
ideas as they know the public will not, and must confine themselves to
putting forth such only as they suppose it will understand, appreciate,
and regard.


To the two queries you put to me, "What are first principles?" and
"What is the criterion of truth?" I find it suitable to append some
preliminary remarks on "The Rights of Reason."

The solution you expect is, I presume, a reasonable one. You do not
wish me to take into account any opinions that cannot bear the test
of reason.

Your queries derive their greatest pertinency from the state of
non-material philosophy; and, possibly, might have been, in some
measure, prompted by this consideration. That double-minded way of
inquiring into truth, which only in part reasons, while it in part
dogmatises, imagines, and assumes, is, it is obvious, in morals,
metaphysics, and religion, one of our inheritances from former
times. The battle has been won in the material department, but is
still undecided on the other wing.

What, then, is Reason, and what are its Rights?

Every human inquiry that asks, What is right, proper, or
correct? necessarily, in doing so, asks, What is it reasonable
to think, believe, or do? in the points inquired into. The
faculty--whatever may be its nature--whereby we find ourselves
able, under certain circumstances, to answer this question, we call
reason. The rights of reason may be said to consist in the concession
to it of a certain absolute power in the decision of truth, divisible
under two heads thus--a power of deciding what are the questions
whereon it is able to decide, and a power of deciding those questions.

One of the many ways of disparaging the rights of reason is--openly
or covertly to doubt or deny that morals, metaphysics, and religion,
are--in the full sense of the word--sciences. This is to withdraw
them from the empire of reason, and to hand them over to some rival

No science can flourish while it is understood that its discussion
must be made palatable to the public. In any supposable code of the
rights of reason, one primary article would limit and define the
functions of the public in the investigation of truth--a topic which,
together with the kindred inquiry, Who are the public? is suggested
by your second query.

Mankind have naturally a degree of antipathy for reason. They have
found Reason, in the work he affects, dull, in the help he furnishes,
deficient, in the truth he unveils, ugly, in the rule he arrogates,
imperious. Barbarism, in all its stages, may be said to be founded,
not merely on ignorance, but on a state of the inclinations that
revolts from reason.

Two competitors have always disputed the rights of reason; authority
or precedent, and faith or conscience. Conscience, early or late, must
receive almost all his light from authority; and, therefore, in respect
to opinion, may generally be called the creature of authority. Yet, in
a moral aspect, authority is confessedly of no account, and conscience
has a sole jurisdiction. A large portion of mankind have, in our times,
outgrown the error of resting their sense of duty on the mere dictate
of other men. The only legitimate directors of human conduct are now
generally admitted to be conscience and reason; the conscience must be
exclusively one's own, but the reason need not entirely--and, indeed,
cannot in any great proportion--be one's own, but may be partly that
of one's neighbor.

The question of the division of power between these two potentates,
though not yet understood by the public, does not seem to be more
complicated than that analogous one just alluded to, and of which
they evidently understand the gist.

For authority, as above intimated, though the venerable instructor of
conscience, is yet morally subjected to him; and, not dissimilarly,
have conscience and reason reciprocal claims of precedence on each
other. Reason is the judge, but he is bound, under conscience, to give
a sufficient and attentive hearing to any pleadings that conscience
may have to offer, and conscience is the pleader, but he is bound,
under reason, to conform to whatever verdicts reason declares himself
competent to render.

If history in this particular can be considered as having disclosed
a necessary sequence, civilisation progresses in the following
order:--The general mind, in becoming acquainted with its own powers,
first learns an evolution of conscience (and this can only take place
through the medium of religion), and last learns to appreciate reason
(and this can only happen through the medium of science). While the
prerogatives of conscience were insufficiently known, authority usurped
them, and while the prerogatives of reason are insufficiently known,
authority and conscience conjointly usurp them.

The word conscience I here use in its proper sense, wherein it means
either an individual conscience, or the united consciences of more
than one supposed to be in accord together, so as to make the acts
resulting from this accord constitute single acts of conscience. But
the word has taken an improper enlargement of meaning in being often
used to signify one conscience claiming something in contravention
of another conscience. These two, so different meanings of the word
conscience, are seldom duly discriminated by those who use them.

To the rights of reason belongs a certain degree of power, both in
regulating the individual conscience, and in solving the differences
between opposing ones. Under what conditions, and how far, reason
can exercise this office, and what rule he is to follow in so doing,
would be an inquiry suggested by my answer to your second query.

Having above mentioned religion and science as the two prime ministers
respectively of conscience and reason, I will pursue the subject a
little further.

Religion has aimed to have a moral animus by means of a free
conscience. Religion has not yet immediately aimed at moral conduct;
but, indeed, has been wont, by the mouth of her most strenuous
ministers, to assume that the aim at this is already included in that
other aim. But a moral animus is but one ingredient in moral conduct,
involving the intent only to act morally, without having of itself
the least power to realise that intent. Knowledge,--that is, science,
exclusively keeps the keys of this power. Such knowledge religion
has not yet made one of her aims and ends either directly, or by
any coalition with those who have so aimed. Accordingly religion
cannot be said hitherto to have been an advocate of the rights of
reason. Whatever good things she may have achieved in this cause have
been incidental to her advocacy of the Rights of Conscience. Here
reason was her weapon (sharpened for this use, and so far valued and
treasured), against authority. Her tendency meanwhile, is to impel
conscience to infringe on the rights of reason.

Science alone has hitherto been the immediate champion of these
rights. But it seems he cannot expect to make that advocacy complete
and effectual till he allies himself with religion. This alliance,
since it is persuaded by reason, and not by passion, can have science
alone for its real mover.

The Rights of Reason may at present be said to be in such a germ of
their acknowledgment as were the rights of conscience three centuries
ago. Mankind have not hitherto come to acquiesce in the idea of
that parsimony of guidance vouchsafed to man, which is found to be
the result of claiming for reason the power of calling all human
thoughts before his tribunal, and seeing whether he has anything
to object to them. Their idea has been that not only suggesting
inspiration--(which it does not seem necessary that the advocate of
the rights of reason should deny)--but guiding inspiration is given,
given too to some rather than to others, and given in such a quality,
as to dispense with the supervision of reason. A generation successive
to many among whom this doctrine has been taught and believed, will not
be prone to any decided rejection of it. Pride of species inclining
to exaggerated human pretensions above other earthly creatures, and
party pride inclining to exalt self and an associated confraternity
into a superiority over the rest of mankind, and supplied with a
traditional store of modes of thought and practice adapted to such
exclusive pretensions, and other native tendencies of the human mind,
persuade in the same direction.

I have thought it suitable to premise this short sketch of the Rights
of Reason, and the opponents of them, to an endeavor to answer your
queries in a thoroughly reasonable way, a way which cannot be said to
be the more fashionable one in the treatment of metaphysical questions.


[1] Wilfrid Meynell, in his John Henry Newman, erroneously speaks of
Charles Robert as the "youngest son."

[2] This is a mistake. Owen in 1817 renounced the religions of the
world, and proclaimed that man's character was formed for him not by
him. But he was not an Atheist.

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