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The Sensible, Extra-sensible, And Supra-sensible

26. THE discussion of the origin of Knowledge which, has just occupied us is chiefly important in reference to the possible range and validity of Knowledge ; although primarily a question of Pyschogeny, and therefore interesting only to special students, it is secondarily the vital question of Philosophy, since on it rests the whole of philosophical Method. All that has been written on Method is imperilled if there can be any valid evidence for the existence of an avenue through which knowledge may be reached without recourse to Experience. The metempirical school explicitly, or implicitly, affirms that there is such an avenue, and that it is revealed in Consciousness. Now Psychology being the science of Consciousness, and receiving all its material from Biology and Sociology, we may reduce this great question to something like definiteness by asking whether in the data furnished by Biology, or in the data furnished by Sociology, there is the evidence of a metempirical factor ? In the biological phenomena there is assuredly no trace 6f it. The animal may indeed be said to have Knowledge ; though that is often denied; because of an unwarrantable restriction of the term. But although he has knowledge, i. e. such registrations of Experience as suffice to guide his actions in the satisfaction of immediate impulses, the Animal is not supposed to have speculative knowledge, certainly nothing resembling Science. For him, and for the infant and the rudest savage, Knowledge consists of' the synthesis of the feelings produced by external objects. For him the Supra-sensible • does not exist, even in Thought. The world for him is simply a felt world ; and his Knowledge never ranges beyond Feeling.

We must seek then in sociological phenomena, if any-where, for the metempirical data. And we shall seek in vain. Neither in Social Statics, nor in Social Dynamics, is there a trace of the Supra-sensible ; but there is a very clear indication of the genesis of its conception, and its position in the world of Thought. If we interrogate History and Science we learn, indeed, that the conception of a Supra-sensible very early arose in the visionary schemes by which men attempted to explain the order of phenomena ; but we also learn that this conception, which was at first only a subtilized expression of Sensible experience, became indeed less and less like sensibles as the refinements of Abstraction assumed the character of in-dependent entities, then everywhere gradually vanished before advancing Science, so that the progress of each science was accompanied by the inevitable elimination of every metempirical idea. Nothing can be plainer than the teaching of History on this point. Both animals and men have to, learn the facts of the External Order with which they come into relation, and to control these facts, as far as possible, adapting them to their needs, and adapting themselves to the facts. But man alone endeavors to explain the facts, that he may the better control them ; he alone constructs Instruments in con-sequence of his Knowledge, and greatly enlarges Knowledge by the construction of Instruments. The history of Science, and indeed of Social Development, is the history of this perpetual action and reaction of the creation of' Instruments and the enlargement of Knowledge. History records but little of Primitive Man, and nothing of the state of his theories of the External Order.; but it records distinct evidence that in the remote periods which pre-ceded the earliest known form of civilization there were rude stone implements,* and some means of producing fire. The period between the age of flint axes and the age of steam-engines, vast though it is, will one day be recognized as a slow evolution of continuous growth, through the successive -modifications of Instruments by Knowledge, and of Knowledge by Instruments. For, in-deed, Knowledge itself is only an Instrument. That the Primitive Man did endeavor to understand phenomena, at least so far as to enable him to modify them, is obvious. The changes he wrought by his instruments became facts that were known, facts that led him to foresee consequences ; and his powers grew with his knowledge. But at each step he only knew what he had seen, and could foresee. At no stage could he see the invisible, or modify the intangible. He might imagine the presence of invisible Agents, and attempt to control them by invocations and incantations ; but this ;imagination was visionary, and never served the office of Knowledge, except in so far as it reproduced Experience ; nor were any changes wrought in the external visible order by invocations of the invisible Agents. Slowly the conviction emerged that man's power over the external order is limited to his knowledge of its sensible conditions, and of the means by which such conditions could be rearranged. It is this conviction which has animated Science.

But although in the evolution of history we see the supernatural explanations giving place to the metaphysical, and the Metaphysical to the scientific (according to Comte's law). we do not at any stage see that Knowledge was more than a systematization of Feeling, or that Feeling was more than the reaction of the Organism according to its modes, when stimulated by external forces. There is no trace of a Supra-sensible stimulus, either in our perceptions of the external world, or in those of the social world. I am far from implying that a Supra-sensible does not exist. I only affirm that it does not exist for us as an object of positive knowledge, though forced upon us as a negative conception ; since it could only be knowable by first becoming sensible : it must be positively felt, before it could be positively thought. To know anything is to assign properties to it, and properties involve the co-operation of the subjective factor. Once within the range of Feeling, an object otherwise Supra-sensible comes within the range of Experience.

We have thus prepared the way for the application of Rule T., and. this will be more evident when we recognize that the main defect in the sensational hypothesis, and the mainstay of its opponents, lies in the seeming discrepancy between the notorious fact that knowledge does extend far beyond the reach of Perception and the range of sense ; while on the other hand Psychogeny, seeming to contradict this, sustains the axiom that all knowledge has its origin in Sense, its limits being the limits of the Sensible. This discrepancy disappears if we divide the field of Speculation into the Sensible World, the Extra-sensible World, and the Supra-sensible World : a division corresponding with our previous distribution of positive, speculative, and metempirical

27. The Sensible World, or total of sensible phenomena, comprises the direct reactions of Sensibility in contact with the External Order. Phenomena I have already defined as the affections of Consciousness with external signs. That we only know things in their effects on us, and through the reactions of our Sensibility, may now be taken for granted. Nevertheless it is indisputable that in our conceptions of external things there are elements which cannot be reduced to mere sensation, elements which never were presented to Sense.

The Sensible comprises but a small portion of that External Order which is believed to exist. There is therefore an Extra-sensible existence ; and it is revealed through various indications. An examination of the sensitive process discloses that we only receive definite sensations, i. e. groups capable of becoming elements of Consciousness, when the impressions exciting the neural process are of a definite quantity. The neural units which form the elements of such a process are severally non-existent for Consciousness; they must first be grouped under definite conditions. As a matter of fact, we know that the external must incessantly be impressing the organism; nevertheless the reactions of the organism in Feeling only take place under definite conditions of mass, intensity, and duration. The sensory organ needs to be impressed with a certain energy, and for a certain time ; neither too small an energy nor too great an energy, otherwise there is not the reaction which is specifically a sensation. There must be a disturbance of nervous tension. The vibrations of the Ether when they disturb the tension of the retina, and this disturbance is propagated to the optic centre, produce the sensation of light. But we know that at one end of the spectrum there are vibrations not visible because the pulses are too rapid and the waves too short. At the other end of the spectrum there are also vibrations which are invisible because they are too slow and their waves too long. Retinal tension is undisturbed by both these agents. This example shows that among the myriads of impressions to which the retina is subjected only some of them are responded to as Feeling; hence the range of Feeling is quantitatively determined. Artificial aids may, and do, extend that range, but the quantitative law remains.

28. And what is true of the eye is true of all the other senses. When a note is sounded by one chord it will set vibrating any other chords which are in sympathy with it, and only those. It is thus also external voices awaken sympathetic tones in us. The eyes of animals may possibly be susceptible to vibrations which awaken no response in man.* It is probable that the antennae of in-sects respond to stimuli which leave us insensible, while stimuli which affect us leave them undisturbed. Their sensations may begin at that point in the scale where ours end. Be this as it may, the range of Sense in them, as in us, is demonstrably too limited to embrace the objective totality, nay, even to embrace that small portion of it which is in contact with the organism. And if we supplement the deficiency of one sense by the efficiency of another, — as when the air which is invisible can yet be weighed, taken to pieces, and used to stuff cushions or propel machines, — the limits are soon reached. We know there are a thousand tremors in the air which beat upon our ears unheard; and if more sensitive organs are capable of hearing some of these, there must be tremors which no organism can feel.

29. The Relativity of Feeling — the basis of the Relativity of Knowledge — must also be taken into account. Thus when a weight, say of three pounds, presses on the hand, a distinct sensation is produced; but no increase in that sensation follows an addition to that weight, if the addition be less than one pound. Although the pressure of half a pound, nay, half an ounce, will be distinctly felt by itself, any quantity less than one pound when added to three pounds will fail to produce the slightest change in the sensation. This important principle, which has been experimentally verified in the case of each sense, will occupy us hereafter ; it is here mentioned in illustration of the Relativity of Feeling.

Hence may be seen, the truth of the old proposition, that it is we who create our own world. Diminish the avenues of Sensation, or restrict the varieties of stimuli, and to that extent our world becomes impoverished increase the avenues, or enlarge their range, — either by Instruments or the Mental Instruments called Hypothesis, Induction, etc.,— and to that extent the world be-comes enriched. We thus formulate a law which lies at the basis of Rule I., namely : —

The sphere of Knowledge is limited, 1°, by Sensible Impressions, i. e. definite Sensations ; 2°by Inferences, which are the reproductions and recombinations of such Impressions.

The second clause extricates the sensational doctrine from its seeming discrepancy with observation. By it knowledge is carried beyond the range of Sense into the vast Extra-sensible ; and the limitations of Feeling give place to the inexhaustible varieties of Thought. Let us therefore pause a moment to, consider the nature of Inference.

30. It is perfectly familiar that the feeling originally due to the objective presence of the stimulus may be revived in the objective absence of that stimulus, by the excitation of the neural process through one or more of the feelings associated with it. The object is a group of sensibles ; any one of these is capable of reviving the feeling of the others. Inference thus lies at the very root of mental life, for the very combination of present feelings with past feelings, and the consequent inference that what was formerly felt in conjunction with one group of feelings will again be felt if the conditions are reinstated, that the sweetness and fragrance formerly experienced in conjunction with the color and form of the apple are again to be revived when the organs of Taste and Smell are brought into relation with this colored object, — this act of inference is necessary to the perception of the object " apple," and is like in kind to all other judgments. Inference is " seeing with the mind's eye," — reinstating what has been, but now is not, present to Sense.

Consciousness is admitted to be the only ground of certitude. All Sensation is certain, indisputable.* The test and measure of certitude is therefore in Sensation. To have a feeling is to be incapable of doubting it. The only possible opening for doubt is not respecting the feeling itself, but respecting some inference connected with it. When I say "I see an apple there," I express an indisputable fact of feeling in terms which imply disputable inferences. The fact is that I am affected now in a way similiar to that in which I was formerly affected when certain colored shapes excited my retina ; and this affection reinstates the feelings which accompanied it on those occasions ; the whole group of feelings being named apple, I say, " There is an apple." The inference may be erroneous ; on proceeding to verify it by reducing it to sensible experiences I find that the colored object is not an apple, i. e. has not the taste, fragrance, etc., which are elements in that complex perception ; the color and form which led to the inference are found to belong to a marble or wooden body ; or to some other fruit resembling the apple in some respects, differing in others.

31. With Inference begins error. Since in a simple ease of direct Perception we are liable to err, it is intelligible how great must be the liability in more complex mental operations. If Perception is mental vision, in which the unapparent sensibles are rendered apparent, — if it is an act of Judgment involving the assumption of homogeneity which everywhere underlies Judgment,* ---and if there is even here need of Verification, this is obviously still more urgent in Ratiocination, i. e. that process of mental vision in which ideas are reinstated in their sensible series, and the relations of things are substituted for the things themselves, A chain of reasoning however involved is nothing but a series of inferences, i. e. ideal presentations of objects not actually present to Sense. Could we realize all the links in this chain, by reducing conceptions to perceptions, and perceptions to sensibles, — and this would be effected by placing the corresponding objects in their actual order as a sensible series, — our most abstract reasoning would cease to be anything but a succession of sensations. In astronomical phenomena we really see nothing but the directions, simultaneous and successive, according to which the mind constructs the form of the motion which the eye cannot embrace. In biological phenomena from a few data we construct a scheme ; and this scheme, say that of the evolution of an embryo, represents to the mind the successive stages which might as easily be presented to the eye by a series of embryos at different epochs of development: The only test we have of the validity of our scheme is to translate ideas into sensations. Any point which may be doubtful is tested by ascertaining its sensible basis. We have men-tally arranged the facts in one order, assuming that to be the order in which we should see them ; and we pronounce this mental order inexact when we find that what is inferred does not correspond with what is seen. Correct reasoning is simply the ideal assemblage of reals. Bad reasoning results from overlooking either some of the reals, or some of their relations. Thus the timid traveller sees a highwayman, where his calmer companion sees only a sign-post in the evening light. Both infer the existence of objects, which if they could be presented in all sensible relations would affect them as a highwayman in the one case, a sign-post in the other. Which inference is correct ? Only reduction .to Sensation can decide. This reduction effected, the timid traveller finds that he has allowed emotional suggestions to fill up the gap of unapparent details, and from these has constructed his erroneous vision of a highwayman.


32. It is by the aid of Inference that we generalize. Since we have positive proof that the Sensible World comprises only a portion, and an insignificant portion of Existence, we must ascertain how the vast outlying province of the Invisible can be accessible, and how we reconcile our knowledge of it with the principle of a sensible origin.

It has been shown that even our Sensible World, though resting mainly on Sense, and though all certainty respecting it is the immediateness of Sensation, also rests on Inference which is mediate Sensation ; since there can be no Perception of an object, — nothing but vague Feeling, unless with present sensations there are. linked other sensations in ideal reproduction. In like manner the Extra-sensible World, though resting mainly on Inference, or ideal presentation of reals absent from Sense, necessarily implies the presence of a sensible basis. What is now ideal reproduction was once real production ; what is now mediate was once immediate. But — and here lies the point of intersection between perception of the Sensible and perception of the Extra-sensible—the reproduction is never a mere repetition, it is always and necessarily somewhat different from the original production. The neural units in the two cases are never precisely the same : an image is always quantitatively different from its sensation. When we are said to perceive an existence, or conceive a process, lying beyond the range of actual presentation, one therefore which never could have been given to Sense, the only test of accuracy open to us, the only mark by which it can be discriminated from a mere illusion, fantasy, or illogical conclusion, is the demonstration of its rigorous correspondence with sensible experience.

33.' That there is a knowledge of the Extra-sensible, — a mental vision of the sensibly Invisible, — admits of no dispute ; the only hesitation permissible is respecting its validity. We do not actually experience through Feeling a tithe of what we firmly believe, and can demonstrate to Intuition. This. Invisible is like the snow at the North Pole ; no human eye has beheld it, but the mind is assured of its existence ; and is moreover convinced that, if the snow exists there, it has the properties found else-

where. Nor is the Invisible confined to objects which have never been presented to Sense, although they may be presented on some future occasion ; it also comprises objects beyond even this possible range, beyond all practicable extension of Sense. It presents objects to the mind's eye such as no bodily eye could discern : molecules and waves having their precise measurements and laws, planets and their stages of evolution before man was.* Only one condition is affixed to the inclusion of this region within the circle of Science, namely, that the objects be in such rigorous agreement with sensibles as to be presentable to Intuition with a certainty almost equivalent to that of Sensation. The limit of mental vision is the limit of verification. And what is that ? It is the reduction of Inference to Sensation, or to Intuition. This reduction may be direct, or indirect, the final guaranty is the same. We measure the distances and calculate the masses of the heavenly bodies, not indeed with a foot-rule and balance, yet the foot-rule and balance are our guaranties. We infer the existence of sodium in the atmosphere of the sun ; we cannot see or handle it, but we know it is there, with a certainty based on grounds similar to those on which we believe in its presence in our laboratories, namely, by its reactions.

34. Whenever an Inference is in agreement with the positive data of Sense, whenever the Invisible is only an extension of the Visible, we pronounce it rationally certain. There is indeed an assumption here of perfect homogeneity in the two cases. But this assumption lies at the root of all induction, all generalization. It is on this that Mathematics founds its superior exactness. After calculating' a sufficient number of the terms of a series to have seized its law, we do not require to repeat the calculations for all the succeeding terms, but haying found that when the law holds for any one term it holds for the next, we have proved it to be general. Such dispensing with calculation is only justifiable, how-ever, on the assumption that the law is universal; and since there is always a possibility that the law will change after a certain number of terms, we have to guard against that possibility whenever the result is important. So long as the Invisible reveals by its functions that it is strictly in accordance with the Visible, we can deal with it in confidence, and verification is open to us ; when this boundary is passed, we are helpless. In other words, since all Knowledge is the extension of Experience, bringing what was unknown under the rubric of the known, whenever the Extra-sensible. is disengaged from conformity with the Sensible, it is no longer an object of Knowledge, but remains metempirical until the conformity can in any way be established. Just as the base line, when accurately measured, gives the indirect yet accurate measure of the otherwise inaccessible side of the triangle, to know the one involving a knowledge of the other, so the phenomenon, presented to Sense gives the accurate though indirect measure of its equivalent beyond Sense.

35. The objects of this Extra-sensible World' with which Science is chiefly occupied are the objects either of Inference or Abstraction. Since the inference is only a reproduction of sensations formerly felt, or the extension of such to some new yet similar case, its validity can never surpass that of the original experience; and since the abstraction is a reproduction, in an abridgment, of concrete experiences, its value must always be determined by those concretes. Thus, whether we are dealing with extra-sensible concretes, such as ether, or vibrations, or molecules ; or with abstractions, such as Mind, or Cause, or Force, — the process of Verification is equivalent to that with which we prove the reality of a perceived object. To prove that my perception of an apple is no illusion, I have simply to reduce the inferences involved in the perception to their sensibles the sweetness, fragrance, solidity, etc., which I do not now feel, but infer, are then transformed from inferences into sensations. To prove that my conceptions of an Ether and its vibrations are -representatives of objective reals, though more laborious as an effort, is similar as a procedure : the inferences on which the conceptions are founded, the inductions through which the conclusion is reached, must severally be reduced directly or indirectly to sensations or intuitions ; that is to say, either to sensibles or to inductions already established on a sensible basis. An inference, once verified, becomes equally valid with a sensation. It is henceforward a logical unit ; a standard by which we can compare reals and relations otherwise inaccessible. To know that one thing is heavier than another, we need only lift the one after the other at intervals sufficiently brief for memory to retain the sensible impressions ; to know how much the one is heavier than another cannot thus be determined : we need a measure ; and this involves the inference that if one thing contains the measure more times than the other it will be so much the heavier, an inference which is an intuition and has been verified.

36. These brief indications suffice to show both the vastness and the limitations of the Extra-sensible, the sweep of possible Science, and the conditions under which the imagination may display its energy. After such an exposition, it will be idle to object to the doctrine of the sensible limitations of knowledge, on the ground that the greater part of the objects known never were, never could be, presented directly to Sense. In a future chapter on the Ideal Constructions of Science this will be more amply carried out ; and the reconciliation between the experiential and the d priori schools will be effected, in as far as it can be effected by the exhibition of their common ground.


37. The two divisions, of Existence which have just been considered comprise all that is accessible to Experience, and consequently all that is admissible in Science. There is, however, a third division claimed by Theology and Metempirics, the region of the Supra-sensible, or Metempirical, which is closed indeed against the Method of Science, but is open to Faith and Intellectual Intuition. Thinkers who believe in such a world of possible knowledge will reject with scorn the inadequate exposition of the genesis and limitation of knowledge set forth in these pages. They hold the soul to be equipped with powers radically independent of any excitation through Sense, anterior even to the very existence of the organism, and exercised on materials that were never given in feeling.* By these powers the soul is said to penetrate far beyond the range of the Sensible and Extra-sensible, and is brought face to face with ultimate Existence, the ground of all Reality. So far from this Invisible World being interpretable by the laws of the Visible, it needs a higher reach of Intuition, and Methods of its own. Schelling in the preface to his work Vom Ich scornfully admits that systems which only hover 'twixt heaven and earth without the courage to push onwards to the ultimate goal are less liable to error, but he prefers the system which, taking a bolder flight, will either have the whole truth or none.

38. Even those who refuse to accept the special organ which Schelling calls the Intellectual Intuition, are forced to accept its equivalent, when they maintain the possibility of metempirical knowledge. Whether called Reason, Fundamental Ideas, Innate Ideas, or Forms of Thought, its one characteristic is that it is an organ of the soul having no community with the organs of Experience; and its products are therefore not amenable to the canons of Experience. " Transcendental Philosophy," says Schelling, meaning the only true Philosophy, "must always be accompanied by the Intellectual Intuition ; all the presupposed incomprehensibility of such philosophizing rests on no incomprehensibility of the ideas themselves, but on the absence of the requisite organ to grasp them. With-out this Intuition there is no substratum to support this Philosophizing. It is what Space is to Geometry." * He declares the Transcendental Philosophy to be like Geometry a science constructed from postulates. But he overlooks the distinction that Geometry is, and his Transcendental Philosophy is not, constructed from sensible postulates, and is thereby applicable to sensible experience.

Metempirical speculators cheerfully admit the claims of Science within its own sphere, and admit that there the inaccessible lines can only be measured by the assumed correspondence with lines that are accessible. But they affirm that in Theology and Metaphysics such a procedure is fallacious, because the problems lie wholly boyond the range of Science, and therefore require other Methods. This is paralleled by the inventors, of perpetual motion who admit that in all machines hitherto constructed the law is absolute which says "what is gained in force must necessarily be lost in velocity " ; but this does not deter them from attempting to construct a ma-chine which shall escape the law. They are confident that their sagacity will detect some unknown resource which will extricate the machine from. the tyranny of mechanical laws; and as Carnot well says, "Ils se croient d'autant plus sûrs de la rencontrer qu'ils s'éloignent davantage de tout ce qui paroît avoir de la relation avec les machines usitées, parcequ'ils s'imaginent que la théorie établie pour celles ci, ne peut s'étendre à des constructions qui leur semblent. n'y avoir aucun rapport." *

39. What can be said to such speculators ? Refutation is impossible. They deny the validity of our tests, the applicability of our Methods. To the inventor of a perpetuum mobile the mechanician says : "Produce it, and you will prove our arguments erroneous ; but till you have produced perpetual motion we shall continue to hold the attempt chimerical." To the metempirical speculator we may say : "All Experience is against you ; yet if you have any means of proving the existence of an organ which grasps realities beyond those given through sensible Experience, we shall admit our error ; but till this is proved, we must hold your efforts to be misdirected."

40. There is one thing, however, which is not permitted to the metempirical speculator, even on the largest allowance of liberty of speculation, and that is, to control by his results the results of empirical research, — to interpret the positive or speculative teachings of scientific inquiry by doctrines framed on the metempirical Method. If we grant the existence of a Supra-sensible possible to be known, and admit that it is wholly distinct from the Sensible World, we must insist on the two never being con-founded ; whereas if they are identical they must never be separated. Thus is the Supra-sensible wholly excluded from the field of Research. Whatever conclusions Speculation may reach respecting Existence lying beyond the sphere, of sensible phenomena, must be kept in that outlying region. If they are brought into the sphere of phenomena, they become amenable to the canons of sensible Experience.

41. Here the reader sees the application of Rule III. adopted from Newton.* He is requested to ponder that Rule and to compare the criticism of a celebrated meta-physician, Herbart ; a criticism all the more remarkable because Herbart claims to found Metaphysics on a scientific basis. After quoting passages from Haüy and Biot which are only different expressions of Newton's Rule, he remarks : "We are then to collect and to connect facts as far as possible, and to keep our eyes open that we be not taken by surprise when facts present themselves. Perception must so far precede Thought that both may stand in assured harmony. We have also to ignore all assumptions and forced interpretations. Well and good. Thus far there is no dispute. But I venture to go further and remark that this method ignores an essential element, namely, that Thought must not only harmonize with Perception, but also with itself."

Now this element, which is said to be ignored in Newton's Rule, and which would indeed be a fatal omission, is really there in the only meaning of it which has a justification, but is not there in the meaning which it may easily be made to bear, and which is the latent poison of all metempirical speculation, namely, the release of Thought from the control of sensible verification. All that Herbart says in his exposition of Method will be accepted by the positive thinker ; who will, however, add that the phrase " harmony of Thought with itself " has positive value only when interpreted as the harmony of one induction with another, and the harmony of inference with sensation. A bank-note is only money when convertible into gold, which in turn is convertible into goods; so long as the pecunia really represents the pecus, there is no need to drive actual cattle into the market ; the transference of the money being equivalent to the transference of the cattle which the money will buy. The mistake of the speculative thinker is that he is too apt to interpret the "harmony of Thought with itself " in a more independent way. He is satisfied with a logical harmony ; if no logical contradiction presents itself, he relies on there being a corresponding order in things. The note for twenty pounds of which he makes entry in his ledger may have been issued from an insolvent bank, or may be a forgery, and its worthlessness will never appear in his ledger, but only when an attempt is' made to convert it into gold or goods; the induction which took its logical position in his speculation could only be proved worthless by objective verification. Thus there is no logical contradiction in the existence of a spirit-world in all its features entirely unlike the sensible world. We cannot say that such a world is impossible ; we can only say, that, if it exist, it is to US inaccessible, because to become accessible it must pass into the sphere of the Sensible, and in the passage will cease to be Supra-sensible.

42. While therefore Herbart's position, in as far as it concurs with Newton's Rule is entirely acceptable, in the only direction of departure from that Rule it is the reintroduction of the metempirical fallacy, that is to say, the release of Thought from the conditions of sensible Experience.

I will add, however, that Newton himself on one remarkable occasion carries his Rule so far as to identify Spirit with Matter with a strict consistency which must be painful to minds accustomed to venerate Newton, and to execrate Matter. The passage has already been quoted (Introd., § 49a), and may fitly here be followed by Dr. Thomas Young's attempt to improve on it, while still adhering to the Rule, "We see forms of matter," he says, "differing in subtility and mobility under the names of solids, liquids, and gases ; and above these there are semi-material existences which produce the phenomena of electricty and magnetism, and either caloric or an universal ether ; higher still perhaps are the cause of gravitation and the immediate agents in attractions of all kinds, which exhibit some phenomena apparently still more remote from all that is compatible with material bodies; and of these different orders of beings the more refined and immaterial appear to pervade freely the grosser. It seems therefore natural to believe that the analogy may be continued still further until it rises into existence absolutely immaterial and spiritual."

43. In reading such a passage, and remembering the greatness of its author as an investigator, one is painfully impressed by the treacherous nature of the " harmony of Thought with itself," — unless one attributes the passage to the influence of tradition. Did Young ever attempt to verify the sensible meaning of semi-material existences ? Had he done so he must have seen that they could only be either bodies of greater tenuity than those from which they are distinguished, — or bodies one half material, the other half non-material. In the first case they are sensibles, or extra-sensibles, and subject to all the canons of sensible Experience ; in the other case they are unthinkables, no definite conception of such hybrids being possible. The popular notion indeed of soul and body united in one organism may seem to render the conception of semi-material bodies intelligible ; . but this notion, when exact, is of two things, body and soul, not of one thing half and half. In fact semi-material bodies are contradictions ; like loud circles, or red tastes, they cannot be united in thought. To pass, as Young does, from material solids to gases, and from gases to bodies that are semi-material, and from thèse to bodies that are wholly spiritual, is as rational as to pass from one term of a series of numbers to a number which is an integer plus blue, and from this blue integer to a pure blue, and thence to no color at all. He professes to be guided by Analogy. But this guidance has its conditions; and Newton would have reminded his great disciple that in passing from one form of Matter to another and subtler form, we must carry with us all the inductions of sensible Experience, and not gradually drop these to replace them "by dreams and vain fictions of our own devising." The only corrections needed are those suggested in Rules VIL and IX.

44. The following passage written by one of the founders of the experimental doctrine of the Conservation of Force, the Danish physicist, Colding, exhibits the same fallacy : " The first idea I conceived of the relationship between the forces of nature was the following: As these forces are something spiritual and immaterial, entities whereof we are cognizant only by their mastery over Nature, these entities must be, of course, very superior to anything material in this world ; and as it is obvious that it is through them only that the wisdom we perceive and admire in Nature expresses itself; these powers must evidently be in relationship to the spiritual and intellectual power itself that guides Nature in her progress ; but if such is the case it is quite impossible to conceive these forces as anything naturally mortal or perishable. Surely, therefore, the forces ought to be regarded as absolutely imperishable ? "

Although this is not worse than may be found in hundreds of speculative writings, it is worth holding up as a warning against the practice of " harmonizing Thought with itself," irrespective of any criticism of the ideas harmonized. There is no fault in the logic. An accountant might balance his ledger without rectifying a single entry. But on presenting the bills and checks for payment there would be everywhere the answer, "No effects." Colding begins by an arbitrary distinction, separates one class of phenomena — forces — from Nature, and then assigns to them a mastery over Nature. Grant this, and grant that the forces are spiritual intelligences, and the consequences follow swiftly and surely. Let us propound a musical theory, on a similar method : we class violinists apart from the human nature which is thrilled by their performances and as these thrilling tones are " evidently related " to the music of the spheres, it follows that violinists are imperishable. How far such a theory will illuminate and advance the art of violin playing, we shall not pause to consider.

45. One more example, and it shall be taken from the writings of one to whom Physics is deeply indebted, J. R. Mayer. The more illustrious the teacher of an error, the more instructive the example. " In Nature," says Mayer, " there are two kinds of causes between which Experience tells us of no intermediate link. The one kind comprises those causes which are ponderable and impenetrable, i. e. Matter. The other kind comprises the causes which are without these properties, i. e. Forces, which are named the Imponderables. Forces are therefore indestructible, variable, imponderable objects."

The objection to such a separation of Force from Matter is twofold : It misrepresents the fact of both being pure Abstractions ; and it transforms a logical into a physical distinction ; thus creating two entities, and replunging Speculation into that Scholasticism from which the emergence was so laborious. It reintroduces the old Dualism in which matter is passive, destitute of qualities though capable of receiving Motion, capable of housing. qualities, and of becoming the temporary tenement of wandering Forces. In this scheme, qualities are merely superadded, and are consequently capable of being separated. The dream of the Alchemist's —and- of Francis Bacon also — was to effect this' separation. They believed that the transmutation of metals into gold would be easy if they could only hit upon a plan of isolating the Form of gold ; and easy it would be, — the difficulty lies in the first step.

46. Mayer's conception is one which can lead to nothing but confusion. The same must be said of all attempts to give expression to the Supra-sensible. The range of possible knowledge is too wide for man ever to exhaust it ; and there is no need to render Research more laborious by impatient rebellion against the inevitable limitations of our faculties. Within the sphere of the Sensible, with its Extra-sensible extensions, there is more than enough to occupy us. To see, how Research can effectively be conducted within that sphere, we must examine the various principles it invokes, the Method it employs. That we may do this on a secure foundation, we must first inquire into the nature of Abstraction.

( Originally Published 1874 )

Problems of Life and Mind:
The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Rules Of Philosophizing

Psychological Principles

The Limitations Of Knowledge

The Sensational And A Priori Hypotheses

The Sensible, Extra-sensible, And Supra-sensible

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