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Ideal Construction In Metaphysics

114. IN the foregoing exposition of the nature of Science, stress has been laid on its being ideal construction and not faithful representation of what is, has been, or could be presented to Sense. The philosopher looks away from the Visible and Actual, endeavoring to form a picture of the Invisible and Possible.* He strives to discover not what we should see with sharpened faculties, but what would be seen were the constitution of things different from that which it is. Philosophy is not an instrument like the telescope or microscope, intended only to magnify the powers of Sense, but an organon of Imagination by which to reconstruct an ideal world of Abstraction. The first operation of the scientific explorer, either through Speculation or Experiment, is to strip the phenomenon under investigation of every character which individualizes it, makes it the particular phenomenon it is, and to carry this residuum into the region of generalities, where it finds its place amid others of a similar order. The experimenter removes the object from its normal conditions, placing it under conditions unlike those in which it is naturally observed, sometimes under conditions which could not coexist in Nature, — as when elements are isolated (in retorts) which always rush into combination when such violent restriction to their movement is no longer present ; and thus we see in the Laboratory of the Chemist what cannot be seen in the Laboratory of Nature.

115. It appears, then, that the search in all Science is never for the Visible which Sensé reveals, but for the Invisible which Sense obscures. If, therefore, Truth is the conformity of Inferences with Sensation, all Science must be false. And yet we declare Science to be true ; and moreover declare that its truth is only reached through the ministration of Sense. A paradox. Where is the issue ? It has already been indicated with sufficient clearness. The truth of Science is the truth of ideal construction ; and because its abstractions are formed out of sensible concretes, its truths are applicable to reality in the precise degree to which the ideal constructions express the real facts. Thus the truths of Dynamics are absolutely exact only in the ideal region, — in mathematical abstraction and they would be rigorously true even if they were never applied to concrete cases, where they are necessarily always inexact. It is because in the difficult passage from the ideal to the real, from the abstract to the concrete, we reverse the process of ideal construction, and restore the elements which abstraction has let drop, that ideal truths become realized in observation. It is because we can show that the abstraction is only an abbreviated expression of what is constant in the concretes, that we declare it to be an expression of the real process of Nature. .

116. When, therefore, the metempiricist proposes his ideal constructions as guides for Speculation, and asks us to accept his abstractions with the same reliance that we yield to those of the mathematician, or physicist, are we to deny him that license of Imagination so liberally accorded to the scientific seeker ? and if so, on what bounds ? Why may one seeker deliberately look away from the plain and palpable order of things revealed to Sense, in favor of another order constructed by Imagination ; whereas the metempiricist is told that his search is hopeless because he is wandering beyond the landmarks of Sense ? The experimenter is suffered to wrest hydrogen from all its many compounds that it may be studied in itself ; why may not the metaphysician strip an object of all its sensible qualities to study it in itself ?

Whoever can satisfactorily answer this question has settled for himself the old dispute between Metaphysics and Science. It has already been answered implicitly in the preceding pages. An explicit answer may now be given. Let me premise that in what follows a meta-physician is considered to be one who pursues the meta-physical Method, and constructs his conceptions without regard to the control of objective verification, and is therefore willing to admit metempirical and empirical elements among his data. This Method would be justifiable if the problems mooted had no objective application. The ideal world of the metempiricist would be as valid as the ideal world of the empiricist, if by it no attempt were made to explain the real world. The conceptions of the theologian relating to a world beyond might be irresistibly consistent if confined to that world ; but when he pretends by such conceptions to regulate our conduct in this world; we have to demand that he exhibit the necessary connection between the premises and consequences, and shows us the passage from his abstract conception to the concrete realities. If he gained his abstract conception by abstraction from real concretes, the reversal of the process will be a demonstration of the truth of his conclusion. If he gained it thus his Method was scientific, and his results must be tested by the canons of Science. But if he framed his conception on the subjective Method, and attempts to explain the External Order by laws not originally gathered from experience of it, we reject the validity of his procedure. What is here said of the theologian applies equally to the metaphysician.

117. The ideal constructions of Science are built up from the real elements of Experience. The abstractions are raised from verifiable facts. If the law of Motion is never actually presented in Nature, its elements are presented ; and experiment can demonstrate — I e. reduce to Intuition — what sensory organs can never see. The in-tuitions of Science are not gleams of Fantasy, not arbitrary assumptions, not traditional assents for which no better reason can be given than that they are in the mind and are held to be truths ; they are organized experiences, which although often no longer decomposable into their elements, and therefore presenting themselves as instantaneous and indubitable acts of Thought, are nevertheless composite, and disclose to analysis the sensible elements from which they were constructed, . these elements can be recognized no less indubitably than the carbon and oxygen can be recognized in the carbonic acid which presents itself in chalk.* Inferences are only reproduced sensations ; they become so welded with their sensible accompaniments that at length the groups are indissoluble; they are then known as intuitions, i. e. as instantaneous undecomposable acts of mental vision. Just as we have all an intuition of distance in every vision of an object, so we have an intuition of a mathematical, or of a causal, relation in every presentation of terms that are familiar. That 7 + 5 12, or that central forces decrease according to the inverse squares, is seen with nearly the saine rapidity, and with a certainty quite the same as that an object is distant. Remote as the intuition of central forces is from its sensible data, there is no doubt that it was originally constructed from such data ; and only by an inverse reduction to these data can. it be demonstrated to one who disputes its validity.

118. The abstractions and intuitions of Science being always expressions of sensible Experience can always be verified ; whereas the abstractions, and intuitions which play a great part in Metaphysics often want this basis ; and are seen, on analysis, to he traditional prejudices, or unverified assumptions,- as Aristotle says of the Pythagorean notions. Take an example : Science regards Motion as an ultimate, consequently declines to seek for its cause. Not so Metempirics : " Les philosophes," says Maupertius, "qui out mis la cause du mouvement en Dieu, n'y ont été réduits que parcequ'il ne savoient oû la mettre. Ne pouvant concevoir que la matière eût aucune efficace pour produire, distribuer, et détenir le mouvement, ils ont eu recours à un Être immatériel." That is to say, dissatisfied with an ultimate, they had recourse to a fiction. . . "Mais lorsqu'on saura que toutes les loix du mouvement et du repos sont fondées sur le Principe du Mieux, on ne pourra plus douter qu'elles ne doivent leur établissement à un Être tout puissant et tout sage Ce n'est donc point dans la mécanique que je vais chercher ces loix; c'est dans la sagesse de l'Être suprême." And it is on the strength of this principle that he deduces his famous " principle of least action, ` principe si sage, si digne de l'Être suprême..' " The intuition of a Supreme Being may indeed be advanced as a ground for the inference that he would act in the most intelligent manner ; and Maupertius is strictly logical in assuming that since the principle of least action appears both wise and worthy of the Supreme Being, it may be accepted as the principle in operation. But who can fail to see that this Intuition, and the assumed wisdom of the principle, are altogether wanting in a sensible basis ; and that a simple denial of the Being, or denial of the wisdom of this procedure, leaves the argument powerless ? Nothing would then be left to Maupertius but to reiterate the assertion of his intuition. The fact that the " principle of least action" has been turned to account by mathematicians rests solely on the logical truth it involves, and not at all on its being the intuition of a Best.

119. By similar intuitions the Pythagoreans justified their doctrines. "Since ten appeared to them the perfect number, potentially containing all numbers, they declared that the moving celestial bodies were ten in number; and because only nine bodies are visible, they imagined a tenth, — the Anticthone."

120. The metaphysician may object that I have here adduced exploded errors ; I will therefore adduce one not open to this criticism, namely, the assumption — which is frequently passed off as an intuition not to be disputed — of the Soul being a simple substance because it is the opposite of Matter. That it is a substance at all ought first to be established ; whether or not, the substance is simple would be a subsequent point for research. But the assumption once made, there are deduced from it the necessary consequences of freedom and immortality,—which conclusions were in fact the grounds of the original assumption. I do not intend here to discuss this question, I only wish to point out that we have no sensible data into which such an intuition can be resolved : we have no experience from which the simplicity of the soul's substance can be a necessary conclusion analogous to the conclusions of Science. It is founded on the negation of Matter. We imagine that it must be whatever Matter is not. But negations furnish no positive data.*

121. Hegel saw that Philosophy is the transformation of sensations and perceptions into abstractions ; yet in his own system it is obvious that abstractions are some-times raised from concrete experiences, and Sometimes from intuitions which are defective in their sensible basis. Although admitting Experience to be the sole foundation, he objects to the Empirical Method because, he says, it contains within it no unviersality, no necessity : it is occupied wholly with particulars and cannot rise to generals.

Were this objection true in fact, it would be fatal in effect. It is, however, false. Its plausibility is dependent on the unwarrantable restriction of Experience to Perception, — a restriction which is one of the commonest of philosophical mistakes. In virtue of this it appears that the Empirical Method can only deal with particulars, and can never reach universal and necessary truths. This is the cheval de bataille of Metempirics, and I shall presently devote a chapter to its refutation. If, however, the Empirical Method is incompetent, where are we to seek an explanation of universal and necessary conditions ? In the laws of Thought, says Hegel ; and these laws he admits belong to Experience, though he is not successful in deducing them from it. What is the consequence ? It is that the deductions drawn by him from these said laws of Thought are often found to be absurdly at variance with Experience ; and that so far from his laws of Thought being in accordance with the laws of Things reached inductively, they are at times positively ridiculous in their misrepresentations. His mistake is that while avowing the origin of Knowledge to. be sensible experiences, yet because Reason is a higher development of these experiences, he imagines that deductions from rational premises have a higher validity than the inductions from sensible premises; forgetting that these rational premises themselves receive their validity from the sensible inductions. The prejudice in favor of. the higher validity of rational premises is very intelligible. We find that particular experiences have often little value because they are particular, whereas generalities include multitudes of experiences, and have a multiform value. Hence the philosopher takes his stand upon generalities as upon some sacred mount from whence are delivered the texts of a higher revelation. It is the purpose of his labors to apply these texts to the confused tumult of sensible experiences, interpreting the many-colored phenomena of the world by the pure light of reason.

122. To conclude : Science owes its certitude to the power of resolving its ideal constructions into elements of sensible experience ; Metempirics owes its incessant incertitude to the Method on which it is pursued not requiring; and very often not being able to effect, the reduction of its intuitions to sensations, its abstractions to sensible concretes. Because it disdains the Empirical Method of construction and step-by-step verification, it is obliged to assume principles which no. Experience has guaranteed and which none can confirm. The Supra-sensible is got at analytically by analysis of analysis. Why may it not be as legitimate as analysis of sensibles? or as differentials of differentials ? Because it cannot be sensibly integrated. No synthetic verification is possible, — no re-entrance from the abstract into the concrete.

( Originally Published 1874 )

Problems of Life and Mind:
The Reality Of Abstractions

Ideal Construction In Science

What Are Laws Of Nature?

The Use And Abuse Of Hypothesis

The Passage From The Abstract To The Concrete

Ideal Construction In Metaphysics

The Search After Causes

Intuition And Demonstration

Axioms And Their Validity

Necessary Truths

Read More Articles About: Problems of Life and Mind



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