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The Place Of Sentiment In Philosophy

221. OUR survey of the sources and limitations of Knowledge would be manifestly incomplete if it omitted the element of Sentiment, or Emotion, which obviously plays a considerable part in the construction of social and religious theories, and less obviously, but yet demonstrably, in the construction of even common perceptions. It cannot therefore be excluded from the data of a Philosophy which aims at explaining the World, Man, and Society. The purpose of Knowledge being to regulate Conduct, and the nature of Knowledge being that of virtual Feeling, the importance of Sentiment both as regulative and representative is indisputable. None but shrivelled souls with narrow vision of the facts of life can entertain the notion that Philosophy ought to be restricted within the limits of the Logic of Signs ; it has roots in the Logic of Feeling, and many of its products' which cannot emerge into the air of exact science nevertheless give the impulse to theories, and regulate conduct.

222. While thus proclaiming the necessity of its inclusion, we must be careful to assign the limits of its range. Appeals are often made to Sentiment, and questions peremptorily decided by it, which are wholly beyond its proper jurisdiction. Rhetoric and Prejudice are thus called upon to do the work of Reason and Demonstration, in cases where Verification, and not Conviction, is the immediate object of research, — where we are not inquiring into the fact of whether a certain conviction exists, but into the ponderable evidence for its truth, —not whether some men or many men feel disgust or admiration, wrath or compassion, but whether this sentiment which has its personal grounds has also impersonal and rational grounds, such as must coerce every impartial mind desirous of ascertaining the truth. Hence the facts of Sentiment need to be interpreted with the same caution as the facts of the External Order ; and this interpretation is never complete until we reach those limits which are the ultimates of all research.

223. We live encompassed by mysteries; we are flooded by influences of awe, tenderness, and sympathy which no words can adequately express, no theories thoroughly explain. These are ultimate ,facts of Feeling which we simply accept. For instance, we have Moral Instincts and }Esthetic Instincts which determine conduct and magnify existence ; but of these desires for the welfare of others, and this enjoyment of Beauty, we can give no better account than that we find them as facts of human nature ; and no better justification, when questioned, than that their influences are beneficial. We can give no better reason why we ought to care for the welfare of others, — suffering from their sufferings and rejoicing in their joys, — than why sugar is sweet to the taste they are facts of the human organism ; which facts Psychology and Physiology may approximately explain by exhibiting the factors, pointing out the observed reactions of the organism under certain conditions ; but which in a last resort can only be justified by asserting that the facts are so. To use Cicero's pregnant phrase, "Nature has inclined us to love men ; and this is the foundation of the Law." If a man is insensible to the welfare of others, we can no more convince him that he ought to feel for them, than we can convince the blind man that he ought to see the glories of color. If a man is insensible to the mystery of the universe ; if his soul, like that of an animal, is unvisited by any suggestions of a life larger than his own, and of any existence where his feelings have no home ; if he is blind to the visible facts of evolution manifest in the history of the world and the progress of his race; deaf to the cries of pain and struggle which deeply move his fellows, dead to the stirring impulses of pity which move others to remedy the sorrows and enlarge the pleasures of mankind, — by what array of argument could we hope to make him feel what his nature 7 does not feel ?

Happily there is no such man. There are only men who feel less vividly than others ; none are wholly with-out the feelings. And it is on this foundation that a Moral Science is possible ; which proceeds like Physical Science by an exact classification of the observed facts, and their co-ordination. The facts are more complex, the co-ordination is more delicate and difficult ; but their analysis and synthesis, if accurately performed, must yield results of equal validity.

224. All depends therefore on the interpretation of the facts. The inconsiderate way in which Sentiment is suffered to mingle with and pervert rational research, in matters beyond its jurisdiction (as when geological or biological inquiries have been arrested or perverted by alarmed Theology or national Prejudice), has given rise to an impatient distrust of its admission anywhere in Philosophy. Not only is the physicist justifiably indignant at the idea of his procedures being controlled by appeals to feelings which are not directly implicated in his researches, not only does he reject all personal considerations as irrelevant to the impersonal relations he is considering, but by the violence of reaction against this foolish interference he is swung into the opposite foolishness of altogether denying a place to Sentiment in Philosophy. He insists that Sentiment be excluded from the Laboratory; and this is wise. But he also often insists that it be excluded from the teacher's chair : and this is unwise. Limiting his conception of Science to its procedures, and not taking into account its social inspiration and its social purpose, he divorces it from Religion, and from all connection with Sentiment ; although such a divorce at once abdicates the highest position, converting Science into the sheer occupation of an unsocial curiosity, and leaving Religion to teachers who pretend to explain the universe without the aid of positive knowledge.

225. No reader of this work will, I presume, so far misunderstand this protest as to suppose that it implies the slightest approval of the appeals to Sentiment in inquiries which directly concern the objective relations of things, and makes personal feelings or traditional dogmas the arbiters of facts. The investigation of fact is one thing ; the interpretation of the significance of this fact in the general system of things is another. Sentiment is only admissible when the relations investigated are relations of Feeling ; as, for instance, when doctrines of Political Economy are considered in their social, not in their purely commercial aspects ; the law of supply and demand, being one or the other, according to the indirect or direct point of view. This will become clearer when we appreciate the psychological principle which necessitates the admission of Sentiment.

226. We have already seen that everywhere the final test of philosophical interpretation is Feeling. Every demonstration rests on the reduction of inference to sensation or intuition. We have also seen that what is perceived, whether outward or inward, depends for one of its factors on the psychostatical condition of the percipient,—what is felt and thought being felt and thought thus, and not otherwise, in consequence of the mental state, and this mental state being itself a product of historical evolution. The light of the past mingles with the light of the present. This being the case even with simple perceptions, how much more must it be the case with complex conceptions compounded out of simple feelings, and still more with those larger conceptions which constitute Philosophy.

227. If we desire to see the part played by Preconception in the construction of conceptions we may advantageously contemplate its action in the abnormal cases of Insanity, which are only exaggerations of normal processes. Cervantes, who has admirably painted the wayward logic of the insane, makes Don Quixote fashion a pasteboard helmet, and test its strength by a blow with his sword. The helmet is smashed, and the Don is much displeased at this fragility of a defence on which he had counted. He thereupon makes another helmet, and remains so perfectly satisfied with its strength that instead of once more putting it to the test he regards it as a helmet of the finest tempera Again, when he has assumed that Haldudo is a knight, he meets the contradiction that the man is a shopkeeper by asking, What does that matter ? There may be Haldudos who are knights.

228. To descend from Fiction to Fact, M. Trélat had a patient firmly convinced that he had discovered perpetual motion. All reasoning of an adverse order left him unshaken ; but he was at last brought to confess that if Arago declared him to be mistaken he would bow to that authority. An interview was arranged. Arago, Humboldt, and some others listened with patience to the arguments by' which he pretended to demonstrate the possibility of his machine. Arago then explained the mechanical impossibility, and thus concluded : "You were good enough to say you would accept my verdict. I give it you, and believe me that all present think as I do, that you are in error." The patient was for a moment as if stunned, and then burst into tears. Arago and Humboldt were much affected at the sight, and Trélat had strong hopes that the hallucination was dispelled. But they had not left the house many minutes before the patient's eyes were dry again, and raising his head proudly he exclaimed : "No matter. Arago is wrong. I have no need of a motor power : my wheel turns of itself !"

229. M. Despine had a patient who fancied that poi-son was constantly mingled with her food. In vain he argued with her, in vain he accumulated proof on proof, her quiet answer was : "You may be right, but I feel that it is as I say, and nothing will ever remove that idea or prove the contrary." Her language accurately expressed the fact ; she did not say "I know, but I feel." She did not invoke material or rational evidence, but the evidence of her feelings.

230. Examples of this order abound in medical literature but we need not seek them there, for our daily experience furnishes an ample supply. No one can have argued against a superstition without noticing an entire insensibility to the plainest evidence when it opposes a conviction. Usually even an exposure of imposture, or the plainest contradiction, has but a temporary effect. The staggered believer quickly recovers his old position, and snatches at some suggestion which will explain the contradiction. He may admit imposture in this particular case, but " is sure " there was none in the undetected cases. He cheerfully admits that the facts asserted are in contradiction with all recorded experience, but he is sure that there " is more between heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy," — and these facts are precisely of this mysterious class. In truth his mind has received a deep impression ; a conception has been fixed there, and his feelings keep it supplied with energy sufficient to bear down any opposing conception.

231. The doctrine which to one mind seems transparently absurd, because it is opposed to the mass of conceptions which have previously been formed, is not absurd, it is simply mysterious, to another mind, and although mysterious is eagerly welcomed because it is in harmony with some conceptions already formed. The mind which today sees the absurdity of the doctrine, may hereafter come to proclaim its truth. The conversion may be either due to intellectual readjustment, through the gradual infusion of new conceptions, or to emotional influence gradually changing the attitude of the mind, and its consequent receptivity. When we see men holding certain theological opinions which are flatly contradictory of their scientific opinions, we are not, on this ground alone, to conclude them to be hypocrites. Each position may be held in perfect sincerity, though not with perfect logicality. The one set of conceptions being in a great measure the expression, of their emotions, Sentiment not Reason weaves the web of argument. The other set of conceptions being impersonal, objective, unconnected with emotions, Reason is left free to estimate the objective relations.

232. A conviction having once been formed, no matter on what evidence, the strength of this conviction is derived from the amount of Feeling it engages, and not at all from the ponderable evidence ; so that evidence which to other minds seems overwhelming will be set aside impatiently with some such remark as this : " That is all very well, but I feel I am right. I can't pretend to answer your arguments, but somehow I am convinced that the case is what I state." Although such declarations often betray profound irrationality, the speaker not seeing that the fact of his conviction is one thing and its truth another, while the point in question is not the state of his feeling but the state of the case on which he passes judgment, still such a position is less discredited and less discreditable than it would otherwise be, owing to our general recognition of the truth that many of our judgments were formed upon evidence so complex and evanescent that we cannot now recall it. When conclusions have become organized in our minds the data are usually quite irrecoverable ; yet we may be fully assured that originally the evidence was present, and could be again produced were ample time and opportunity allowed us. If we have a rational conviction, although we cannot produce the grounds on which it rested, and cannot there-fore force it upon others, why are we to scout the declaration of the man who relies on a conviction for which he can assign no reasons ? Why do we treat our conviction as rational, and his conviction as irrational ? It is be-cause we assume that our forgotten evidence, if produced, would not simply justify our conviction, but would harmonize with the evidence which is now present ; whereas he resists the evidence produced, and relies on evidence which is not producible. Every investigator may have the consciousness of having carefully examined facts be-fore he adopted their results ; and suspects, generally with justice, that those who manifestly disregard the evidence now before them, because it contradicts their conclusions, were not very scrutinizing in their examination of the facts on which their conclusions were originally formed. No one who has been long occupied with investigating a subject is unaware of the growth of convictions stronger than the available evidence seems to warrant. It is this experience which cannot find its accurate expression that justly endows an investigator with authority. But no worker hopes to impose his conviction on his contemporaries in the face of available evidence which contradicts it; and all sincere minds are alive to the human infirmity of grasping at evidence which harmonizes with our views, rejecting those which oppose it, or seeking to nullify their force by extraneous considerations, — an infirmity not less chargeable on philosophers than on ordinary men.

233. Here again we see how needful it is to make clear to ourselves the kind of evidence on which we rely. People will oppose the rational interpretation of admitted facts on the ground that such an interpretation is in " contradiction to their holiest instincts." This rejection or instinctive repulsion may be eminently wise, or eminently foolish. It is foolish when in the hardihood of ignorance men rely on Instinct as necessarily unerring, having a higher source than Reason; for the fact is that instincts are variable, and often fatally misguided. The instinct which urges the moth into the flame, or which makes the insect deposit its eggs in a fetid plant when that plant has the odor of putrid meat (whereby the eggs are hatched in a nidus where they perish from want of food), these are but two of the many examples of Instinct fatally misleading.* Nor are our instinctive judgments to be trusted. The judgment of the child that the moon may be grasped by its tiny outstretched hand, - the judgement¬ of the ordinary man that the redness of the rose is a part of the rose, and present in the darkness where there is no light reflected from it, no eye to see it, — these and other judgments teach us how little we can rely on Instinct, even in simple cases.

To any one who objects to some social change, not because it is demonstrably inconsistent with social welfare, but because he infers that it is so "since it excites his instinctive repulsion," we may justly ask, What are the experiences organized in that repulsion ? You feel that the proposed change will be injurious, - it excites images of alarm ; but what is the origin of your feeling ? upon what social induction does it rest ? what guaranty have you that the images of alarm are not unreasonably ex-cited. When he can state the grounds of his repulsion as we can state the grounds of our proposal, there is a weighing of evidence possible. But the mere repulsion, though not to be disregarded, is only a warning, it is not evidence. It may indicate the presence of some condition which ought to be taken into account but unless it spring from one of the deep-seated instincts which ex-press the moral experiences of the community, it is no more than an indication ; and even then, we must bear in mind that our moral experiences widen with advancing civilization, the deep-seated instinct of the community of to-day will not correspond with the enlarged social experiences of to-morrow, for there is evolution of the Moral Instincts no less than of the Rational Judgments : we learn to feel differently respecting social relations, as we learn to think differently of the cosmical relations. The boast of one age may become the infamy of another.

Granting, therefore, its due weight to Sentiment and to Conviction irrespective of producible evidence, we must still say that any proposition opposed by these ought not to be rejected until their sources and range have been scrutinized. Scrutiny will often detect that the repulsion is due to some unconscious desire to preserve the existing order, because agreeable to our prejudices or interests; sometimes it is due to confidence in an old custom, or a venerated teacher ; and then we may ask : On what was the custom founded ? What means of knowing the truth had the venerated teacher ? and what part did his feelings play in interpreting the evidence ?

234. The legitimate influence of Sentiment in deter-mining Belief, and thus regulating conduct, is a delicate question. Theologians have not been wrong in ascribing Faith and Incredulity to moral predispositions, and in affirming that religious conviction mainly depends upon religious feeling. But they have been wrong in assuming that religious feeling can be reached by argument, or created, where it is absent, by an effort of the, will. It is not true that a man can believe or disbelieve what he will. But it is certain that an active desire to find any proposition true will unconsciously tend to that result, by dismissing importunate suggestions which run counter to the belief, and welcoming those which favor it. The psychological law that we' only see what interests us, and only assimilate what is adapted to our condition, causes the mind to select its evidence.

235. Further, in respect of religious convictions we must distinguish between the personal or subjective aspect, and the impersonal or social aspect, — between the truth which is a law to the man himself, and the truth which is a law for the community. The feeling which determines the actions of the man is valid for him : what he feels, he feels what he thinks, he thinks. But this may not be communicable to others, cannot be made guides for them. For communicable truths, two things are requisite, — the possibility of showing them in their objective relations, or by intelligible symbols, and the mental state ready to grasp these. The beauty of, a statue is felt by twenty spectators in a somewhat similar manner, owing to a similarity in their minds, and for all these it would be a true proposition to affirm " This statue is beautiful." It would not be true for other spectators, insensible to the aesthetic charm. Here is a truth which in the nature of things is limited : we may generalize it, and affirm that many minds, perhaps the majority, will feel this pleasurable emotion ; but we never assume that the truth represents an invariable relation for all minds, like that of parallel lines, or the composition of water, which express objective relations that are invariable and undisturbed by any 'subjective variations ; these latter are communicable truths which all minds must apprehend when the terms are distinctly presented. No one will say that a personal incommunicable truth is less certain than an impersonal communicable truth. If I say, " There I see an apple," this expression of a subjective fact requires no evidence ; but if it be affirmed as an objective fact affirming the present existence of the apple and not merely my present feeling, evidence is needful. I can communicate to others the fact of my feeling, but I can only communicate to them the fact of the existence by placing their senses in relation to the object. What I see may be no apple, but an imitation in stone. My inference from the visual sensation may have been false, and my affirmation in such a case would be subjectively true, objectively false : true in that I had the visible feeling which an apple would excite ; false in that I concluded from this to the existence of an apple there present. Nor would the testimony of fifty thousand people all affirming that they saw the same apple, all declaring that what they saw really was an apple, add one tittle of objective validity to my assertion. This is a paradox only to those who do not appreciate the nature of evidence. Because we habitually find our inferences confirmed, or corrected, by the testimony of others, we fall into the mistake of counting testimony instead of weighing it, and suppose that many spectators are more to be trusted than one ; whereas it is not the multitude of observers but the variety of the means of observation which gives value to their testimony. The concurrent testimony of fifty thou-sand persons would only prove that they were visually affected in the same way, and had inferred the same thing ; and unless these observers were placed under different conditions, fifty thousand observations are no bet-ter than five. A miracle performed in the presence of a multitude has no greater credibility than the same miracle performed in the lonely chamber of a solitary,-unless some among the multitude have sources of experience on which to ground their inferences, which were not open to the solitary. When wonder-workers ask for our belief because their assertions are certified by hundreds of respectable witnesses, they should be told that neither numbers nor respectability have scientific weight, when all the witnesses are under the same disadvantages respecting the reduction of their inferences to sensations ; the same assertion repeated many times, however varied its expression, is not made more credible by repetition. All that the testimony of a multitude of witnesses really amounts to is that they had certain sensations, from which they inferred certain corresponding events.

236. During M`Clure's Polar Expedition the watch one night saw a bear on an iceberg. He called to his mates, and they having armed themselves cautiously approached the spot where the bear stood. To the astonishment of all, this visible bear rose in the air and flew away. They had mistaken an eagle for a bear ; yet not one of them had doubted his inference from the optical sensation common to them all. Had they not alarmed the eagle, or had the spot been inaccessible, they would all have sworn sincerely that they had seen a bear. Would a million of such witnesses have rendered this statement more credible ? But now suppose the sailors to have returned to the ship because they found it difficult to approach this bear, and only two of them had remained behind hoping to find a more accessible path ; one of these remaining on the watch while the other seeks a path, presently the watcher sees the eagle rise and fly away ; and on his return to the ship he tells his companions what he saw. They may or may not believe his statement, according to their trust in his veracity or the intensity of their previous conviction; and if now the other sailor returns with the eagle which he has just shot, the conviction is complete.

237. All Knowledge, being virtual Feeling, is only communicable through Feeling. A man may communicate tome the fact that he has a sensation, a perception; or an emotion, but he can only awaken similar sensation, perception, or emotion in me by placing nie in similar conditions, objective and subjective. He may tell me that a certain fruit has a sweet taste, and I may believe this statement to be objectively valid; but I must myself taste the fruit before I can share his feeling. He may tell me that he has a misgiving, but that misgiving can only be awakened in me by a presentation of its grounds. There are degrees of communicability. If I am told by some one that he has seen a dog, I have so distinct an image raised by that word that I can understand his feeling, and in a sense share it. If I am told by the same person that he has seen a gangrened limb, the absence of experience will make nie very imperfectly understand him. If he tells me he has had a bilious attack, my apprehension is vague. If he tells me that the summer dawn fills him with religious joy, and an autumnal evening with religious awe, my apprehension is still more vague. I too may have many times been touched by the tender lights of a summer dawn, but unless there is some communicable mark by which these reactions of feeling can be seen to resemble those reactions in him, our two experiences remain personal, subjective, incommunicable. Hence it is that Sentiment only passes into Science when it is capable of being translated into objective signs. The sensations of color and sound must be translated into vibrations, and then the reactions of Feeling are measured with reference to their objective vibrations. Every variety of tone, however distinct to Feeling, was a personal fact of no value to exact Science, until it thus became interpretable through its objective sign. This connection once established, Science had its instrument. Every single tone had its dynamical sign,— every subjective fact its correlative external fact, — and then whatever could be deduced from dynamical laws of vibration was inferable of' Sound ; thus were discoveries made by mathematical analysis which could never have been approached through analysis of Feeling.

238. In conclusion, we may say that the part played by Sentiment in Philosophy is very large, and is admirable, or the reverse, according to circumstances. It is necessary and admirable as an inspiration, when duly controlled by verification. It is admirable, and its jurisdiction is final, when feelings form the subject-matter of the debate. It is disastrous when it takes the place of verification and substitutes personal for impersonal relations.

Among the curious features of our mental organization must be noted that by which on all subjects of immediate practical importance we always proceed at once to verify any conjecture we may have formed, whereas on subjects of speculative importance we are too impatient to await this control, and in our eagerness for an explanation readily accept conjectures as truths. The anticipatory rush of thought prefigures qualities and foresees consequences ; instead of pausing to ascertain whether our anticipations do or do not correspond with fact, we proceed to argue and to act on them as if this mental vision were final. Native indolence unchastened by repeated failure, and native impatience unchecked by caution, are sustained by the energy of our confidence in what we think. Even a false explanation is preferred to the unrest of doubt; and a plausible explanation is so gratifying to the feelings by quieting this agitation of unrest, that we cling to it in spite of adverse evidence. Who has not observed, even in himself, the eagerness with which some argument is snatched at, and some statement credited, when these seem to confirm his own view of the case ? To submit our conclusions to the, rigorous test of evidence, and to seek the truth irrespective of our preconceptions, is the rarest and most difficult of intellectual virtues.

How then can truth be decided ? What are the tests of certitude? These questions must be examined in the next Problem. Hitherto we have examined the range and limitations of Knowledge, and have only touched incidentally on the nature of Certitude ; henceforward we shall have to apply the principles here expounded.

( Originally Published 1874 )

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The Place Of Sentiment In Philosophy

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