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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/310

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philosophers in this country. From the very nature of human intelligence, it is attempted to be shown that it can only know what is finite and relative, and that therefore the absolute and infinite the human mind is, by an inherent and insuperable disability, debarred from knowing. . . . May it not be asked, for one thing, whether, in the assertion, as the result of an examination of the human intellect, that it is incapable of knowing what lies beyond the finite, there is not involved an obvious self-contradiction? The examination of the mind can be conducted only by the mind, and if the instrument be, as is alleged, limited and defective, the result of the inquiry must partake of that defectiveness. Again, does not the knowledge of a limit imply already the power to transcend it? In affirming that human science is incapable of crossing the bounds of the finite world, is it not a necessary presupposition that you who so affirm have crossed these bounds?"

That this objection is one I am not disinclined to recognize, will be inferred when I state that it is one I have myself raised. While preparing the second edition of the "Principles of Psychology," I found, among my memoranda, a note which still bore the wafers by which it had been attached to the original manuscript (unless, indeed, it had been transferred from the MS. of "First Principles," which its allusions seems to imply). It was this:

"I may here remark, in passing, that the several reasonings, including the one above quoted, by which Sir William Hamilton would demonstrate the pure relativity of our knowledge—reasonings which clearly establish many important truths, and with which in the main I agree—are yet capable of being turned against himself, when he definitively concludes that it is impossible for us to know the absolute. For, to positively assert that the absolute cannot be known is, in a certain sense, to assert a knowledge of it—is to know it as unknowable. To affirm that human intelligence is confined to the conditioned is to put an absolute limit to human intelligence, and implies absolute knowledge. It seems to me that the 'learned ignorance' with which philosophy ends must be carried a step further; and, instead of positively saying that the absolute is unknowable, we must say that we cannot tell whether it is knowable or not."

Why I omitted this note I cannot now remember. Possibly it was because reconsideration disclosed the reply that might be made to the contained objection. For, while it is true that the intellect cannot prove its own competence, since it must postulate its competence in the course of the proof, and so beg the question, yet it does not therefore follow that it cannot prove its own incompetence, in respect of questions of certain kinds. Its inability in respect of such questions has two conceivable causes. It may be that the deliverances of Reason in general are invalid, in which case the incompetence of Reason to solve questions of a certain class is implied by its general incompetence; or it may be that the deliverances of Reason, valid within a certain range, themselves end in the conclusion that Reason is incapable beyond that range. So that, while there can be no proof of competence, because competence is postulated in each step of the demonstration, there may be proof of incompetence either (1) if the