THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
"Still more manifest will this truth become when it is observed that our conception of the Relative itself disappears, if our conception of the Absolute is a pure negation. It is admitted, or rather it is contended, by the writers I have quoted above, that contradictories can be known only in relation to each other—that Equality, for instance, is unthinkable apart from its correlative Inequality; and that thus the Relative can itself be conceived only by opposition to the Non-relative. It is also admitted, or rather contended, that the consciousness of a relation implies a consciousness of both the related members. If we are required to conceive the relation between the Relative and Non-relative without being conscious of both, 'we are in fact (to quote the words of Mr. Mansel differently applied) required to compare that of which we are conscious with that of which we are not conscious; the comparison itself being an act of consciousness, and only possible through the consciousness of both its objects.' What, then, becomes of the assertion that 'the Absolute is conceived merely by a negation of conceivability,' or as 'the mere absence of the conditions under which consciousness is possible?' If the Non-relative or Absolute is present in thought only as a mere negation, then the relation between it and the Relative becomes unthinkable, because one of the terms of the relation is absent from consciousness. And if this relation is unthinkable, then is the Relative itself unthinkable, for want of its antithesis: whence results the disappearance of all thought whatever."—(First Principles, § 26.)
On this argument Mr. Martineau comments as follows; first restating it in other words:
"Take away its antithetic term, and the relative, thrown into isolation, is set up as absolute, and disappears from thought. It is indispensable, therefore, to uphold the Absolute in existence, as condition of the relative sphere which constitutes our whole intellectual domain. Be it so; but, when saved on this plea—to preserve the balance and interdependence of two co-relatives—the 'Absolute' is absolute no more; it is reduced to a term of relation; it loses therefore its exile from thought; its disqualification is canceled; and the alleged nescience is discharged.
"So, the same law of thought which warrants the existence, dissolves the inscrutableness, of the Absolute."—(Essays, Philosophical and Theological, pp. 186, 187.)
I admit this to be a telling rejoinder; and one which can be met only when the meanings of the words, as I have used them, are carefully discriminated, and the implications of the doctrine fully traced out. We will begin by clearing the ground of minor misconceptions.
First, let it be observed that, though I have used the word Absolute as the equivalent of Non-relative, because it is used in the passages quoted from the writers I am contending against, yet I have myself chosen for the purposes of my argument the name Non-relative, and I do not necessarily commit myself to any propositions respecting the Absolute, considered as that which includes both Subject and Object. The Non-relative, as spoken of by me, is to be understood rather as the totality of Being minus that which constitutes the individual consciousness, present to us under forms of Relation. Did I use the word in some Hegelian sense, as comprehensive of that which thinks