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enough to see not only that the copula 'is', but that every proposition, regardless of the copula, implies the existence of that whose relations it discusses.
The last statement holds true not only of affirmative but of negative propositions and even of those in which there is a downright denial of existence.
Negative propositions as such are easily disposed of. When we deny that a thing has such and such qualities we usually assume that it exists and possesses other qualities
Denials of > incompatible with the first.
If any one should relations assert that John Smith was not good-natured we
existence. might assume that he was more or less morose. We should usually assume that he did exist. Sometimes, however, we say that a thing has not certain qualities because it does not exist at all; e.g., "A snark is not terrible'; 'ghosts are not to be feared'. Here the negative proposition amounts to one in which existence is denied.
But even when we say that something does not exist, our statement is really one concerning what does exist. To illustrate what I mean let us examine a peculiar but important passage in Herbert Spencer's “ First Principles” (Pt. 2, Chap. 4). Mr. Spencer thinks that the lately discovered law of the conservation of matter is one which no rational being ever seriously doubted, even though he supposed himself to do so. He bases this paradox on the conviction that nobody can possibly succeed in thinking of nothing. Let us see “what happens”', says Mr. Spencer, “when the attempt is made to annihilate matter in thought. ... Conceive the space before you to be cleared of all bodies save one. Now imagine the remaining one not to be removed from its place, but to lapse into nothing while standing in that place. You fail. . . . It is impossible to think of something becoming nothing, for the same reason that it is impossible to think of nothing becoming something—the reason, namely, that nothing cannot become an object of consciousness.”
From this argument about the impossibility of thinking of nothing, Mr. Spencer believes he has proved that no one can possibly think of a single atom of matter either beginning or ceasing to exist. We must therefore, according to the argument, think of the world and every atom in it as eternal, uncreated, and indestructible.
Now, I believe that Mr. Spencer is quite right in saying that we cannot think of nothing (a very different thing from not thinking at all). Everything we imagine or think of we tend to think of as existing, and as long as our thought is concerned wholly with any given object we cannot possibly think, though through force of habit we may perhaps speak, of that object as non-existent. But then Mr. Spencer overlooked the fact that when we assert a thing's non-existence our thought, so far as we have any, is a thought, not of the thing, but of the empty background where the thing might have been. He is right enough in saying that we cannot imagine a non-existent body as non-existent, but we certainly can think, whether we believe it or not, of God existing in a worldless void at one instant and with worlds about him at the next, or of a universe enriched or impoverished by the addition or loss of some speck of dust or of some whole world. Certainly every child has seen plants grow without thinking of the nourishment they appropriate, and seen them burnt up without thinking of the smoke in which their elements are preserved.
The way we think of non-existence is well illustrated in the nursery rhyme :
Old Mother Hubbard
To get her poor dog a bone.
And so the poor dog got none.
about the bone itself! Our attention is turned not to the bone, but to the empty background. “ As for man, his days are as grass ; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth, for the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Here again it is the empty place, not the grass and the flower, that we must think of in order to get the full sense of their annihilation.
To say that a thing does not exist, means therefore that the world or whatever other reality there is exists without it and with relations other than those which its presence would have involved.
Thus we think, not of what is not, but of what is; and whatever we think of, we think of as existing in some way or other.
This whole question of existence can be made clear by tracing the origin and growth of the distinction between realities and illusions or fictions. Young children cannot make this distinction.
Savages ception of
reality. make it very imperfectly, and even adult members of a civilized society often fail in the effort to apply it.
It sometimes happens that a person hears his name called, looks around, can see nobody, and finally concludes that the sound was imaginary. At first the sensation of sound carried with it an instinctive belief in the reality of something beyond the hearer which made it. Every sensation does this. If it did not we should never be able to perceive things at all. Instead of saying, • I hear some one speak', 'I see the sun', 'I smell a rose ', 'I feel the ground', 'There is a mouse'; we should only be able to say, “Lo, a feeling like the sound of words !' 'Lo, a vivid sensation of sight!' 'Lo, a sweet smell !' 'Lo, a touch-feeling !' 'Lo, a succession of peculiar visual and auditory feelings !'
Thus every conception of reality which we have depends ultimately upon our instinctive tendency to interpret feelings in terms of things acting upon us—to say, not that such and such a feeling is now going on, but that such and such an
object is now present.
From this tendency to objectify our experience we can never wholly escape.
If when we had sensations we did nothing more than to refer them vaguely to something or other acting upon us, we should never be able to detect an illusion. As a matter of fact we do much more, for we build up as soon as we can the conception of a large number of definite objects, acting or disposed to act in definite ways upon each other and upon us. We learn that sounds and smells come from objects that can be seen and handled, and we expect floors to support us, food to taste good, and the people around us to be pleased or annoyed, as the case may be, at a given kind of conduct. We gain, in short, a knowledge of the nature and relations of a great many things. Moreover, we expect each thing to appear and act at one time as it did under similar circumstances at another. If we did not, there would be no meaning in the distinction between various kinds of things.
It is by means of such knowledge of things and the way they act that we are able to correct our first impressions and distinguish between that which we have experienced and that which we have only imagined. If we hear a voice but see no one, we conclude that we were mistaken about the voice, because it is easier to discredit the testimony of single sense on a few occasions than to discredit our conviction that names are not called in the absence of a visible and tangible person who calls then. What is true of sensation is true of all thought. What we think about, whether it be an ink-bottle or a dragon, is thought about, for the instant at least, as though it were real, and if we afterwards deny its reality, this is because our thought has turned from the object itself to a wider system of things in which we find that it has no place.
We have just seen how we conceive of every object of thought as real until we find that it will not fit into a wider system of things. The ultimate and highest test of individual facts would be, therefore, a thoroughly consistent and well-established conception of the whole material and spirit
ual universe. But this is something which nobody possesses. As a matter of fact we seldom think of such a universe at all.
Knowledge comes at first in disconnected patches. These gradually grow together and are combined into larger fields. Within each field our conceptions are moderately consistent, but we rarely think of the relations between various fields, or test our conceptions of one by comparing it with another. Sunday school stories, Greek mythology, German fairy tales, novels, histories, science, theology: these are all more or less consistent within themselves and inconsistent with each other. We live as it were at different times in different worlds, each dominated by its own fundamental laws. We do not expect to find cherubim and archangels on Olympus or muses “on the secret top of Oreb or of Sinai”, nor do we usually think of Hamlet, Solomon, and Cinderella meeting together beyond the Styx. As long as we keep our worlds apart, each seems real; the more vividly we picture it the more real it seems; and the impression of reality lasts until we compare two inconsistent worlds together. I think a good illustration of this is to be found in Kipling's story of “Mowgli's Brothers". After telling how a little naked man-cub toddled into a wolf's den and was adopted by Mother Wolf, the author explains what Mother and Father Wolf must do in order to have the adoption legally recognized and ratified by the Pack.
“The Law of the Jungle lays down very clearly that any wolf may, when he marries, withdraw from the Pack he belongs to; but as soon as his cubs are old enough to stand on their feet he must bring them to the Pack Council, which is generally held once a month at full moon, in order that the other wolves may identify them. After that inspection the cubs are free to run where they please, and until they have killed their first buck no excuse is accepted if a grown wolf of the Pack kills one of them. The punishment is death where the murderer can be found, and if you will think for a minute you will see that this must be so.''