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ART. IV.—THE A PRIORI ARGUMENT: AN
EXPOSITION AND DEFENCE.
The Necessary Excistence of God. By W. H. GILLESPIE. London:
united together five separate treatises, each treatise complete in itself, and yet the whole five related to each other by the treatment of a common subject; and also, notwithstanding their specific aim, by reference to a common purpose. These treatises are arranged in an order of dependence which, while it does not interfere with the completeness of each, develops the unity of the whole. First, several important defects in the strictly a posteriori arguments for the Being and Attributes of God are pointed out; and this is done, not to show that the a posteriori method is utterly worthless, but that it is in itself insufficient. It is dependent for its validity, in so far as it reaches upon principles which it does not supply, and even by the aid of these borrowed principles, it fails to reach the conclusion it is intended to establish. Then follows a review of the principal forms in which the a priori argument has been stated during the last two centuries and a half. In the judgment of the author, defective statements of the synthetic method of argument have greatly contributed to bring it into discredit. He is anxious to remove this discredit by placing the argument upon a better basis, and giving it a more scientific expression. It was necessary in attempting this to point out the errors of former reasoners in the same field: and Locke, Dr. S. Clarke, Lowman, and Bishop Hamilton, are successively reviewed. After this follows a third treatise, designed to bespeak the favourable attention of theists. It is addressed to those who “admit the existence of a necessary Being, the Intelligent Author of the universe,” and points out, conclusively, that this admission implies infinite extension. A necessarily existing Being granted, who is the intelligent cause of all things,—and it follows, either that He exists without extension, or that He is of finite extension ; else He is of infinite extension. As no other hypothesis can be conceived, one or other of these three must be accepted as true concerning the necessary Being, whose existence is granted. The first cannot be entertained; for existence, whether necessary, or unnecessary, implies extension. Let any man endeavour to think of existence without extension, and he at once becomes aware of its impossibility; or, let him try to think that in the case of some other intelligence, differently circumstanced to himself, it may be possible, and he can as
easily think that, to that other intelligence, two and two may make five. Extension and existence mutually and necessarily imply each other. The second hypothesis cannot be accepted, for an absolutely-necessary Being must exist everywhere--that is, must be of infinite extension, since absolute necessity cannot have relation to one part of space more than to another. Relation of existence to one part of space more than to another, implies determination as to quantity and continuance. For to be placed here rather than there is limitation, and limitation by which a limiting cause external to the being limited is the condition of a contingent and finite existence, not of an absolutely-necessary Being. To accept this second hypothesis would require us to believe that absolutely-necessary Being possessed figure, and was really divisible, both of which positions are obviously absurd. A necessarily existing substance, the intelligent cause of all things, by its very nature transcends all limitation, and can no more be said to be here, and now, rather than there, and then ; and no more to be there and then, rather than here, and now. The first and second of these alternate hypotheses being thus excluded, the third must be accepted. And a necessarily-existing being is therefore a being of infinite extension.
The short argument contained in this third treatise is addressed to theists, to those who admit a necessarily-existing Being the intelligent cause of all things. It is not intended to establish the general conclusion which the fourth treatise seeks to establish, but the relative and particular one, that if a man admits the existence of a necessarily-existent Being, that very admission implies infinite extension. It is a personal argument, showing that a man who admits the one, is bound in consistency with the position be has taken, to admit the other. But, it only has reference to the person who admits that there is a necessarily existent Being, and its bearing upon the general question is only indirect and relative. This, Mr. Gillespie carefully indicates, and it is certainly unjust to animadvert upon this argument, as if the author by it intended to establish the general conclusion. The argument advanced in this treatise has been criticised, as if it were directly employed to establish the conclusion of the fourth treatise, and this, notwithstanding the plain statement to the contrary, contained in Mr. Gillespie's preface, as well as the obvious character of the argument itself.
The fourth treatise contains the author's statement of the a priori argument, and the fifth treatise is devoted to an examination of the criticism published by the Zetetic Society of Glasgow.
The a priori argument is, by its very nature abstruse, and it may be at once allowed that it does not readily take hold of men in general. But its remoteness from popular apprehension is no evidence that it is weak, futile, or vain. Its conclusions may nevertheless be valid, and its method may perhaps be the only one by which some minds are able to reach a satisfactory result. The validity of an argument cannot be determined by the readiness with which the popular mind apprehends it. Nor can its invalidity be decided by the distaste which the popular mind manifests in relation to it. And yet, for no better reason than that it is abstruse and somewhat remote from popular apprehension, the a priori argument has been summarily disposed of as of little worth.
Exception has also been taken to the a priori method upon other ground. It has been maintained that the very conclusion it proposes to establish, deprives it of all legitimate data and premisses. The necessary existence of an Intelligent Being, who is the cause of all things, does not admit of an a priori demonstration, because there can be nothing prior to such a Being. If there be anything in order of nature or conception prior to Him, from which His being and attributes can be derived, why then the argument from this prior thing, or principle, may be considered valid; but if there is in reality nothing prior, either in the order of nature or conception, all attempted a priori argumentation is vain. Assuming the existence of such a being, certain a priori inferences may be formed respecting particular qualities which must belong to his nature; but previously to, and independently of, that existence, we are unable to conceive of anything from which it can by possibility be inferred-of any data on which the inference can be made to rest. * But is this a fair and impartial statement of the a priori method ? Does it really require for its legitimate construction that there must be some existence prior to necessary existence, and from which necessary existence is derived ? In this objection there is no real difference, in so far as the argument is concerned, between existing thing and existing principle, for there must be some being in which the principle exists. And the a priori method is condemned, because to render it valid there must be an existence prior to the first and necessarily-existing Being, from which the latter is derived. Now, ws venture to think that this objection is based upon a serious inisapprehension of the conditions of the a priori argument. It does not require that we have knowledge of some existence prior to God Himself, in order to establish his existence; if it did, it would be a method foolish enough. But now, if in the constitution of the human mind there are laws or regulative principles—and if in the actual operations of the human mind these regulative principles are introspectively cognised as intuitions, or native convictions—and if these intuitions are to men the guarantees of reality, may we not here find
* This is a condensed statement of the objections to the a priori argument advanced by Dr. Wardlow, Dr. Cooke, Rev. R. Watson, and others.
data upon which to construct a valid argument for the Divine existence? The a priori method requires nothing more than this. It is an argument from fundamental principles or beliefs through the reality which they guarantee to the highest reality—the existence of God. But it is objected that this is a posteriori reasoning. All that we have to reply is, that it is reasoning from principle to consequence; and, if this is not a priori reasoning, we are at a loss to comprehend what is.
The principles to which we refer are self-evidentand necessary principles, the opposite of which cannot be thought; they are universal principles,common to mind, (e.g.) Space and duration exceed my most enlarged conceptions, cannot indeed be thought non-existent, and hence I am compelled to believe them infinite; everything which begins to be must have a cause—so I am compelled to decide. Now, these principles are not the products of experience. Allowing that apart from experience they would not have been developed, yet they are not furnished by experience. This concession amounts to nothing more than that if we had not been formed conscious beings we should not have been conscious. No amount of experience can ever give the necessary and universal. It can only discover to us that things are constituted in a given manner, not that anything must necessarily and universally be. These native convictions, necessary and universal, are neither the result of experience nor the product of reason, but the conditions of all experience and knowledge—the principles by which the mind interprets all phenomena. In this sense they are a priori, and argumentation pursued from them deductively is designated a priori reasoning. It is not a priori, because its data is some existence prior to the necessary existence it seeks to establish, but because its data consist of those necessary principles which experience does not furnish, but which as the conditions of experience are prior to it. It is an argument from principle to consequent; and as reality is guaranteed by the principle, so reality must be reached in the consequent.
In the Kantian philosophy a priori principles are divorced from external reality. They are purely subjective, and in no sense whatever do they indicate outness. They are merely abstract forms under which the mind apprehends, co-ordinates, and unifies phenomena. If this exposition of our native convictions and fundamental beliefs be an accurate exposition, it is certainly impossible for us to pass beyond the realm of abstraction. We can have no cognition of reality, and by consequence the theologic idea becomes an unavoidable illusion, and a priori argumentation is pronounced a failure because it cannot make good the passage from the facts of thought to outward and real existence. But we need to pause before we join in this sentence of condemnation. It certainly appears an unwarrantable account of our primary convictions and fundamental beliefs, to say that the mind is naturally and necessarily determined to internal representations which have no corresponding objective reality, but are unmeaning and illusive. In our comprehension of the finite, we are necessarily placed by the regulative principles of our minds in connection with the infinite. We necessarily and unavoidably think of every thing as being in space, and of every event as occurring in time, and of everything which begins to be as having a cause accounting for its existence. Now, we naturally ask why we are led by innate principles to conceptions, which, however, upon reflection, are to be set aside as void of all significance and validity ? It certainly seems anything but satisfactory that we are determined necessarily and unavoidably to certain conceptions, and yet in these innate and fundamental convictions we have no guarantee of reality. If. our knowledge does not in any sense pass beyond subjective conceptions, why then these native convictions are certainly subjective, and the philosophical principles in which they find full expression are but empty notions. But if the mind can by any form of activity discover the existence of external reality distinct from itself, why then we cannot see any reason to affirm that its primary cognitions and fundamental beliefs are purely subjective. There does not appear to be any resting place between pure idealism, and the frank admission that our primary convictions point to external reality.
It may, perhaps, be proper to consider here this question of reality with reference to the subjects of the first propositions in the first and second parts of Mr. Gillespie’s argument. Some who have ventured to criticise Mr. Gillespie's work have indulged in considerable merriment and wit over a superstructure based upon such foundations, though they have not been exactly certain what views they themselves entertained. Space, extension, or expansion is declared mere nothing, emptiness, the absence of being ; while both space and duration are relegated to the region of abstraction, or affirmed to be merely subjective. Respecting the nihilism of space we may appeal to the testimony of consciousness, and higher testimony we cannot have. It is at once readily allowed that we gain our notion of space in the concrete, that is, we know bodies as existing in and oocupying space, but the conviction thus evoked soon passes beyond the limits of knowledge proper, and developes into a belief respecting something which we neither do nor can know immediately, and similarly, respecting duration. What is here allowed has been sometimes affirmed to be fatal to all a priori argumentation, for, say certain critics, it is after all based upon experience, and is in fact an a posteriori argument. Well, it is based upon experience thus far, that in order to an a priori argument there must be a being capable of conducting it, and as such