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a violent attempt to murder his father, he cried out with great vehemence, “My father!” so the utterance of such a calumny on humanity and disparagement of the intelligence of his contemporaries, is enough to raise the voices of those who would otherwise be dumb in protest against the presumption of this imperious philosopher.
We now proceed to bring into court some of the statements of Mr. Mill which have particular reference to Christianity; and, in doing so, we justify our notice of his errors on the ground of the usefulness of the knowledge of the position and resources of the opponents of orthodoxy, especially at the present day. One of the greatest orators of ancient times, Cicero, has left it on record that “he always studied his adversary's case with as great, if not still greater intensity than his own;" and this course of procedure is absolutely requisite to enable us to arrive at something more substantial than mere one-sided conclusions, justifying the remark of a late writer: “He who only knows his own side of the case, knows little even of that."
The theme of this chapter of Mr. Mill's book, “The liberty of thought and discussion," is considered under the following four divisions :
“ First, If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true.”
“ Secondly, Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely, or never, the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.”
“Thirdly, Even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth unless it be suffered to be, and actually is, rigourously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.
“ Fourthly, Also the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct; the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction from reason or personal experience.
Now the first division is undoubtedly a plea for atheism, though ostensibly only an argument for the hearing of opinions contrary to those generally received ; instead of the words that opinion may, âc.," we may fairly read, “ Atheism may, for aught we can certainly know, be true.” We are confirmed in this interpretation by what follows shortly after : he writes: “In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying a hearing to opinions because we
in our own judgment have condemned them, it will be desirable to fix down the discussion to a concrete case; and I chose, by preference, the cases which are least favourable to me, in which the argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality.” Then follows a reference to the execution of Socrates by his countrymen for impiety and immorality; next, he refers to “the event," to quote his own words, “which took place on Calvary rather more than eighteen hundred years ago. The man who left on the memory of those who witnessed his life and conversation such an impression of his moral grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have done homage to him as the Almighty in person, was ignominiously put to death as a blasphemer." Following this is a notice of the stoning of the first martyr by St. Paul, as Mr. Mill has it, but more correctly, Saul of Tarsus. And, last, we have a glance at the persecution of the early Christians by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who, Mr. Mill says, was placed at the summit of all the previous attainments of humanity, with an open, unfettered intellect, and a character which led him of himself to embody in his moral writings the christian ideal, he yet failed to see that Christianity was to be a good, and not an evil to the world, with his duties to which he was so deeply penetrated ; and following out this conviction he persecuted Christianity.” Immediately after these references to persecution, and seemingly, as the culmination of the argument, is a notice of the existing disabilities of Atheists in this country, instancing the conviction and imprisonment of a man in Cornwall for uttering and writing on a gate some offensive words concerning Christianity; and also the rejection as a juryman of a notorious atheistic advocate; and then he proceeds to a condemnation of the law of England, wbich refuses the evidence in a court of justice of any person who does not profess a belief in a God and in a future state; a proposition, Mr. Mill thinks, which betokens much ignorance of history, is, “that the oath is worthless, of a person who does not believe in a future state; because it is historically true that a large proportion of infidels in all ages, have been persons of distinguished integrity and honour.”
Now we think the conclusion is unavoidable that the whole course of Mr. Mill's argument on persecution, whilst it is ostensibly a plea for the freedom of opinion, is a disguised defence of atheism. His reasoning, divested of its sophistry, is as follows:-1. Socrates, Jesus Christ, and the Early Christians were persecuted on account of their opinions. 2. But their opinions were afterwards held to be true. 3. Therefore, all opinions which are persecuted may be afterwards held to be true. 4. Atheism is a persecuted opinion. 5. Therefore, Atheism may be afterwards held to be true. Mill's error, logician though he be, is caused by a gross violation of the laws of reasoning; he strangely draws a universal conclusion from a premises which warrants nothing of that kind ; that is, because some persecuted opinions have been afterwards received to be true, therefore all persecuted opinions may be afterwards held to be true ; now, just another step to such an argument, and we are landed in absurdity. It is this : all persecuted opinions may be afterwards held to be true ; but all opinions whatsoever may be persecuted; therefore, all opinions whatsoever may be held to be true. The absurdity of such results of learned elaborations of a logical mind are astounding; we can only compare them to an individual patiently trudging for many a weary mile a by-road through fields, which at length ends at a quagmire, and leaves the erring rambler no other alternative but to retrace his steps.
But if our readers will follow the erratic ratiocinations of this philosopher, they must be willing to descend to still lower depths of absurdity than the foregoing; he opposes restrictions on atheistic opinions, not merely on the strength of the conclusion that atheism may be true, but also, and more especially, on the conclusion to which he strenuously endeavours to arrive, that we cannot be certain that anything is true; and this is the second item of Mr. Mill's conclusions to which we propose now to refer. He says, " The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we have done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there be a better truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it; and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach to truth as is possible in our own day. This is the amount of certainty attainable by a fallible being, and this is the sole way of attaining it.” This conclusion seems to be equivalent to the statement, that we cannot with certainty know anything, and therefore, that we know nothing. If the statement that ninety-nine persons out of every hundred are totally incapable of forming an opinion on any subject not self-evident, placed a serious obstacle in our way, certainly this latter conclusion, if accepted, should make us close our books, and abandon further investigation in hopeless despair. But, in passing, let us note that these conclusions afford even stronger presumptions in favour of the probability, at least, of a Divine Revelation, than even the advocates of orthodoxy have found for themselves. The latter say, reason has attained to some truths, but others are still unattain
able, beyond reason's province; but Mr. Mill concludes, reason has yet attained to no truth, and seems to be incapable of attaining to the definite knowledge of any truth; we certainly think that if the former of these two conclusions points to the need of a revelation, the latter (Mr. Mill's conclusion) makes a revelation a much more probable part of the order of events in the moral world ; but of course our philosopher ignores not only the fact, but denies the possibility of a revelation; so we are brought back face to face with his conclusion, which rendered into ordinary phraseology, implies, that we cannot certainly know anything.
This particular phase of mind, or logical phenomenon, as exemplified in Mr. Mill, and also in the more cultivated but limited class of the atheistic school, we will make bold to say, is nothing else than a suspension of judgment. There are only three conceivable positions which can be taken with respect to any proposition under consideration, as, for instance, the being of a God, namely, 1. A direct affirmative. 2. A direct negative. 3. A state of suspended judgment on the proposition in question. Now the first, of course includes all Theists; the second, all ignorant Atheists, who know no better than to attempt the absurd task of proving the direct negative proposition, that there is no God, which, of necessity, requires nothing short of omniscience on the part of the reasoner; and the third class includes that small section of infidels who, in view of the evidences for, and the so-called arguments against, the existence of a God, hold their judgments in suspense as already described. We have read of a similar state of the body, called suspended animation, in which all the vital functions are, at least to all outward appearance and test, brought to a complete standstill; but only to be afterwards set agoing on the cessation of the special cause of this unusual bodily state. Now we must say the lusus nature of Atheism is a similar and analagous mental state, intellectual suspended animation. It is also a remarkable thing that whilst atheism denies the knowledge of a God, it also denies the knowledge of anything: and therefore the Theist has even the authority of Atheistic philosophy for asserting that as certainly as we know anything, we know there is a God; the great difference between them being in the application of this proposition ; for, whilst the Atheist denies that we can know anything, and consequently, that we can know of a God; the Theist, on the contrary, holds that we can know something, and that a part of our knowledge is the recognition of God.
“Mr. Mill affords the best example of the positivist views fully carried out to their consistent logical consequences.
We here apply the term positivist in its general sense, as that which tends to break down all distinction between the physical and moral sciences, between physiology and psychology; the distinction between soul and body, and the notions originating from either or both, are confounded by positivism. Mr. Mill does not seem to shrink from this ultimate consequence; he holds that our knowledge is alone derived from experience. There may be a universe where two and two do not make four; why, therefore, may it not be the case in other worlds, that lying is a virtue and veracity a vice ? Mr. Mill does not say this, but his principles say it for him. He, therefore, brings us back to the point from which philosophy starts, and the result of his denial of the possibility of metaphysical principles, is the annihilation of all certainty or assurance of anything whatsoever, a state of absolute scepticism, not merely as to God, freedom, and immortality, but also as to whether there be anything at all any, where or anyhow."*
Such is the dismal climax to which these principles conduct us. If the whole world consisted of one hundred individuals, and ninetynine of them were (as Mr. Mill says) totally incapable of judging upon any matter not self-evident, and himself the hundredth person, whose capacity of judgment is infallible, he could not have written with a greater air of infallibility; and, at the same time, such assumption of infallibility could not have been more completely self-refuted than it has been by the egregious absurdities to which his reasonings introduce us; it almost rivals the pretensions of Popery; both in presumption and failure there is a wonderful resemblance between scepticism and superstition ; for the sake of comparison we give an instance of the latter. Of all literary blunders, none equalled that of the edition of the Vulgate Bible by Sixtus V. His holiness carefully superintended every sheet as it passed through the press; and to the amazement of the world, the work remained without a rival, it swarmed with errata. A multitude of scraps were printed to paste over the erroneous passages, in order to give the true text. The book made a whimsical appearance with these patches, and the heretics exulted in this demonstration of papal infallibility! The copies were called in, and violent attempts made to suppress the book; but a few copies still remain for the rapture of biblical collectors.
The attempted deification of reason by Atheism on the one hand, and the abnegation of it by superstition on the other hand, are both alike worthy only of our contempt and abhorrence; and the utter failure of these two opposite and erroneous courses is seen in these instances; the infidel philosopher who begins by telling his readers that only one person out of a hundred can judge of things, and ends his argument by concluding that nobody can know anything, is quite on an equality with the papal pretender to infallibility, whose great production turns out to be the most remarkable specimen of fallibility that can be conceived.
* North British Review. September, 1868.