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CHAPTER X.

RELATIVITY OF KNOWLEDGE.

WHEN Professor Ferrier propounded the theory that one's self mixes as an integral and essential part with our knowledge of every object, and Sir William Hamilton unfolded his doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, I felt constrained to declare that there were views prevalent in metaphysical speculation which were working as much mischief as the ideal theory had done in the days of Berkeley; and I ventured to affirm that if Professor Ferrier's speculations were not regarded as a reductio ad absurdum of the whole style of thinking, "the next phenomenon appearing in the philosophic firmament must be a Hume or a Fichte" (Meth. of Div. Govern., 4th Edit. App. pp. 536-539). In now holding that this fear has been realized, it is not needful to maintain that Mr. Mill is in every respect like either the great Scottish sceptic or the great German idealist, any more than to assert that these two are like each other. Mr. Mill is not so original a thinker as Hume, nor does he like him profess scepticism. does not possess the speculative genius of Fichte, and

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he defends his system in a much more sober manner. But it can be shown that his philosophy comes very nearly to the positions taken up by Hume, when Hume is properly understood; and in maintaining that mind is a series of feelings aware of itself, and that matter is a possibility of sensations, he has reached conclusions quite as visionary as those of Fichte. As Hume brought out fully the results lying in the philosophy of Berkeley -as one of the offshoots of the philosophy of Locke, and as Fichte carried to their logical consequences certain of the fundamental principles of Kant, so Mr. Mill, and we may add Mr. Herbert Spencer, are pursuing to their proper issues the doctrine floating in nearly all our later metaphysics, that we can know nothing of the nature of things.

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Mr. Bain speaks complacently of "the great doctrine "called the Relativity of Knowledge, which has risen 'by slow degrees to its present high position in philosophy." But unfortunately--I should rather say fortunately no two defenders of the doctrine have agreed as to the sense in which they hold it; in fact I can see no point in which they meet except the Comtian position, that the knowledge of the is beyond the reach of man. properly (p. 5), that the phrase admits of a great variety of meanings, and that when a philosopher lays great stress upon the doctrine, "it is

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actual nature of things Mr. Mill remarks very "relativity of knowledge

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necessary to cross-examine his writings, and compel

"them to disclose in which of its many degrees of

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There is a doctrine sometimes passing by this name, which will recommend itself to all sober thinkers: who will admit-(1.) that we can know objects only so far as we have faculties of knowledge; (2.) that we can know objects only under the aspects presented to the faculties ; and (3.) that our faculties are limited in number and in range, so that not only do we not know all objects, we do not know all about any one object. These positions have been disputed by none except some of the Alexandrian Neo-Platonists in ancient times, and a few German defenders of the Absolute Philosophy in modern times. A doctrine embracing these positions has been known and acknowledged under such designations as that of "the limited knowledge of man," and should not be expressed by so ambiguous a phrase as “the relativity of knowledge," which is applied to a very different theory. That theory has of late years assumed four different forms.

I. There is the form given to it by Sir W. Hamilton. He thus unfolds it (Metaph. i. 148): "Our knowledge is "relative, 1st, because existence is not cognisable ab

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solutely and in itself, but only in special modes; 2d, "because these modes can be known only if they stand "in a certain relation to our faculties." Mr. Mill thus comments: Whoever can find anything more in these "statements than that we do not know all about a

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thing, but only so much as we are capable of knowing, "is more ingenious or more fortunate than myself." But surely it is desirable to have even this much allowed and clearly enunciated; only I think it unfortunate

that two such inexplicable phrases as 'absolutely' and ' in itself' should have been introduced. Sir William gives a third reason, and here the error appears. "3d, "Because the modes, thus relative to our faculties, are "presented to, and known by the mind only under modi"fications determined by these faculties themselves." This doctrine is thoroughly Kantian in itself and in its logical consequences. It makes the mind look at things, but through a glass so cut and coloured that it gives a special shape and hue to every object. "Suppose that "the total object of consciousness in perception is = 12; "and suppose that the external reality contributes 6, "the material sense 3, and the mind 3,--this may enable "you to form some rude conjecture of the nature of "the object of perception"1 (Metaph. ii. p. 129). This doctrine very much neutralizes that of natural realism, which Hamilton seems, after the manner of Reid, to be so strenuously defending. To suppose that in perception or cognition proper we mix elements derived from our subjective stores, is to unsettle our whole convictions as to the reality of things; for if the mind. adds three things, why not thirty things, why not three hundred, till we are landed in absolute idealism, or in the dreary flat into which those who would float in that empty space are sure in the end to fall, that is, absolute scepticism. By assuming this middle place between Reid

1 Sir William Hamilton has used very unguarded language as to human nescience; but I have reason to believe that he thought himself misunderstood, and I am inclined to think that he had some means of satisfying himself that he held by the reality of things. There is a point here on which it is hoped some of his pupils may be able to throw light.

and Kant, this last of the great Scottish metaphysicians has been exposed to the fire of the opposing camps of idealism and realism, and it will be impossible for the school to continue to hold the position of their master.

It required no great shrewdness to foresee the logical consequences that would be drawn, and so I take no credit for resolutely opposing the doctrine from the time of its publication. It should be allowed that sensations, feelings, impressions, associate themselves with our knowledge, but every man of sound sense easily separates them; and it should not be difficult for the philosopher to distinguish between them, to distinguish between our intuition of a tooth and the pain of toothache, between the perception of a landscape and the æsthetic emotions which it calls up. Following the spontaneous convictions of assurance and certitude in the mind (see k.), which all but the sceptic allow speculatively, and which even the sceptic must actually proceed upon in defending his scepticism, we should hold(1.) that we know the very thing as appearing, and not a mere appearance without a thing to appear; and (2.) that our knowledge is correct so far as it goes, and is not modified by the subjective forms of the mind. I have been striving in these chapters to show that we immediately know a self and extended objects beyond. But we have the same grounds for affirming that our knowledge is correct as for asserting that we have knowledge. In the event of man's intuitive knowledge being mistaken or fallacious in any point, it is certain he could never discover it to be so with his present

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