Thursday, 4 July 2013

MARTINEAU'S ESSAYS

  Literary Notices.
"ESSAYS, PHILOSOPHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL," by James Martineau, republished by Trubner, have fallen in our way, and we have found them not only worthy of being read but also worthy of being very carefully studied. They form a volume which must be perused number of times before its full value can be appreciated. Most of these essays were originally published in the National Review, now defunct, and several of them attracted the attention of thoughtful men at the time when they were first published. We think Mr Martineau has done a service to metaphysico-philosophical literature by allowing them to be collected into a volume. They were reprinted in America without his sanction, and were simply "guessed" to be Mr. Martineau's, the guesses being lucky in all cases but one, which was a decided failure, the essay entitled "Revelation ; What it is not, and what it is," having been written by Mr. R. H. Hutton. In the preface to the present reprint, Mr. Mar tineau states the fact, and acknowledges the authorship of the essay. The fact that the American editor, without communication with Mr. Martineau, selected the right essays in all cases but one, shows that he is a tolerably good judge of both logical and literary style and that in regard to both of these Mr. Martineau's character as a writer stands out in strong relief. The whole of the essays in this volume gravitate, as he himself tells us, towards the ever-recurring problem "Do our faculties give us access to more than phenomena." The importance of this question will be readily understood by those who are familiar with the controversies in which, during the last half century, Sir William Hamilton, Comte, Coleridge Mansell, Bain, and other eminent thinkers have taken part. Mr. Martineau gives an affirmative answer to the question, claiming " validity for the fundamental ideas of Space, Time, Cause, Substance, Beauty, Obligation Personality, &c., which lurk beneath the language of Morals, Science, and Religion." The aim of the author is to state and defend those simple bases of belief which he regards as imperishable. A just appreciation of the mode in which he carries out this purpose can be formed only by such competent readers as may thoughtfully peruse his work. And writings like his can be perused with much advantage by thoughtful readers only.

The subjects treated of sufficiently show the vastness of the field which Mr. Martineau undertook to explore. We here find essays on "Comte's Life and Philosophy," "John Stuart Mill," "Nature and God," "Science, Nescience and Faith," "Mansell's Limits of Religious Thought," "Cerebral Psychology," and other cognate topics. Anyone who can write well on such themes must not only be a bold writer, but also an able thinker, for such themes involve the root or fundamental problems of mental philosophy, religion, and moral science. A few extracts will make this apparent. The following passage from the article entitled "Science, Nescience, and Faith," indicates the changes which have taken place in the opinions of competent thinkers with respect to doctrines once held sacred but now known to be fallacious :—

What is the highest legitimate object of reason in man? Is he precluded from passing beyond the finite order of "co-existences and successions" which science scrutinises and defines? Or is he capable of apprehending the Infinite Cause behind, of which religion speaks? Mr. Maurice not only believes that divine reality is possible, and is given, but looks upon the whole course of human history and thought as its witness and illustration. Mr. Spencer not only rejects as failures all attempts hitherto to cross the confines of phenomena, but undertakes to prove that the human mind has no organ for cognizance of the supreme cause ; so that religion resolves itself into the acknowledgment of an inscrutable background, in front of which all the luminous shapes of knowledge have their play. While the one writer sees in the working of devout wonder and the sense of an eternal living thought the mainspring of all intellectual search, the other deplores the darkening influence of sacred ideas upon the human understanding, and opposes science to religion as the known to the unknown—the perceptions of daylight to the dreams of night.

We have no doubt that Mr. Spencer represents in this doctrine, the prevailing sentiment of living scientific men, and the tendency which for some time to come will gain force against all resistance. It is a necessary price which we must pay in reestablishing the distinction and just relation between the sphere of phenomena, and that out of which phenomena come; between also the faculties in us which apprehend the one, and those which are organs for the other. We have not yet escaped a period co-extensive with the history of Christianity, during which, from blindness to this distinction, religion has identified itself with interpretations of nature now known to be false ; and it must suffer the re-action against a discredited prophet unable to make good his word. Compare the picture of the universe in the imagination of a Herschel, a Lyell, a Darwin, with the same scene as disposed in the thought of Isaiah, of Paul, of Chrysostom ; look at the celestial architecture of the Apocalypse and then at what the telescope reveals, think what is implied in the mere conception of a solar system, and the changed classification from "heaven and earth" to "suns and planets," remember that with the disappearance of the supernal halls from the sky, and of the abyss with its internal chains from subterranean strata, a host of inhabitants are dislodged, and fallen angels and imprisoned spirits and tormenting fiends lose themselves in the cold void. And can you wonder that, on the one hand, Augustine would hear nothing of Antipodes, or Rome of the Copernican idea, or the Dean of York of the geological, or on the other that, those who had dissolved the fictitious palace of the Most High should suppose they had discovered a mere darkness or a blank within? The modern redistribution of the Cosmical bodies in space undeniably involves a total break up of conceptions previously guaranteed by sacred authority. So, too, with regard to the origin of the universe in time. What has become of the date which many of us learned at school. B.C. 4004, Creation of the World ? Limit the term 'world' as you will, suppose it to say nothing but of this planet, still with what amazement must we now look back on the practice of entering its birth in the annual register, like the battles, and budgets and debates that make up a Times New Year's Day retrospect ! Into what magnitude has that chief event of a year opened before us! Walking through a geological museum, and estimating its intervals by what unit of time we please, we not only discover the "Creation of the World," like a Chancery suit,—to be "rather a process than an event," but are constrained to give it an asymptote for its measure, arriving at our own position from out of an indeterminate immensity. Instead of being the flash of a moment, or a week, from which the great periods of national vicissitude on the world may be sharply reckoned, it breaks into indefinite duration, and they shrink into a point. Yet they, too have rebelled against the limits we had allowed them ; and human history, while dwarfed by physical, asks with every new discovery, for larger room and more numerous centuries in our imagination. After every allowance for uncertainty in the earliest vestiges of humanity, the concurrent evidence of Egyptian Archæology, of the laws and affinities of language of comparative religion, and of the stone implements, it not more positive remains of man, found in not the most recent deposits, must be held to imply an indefinitely more remote beginning, and more gradual development of our race upon the earth than we had been taught to believe.
The alteration thus introduced into our modes of concoction is the same throughout ; larger space, longer time, slower movement, and finer gradation, than we had dreamed of have every where to be admitted. Among objects, nothing isolated; in events, nothing sudden ; a web of infinitely extended relations, in which this is part of the same mesh with that ; a history of infinitely divisible, changes, in which to- day is born of yesterday, and the shifting shadows glide and never leap, These are the new aspects under which modern knowledge presents the system of the world. And though it still leaves vast lacunæ where, if you insist on it, you may find room for things unique and lovely, and starts of existence per saltum. Yet, us these gaps are being steadily filled, and look just like older chasms when similar fancies lie in ruin and now visibly grassed over, there arises an increasing presumption against exceptional crises of surprise. Hence on the whole, we are passing over to the idea of evolution, rather than creation, of a creeping upwards, little by little, in place of a leap out of nothing, of the lower type of phenomenon preceding the higher, and the better coming out of the worse. Nor can any well informed man seriously doubt that in this idea the order of genesis is more truly represented than in that which it replaces.
The following involves a very profound speculation, and one which, if the central idea of it could be clearly substantiated, would effectually and for ever throw a protecting shield round the belief of the theist. Mr. Martineau says :—

Mr. Grove has shewn that all the forces comprised under the term physical are so correlated as to be no sooner expended in one form than they re-appear in another, in fact, to be convertible inter se, and therefore to be not many, but one,— a dynamic self-identity masked by transmigration. Not content with a dead pause at Mr. Grove's resting place, Dr. Carpenter, in his communication to the Royal Society, has carried the argument to a higher point, and shown that the law extends to the vital forces, and in his human physiology he conducts it to its climax in the mental forces. The energy of volition communicates itself to the motory nerves ; these again hand over the stimulus to the muscular fibre, by whose contraction, finally, some mechanical movement is produced; each step of the process being marked by a waste or consumption of the transmitted medium, but an undiminished propagation of the transmitted force. . . . The conclusion is that the plurality of forces is an illusion ; that in reality, and behind the variegated veil of heterogeneous phenomena there is but one force, the solitary fountain of the whole infinitude of change.
Mr. Martineau then raises the question as to which member of the series of known forces is to be regarded as the type of the rest, and after quoting what Dr. Carpenter says in his " Human Physiology " respecting will force being the type, he concludes that,

If force is known to us from within, if it is the name we give to self-conscious exercise of power, then that is just the whole of it known to us at all—not one particular case, leading other such agencies to be learned in some different way, but the absolute dynamical conception itself, coextensive with every actual and possible instance. Take away the consciousness of force in ourselves, and with the keenest vision we should see it nowhere in Nature. Endow us with it; and we have still no more ability than before to perceive it. As an object in the external world, observation giving us access only to phenomena as distributed in space and time. Nor from knowing it within do we acquire any logical right to infer it without, except in virtue of an axiom of reason in separably, present in it,—that all phenomena are the expression of power, the counterpart of that power which issues our own. This it is which constrains us to think causation behind Nature, and under causation to think of volition. Other force we have no sort of ground for believing, or, except by artifices of abstraction, even power of conceiving. The dynamic idea is either this or nothing ; and the logical alternative assuredly that nature is either a mere time-march or phenomena, or an expression of mind.
  The physical and the metaphysical scrutiny of this in dispensable scientific conception converge, then, upon one conclusion,—that all force is of one type, and that type is mind.

  This resolution of all external causation into divine will at once deprives the several theories of cosmical creation or development of all religious significance. Not one of them has any resources to work with that are other than divine. You may try what you can do with this kind of force or with that, but you cannot escape beyond the closed circle where each is convertible with volition.

Our author has here shut himself up in a charmed circle, and evidently fancies himself safe from assault. "We suspect that there is a fallacy in his reasoning, although we confess it would be difficult to fully expose that fallacy without occupying more space than is alloted to these notices. A few remarks, however, will show the line of thought we should adopt were we disposed to storm our author in his entrenchment. The doctrine taught by him is that deity is immanent in nature, and that natural laws are merely the modes of his operation. Supposing that Herbert Spencer's hypothesis of evolution truly represents the succession of phenomena, then the process is simply the action of Divine power. But if all things originate from this cause, what are we to think of the abnormal departures from the true line of succession, and the true type of being? Abnormal productions abound. Here are Siamese twins united together abnormally, there calves with five legs instead of four, and chickens with two heads instead of one. What are we to think of what naturalists call reversions, or a throwing back to a former condition of an animal form? Thus, a horse was recently produced in India, which had a foot exactly of the same type as the feet of the horses which spurned the turf of Britain in ancient days, when the real British lion made them his prey. And what are we to think of the moral character of Deity, if this doctrine of immanency be true, seeing that as diseases result from the operation of natural causes, they must result from the action of Divine power? Shall we then endow the physician and the surgeon with power to counteract and alter the expressions of the Divine will ? Crimes of all kinds are committed daily, and no crime can be committed without calling into activity most if not all of the recognised forces of Nature. Chemical affinity is connected with thinking, electricity with volition, and gravity with the muscular force employed in striking a blow. Are we to suppose that the Deity operates actively in giving effect to the aims of murderers and adulterers, and then punishes them for the crimes which he has assisted them to commit. The moral results which would thus flow from the doctrine of "immanency" show that there must either be a fallacy in the reasoning by which Mr. Martineau seeks to establish the doctrine, or else there can be no more substantial foundation for either morals or religion than the mere myths of bygone ages. We strongly advise our thoughtful readers to peruse Mr. Martineau's book.

 Australian Town and Country Journal 25 October 1873,

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