« AnteriorContinuar »
being is self-existent) remains true. To be self-existent, he informs us“ is not to be produced by itself,” which is a contradiction, but it is “to exist by an absolute necessity originally in the nature of the thing itself.” “A necessity absolutely such is nothing else but its being a plain impossibility, or implying a contradiction to suppose the contrary.” This necessity of existence he says is not a property consequent upon the supposition of a thing's existing, but is “antecedently the cause or ground of that existence - is itself original, absolute, and (in order of nature) antecedent to all existence."
The second mode of proof, which is not at all dependent on the preceding propositions, is as follows: “When we are endeavoring to suppose that there is no Being in the universe that exists necessarily, we always find in our minds, some ideas, as of infinity and eternity, which to remove, that is, to suppose there is no Being, no substance in the universe to which these attributes or modes of existence are necessarily inherent, is a contradiction in the very terms. For modes and attributes exist only in the existence of the substance to which they belong. Now he that can suppose eternity and immensity (and consequently the substance by whose existence these modes or attributes exist) removed out of the universe, may if he please, as easily remove the relation of equality between twice two and four.”
In other words space and duration necessarily exist because to suppose them not to exist implies an impossibility, a contradiction in terms,* space and duration are attributes of a substance or being, and hence that Being necessarily exists : that Being is God. Such is the celebrated argument a priori.
To this argument we might object that his reasoning in support of the necessary existence of space is not satisfactory. He assumes that a thing necessarily exists when we cannot without a contradiction conceive its non-existence, because a truth is a necessary truth when its opposite involves a contradiction. We think that the former is not a sequitur from the latter. Still as there are those who believe in the necessary existence of space on another ground, viz. as being a truth of the reason, (using
* “ To suppose any part of space removed, is to suppose it removed from or out of itself, and to suppose the whole to be taken away, is supposing it to be taken away from itself, that is, to be taken away while it still remains, which is a contradiction in terms."
that term in the sense attached to it by Coleridge) we shall wave this objection, and proceed to notice a more evident defect in the argument above stated.
This defect is the unwarranted assumption that space is an attribute of a being. As the force of the conclusion depends on this, it ought to have been proved, unless indeed it belongs to the category of self-evident truths. We affirm that it is not a self-evident truth, and we think every reader will justify us in that affirmation. Wherefore, until he prove that space be an attribute of a being, all his discoursing about space and necessity, etc. are of no service in leading him to the conclusion, that there is a God.
But there are positive objections to the doctrine that space is an attribute of a being. If, as Dr. Clarke assumes, infinite space is a quality or attribute of an infinite Being, then finite space, by parity of reasoning, must be a quality of a finite being. Here is an exhausted receiver, —- of what being is the pure space it contains an attribute? The absurdity of the assumption on which the argument depends is, we think, sufficiently apparent.
But is the argument, after all, an a priori one ? Will it not be found to be strictly a posteriori ? When we argue a priori, we, from known powers or causes, infer effects that we may not have witnessed. This knowledge of powers or causes must be first acquired by experience; we cannot conceive of an a priori argument which is not built on previous processes of experience. Hence we think an argument a priori for the being of God impossible, for in order to infer his existence a priori, we must be acquainted with some power or cause, that must produce his existence. Suppose there be such a power, we could arrive at the knowledge of it only by observation and experience.
Now we think we acquire our ideas of space from experience, (there are those who differ from us in this point), if, then, the inference drawn from the existence of space be sound, it is an experience resting on a previous process of experience, and hence a posteriori.
Again, granting that our knowledge of space is not the result of experience, but is a necessary truth of the reason, still, the inference of a God is not strictly a priori, unless space be the cause of God's existence : but it is by assumption an attribute, and an attribute cannot be the cause or ground of the existence of its substratum.
In reasoning a posteriori we proceed as follows. We observe facts in the material and mental world, — they give evidence of design and skill, we infer that they are the result of wisdom, and wisdom we know from experience is an attribute of a being, and hence we infer the existence of God. In the argument under consideration we arrive (whether by experience or otherwise matters not) at the knowledge of space, which is (by assumption) an attribute, and from the attribute of space in this case, as from the attribute of wisdom in the former case, we infer the existence of a being. In the last step, at least, the arguments are precisely similar.
This argument of Clarke, notwithstanding its defects, was received almost without question by his theological contemporaries, and was much used by succeeding writers on natural and revealed religion. Butler, then a youth, questioned some of his statements, and entered into correspondence with Clarke upon the subject: the result seems to have been his entire adoption of the argument, for he states it in his Analogy without giving any intimation that he regarded it as unsound. The first writer of note, (so far as we know), that fully rejected the argument was Dr. Thomas Brown, but he did not condescend to give any reasons for his opinion. Dr. Reid and Dugald Stewart after him declare themselves unable to decide as to its merits. *
One inference from preceding reasonings we will briefly notice; it is intended to meet the objections of Spinoza. It is that the world is not eternal for it does not necessarily exist, because we can conceive of its non-existence without a contradiction. This is a very easy way of proving necessary existence. If we can conceive a thing not to exist, then it does not necessarily exist, and hence has not eternally existed. Dr. Clarke regards a proposition (such for instance as twice two is equal to four) as necessarily true, when we cannot conceive of the opposite without a contradiction or absurdity, and from hence concludes that a thing necessarily exists when we cannot conceive of its nonexistence without a contradiction, and that it does not necessa
* “These are speculations of men of superior genius; but whether they are as solid as they are sublime, or whether they be the wanderings of imagination in a region beyond the limits of human understanding, I am unable to determine."- Dr. Reid.
“ After this candid acknowledgment of Dr. Reid, I need not be ashamed to confess my own doubts and difficulties on the same subject.”—Dugald Stewart. VoI. IX. No. 26.
rily exist when we can conceive of its non-existence. We have already intimated that we do not think the latter is a consequence of the former. We admit that the existence of a thing, say
the world, of whose non-existence we can conceive without a contradiction, we admit that the existence of such a thing is not mathematically necessary, - it is not necessarily existent in the same sense that the whole is greater than its part is necessarily true, but we contend it may, for aught we know, have a physical necessity, a necessity of its own nature, and may have existed from eternity.
The substance of the fourth proposition is that we can have no idea of the essence of the self-existent being, nor can possibly comprehend it. This, however, does not diminish the certainty of the demonstration of the existence of this being.
The fifth asserts “that many of the essential attributes of the self-existent being are strictly demonstrable, as well as his existence.” When he says demonstrable, he means demonstrable a priori. Accordingly he proceeds under this proposition to show a priori that “the self-existent being must of necessity be eternal.” The proof adduced is as follows: "To be selfexistent is, as has been shown, [by his affirmation) to exist by an absolute necessity in the nature of the thing itself. [Which phrase adds nothing to our idea of self-existence.] Now this necessity (which is in our judgment a word not a thing] being absolute, and not depending upon any thing external must always be unalterably the same ; nothing being alterable but what is capable of being affected by somewhat without itself; that being, therefore, which has no other cause of its existence but the absolute necessity of its own nature ; [i. e. which is uncaused, for to our mind the “absolute necessity” is only expressive of the lack of a cause) must of necessity have existed from everlasting, without beginning; and must of necessity exist to everlasting, without end."
Our sense of the defect of the argument is in a good measure expressed in the words we have inserted above. The argument cleared from words which represent no determinate ideas seems to us to amount to this,--that which is self-existent must be eternal. Now, does the idea of self-existence involve eternity past and to come? What is our idea of self-existence ? It is existence for which we can assign no cause uncaused existence. Uncaused existence must have existed from eternity, or must have come into being without cause. Now if we assume as an axiom that nothing can come into existence uncaus
ed, it follows that that which is uncaused, i. e. self-existent, must be eternal. Granting then a self-existent being, or allowing it to have been proved in the preceding propositions ; his eternity past follows without the aid of Dr. Clarke's “necessity absolute” which he deems essential to his demonstration. In his use of “necessity absolutely such” he “mistakes words for things.
He was led to this favorite idea, or rather phrase, by pushing his inquiries for a cause too far: when he has arrived at a Being the cause of all things, and self-existent, he deems it necessary to seek for a cause of that self-existence, and thinks he finds it in “ an absolute necessity originally in the nature of the thing itself.”
Proposition sixth : “ The self-existent being must of necessity be infinite and omnipresent." Two modes of proof are used : the first is as follows. To be self-existent is to exist by an absolute necessity — this necessity not depending on any outward cause “ must be every where as well as always unalterably the same"- just as mathematical truths must be everywhere and always unalterably the same. Hence the self-existent being of whose existence this “ necessity” is the ground or reason, (not to say cause) must be every where, because an effect must be wherever its cause is.
Two things are wanting to render the argument sound. The one is, that this figment of “ necessity” be the cause of the selfexistent being, (for though he uses the word ground or reason, yet it is in the sense of cause). The other is, that, if this necessity be a thing, and be the cause of the self-existent being, that it be every where.
The second mode of proof is indirect : “To suppose,” he says “a finite being to be self-existent, is to say that it is a contradiction for that being not to exist, the absence of which may yet be conceived without a contradiction.” Hence as God is self-existent he must be infinite. This, as the reader will readily perceive, is founded on a principle that we have already called in question.
He infers from the above proposition " that the self-existent Being must be a most simple, unchangeable, incorruptible Being, without parts or any such properties as we find in matter”
for all these imply finiteness and are utterly inconsistent with complete infinity.”
The truth of this inference depends on the truth of the foregoing proposition, and the meaning that is attached to the term infinity.