Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

This was not indeed the view which successful democracy took of its new responsibilities. It did not profess to aim at strengthening a government inherently weak by conciliating all possible hostile classes and disaffected subjects with participation in the government, nor to prevent political power from falling into the hands of a class whose just right to govern could be denied only on the ground of its inability to govern justly. This would have been to confess weakness and distrust, which, though real and efficient motives, were not so worthy or inspiring as those of the new political ethics. The right of mankind to self-government, though practically signifying only the right of white male adults to hold office and take part in elections, was a broad, positive moral ground of action; and, so far as applied, tended to the same results as the inferior motives. As a moral principle it was doubtless essential to the success of the great experiment, and was a far truer doctrine than the equally sentimental conservatism which it defeated. But the inferior motives were satisfied with the limits to the extension of the suffrage which have actually obtained, and which are in direct conflict with the higher principle. Honest and uncompromising believers in this principle are justly scandalized at the inconsistent disfranchisement of women in all our States, and of negroes in most of them. It has been a sufficient consideration, however, in practical American politics, that women, though a natural class, could never become a political one with distinct interests to be defended, or with a possible ability to defend them for themselves. Nay, it has hitherto been a sufficient consideration with the greater number of the United States, that the negro, though standing in urgent need of protection from the cupidity and prejudice of the white citizen, was unable to help himself or injure the state.

But while our people have thus disregarded the integrity of the maxims of their political creed, have they therefore acted wholly from selfish motives, and without reference to moral ends? Or is it not true, rather, that their faith in this creed has never been so entire and uncompromising as some political orators would have us believe? The peaceful and normal pursuit of politics tends, as we have said, to give to principles of

[ocr errors]

1

action more and more the character of rules of expediency; but
it does not necessarily convert them into maxims of a narrow,
short-sighted, or selfish expediency. Utilitarianism las its un-
selfish principles as well as sentimental ethics. The distinction
. is, that these principles are not rules or commandments or
maxims of conduct. They are rather the objects which rules
subserve and by which a maxim must be justified. The great-
est good to the greatest number, or the greatest sum of human
happiness, or by whatever phrase we seek to generalize these
ends, are not rules of conduct, but tests of rules: they are
not sources of moral maxims, but criterions of them. But
utilitarianism does not forego the sanctions of moral sentiment.
It removes the sanction from the rule or commandment to the
reasons for them; and these reasons are not the more general
principles from which practical maxims may be deduced, but
are the ends, in various forms of human excellence, for the ac-
complishment of which the rule must be contrived, and with
reference to which it may be altered or disregarded. In con-
sidering how far rules may thus be dealt with consistently with
a sound morality, a source of great confusion in the discussions
of moral philosophy should be noticed. This is in the fact
that one of the greatest of human excellences is in the having
rules of conduct, and in pursuing them steadfastly; this being
the essential condition of the realization of any higher good.
The twofold error has been committed by those who distrust
the utilitarian spirit, of attributing to it an omission or denial
of this excellence, and of assuming, in opposition to it, that mo-
rality consists essentially in what is only a condition of its real-
ization, namely, in conscientiousness or fidelity to principles.
Fidelity to bad principles makes one a “man of principle," no
less than fidelity to good ones. This fidelity is not a source of
enlightenment, but at best is only a condition of receiving en-
lightenment, and fidelity is the better condition in proportion
as the ends which rules subserve are made its objects, rather
than the rules themselves.

American politics have not ceased to aim at the benefit of mankind and the greatest good of the greatest number, however lamely these ends may have been pursued, and in spite of our want of faith in the political creed of the last century. This creed is indeed a thing of the past, beyond recall, but with it political morality has not perished. This survives under a new and more enlightened form. The right to have a good government, and to secure to the machinery of government all the conditions necessary to this end, takes the place of the asserted fundamental right of self-government, except so far as this is seen to be one of these conditions. The valuo of self-government, when possible, is more truly appreciated now than ever before, since it is prized for what it is worth; namely, for that degree of good sense, public spirit, and selfrestraint in any people which makes self-government possible, and thus makes it a means of educating the people to higher degrees of these good qualities.

It is upon such considerations as these that the question of the suffrage ought to be discussed, for it is upon such grounds that it must be decided.

ART. X.-CRITICAL NOTICES.

[ocr errors]

1. — An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, and of

the principal Philosophical Questions discussed in his Writings. By John Stuart Mill. Boston: William V. Spencer. 1865. 2 vols. 12mo.

pp.

330 and 354.

The value of this most searching examination of Sir William Hamilton's writings, and its enduring interest as a contribution to philosophy, separating it widely from the short-lived publications of the season, are sufficient apologies for calling our readers' attention to it at this late day. In one respect, indeed, the work is a very timely publication, and in this it exhibits a literary skill of no ordinary merit. The position and present reputation both of the author and his subject are such, that the mere announcement of the work was sufficient to inspire with the liveliest curiosity every student of philosophy.

The writings of Sir William Hamilton have been so long published, that they have had a fair chance to gain a hearing, and to gain such prepossession of thinking minds, that their critic was sure of an intelligent and deeply interested attention, if not of an unprejudiced one; and his criticisms are the more effective, since they are not obliged to inform the reader for the first time of the issues in question. They fall upon very widely known and popular opinions, which the influence of Sir William Hamilton has organized into a school of considerable extent, both in Great Britain and America. The recent prominent position of Mr. Mill in the political world has doubtless drawn the attention of many to this work who were not acquainted with his previous philosophical writings and his position among British philosophers.

Rarely in the history of philosophy has so excellent an opportunity been so judiciously used. What will interest the reader most is, in fact, only incidental to the main object of the work, which is to define and justify the opinions of the school of philosophy usually accounted unorthodox, of which Mr. Mill is the principal adherent among living English thinkers. He has taken this occasion to develop his views on several fundamental questions in philosophy, which have only appeared incidentally in his previous works. “My subject," he says, “is not Sir William Hamilton, but the questions which Sir William Hamilton discussed.” The reader will, however, retain most vividly the impression that the work is a masterly polemic against the opinions and the influence of the man whose acknowledged abilities as a teacher of philosophy have produced an erroneous impression of his powers as a thinker. In this his critic has wisely pursued a policy which is a secret of success in all controversies, as well in philosophy as in practical politics, -the policy of taking the offensive. On the critic's success in discrediting an acknowledged authority in philosophy rest, in great measure, the chances of his own opinions to gain a hearing; and they have the additional chance in such a mode of presentation, by challenging comparison, to gain a fair hearing.

Such a course was the more desirable, because the philosophy of Sir William Hamilton, while it retains most of the positions essential to orthodoxy, appears to adopt from the opponents of his school their strong points, and to reconcile them with the authorized religious or orthodox philosophy. The principal doctrine which Sir William Hamilton thus seems to adopt from his opponents is the doctrine of the relativity of human knowledge. This doctrine teaches that knowledge, even in its highest exercise, is only a cognizance of states of the mind, and that our faculties can recognize these only as effects on us, produced, we know not how, by powers we know not what, that

any

other natures than such mental states cannot be cognized at all, or recognized as other than the unknowable, which we may suppose to exist, but cannot suppose to be in any manner comprehensible. Idealism and sensationalism both postulate this doctrine; and Sir William Hamilton, apparently adopting it also, attempts nevertheless to refute these philosophies. This at least appears to be the main issue of Mr. Mill's criticism.

a

It is certain that Hamilton adopts this doctrine to the extent of affirming that the known implies a something unknown, which is necessarily supposed as the ground of its reality, or as the unknown cause of the objects of knowledge ; and he calls the knowable phenomenon an effect. The real difference between him and his critic appears to us to be, that, while both recognize the coexistence of a something known and a something unknown in every act of real knowledge, Mr. Mill, with the idealists, identifies this antithesis with the distinction of the ego and non-ego, the known effect being with liim an effect on us by an unknown cause in the non-ego ; while Hamilton does not regard the two distinctions as coextensive. That things in themselves as absolutely and necessarily existing or as uncaused cannot be known to us, is wbat we understand to be Hamilton's doctrine of the relativity of knowledge ; but this does not signify, with him, that the objects of knowledge are effects on us. On the contrary, he regards the evidence of our immediate cognizance of a non-ego to be quite independent of this doctrine, and by no means inconsistent with it. With Hamilton, the relativity of knowledge does not decide the fact of an immediate knowledge of a non-ego in a phenomenal external world, but only determines the character of this knowledge, as a phenomenal one, relatively, not to the ego, but to the real existence of the external world itself.

The difference between Hamilton and Mr. Mill may be reduced, we conceive, to a difference in the meanings they attach to the word “phenomenon.” With Hamilton it has an extended meaning ; so that the phenomenal scarcely signifies more than that existence which necessarily implies some other, of which it is the manifestation, -- some hidden existence necessarily inferred, though in itself unknown. But with Mr. Mill the word seems to signify more specifically a mental state, implying some cause which is not a mental state. The doctrine that all knowledge is only of phenomena will of course admit of two different interpretations, according to these two meanings of the word. With Mr. Mill's or the idealist's meaning of the word, it follows that an immediate knowledge of a non-ego is impossible. But if Hamilton's more extended use of the word be admissible, then an existence non-ego may be immediately cognizable consistently with the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, provided this non-ego be phenomenal, that is, necessarily dependent on some other incognizable existence among the real causes of things. Whether Mr. Mill has failed to discover the precise significance of Hamilton's use of this word, or, regarding it as inadmissible, has chosen to hold him to the authentic meaning, does not appear. If the latter was the case, we conceive that the criticism might have been made more to the point. Mr. Mill takes issue, however, on what he conceives

« ZurückWeiter »