But it was an engagement in which the combatants employed intellectual weapons which we find difficult to use. But whereas we now tend to draw a sharp distinction between the empirical inquiry into the mind and its powers which we call psychology, and the non-empirical inquiry into the possibility of knowledge or into the intelligibility of knowledge-claims which we now call philosophy, no such distinction appears in the Examination.
Where we are tolerably sure that philosophical claims about the nature of space and time, or about the nature of perception, ought to be immune from empirical confirmation and disconfirmation, Mill and Hamilton were not. Sometimes there are cases which seem to defy the process. Against such a background, the proper task of a critic is a matter for debate. Even if we can decently evade any obligation to show that the Examination is a neglected masterpiece, there is a good deal left to do.
The task is partly historical and partly philosophical, and it is perhaps an instance of those cases where the history is unintelligible without the philosophy, as well as the other way about. My account will be both expository and critical, and some at least of the distinctive philosophical views of Hamilton and Mansel will be there explored. The doctrine that we have intuitive and infallible knowledge of the principles governing either our own selves or the outside world seemed to him.
By the aid of this theory, every inveterate belief and every intense feeling, of which the origin is not remembered, is enabled to dispense with the obligation of justifying itself by reason, and is erected into its own all-sufficient voucher and justification. There never was such an instrument devised for consecrating all deep seated prejudices.
The System of Logic was in quite large part directed at William Whewell, and, up to a point, Mill was right to see Whewell as the defender of conservative and Anglican institutions—he was Master of Trinity, and Mill had refused to attend Trinity as a youth for obvious anti-clerical reasons. The difference between the intuitionists and the associationists, he says,. The practical reformer has continually to demand that changes be made in things which are supported by powerful and widely spread feelings, or to question the apparent necessity and indefeasibleness of established facts; and it is often an indispensable part of his argument to shew, how those powerful feelings had their origin, and how those facts came to seem necessary and indefeasible.
One might doubt whether there was any very close practical connection between, say, a Kantian view of knowledge and conservatism on the one hand, and a Humean view and liberalism on the other. Certainly it is hard to imagine Hume welcoming the French Revolution, had he lived to see it, and it is not very difficult to construct radical political philosophies of a broadly intuitionist kind.
I have long felt that the prevailing tendency to regard all the marked distinctions of human character as innate, and in the main indelible, and to ignore the irresistible proofs that by far the greater part of those differences, whether between individuals, races, or sexes, are such as not only might but naturally would be produced by differences in circumstances, is one of the chief hindrances to the rational treatment of great social questions, and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to human improvement.
He therefore decided that it was right to produce something more combative and controversial than a treatise on the associationist philosophy of mind.
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It was necessary to attack the chief exponent of the opposite view—hence what some readers will surely think of as the grindingly negative tone of a good deal of the Examination. In a way, he could neither do his worst to Hamilton, nor could he do his best for him. Their political allegiances were practically as far apart as it was possible to get.
Mansel was politically a Tory, and was conservative in educational matters too. He was one of the most powerful defenders of the old tutorial arrangements that characterized teaching at Oxford and distinguished it from the Scottish and German universities. Hamilton, on the other hand, was a liberal in politics, thought the tutorial system beneath contempt, thought Oxford colleges entirely corrupt, and, had he been able, would have swept away the whole system in favour of something modelled on the Scottish system.
The Examination attracted much more attention than the System of Logic had done. Even then, some of the supposedly pious and the conservative were more in sympathy with Mill than with Hamilton. Maurice, who had been a harsh and persistent critic of Mansel for years. It is difficult to know when this interest in the argument between Mill and Hamilton died. In Oxford at any rate, it was T.
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Bradley who set the pace; and they were not inclined to defend Hamilton for the sake of refuting Mill, especially when their epistemological allegiances were Hegelian rather than patchily Kantian. His father died when William was only two years old, but there is no evidence that the family suffered any financial difficulties in consequence, and Mrs. After attending both Scottish and English schools and Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, Hamilton began in a distinguished academic career at Balliol College, Oxford. In spite of his exceptional erudition and an epic performance in the final examination in Classics, as a Scot he received no offer of a fellowship, and returned to study law at Edinburgh, being admitted to the bar in His legal career was distinguished solely by a successful application heard by the sheriff of Edinburgh in to be recognized as the heir to the Baronetcy of Preston and Fingalton.
If his nationality cost him the first opportunity of academic preferment, it was his Whig sympathies that scotched the second when, in , he failed to succeed Thomas Brown in the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh. The following year he obtained an underpaid and undemanding Chair in Civil History, but he made no mark in intellectual circles until , when he began to contribute to the Edinburgh Review.
It cannot be said that they were thought, even at the time, to be uniformly readable; Napier, the editor, was frequently reduced to complaining of the excessive length, the overabundant quotations, and the archaic forms of speech which Hamilton indulged in. Even then, there are longueurs attributable less to the mania for quotation that to the combative manner of the author. The essay on perception, for instance, is so grindingly critical of Thomas Brown that the reader loses patience with the argument.
In , however, academic justice was at last done. The Chair of Logic and Metaphysics in Edinburgh fell vacant, and this time the City Council elected him, by eighteen votes to fourteen. Shortly after the election, he embarked on his edition of the Works of Reid. In he suffered a stroke, which did not impair his general intellectual grasp, but left him lame in the right side and increasingly enfeebled.
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He had to have his lectures read for him much of the time, although he managed to keep up a reasonably active role in the discussion of them. He was, however, well enough to see the republication of his earlier essays and to carry on a violent controversy with Augustus De Morgan, both about their relative priority in the discovery of the principle of the quantification of the predicate, and about its merits.
He is, I believe, a man as much imbued with the love of truth as can anywhere be found.
When such men err, a calm and simple statement of the ground of their error answers every purpose which the interests either of learning or of justice can require. A matter of much more difficulty than establishing the outward conditions of his life is working out how Hamilton came to exercise such a considerable influence on the philosophical life of the country. He created enthusiastic students, of whom Thomas S.
Baynes became the most professionally and professorially successful, but otherwise it seems to have been the weight of learning of a half-traditional kind which backed up the reception of his views. His innovations in logic, for instance, were produced in articles which were largely devoted to a minute chronicle of the fate of deductive logic in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. His views on perception, or on the relativity of knowledge, are always placed in the framework of an historical analysis of the sort which the higher education of the time encouraged.
He was more or less an intellectual fossil thirty years after his death, however. And yet he had a very sound argument—only rather spoilt. He held the first appointment as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy, and therefore counts R. With his interest in Kant and his German successors, and his astringent, largely destructive approach to the subject he professed, he might almost be said to have set the boundaries of the subsequent style.
This work was reprinted several times, and aroused a great deal of controversy, in which F.
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Maurice played an especially acrimonious role. The Limits of Religious Thought was described by Mansel himself as. In other words: Does there exist in the human mind any direct faculty of religious knowledge, by which, in its speculative exercise, we are enabled to decide, independently of all external Revelation, what is the true nature of God, and the manner in which He must manifest Himself to the world.
The answer he gave was that there was no such faculty of religious knowledge, and that natural theology was quite unable to set limits to the nature and attributes of God.
What goodness is in the divinity is not a matter on which human reason is fit to pronounce. Mansel was not only a productive writer; he wrote elegantly and lucidly. In he was elected to the Readership in Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, and in to the Waynflete Professorship. His acceptance of the Chair of Ecclesiastical History in was a partial recognition of the need to conserve his energy, and a move to London as Dean of St.
Besides, by the mids he was finding the moderately reformed Oxford increasingly uncongenial to his conservative tastes. In he died suddenly in his sleep. It is obviously preposterous to think of Mansel and Hamilton as sharing any political commitment which would account for such a degree of conviction. It is more reasonable to suppose that they shared something which one can only gesture towards by calling it a matter of religious psychology. Mansel genuinely seems to have thought that an acknowledgement of the limitations of human reason was a more reverent attitude towards the unknowable God than any attempt to look further into His nature, and he seems to have been impressed by a similar outlook in Hamilton:.
He accuses Hamilton of both asserting and denying that we can have knowledge of Things in themselves, and of giving wholly feeble reasons for supposing that we cannot conceive of, particularly, the nature of space and time as they are intrinsically, but can nevertheless believe that they are genuinely and in themselves infinite.
In particular, he held, with Reid, that what we perceive are things themselves, not a representation of them, or an intermediary idea. Moreover, some of the properties which we perceive things to possess really are properties of the objects themselves, and not contributions of the percipient mind. The secondary qualities he was willing to recognize as not existing in the object itself, but primary qualities were wholly objective, not observer dependent. The knowledge we have of things, however, still remains in some sense relative or conditioned.
The question is, in what sense? He wanted, that is, to deny the possibility of a positive pre- or post-critical metaphysics, in which it was supposed to be demonstrated that Space and Time were in themselves infinite—or not. For Hamilton did not think that the contribution of the percipient mind to what is perceived is anything like as extensive as Kant claimed.
A knowledge of the Unconditioned is declared impossible; either immediately, as an intuition, or mediately, as an inference. The Conditioned is the mean between two extremes,—two inconditionates, exclusive of each other, neither of which can be conceived as possible, but of which, on the principles of contradiction and excluded middle, one must be admitted as necessary.
On this opinion, therefore, our faculties are shown to be weak, but not deceitful. The mind is not represented as conceiving two propositions subversive of each other, as equally possible; but only, as unable to understand as possible, either of two extremes; one of which, however, on the ground of their mutual repugnance, it is compelled to recognise as true.
The question of the sense in which all our knowledge is thus of the relative or the conditioned is not quite here answered, however. For there remains a considerable ambiguity about the nature of this relativism, or relatedness. The simplest reading turns the doctrine of relativity into a truism.
It amounts to saying that what we can know depends in part upon our perceptive capacities, and that beings with different perceptual arrangements from our own would perceive the world differently. In that sense, it is no doubt true that what we perceive of the world is only an aspect of the whole of what is there to be perceived. More philosophically interesting is an exploration of why we seem able to agree that we might in principle perceive the world quite otherwise than we do, but find it impossible to say much about how we might do so.
Mill, however, pursues that topic no further than to its familiar sources in the questions asked by Locke—whether a man born blind could conceive of space, for instance ff. In any real sense, says Mill, Hamilton was not a relativist:. Sir W. Hamilton did not hold any opinion in virtue of which it could rationally be asserted that all human knowledge is relative; but did hold, as one of the main elements of his philosophical creed, the opposite doctrine, of the cognoscibility of external Things, in certain of their aspects, as they are in themselves, absolutely.
When Hamilton attempts to reconcile this objectivist account with the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge, flat contradiction is only averted by retreat into banality:. And these two assertions are only reconcileable, if relativity to us is understood in the altogether trivial sense, that we know them only so far as our faculties permit. Mill was not the severest critic of Hamilton on this score. The contradiction between the objectivist account and the relativist account of our knowledge of the outside world is so blatant that Hamilton cannot have failed to notice it.
Where Mill suspects Hamilton of mere confusion, Stirling accuses him of disingenuousness. Mill demurely declines to press any such charge cv. He did not even suggest that Reid and Kant made awkward allies in principle. Here Kant and Reid belonged to different camps and no one could tell where Hamilton stood.