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ART. VII.-ESSAYS ON THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH
AND ON THE PROGRESS OF KNOWLEDGE.- By SAMUEL BAILEY, Author of Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions, &c. Second Edition. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. London.
MR. BAILEY is an old and well-known labourer in the cause of truth; and we rejoice to find a work devoted to such high and abstract themes as the Essays on the pursuit of Truth, so far appreciated as to reach a second edition, even slowly. The subject is most thoroughly and successfully handled, and we think that no one could rise from its study without feeling his ardour in the pursuit of truth roused, and his determination strengthened to let nothing prevent his struggle for its attainment. To the liberal theologian, especially, this volume recommends itself, as he will find in it the right and the duty of free inquiry, ably set forth and illustrated.
In the Essay on the Pursuit of Truth, the author proceeds on the ground that “Truth, by which term is implied accuracy of knowledge and inference, is necessarily conducive to the happiness of the human race;" and on the other hand that, according to the maxim of Malebranche, “Error is the universal cause of the misery of mankind.”. From these premises he advances, irresistibly, to the conclusion, established in the second chapter, that it is the duty of all to enter upon the pursuit of truth as they have power and opportunity. The remaining chapters of this Essay are occupied in an investigation of the important duties in the process of inquiry, of whether men are morally responsible for the Issue of Inquiry, and of the Duties of Individuals and Governments in relation to the pursuit of Truth. The chapters form, as a whole, a beautiful specimen of complete and logical reasoning. The very perfection of Mr. Bailey's argument makes us everywhere wish that he had advocated the cause of Truth on higher grounds than that of its being merely conducive to happiness; for we believe that the investigation of it is the most solemn worship we can pay to the All True; that Truth itself is an aliment necessary to our spiritual nature, and that we are bound to its pursuit by all the laws of our Moral Being; nay, more, that it is not a matter of volition with us, for that all men instinctively, according to their abilities, do and must seek after some truth. It is rare, indeed, that we see a mind such as that of Milton, which cannot refrain from the most profound investigations; and yet the impetuous and overruling passion for Truth, which we perceive in him, is but a type of the necessity which forces every man, whether engaged in business or in pleasure, to seek some of the laws of the constitution of himself, and of the world, by which to direct his life. We do not mean, however, to deny the validity of the greatest happiness-principle, as a test of the utility of many important things, but merely to record our protest against its being considered the highest principle by which we should judge human affairs. Indeed, tried by this principle, many of the most heroic actions, which have been performed for truth, would seem foolhardy and presumptuous; for, if we pursue truth for the sake of happiness, it can never become our duty to sacrifice happiness for truth, and, hence, we must blame the self-devotion of every martyr to scientific or religious truth, and the example of Christ himself becomes of none effect.
But, granting Mr. Bailey's proposition, nothing can be more admirable than the force of argument by which he has urged the pursuit of truth. We quote as an example from p. 21. “ The pernicious consequences of erroneous and degrading conceptions of the Deity on the moral conduct of mankind, have seldom been sufficiently considered. To every man, the ideas which he forms of God must constitute a model to which he will naturally tend to conform himself, and according to which he will consider himself obliged in many cases to shape his own actions. If, therefore, he represents in his own imagination this Almighty Being as of an arbitrary, malevolent, selfish, and revengeful character (which are too often the actual notions lurking in the minds of the unenlightened, while the attributes of good and just and merciful are on their lips), he will insensibly, and without any compunction, become cruel, capricious, and tyrannical in his own sphere; or, perhaps, in many cases, it would be more correct to say he would remain so. For barbarous and ignorant man first forms his notions of the Deity from his own low standard of what an All-powerful Being would do (beyond which, in fact, it is impossible for him to go); and then having consecrated his crude ideas by fixing upon them the imaginary stamp of divinity, he fears to depart from them, and it is with difficulty that he advances to more accurate and enlightened views of moral excellence than are warranted by the model of his own creation."
Perhaps the most admirable and convincing parts of this essay occur in the refutation of the arguments usually advanced to stifle the duty of inquiry. We quote the passage in which the author refutes the notion that there are inquiries which are unlawful, that there are secrets in the universe man must not
pry into. He says, p. 48, “A more striking instance of a completely false analogy could not be adduced. There is not a single point of resemblance throughout the whole field of knowledge to these little secrets, the offspring of human weakness, or the indispensable resources of human imperfection. There is no secret in the natural or moral world, sacred from the investigation of man. Here, there can be no presumption, no undue boldness, no counterpart at all to the audaciousness of one person intruding upon the privacy of another. All that man has to guard against, and that simply for his own sake, is error; his vigilance is required only to insure that his facts are properly ascertained, and his inferences correctly deduced. The presumption he has to repress is not any presumption in relation to other beings in possession of secrets, which he is trying clandestinely to wrest from them, but merely the presumption of drawing positive and ample conclusions from doubtful and slender premises, of supposing he has discovered what he has not, that he has succeeded where he has only failed, that he has done what still remains to be accomplished; in a word, the presumption of overrating his own achievements. Here, indeed, a man may err in self-confidence, but an evil cannot obviously arise from searching too far, which is best remedied by searching further, by closer reasoning and more rigorous investigation.”
Chapter III. contains a very valuable essay on the Duties of the Inquirer in relation to the state of his own mind. In this the author analyzes our states of mind with philosophical accuracy in relation to the investigation of truth, and shows clearly that it is our duty to banish from ourselves, as far as we are able, the controlling powers of prejudice, passion, and selfinterest. But though Mr. Bailey lays down the chart accurately on the side of the Charybdis of the weaknesses of human nature, and warns us lest we should be drawn in by the whirl of the temptations of life, he does not guard us so strongly from the rock of presumption, on which so many self-opinionated persons make shipwreck. Nor, perhaps, does he sufficiently insist on the reverent feeling with which we should undertake the inquiry; for, to search into truth of whatever nature, is to inquire into the laws of Providence, or the nature of the Deity. And the pursuit is not easy, absolute truth is difficult to distinguish, and the mind of the Inquirer is dazzled by so many phantom shapes that appear to claim his homage, that, unless he proceeds with solemn reverence and self-distrust, he is not fit to set forth on the sublime quest.
The reputation which this essay acquired in its first edition makes it superfluous for us to analyze it more minutely; but, as a further specimen of the author's reasoning powers, we extract the following passage, showing the ill effects for truth of persecution for opinions.
“ Forcible suppression (of opinions) not only takes away the opportunity and means of inquiry from the community at large, but destroys or vitiates the natural motives to inquire. There can be no doubt that as rewards encourage a partial attention to evidence in favour of those doctrines for the profession of which they are bestowed, so the opposite treatment, persecution, has, to a large extent, the effect of inducing mankind to shun the persecuted doctrines and the arguments in their support. The lovers of sympathy, who shrink from disapprobation—the worldly, who are alive to profit and pleasure, but indifferent to truth--the indolent and supine, who do not greatly concern themselves about any opinions so long as their ordinary course of life is suffered to run smoothly, are all deterred by a fear of consequences from attending to doctrines which can bring nothing but discredit and danger on their votaries. They are frightened from what is really their imperative duty. With bolder dispositions it is otherwise: when persecution is let loose upon society without being pushed to absolute extermination, the effect upon the strong-minded and energetic is to rouse the spirit of resistance; and this is especially the effect on every one who suffers in his own person. His passions are stimulated against his oppressors, his mind is thrown into an attitude of defiance and contention; and, instead of simply seeking what is true, his whole soul is bent on detecting the errors of his antagonists, and providing himself with every possible argument on his own side. He grasps not at truth, but at the means, whatever they may be, of self-defence, and at the power of annoyance. Provoked to a keen scrutiny, he enters upon it without any adequate sense of the obligation under which he lies, and in a state of mind far from being favourable to stern impartiality of investigation.”—p. 183.
The essay on the Progress of Knowledge will be thought by many inferior to that on the Pursuit of Truth ; but this impression will arise more, perhaps, from the form of dialogue in which it is written than from any intrinsic inferiority. The form of dialogue is, perhaps, too discursive to admit of the same concentration of thought which we admire in the usual form of essay. The author himself appears to have had some misgivings as to its success, since, in the Preface, he calls the dialogue an experiment. But whatever be thought of the form
of the essay, every one must be pleased with the manner in which the rival view of society are exhibited.
The two first parts of the essay consist of a dialogue beween two individuals, A. and N., the first of whom maintains that the progress of society in knowledge is rapid and cheering, while the other takes a more gloomy and desponding view of the world. The third part is a conversation between the same persons and a moderator, B., who takes an intermediate position between them. We quote the brighter view of human progress, as exhibited by A., page 249:-"A great part of the slowness with which discoveries have succeeded each other may be ascribed to the tardy and limited diffusion of knowledge. N. himself has made the remark, that one discovery must spring from another; that a man of inventive genius must rise from the height to which the labours of his predecessor had carried him. Now, for a series of discoveries and improvements of this kind, I see no necessity for the intervention of long periods of time. If a man of original talent has the power of rising from the discoveries of his predecessor, he may do it, or begin to do it, from the moment they are known to him; and thus one man taking up the achievements of another, there may be a series of them even among contemporary inquirers. The only requisite condition seems to be a ready and immediate promulgation of all that is accomplished. Formerly, indeed, what one man discovered made its way slowly and laboriously to others engaged in the same pursuit. Perhaps he would pass from the scene before his labours were understood and appreciated, and in such a state of imperfect intercommunication a barren interval must undoubtedly elapse between almost every successive discovery in the same science. This lapse of time, however, was required solely to propagate the intelligence among those who were likely to make use of it. At present, when the diffusion may be effected with the instantaneousness of lightning, when the world has become an immense whispering gallery, and the faintest accent of science is heard throughout every civilized country as soon as uttered, the requisite conditions are changed. Long intervals are no longer necessary, and the career of improvement may be indefinitely accelerated. Besides, not only are discoveries more rapidly communicated to discovering minds, and the intervals of the series reduced almost to nothing, but with the general diffusion of knowledge, more of these original intellects start forth, and thus another cause is brought into operation to swell the train and hasten the triumph of science.”