Adrien Jean Quentin Beuchot.

Bibliotheca sacra and theological review online

. (page 35 of 98)
Online LibraryAdrien Jean Quentin BeuchotBibliotheca sacra and theological review → online text (page 35 of 98)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Royer CoUard, JoufTroy, and Cousin, for a time, the Scottish philoso-
phy of Reid and Stewart was all the rage. Cousin's inquiring spirit,
however, led him to the study of Kant, and he began to promulgate
in his lectures the doctrines of the Konigsberg sage. But he did not
stop here. Having introduced the Parisians to the labyrinths of the
Kantian philosophy, he became enamored of Proclus, the Alexan-
drian mystic, who revived the study of Plato and introduced among
the speculative thinkers of his day a sort of vague and mystical pan-
theism. Cousin edited Proclus, lectured on him, borrowed some of
his ideas, vamped up others, and would have made him the demigod
of the popular philosophy, had the giddy public been willing. A visit
to Germany made him acquainted with the philosophy of Fichte,
Schelling, and especially Hegel, who has been styled " the modem
Proclus of Germany."

On his return to France, Cousin made the public acquainted with
as much of the doctrine of Hegel as it could bear, adding something
of his own to make the mixture ^ slab and good." He adopted, es-
pecially, Hegel's principles of historical criticism, and reproduced, in
dear and elegant French, the comprehensive and striking views of
his master on the development of speculative philosophy, as a natural
growth of humanity, a necessary movement of " the divine spirit in
the soul of man."

But Cousin, to be original, must find a method of his own. He ad-
mired somewhat the old Greek philosophers, especially Proclus, and
yet cherished no slight respect for Locke and the Scottish philosophy.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

1851.] Frmieh EchetieUm. 395

His mind is dear, methodical and comprehensive, and his style a
model of grace, vigor and elegance. What, then, more promising
than the idea of EcUeticUm. Indeed, it was the only method left for
anjTthing new hy means of the old. Philosophy had run out into two
extremes, as it were opposite poles, of what might be, as Cousin sup*
posed, a common centre. Might they not be brought together, and
the truth at last discovered ? In a word, might not Locke and Kant,
Stewart and Proclus, Reid and Hegel, be reconciled, and a grand and
beaatifol system thence deduced ? Yes, Eclecticism is the only sys-
tem now remaining to the aspiring philosopher, who should advance
the domain of science, and make himself a name in the annals of
speculative thought.

Behold, then, the origin of Eclecticism, and its claims to the admi-
ration of the world. The experiment has been successful, and now
Eclecticism is the prevalent philosophy in France. It has been
treated with some respect in England, though demolished in its fun-
damental positions by Sir William Hamilton. It has been welcomed,
but not thoroughly grasped, by a certain class of minds in the United
Stales. Its impression, however, upon the great body of our thinkers
has been comparatively slight Recently Mr. Morell of England has
taken it under his protection. While objecting to some of its minor
positions, he seems to regard it as the true method, and obviously
adopts its fundamental doctrines. He defends it from attack, and
clearly conveys the impression, that in his view, it has solved the
great problem touching the passage of psychology to ontology, or the
relations of the finite and phenomenal to the infinite and the reaL
Mr. Morell, however, has not grappled with the difficulties of the
question, and has turned away, as if in conscious weakness, from the
strong statements and striking arguments of Sir William Hamilton.^
His history, however valuable in other respects, only reethoes the
historical criticisms of Hegel, Damiron and Cousin. It indicates
industry, learning and skill, with a commanding use of clear and ele-
gant English diction, but no originality, vigor or profundity of mind.

but what is Eclecticism ? Is it a simple collection of philosophic
fragments, in which the most incongruous and contradictory methods,
processes and notions are coordinated by a thin spider web of system ;
or is all the error first eliminated from the great mass of divergent
theories, and nothing left but the residuum of pure gold ? This were
much to claim certainly. Still, if Eclecticism means anything worth

1 The pfWBairc in which this occurs is curious enough, and worthy of attention,
"Uitttof PhUo8."p.656.

Vol. VIII. No. 30. 26

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

296 Speculative Philosophy. [ApRfL,

while, it must mean the latter. A mere collection of notions and
hypotheses, though interesting as materials for a history of philosophy,
would of itself possess no intrinsic value as science. A criterion must
be found. Truth must be tested, and separated from fabehood«
How can this be done ? Where is the criterion referred to — where
the purifying fire, the separating process, and the final touchstone to
endorse the golden treasure ? M. Cousin's ingenuity alone ? By no
means. What then ? M. Cousin's system, or what M. Cousin as-
sumes as the true philosophy ? Nothing else is conceivable. So that
in Eclecticism we have only a new system, added to the thousand
and one which have preceded it. This must be admitted ; but recol-
lect it is a system taken out of all other systems and bringing them
into fraternal unity. How ? For that is the question already put —
and here we begili to detect a fallacy, a sort of vicious Ic^cal circle^
The gold or the true system is taken from all other systems which,
according to M. Cousin, are dross and gold together. How ? By
the true system — that is to say, the gold is taken from this huge pile
of rubbish, by means of itself!

But you mistake, exclaims the Eclectic ; all error, according to M.
Cousin, is only incomplete truth, not dross and gold exactly, but gold
out of place, gold incomplete. To get the truth then, or the philoso*
phic gold in its completeness, the different parts, Kant, Reid, Hegel,
Proelus, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Spinoza, have only to be
brought together.

But is there not a palpable fallacy here also ? What! is error in
reality only incomplete truth ? You might as well say, that brass,
iron, tin, nay, absolute dross, are only incomplete silver and gold.
Error is often an absolute denial of the truth, and bears the same
relation to it that darkness does to light, or wrong to right. A few
grains of truth may be found in all erroneous systems, and in this
their plausibility may consist ; but two, or half a dozen errors, even
if they consist of incomplete truths, that is, of one sided, imperfect,
partial views, brought together, will not give us more than they con-
tain. Nor can an error, on one extreme, be corrected by bringing
it into contact with an error, on the opposite extreme. Something
must be thrown out of both ; that is, whatever is misstatement, false
logic, or false inference must be thrown out. In a word, all the dross
and baser metal must be separated .from the precious ore. Error
doubtless is often an incomplete view of the reality, a half truth, as
we call it, by courtesy, but more frequently it is something positively
false ; as for example, the assumptions that all clear and distinct ideas

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

1851.] Cousin's Eclecticism. 297

are necessarily true, that subject and object are identical, that like
can never produce unlike, that spirit cannot create matter, that the
infinite cannot produce the finite, and cause it to exist separate from
itself, that human thought is identical with being, the finite reason
commensurate with infinite existence. So also, the opposite assump-
tions are positively false, namely, that all thought is derived from
sensation, that there is no real distinction between mind and matter,
the former being only a modification of the latter, that there is no
God but the vast combination of mechanical forces, no duty but ex-
pediency, no heaven but political freedom or carnal pleasure. All
these are not simply incomplete views of truth, but plain and palpable
falsehoods. They deny the reality of things, and by no process can
be transmuted into truth. Light and darkness, right and wrong, yes
and no, God and Satan, can never be made one.

It is evident, then, that a criterion is demanded, in some interme-
diate system, some higher and better views ? Does Eclecticism fur-
nish such ? In other words, what are Cousin's peculiar notions, which
bring the most opposite systems together, and from the whole, give
ns absolute, philosophical truth ? We reply, the " pure spontaneity,"
and especially the " impersonality of reason," and the passage thence
from the finite to the infinite, from the related and conditioned, to the
absolute and eternal.

As to the impersonality of reason, the organ to M. Cousin of pure
truth, what does that amount to, if not to this, that reason, while in
man, does not belong to man at all ; and if in any sense finite, is also
infinite ? Well, then, whose reason is it, if it is not mine, nor thine,
nor man's in general ? The only reply possible is, that it is God's.
In other words, it is the absolute, universal reason, and is thus identi-
4!al and oonmiensurate not only with thought, but with existence.
Man's reflective power, his intellect and senses, including h!s affections,
according to Eclecticism, lead him into error, never at least, give him
the pure truth. But reason, being impersonal and divine, is the im-
mediate inspiration of the Almighty, nay more, is absolutely infallible.
It is enthusiasm, says Cousin, who defines inspiration by that term,
that is, God in us.^

How does M. Cousin and Mr. Morell, who also adopts and defends
all this, prove the impersonality of the reason ? They do not prove
it — they merely afifirm it. The whole thing is an assumption ; for
fiurely it is no proof of the impersonality and divinity of reason to

1 BsU i» POVS' See " Histoire de U Phiiosophie," 2 s. Tome II. p. 13&.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

298 SjaeculaUpe PkiUmphy. [Afbil,

fMjj that it is not under the control of the will or the affections, or
that it has its own sphere and its own laws.^

Now, we respectfully ask, can such a position tonching reason in
man, be entertained except on the ground of subjective pantheism?
Is reason, that which is highest in man, really not himself, but God ?
Is the soul of man finite by its personality, infinite by its reason ? In
a word, is it God in humanity, as Hegel also teaches, who thinks,
and thus comes into consciousness ahd joy, in the palpitating spirit of
the human race ? In a word, are Grod and humanity one?

Thdt the human spirit is so constituted as to form not only ideas
according to sense, but ideas according to spirit, in a word, that it is
endowed with the capacity of forming fundamental and universal
axioms, which are the basis of all conviction, we cheerfolly grant.
But to assume that reason in man Ls the absolute and universal Reason,
in other words, God ; for God and universal Reason are one, is assum-
ing one of the fundamental positions of Spinoza and Hegel, namely,
that thought is absolute and divine, or, that Being and Thought
are one.^ It makes man literally nothing, except as a manifestation
or expression of Grod. Logically carried out, it would establish the
complete identity of all things, and swallow up mind and matter, the
universe and man, in an absolute, universal spiritualism.

But Cousin's great claim to distinction, as an original thinker, is
said to be his mode of crossing the chasm between the finite and the
infinite, by means of " the impersonal Reason." This, then, wiU test
the worth and power of his philosophy : for this is the grand problem,
the pons asinorum of metaphysics. Let it be remembered, however,
that simply to assume the two points or poles of this double fact, and
the relation between them, is not to solve the problem. Any one can
do that, and leave the whole question just where it was before. The
solution sought, must show how the one has sprung from the other,
and in what sense the one is involved in the other, especially how
finite beings are dependent, and yet not dependent, as in the case of
free agents, upon the infinite Being — how they are united, and yet
separate, one and yet many. In a word, the problem to be solved is,
how can there be unity and yet duality, or plurality, God and yet
man ? Are both, or all of these, in the higher elements of their ex-
istence, identiealf the difiference between them being only apparent

1 Morell Hist, of Phil., p. 54. Compare p. 649 et seq.

' Indeed, Morell admits that, in his general positions upon this subject, Gov-
sin is only " treading in the footsteps of his German predecessors " — Hist. Phi-
los., p. 649.

Digitized by VjOOQ iC

1851.] Cknmn. 899

and inddental ? Is reaison, for example, which gives to man his pe-
Goliar distinction in the scale of being, only God as the real essence
and substratom of the human soul, and is it through this medinm we
reach the absolute, and thus identify ourselves with all that exists ?
Are Reason and Being one, and is God really infinite and finite at
once; in* other words, the All, not in a popular and moral, but abso*
lute and metaphysical sense ?

This, we maintain, is the real theory of M. Cousin. Through im-
personal reason in man, he claims to reach the absolute, the infinite
and eternal. Having risen to this elevation, how does he construct
the universe of finite beings and finite forms ? In a word, how does
he solve the great problem to which we have referred, and briefly
described as the problem of creation ? Does Grod create out of noth-
ing ? No, says M. Cousin, God creates out of himself, he creates
out of a creative energy. It is his nature to create. God is a cause,
a cause which must necessarily pass into effect^ which therefore eter-
nally passes into effect^ Very well ; but how ? Please to solve the
problem scientifically. How passes the infinite into the finite, mind into
matter, God into man and angels P In other words, how does God,
from his own spiritual and creative energy, construct the outward
tmiverse of finite beings and finite forms ? It would seem to most
persons an inscrutable mystery, and certainly no metaphysician, in
ancient or in modem times, has made the slightest approach to its
solution. M. Cousin, however, considers it the easiest thing imagin-
able. A few strokes of his facile and elegant pen are sufficient to
reveal the mighty secret ^ To create," says he, ^ is a thing not dif-
ficult to conceive, for it is a thing which we do every moment ; in
fact, we create whenever we perform a free action. I will, I form a
resolution, I form another and another, I modify it, I suspend it, I
prosecute it What is it that I do ? I produce an effect, which I
refer to myself as its cause, as its only cause ; so that, with reference
to this effect I seek no cause above and beyond myself. This is to
create. We create a free action, we create it, I say ; for we impute
it ooly to ourselves. It was not ; it begins to be, by virtue of that
principle of causality which we possess. Thus, to cause is to create %
but with what? with nothing? By no means. On the contrary^
with that which constitutes the very basis of our being. Man does
not draw forth from nonentity, the act which he has not yet done^
and which he is about to do ; he draws it forth from the power which

^ It will be seen that CouBiii here endoner one of Spinosa^s fiindaxnental er>


Digitized by VjOOQ IC

SCO Speculative Philosophy. [Apbh^

he has to do it, that is, from himself. Here is a type of a ereatioii.
The divine creation is the same in its nature.^ God, if he is a cansey
ean create ; and if 'he is an absolute cause, he cannot but create ; and
in creating the universe, he does not draw it forth from nonentity
which does not exist, which is only a word ; he draws it from him-
self; for that power of causation and of creation, of which we feeble
men possess a portion ; and all the difference between oar creation
and that of God, is the general difference between God and man, the
difference between the Supreme and Absolute Cause, and a relative,
secondary cause." *

Well may we exclaim, as we gaze upon this product of the labor-
ing mountain. What! is this all? Is creation nothing more than
action, and espedallj a necessary, absolute, eternal action ? Such is
Cousin's position, and such, too, is Spinoza's. I move my hand — I
trace lines upon paper ; — is this creation ? Does this bear even the
remotest affinity, except in the idea of cause, to the Divine production
of the universe, not from preexistent materials, but from nothingness,
that is to say, from God himself? You build a house, that is an act,
or series of acts, which have a cause, a voluntary cause. Is it then
a creation ? Does it bear any proper analogy to the creative energy
of God, springing, at his infinite volition, into worlds of light and
beauty, or constructing, by a process utterly unknown to man, the
numberless forms of concrete being ? IjCt there he Ughty aatd there wom
Ught ! God said. Let us make man in our image ; and man, the lord
of creation, walked in glory and in joy through the groves of Eden.
Can man do such a thing as that ; nay, can he form even the slightest
conjecture as to the rational^ or mode of its production. We talk
metaphorically of poetical creations and what not ; but who, in bis
sober senses, believes that any one creates in the same^ense that Gk>d
creates ? Is Milton divine ? Great indeed, and so to speak inspired,
but as incapable as a Hottentot, of creating a single ray of light, the
petal of a fiower, or the down upon an insect's wing. Creation, for-
sooth, it does come, on Cousin's notions, to a very small affair.

But, no, the chasm between the finite and the infinite cannot bd
crossed at this rate. A pretty figure of speech, or a handsome play
upon words, does not solve the problem of the creation.

1 To create " out of nothing," is not what Cousin represents it to be, when the
expression is used by intelligent persons. It doee not mean the prodnction of
an effect, without a cause ; for, in this sense, <Ktf of nothing^ nothing comet; it mens
simply to create, not out of pre-existent materials, but by an inherent creative

>' Cours de THistoire de la Fhil. (Introduction,) pp. 101, 103.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

IML] OtcM. 801

But Coiuin admits that God creates ; that is a good deal for a plii«
losopher who goes faito raptures at the name of Benedict Spinoza i
■nd yet bj the very terms it is quite CTident that he denies it God
it seems, according to Cousin, is an absolute, necessary and eternal
cause, or ereadTc force, which cannot but pass into effect. The cause
then exists for the effect, is controlled by the effect. Whence it fol-
lows, as Cousin avows, that God is ^ creating without cessation and
infinitely." God then must create -^ihla is his characteristic accord^
ing to Cousin. He has no real choice in the matter ; and the idea of
a creation in time, a creation which has a beginning, is denied. The
cause must pass into the effect whether it will or no ; indeed, it was
always cause, always effect In which case creation is not, properly
speaking, a work, but an energy or (xct, a necessary, perpetual, ever-
lasting BcU Cousin may admit, that God is first in the order of ideas,
but in reality creation is as eternal as God, and can never be separate
from God. Grod and the universe are eternally one. The whole is
like the genesis of thought ; subject and object, infinite and finite, go
together, so to speak, necessitate and involve each other. Once more,
then, thought and being are identical. God and nature are one, but
one as subject and object, cause and effect. Hence Cousin's TWnt^,
bearing a striking resemblance to Hegel's ; God absolute, and God
conditioned, or God in himself, and God in the universe, and the re-
lation between them, producing unity. Human consciousness has
"three momenta" — a reflected Trinity, unity , multiplicity and the
relation between them. So also^ in God, according to Cousin, there
is first, the absolute unity — then creation or plurality, and the rela-
tion between them. " The unity of the Triplicity, alone, is real ;
and at the same time this unity would utterly perish, if limited to
either of the three elements which are necessary to its existence ;
they have all the same logical value and constitute one indecomposa-
ble unity. What is this unity ? The divine intelligence itself. Up
to this height, gentlemen, does our intelligence upon the wings of
ideas — to speak with Plato — elevate itself. Here is that thrice
holy God, whom the family of man recognises and adores, and before
whom the octogenary author of the Syethne du Mondty bowed and
uncovered his head, whenever he was named." ^

Here, then, in clear daylight, is Cousin's idealism, and notwith-
standing all his protests, his pantheism, not indeed the vulgar pan-
theism which deifies only the outward creation, but a pantheism as

^ '< Histoin de la Fhilos." (Introdactbo), p. 96.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

802 Sjpectdaii^e Phihgophy. [Afbh.^

decided as that of Spinoza and HegeL The result, on the fairest
logical grounds is inevitable. God at last is the AUy at once finite
and infinite, cause and effect, inuaensity and space, mind and matter,
divinity and humanity, eternity and time. Hence, with a boldness
which is almost startling, he says : '^ God is at once true and real, at
once substance and cause, always substance and always cause, being
substance only just so far as he is cause, and cause only just so far as
he is substance ; that is to say, being absolute cause, one and many,
eternity and time, space and number, essence and life, indivisibility
and totality, principle, end and centre, at the summit of being, and at
its lowest degree, infinite and finite together, triple in a word, that is
to say, at the same time, God, nature and humanity. Indeed, if God
be not ever)^hing, he is nothing."^ Cousin, indeed, claims to believe
in a personal God — a being of intelligence and will ; but inconsist^
ently and illogically, provided his language is to be taken in its ordi-
nary sense. Protest against it as he may, an absolute pantheism,
which he speaks of as ^Hhe bugbear of feeble imaginations'' has
swept him within its fathomless depths.

The fact is, Cousin, with all his fine genius and attainments, is
caught in the snare of a bewildering Ontology. Adopting the funda-
mental error of the identity of being and thought, of reason and God,
and discarding the very possibility of mystery, he speculates as if he
were in the confidence of Jehovah, and had assisted at the creation
of the world. He makes no account of the limited powers and re*
sources of man, none especially of his imperfect and sinful condition.
His system, therefore, imposing and beautiful as it may be, is con*
structed upon the false foundations of the German ontology. His
psychology, in which are many interesting details, is an after-thought,
brought in to buttress the falling fabric, but only lending it imaginary
support Embodying many fine details, and splendid historical criti-
cism, it is nothing more than an artificial JScleeticism, in other words,
a piece of magnificent patchwork.

Never ought it to be forgotten that ideas are not facts ; and an
ideal philosophy, however logical and imposing, must finally be
brought to the test of reality. One theory after another may be

1 ** Fragmens Philosophiqncs,'' Preface. Quoted at p. 120 of the ** Introdnction
k THist de Philos." Coasin claims to reject pantheism, but he explains it as
the deification onlj of the outward or material world. In this respect his views
have been greatly misunderstood. For, while this pantheism may be rejected,
and proofs upon prooft of the fact cited fh>m his works, he may reserve his £uth
for another form of pantheism, more beaatiAil, but oqaally fiilse.

Digitized by VjOOQ IC

1851.] OMckidinff XmaHki. $08

projected, like meteors on the brow of night, and men may stare and
dioot, but the calm heavens roll on in their silent majesty, and mock
oar foUj from afar. The fact is, the powers of man are bounded.
He may descry, — he may believe, — he may adore, the primal Source
of being, the absolute and infinite Cause of all that exists ; but he can-
not make it a science or a philosophy. The attempt to do so has
uniformly failed, will forever fail. It plunges the mind into an inex-
tricable labyrinth of thought from which there is no escape. In this
boundless ^ antrum," or as it were, illimitable forest, philosophy, like
Polyphemus of old, has wildly wandered, with vast and gigantic

Online LibraryAdrien Jean Quentin BeuchotBibliotheca sacra and theological review → online text (page 35 of 98)