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duced so few men of genius and original power since the time of Newton.'-^
MS. note of Coleridge, printed in Gillman's Life of Coleridge, p. 34,
1 Life of Bishop Berkeley, prefixed to his w^orks, p. 5.



JAMES MILL. 10



9.



ESSAY III.

JAMES MILL.

In the essay on Ilobbcs I liave liacl occasion to mention
that James Mill carried on some of the most important
discoveries of Ilobbes in mental philosophy. But to
James Mill is due more than an incidental notice, for he
as well as Hobbes ' is a great name in philosophy.'

It is a remarkable proof of the truth of a remark in the
article ' James Mill ' in the Encyclopedia Britannica res-
pecting the general neglect of metaphysical studies in the
present age, that so accomplished a man as Lord Macaulay,
when intending to be complimentary to James Mill, made
favourable mention of his ' History of British India,' but
did not seem to be aware of the existence of his 'Analysis
of the Phenomena of the Human Mind ; ' though the
powers of mind displayed in the latter work are of a much
higher order than those displayed in the former. The
remark referred to occurs in a paragraph, written not by
the present writer who wrote most of the paper in which
it occurs, but by Mr. John Stuart MilV ^^^^ is this : —
' From the general neglect of metaphysical studies in the
present age, this work ' [the Analysis of the Phenomena
of the Human Mind, published in 1829], 'which at some
periods of our history would have placed its author on a

^ See a note on tlie article James Mill, in tlie Encvcloprcdia Britannica, in
the beginning of Essay I.



104 JSSSAl'S ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

level, in point of reputation, with the higliest names in the
republic of letters, has been less read and appreciated than
any of his other writings.' In the same paragraph which
contains the sentence just quoted, the cliaracteristic whicli
formed the pecuhar value of James Mill's 'Analysis of the
riienomena of the Human Mind' is thus described : — ' In
this work lie evinced analytical powers rarely, if ever,
surpassed; and which have placed him high in the list
of those subtile inquirers who have attempted to resolve
all the powers of the mind into a very small number of
simple elements. Mr. Mill took up that analysis where
Hartley had left it, and applied the same method to the
more complex phenemona which the latter did not
succeed in explaining.'

One of the most important results of James Mill's
analysis was to show that behef, which Dugald Stewart
and other writers say they can refer to nothing but
instinct, is a case of the indissoluble association of ideas ;
that ' no instance can be adduced in which anything
besides an indissoluble association of ideas can be shown
in belief;' 'that in every instance of behef there is in-
dissoluble association of the ideas.' ^ Some remarkable
examples are given in Mr. J. S. Mih's 'Logic' of the
effect of inattention to or ignorance of the elementary
laws of association in producing tlie illusion which
measures the possibility of things in themselves by the
human capacity of conceiving them. Dr. Whewell,
speaking of the laws of chemical composition discovered
by Dalton, says, ' How can we conceive combinations
otherwise than as definite in kind and quantity ? ' and ' we
cannot conceive a world in which this should not be the

' Analysis, vol. i. pp. 281, 282.



JAMES MILL. 105

case.' ^ The clifTiculty of conceiving such a world arose
simply from the association produced in his own mind
since the discovery of Dalton between the idea of combi-
nation and that of defuiite proportions. The case of the
first law of motion is ulso instructive in a like manner.
Dr. Whewell says : ' Though the discovery of the first
law of motion was made, liistorically speaking, by means
of experiment, we have now attained a point of view in
which we see that it miglit have been certainly known to
be true, independently of experience.' On which Mr.
J. S. Mill's makes these observations : ' Can there be a
more striking exemplification than is here afforded of the
effect of association ? rhiloso[)hers, for generations, have
the most extraordinary difficulty in putting certain ideas
together ; they at last succeed in doing so, and after a
sufficient repetition of the process they first fancy a
natural bond between the ideas, then experience a grow-
ing difficulty, which at last, by the continuation of the
same progress, becomes an impossibility, of severing them
from one another.' ^

It would be difficult to overrate the importance of the
service which James Mill did to philosophy by his analysis
of the elementary laws of the association of ideas ;
for an ignorance of those laws has led to more false
philosopliy than probably anything else. An association
between two ideas (an association which was merely the
result of education, or early habits, or accident) was
assumed to be conclusive proof that the association of
those two ideas was a necessary and ultimate fact.

1 Mill's Logic, vol. i. pp. 322, 323, 1st edition ; vol. i. pp. 273, 274, 7th
edition.

2 J. S. Mill's Logic, vol. i. p. 322, 1st edition ; vol. i. p. 273, 7tb edition.



106 ESSAYS OX HISTORICAL TRUTH.

"Whatever ideas certain pliilosophers could put together
to their own satisfaction must, they affirmed, be the
representatives of things tliat really existed. ' This as-
sumption pervades the philoso])hy not only of Descartes,
but of all the thinkers who received their impulse mainly
from him ; in particular, the two most remarkable among
them, Leibnitz and Spinoza, from whom the modern
German metaphysical philosophy is essentially an emana-
tion.' ^ Thus a boundless field was opened for the pro-
duction of metaphysical entities. For the argument of
Descartes, that the conception of any being proves the
real existence of such a being, would prove the existence
of centaurs, or indeed of anything, such as the wildest
conceptions of Ariosto, or of the writers on knight-
errantry who drove Don Quixote mad.

But the production of entities was only half of this
process of bad or false metaphysics. The other half had
relation to non-entities ; under this form things which we
cannot think of together cannot exist together, including
that what we cannot think of as existing cannot exist at
all ; or, in other words, whatever is inconceivable must be
false. There are many degrees of this error, which is most
conspicuous in uneducated persons, hke the English foot-
man in Dr. Moore's ' Zeluco,' who objected to the French
foot-guards being dressed in blue — a colour he pronounced
' only fit for the blue horse or the artillery ; ' or in fierce
dogmatists of limited experience, like Johnson, who gave
the lie direct to any man who told him of a water-spout
or a meteoric stone. But philosophers of a very different
kind from Boswell's ' sage ' did not escape this mental

^ J. S. Mill's Logic, vol. ii. p. 350, 1st edition, London, 18-43 ; vol. ii,
p. 31G, Tib edition, London, 18G8.



JAMES MILL. 107

snare. There are some circumstances connected with the
liistory of this metaphysical error, which are calculated
to place it in a strong light. The evil eflects of bad
metaphysics were strikingly displayed in tlie long war
which the Cartesians waged against the theory of gravi-
tation, on the ground that ' a thing cannot act where it is
not ; ' an assumption which imposed even upon Newton
himself, who, to meet tlie objection, imagined a subtle
ether which filled up the space between the sun and the
earth, and was the proximate cause of gravitation. And
there is a passage in one of Newton's letters to Dr. Bentley,
which, as Mr. J. S. Mill observes, ' should be hung up in
the cabinet of every man of science who is ever tempted
to pronounce a fact impossible because it appears to him
inconceivable.' ^ ' It is inconceivable,' said Newton, ' that
inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of
something else, which is not material, operate upon and
affect other matter without mutual contact, . . . That
gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to mat-
ter, so that one body may act on another at a distance
through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything
else, by and through which their action and force may
be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an
absurdity, that I believe no man, who in philosophical
matters has a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall
into it.'

Another great discovery of a philosopher of the same
country and the same century as Newton also affords an
instructive example of the difficulties with which truth
has to contend. The greatest and most original discovery

* J. S, Mill'a Logic, ii. 059, Ist oditiou.



108 ASSAYS ox HISTORICAL TRUTH.

in physiology — that of tlie circulation of the blood — was so
contrary to all the previous notions, in other words, to
the association of ideas, of physicians, that the doctrine
was not received by any physician who was more than
forty years old, was violently opposed by some of the most
distinguished, and Harvey's practice fell off considerably
after the publication of his treatise ' On the Circulation of
the Blood.' Harvey had anticipated such a result ; and
his words express his appreciation of the strength of
' inseparable association ' as strongly as if he had used
that expression instead of ' consuetudo.' ' Tantum,' he
says, ' consuetudo, quasi altera natura, apud omnes valet.'
Hume, as will be seen in the next essay, uses ' custom ' in
the same sense in which Harvey here uses ' consuetudo.'
There is great significance in Harvey's expression, ' altera
natura.' This ' altera natura ' is the snare, the idol, the
stumbling-block, of false philosophy. It may be men-
tioned, as an illustration of the philosophical sagacity of
Harvey's mind, that the idea of the circulation of the
blood was suggested to him by the consideration of the
obvious use of the valves of the veins, which are so con-
structed as to impede the course of the blood from the
heart through those vessels, while they permit it to pass
through them to the heart.

Another important investigation in James Mill's 'Analy-
sis ' is the development of the pernicious consequences ari-
sing from the ambiguity of the Copula ; first exposed by
Hobbes in a passage quoted in the essay on Hobbes.
James Mill has thus treated the subject: — 'In all lan-
guages, the verb which denotes existence ^ has been em-

^ The small capitals and italics in this extract are all copied from the
original text.



JAMES MILL. 109

ployed to answer the additiouiil purpose of the Copula
ill Predication. The consequences of this have been
most lamentable. There is thus a double meaning in the
Copula, which has produced a most unfortunate mixture
and confusion of ideas. It has involved in mystery the
whole business of Predication, the grand contrivance by
which language is rendered competent to its end. By
darkening Predication, it has spread such a veil over the
phenemona of mind as concealed them from ordinary
eyes, and allowed them to be but imperfectly seen by
those which were the most discerning,

' In our own language, the verb, to be, is the impor-
tant word which is employed to connote, along with its
subject, whatever it be, the grand idea of existexce.
Thus, if I use the first person singular of its indicative
mood, and say, ' I am,' I affirm existence of myself. ' I
am ' is the equivalent of ' I am existing.' In the first of
these expressions, ' I am,' the mark ' am ' involves in it
the force of two marks ; it involves the meaning of the
word ' existing,' and the marking power or meaning of
the Copula. In the second expression, ' I am existing,'
the word ' am ' ought to serve the purpose of the Copula
only. But in reality its connotation of existence still ad-
heres to it ; and whereas the expression ought to consist
of three established parts of a Predication ; 1, the
subject 'I ' ; 2, the predicate existing, and 3, the copula;
it in reality consists of, 1, the subject 'I,' 2, the predicate
existing ; 3, the copula ; which signifies, 4, existing, over
again.

' Let us take, as another case, that in which the subject
and predicate of my intended proposition are, the word
' I ' and ' reading.' I want for the purpose of predication



110 ESSAYS ON HISTOmCAL TRUTH.

only a copula to signify nakedly that the mark ' reading ' is
applied to the mark ' I ' ; but instead of this I am obliged
to use a word which connotes existence, along with the
force of the copula ; and when I say ' I am reading,' not
only reading is predicated of me, but existing also.
Suppose, again, my subject is 'John,' my predicate 'dead.'
I am obliged to use for my copula the word ' is,' which
connotes existence, and I thus predicate of John both
existence and death.

' It may be easily collected, from this one example,
what heterogeneous and inconsistent ideas may be forced
into connexion by the use of the Substantive Verb as the
copida in Predication ; and what confusion in the mental
processes it tends to produce. It is in the case, however,
of the higher abstractions, and the various combinations
of ideas which the mind, in the processes of inquiring and
marking, forms for its own convenience, to obtain a greater
command over its stores and greater facility in communi-
cating them, that the use of the verb which conjoins the
Predication of existence with every other Predication, has
produced the wildest confusion, and been the most deeply
injurious. Is it any wonder, for example, that chance,
and fate, and nature, have been personified, and have had
an existence ascribed to them, as objects, when we have
no means of predicating anything whatsoever of them,
without predicating such existence at the same time. If
we say that 'chance is nothing, ' we predicate of it, by
the word ' is,' both existence and nothingness.

' When this is the case, it is by no means to be won-
dered at that philosophers should so long have inquired
what those existences are which abstract terms were em-
ployed to express ; and should have lost themselves in



JAMES MILL. Ill

fruitless speculations about the nature of entity, and quid-
dity, substance, and quality, space, time, necessity, eternity,
and so on.'^

With this ambiguity of the copula — whence arose those
existences, those entities or essences which abstract terms
were employed to express — is closely connected the inex-
tricable confusion in which General Terms were involved
for so many ages. ' It is only necessary,' says James
Mill, ' to read with care the writings of Plato and of Aris-
totle, and of all philosophers, with veiy few exceptions,
from theirs to the present time, to see that a misunder-
standinfT of tlie nature of General Terms is that which
chiefly perplexed them in their inquiries, and involved
them in a confusion which was inextricable, so long as
those terms were unexplained. The process performed
by the mind, when it forms individuals into classes, was
said to be this. The mind leaves out of its view this and
that, and the other thing, in which individuals differ from
one another ; and retaining only those in which they all
ac^ree, it forms them into a class. But what is this form-
ing of a class ? What does it mean ? . . . . What
is it which they have in common, which the mind can
take into view ? Those who affirmed that it was some-
thing, could by no means tell. They substituted words
for things ; using vague and mystical phrases, which, when

^ James Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human 3Iind, vol. i.
pp. ] 20-128, 1st edition, London, 1829. He adds that in the case of other
verhs besides the substantive verb, existence is always predicated along
with the attribute which the verb is used to predicate. Thus, ' when I say,
" Caliban existed not," which is the same as " Caliban was not existing," I
predicate buth existence and non-existence, of the imajrinaiy being Caliban.
By the two first words of tlie I'redication, " Caliban was," existence is pre-
dicated of him ; by the addition of the compound term " not existing," the
opposite is predicated of him.' — Ibid. pp. 129, 130.



112 ESSAYS ON HIS TOEICAL TRUTH.

examined, meant nothing, Plato called it loea, Aristotle
sT^o^, both words taken from the verb to see ; intimating
something, as it were, seen, or viewed, as we call it. At
bottom Aristotle's st^og is the same with Plato's 15ea, though
Aristotle makes a great affiiir of some very trifling differ-
ences, which he creates and sets up between them. The
Latins translated both ISs'a and sl^og by the same words,
and were very much at a loss for one to answer the pur-
pose ; they used species^ derived in hke manner from a
verb to see, but which, having other meanings, was ill
adapted for a scientific word ; they brought, therefore,
another word in aid, forma ; the same with opa/xa, derived
equally from a verb signifying to see, which suited the
purpose just as imperfectly as species ; and as writers
used both terms, according as the one or the other
appeared best to correspond with their meaning, they
thickened by this means the confusion.' ^

And so thick did the confusion become, that in time
men came to forget that Nature makes no classes ; that
Nature makes individuals, and that men make classes for
convenience. ^

It is necessary, in order to expose the misrepresenta-
tions of such writers as M. Comte, to compare the
condition in which the process of grouping individuals
into classes was left by the ancient philosophers, and

^ Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. i. pp.
187-189, Ist edition, London, 1829.

* For those who think that truth depends on authors, I may add here the
following passages : — * Licet enim in natura nihil vere existat prajter corpora
individual — Bacon, Nov. Organ. Lib. ii. Aph. ii. 'Nature makes no classes.
Nature makes individuals. Classes are made by men ; and rarely with such
marks as determine certainly what is to be included in them. Men make
clas.sitication3, as they do everything else, for some end.' — James Mill's Frug~
ment on Mackintosh, pp. 247, 248^ London, 1835.



JAMES MILL. 113

sucli modern writers on pliilosopliy as Cudwortli and
Harris, and the condition in which it was left by James
Mill.

The power which the mind lias of attending to one
part of an object and neglecting other parts of it so as to
form a number of objects, each of which has been similarly
regarded, into a class, gave rise to endless subtleties
respecting the particular qualities in which the indi-
viduals of a class agree. They became ' distinct exis-
tenses ; they were the Essence of things ; the Eternal
Exemplars, according to which individual things were
made ; they were called UxMVERSALS, and regarded as alone
the objects of the intellect. They were invariable, always
the same ; individuals, not the objects of intellect, but only
the low objects of sense, were in perpetual flux, and
never, for any considerable period, the same. Universals
alone had unity ; they alone were the subject of science ;
Individuals were innumerable, every one different from
another ; and cognoscible only by the lower, the sensitive
part of our nature.' ^

After the undisturbed prevalence for several centuries
of this jargon, which passed for philosophy, there arose
the controversy known as that between the Eealists and
the Nominalists. The Reahsts were those who affirmed
the existence of universals, or universal or general ideas.
The Nominalists were those who denied their existence,
and affirmed that there is nothing universal but names
The Nominalists, however, were hunted down by Catho-
licism, which, when it interfered in philosophical disputes,
always took the wrong side.

The question respecting the idea called up by a

* Mill's Analysis, i. 101.
I



Ill ESSAYS OX HISTORICAL TRUTH.

general name has given rise to much controversy.
Hobbes settled it, to his own satisfaction at least, with his
usual clearness and conciseness. He says, ' The uni-
versahty of one name to many things hath been the cause
that men think the things are themselves universal, and
so seriously contend that besides Peter and John, and all
the rest of the men that are, have been, or shall be in
the world, there is yet something else that we call man,
viz. man in general, deceiving themselves by taking the
universal or general appellation for the thing it signifieth.
For if one should desire the painter to make him the
picture of a man, which is as much as to say of a man in
general, he meaneth no more, but that the painter should
chuse what man he pleaseth to draw, which must needs
be some one of them that are, or have been, or may be,
none of which are universal. But when he would have
him to draw the picture of the king, or any particular
person, he limiteth the painter to that one person he
chuseth. It is plain, therefore, that there is nothing
universal but names.' ^ Hobbes's opinion therefore seems
to coincide with that of the Nominalists.

After Hobbes came Locke. Locke's doctrine of abstract
ideas appears to correspond somewhat with that of the
sect which professed to steer a middle course between the
Eealists and Nominalists, and which was known by the name
of Conceptualists, on account of their holding universality
to be the attribute, not of names only, but of conceptions.

In regard to Berkeley's argument on Locke's do^^trine
of abstract ideas, ' what more easy than for any one to

^ Hobbes' Human Nature, p. 26. Hobbes has elsewhere thus stated the
same conclusion: — 'Ideoque non est opus ad vim ?<m'ye/-s«/Ks intelli<>'endam
alia facultate quam imaginativa, qua recordamur voces ejusmodi modounam
rem mode aliam in animo excitasse.' — Computatio sive Logical cap. ii. § 9.



JAMES MILL. 115

look a little into liis own tlioughts, and then try whether
he lias, or can attain to liave, an idea that shall corre-
spond witli the description ' [given by Locke] ' of the
general idea of a triangle, wliich is neither oblique nor
rectangle, equilateral nor scalene, but all and none of
these at once,' ^ it may be remarked tliat though, as thus
stated, it is conclusive, Berkeley by no means settled
the question of the ideas associated with general
names. Hume has a short note on this subject, which
shows that he saw farther than Berkeley. Ilume says :
' All general ideas are, in reality, particular ones attached
to a general term, which recalls, upon occasion, other
particular ones, that resemble, in certain circumstances
the idea present to the mind. Thus, when the term
Horse is pronounced we immediately figure to ourselves
the idea of a black or a white animal of a particular size
or figure ; but as that term is also usually apphed to
animals of other colours, figures and sizes, these ideas,
though not actually present to the imagination, are easily
recalled ; and our reasoning and conclusion proceed in the
same way as if they were actually present.' ^

James ]\Iill says that a general name, the word Man, for
instance, having become associated with an indefinite
number of individuals, has acquired the power of calling
up an indefinite number of ideas ; and forming them into
a species of complex idea, and he adds that there can be
no difficulty in admitting this, ' because it is an acknow-
ledged fact.' 3 And yet immediately after he furnishes a
good reason for doubt as to this alleged fact, for he says :

» Berkeley's Introduction to the Principles of Human Knowledge, § 13.

* Hume's Essays, vol. ii. p. 4(57, note [P], Edinburgh, ISl'o.

^ Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, vol. i. p. 205.

I 2



116 i:ssArs ox historical truth.

' It is also a fact, that when an idea becomes to a certain
degree complex, from the multiplicity of the ideas it
comprehends, it is of necessity indistinct.'

This last word appears to me to furnish a more satis-
factory explanation of the phenomenon ; for the idea is so
indistinct that I am unable to satisfy myself that it is
composed of all the individuals with whom it has been
associated in my mind. All that I can see is, that we
may be said to have indistinct ideas which are marked
by general names. It is, indeed, quite true that I can no
more have an idea of a triangle which is neither equi-
lateral, isosceles or scalene, than I can have an idea of a
ship which is neither three-masted, two-masted, nor one-
masted ; or an idea of a man who is neither short, nor tall,
black nor white, but in the words of Locke, ' all and none of
these at once ; ' yet I may have an idea of a figure which



Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 9 of 40)