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C'



A DEFENCE

or

PHILOSOPHIC DOUBT



A DEFENCE

OF

PHILOSOPHIC DOUBT



BEING AN ESSAY ON



THE FOUNDATIONS OF BELIEF



BY



ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR, F.R.S.

MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTK OF FRANCE; HONARARV FELLOW OF
TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE



A NEW EDITION



HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LIMITED LONDON

Tht right a/ iraiulatioH is rtterx-td



' As, to the religious, it will seem absurd to set forth any justification

loi Ileligion ; so, to the scientific, it -vrill seem absurd to defend Science.
Yet to do the last is certainly as needful as to do the first '

Herbert Spexcer

' A doctrine is first received as an intuitive truth, standing beyond
all need of demonstration ; then it becomes the object of rigid
demonstration ; afterwards the demonstration ceases to be conclusive,
and is merely probable ; and, finally, the effort is limited to demon-
strating that there is no conclusive reason on the other side. In
the later stages of beUef, the show of demonstration is mere bluster,
or is useful only to trip up an antagonist *

Leslie Stephen



PREFACE.

t

This volume is a reprint of my essay on ' Philo-
sophic Doubt,' published in 1879. That edition has
long been out of print, and is now not only diflftcult
to procure but expensive to buy. I have made
reference to it both in ' Foundations of Belief,' and
in my first series of Gifford Lectures — ' Theism and
Humanism.' I propose to make further reference
to it in the second set of Gifford Lectures now in
preparation; and since it seems rather absurd to
refer readers to a work which they will probably be
unable to procure, and certainly unwilling to pay
for, the present re-issue seems called for, however few
be the persons who may desire to make any use of it.
The re-issue has been so paged as to correspond
with the original edition. I have made no attempt
to revise the text, or in any way to bring it up to
date ; but I found in an old copy some trifling verbal
alterations and a few notes. These were written
very soon after the book was published, and I have
inserted them without substantial alteration.

A. J. B.

Whittingehame,
October 1920.



470577



PREFACE

TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION.

It is not necessary to preface this Essay by any
precise account of its scope and design. It may be
sufficiently described by saying that it is a piece
of destructive criticism, formed by a series of argu-
ments of a highly abstract character. The reader
who is not deterred by this description from reading
the work will find, I think, no difficulty in under-
standing its plan.

It may be convenient to mention that the first
and sixth chapters and the Appendix have already
appeared in ' Mind ' ; and that the thirteenth chapter
was published in the ' Fortnightly Review.' In
each case there have been some verbal alterations,
but nothing deserving the name of an alteration in
substance. The sixth chapter elicited a short reply
from Professor Caird, which will be found in the
number of ' Mind ' for this month. . For reasons
which I there gave I have not thought it necessary
to make any important changes in consequence of
his remarks.



viii PREFACE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION.

I must not omit to acknowledge the great and
unvarying kindness which my brother-in-law, Mr.
Henry Sidgwick, has shown in criticising the various
portions of the Essay as they were written. His
interest in the work, and his suggestions for its
improvement, have both been valuable ; and I have
the more reason to be grateful for them., owing to
the fact that, in many respects, his point of view
differs widely from my own.

Whittingehame :
January 1879.



*** The original title of this book was ' A Defence of Philosophic
Scepticism,' and it was even for a short time advertised under this
name. It was, however, pointed out to me that, considering the nature
of its contents, the number of people who would read the book would
probably bear an infinitely small proportion to the number of people
who would read only its title, and that most of those who read the title
without reading the book would assume that by Scepticism was meant
scepticism in matters of reUgion. As I could deny the accuracy neither
of the premises nor of the conclusion of this piece of reasoning, I sub-
stituted the present for the original title, in the hope that, though it is,
as I think, less accurate, it may at all events prove less misleading.



CONTENTS.



PART I.

CBAPTSS PAOE

I. On the Idea of a Philosophy . . . . i

II. Empirical Logic 15

III. Induction 30

IV. Historical Inference 45

PART II.

V. Introduction to Part II. 73

VI. Transcendentalism 85

VII. Three Arguments from Popular Philosophy . 138

VIII. The Authority of Consciousness and of

Original Beliefs 154

IX. Psychological Idealism 178

X. The Test of Inconceivability .... 194

XI. Mr. Spencer's Proof of Realism .... 209



CONTENTS.



PART III.

CHAPTER FACE

XII. Science as a Logical System 242

XIII. The Evolution of Belief . . . . . 260



SUMMARY . . .• 277

PRACTICAL RESULTS 296

Note on the Discrepancy between Religion and

Science . 328

APPENDIX.

On the Idea of a Philosophy of Ethics . . . 335



A DEFENCE OF
PHILOSOPHIC DOUBT.

PART I.
CHAPTER I.

ON THE IDEA OP A PHILOSOPHY.

Everything that we know, or think we know, may
be classed under one of four heads, which, without
departing very widely from ordinary usage, may be
named thus : Science, Metaphysics, Ethics, and
Philosophy. By Science is meant here, not only what
commonly goes by that name, but also history, and
knowledge of particular matters of fact ; so that
' knowledge of phenomena and the relations subsist-
ing between phenomena ' would be a more accurate,
though less convenient, expression for what is in-
tended. In Metaphysics is included, not only Theo-
logy and all doctrines of the Absolute, but also (and
this is not necessarily the same thing) all real or
supposed knowledge of entities which are not phe-
nomenal.
B



;2; ;. A DEFENCE OF PHILOSOPHIC DOUBT, [parti.

What is meant by Ethics I have shown at length
in the Appendix which will be found at the end of
the volume. Here it is only necessary to say that
it includes, not only what are commonly called moral
systems, but also some analogous systems not usually
so described.

Multitudes of propositions, all professing to em-
body knowledge belonging to one or other of these
departments, are being continually put forward for
our acceptance. And as no one believes all of them,
so those who profess to act rationally must hold that
there are grounds for rejecting the propositions they
disbelieve, and for accepting those they believe.
The systematic account of these grounds of belief
and disbelief makes up the fourth of the classes into
which possible knowledge is divided, and is here
always called Philosophy.

If it be objected that this is not the common
meaning of the term, I reply that it would be difficult
to point out what the common meaning is. It has
been used, perhaps, most frequently in England, as
being equivalent to Psychology, which is properly a
department of science. But researches after the
absolute are also called philosophical, and these
belong to ontology. Ethics is sometimes called
moral philosophy, as science is sometimes called
natural philosophy ; while Logic, which a very
common usage regards as a branch of philosophy,
would, as I shall presently explain, be included in it



CHAP. I.] ON THE IDEA OF A PHILOSOPHY. 3

also by my definition. So that there cannot, on the
whole, be much harm in using the term to represent
a definite subject of investigation for which there is
no other word.

It follows directly from this definition, that how-
ever restricted the range of possible knowledge may
be, philosophy can never be excluded from it. For
unless the restriction be purely arbitrary, there must
be reasons for it ; and it is the systematic account of
these reasons which is here called philosophy. So
that even if it should turn out that Metaphysics is
an illusion, and only ' positive ' knowledge is attain-
able, this discovery would be so far from destroying
philosophy that it is only by philosophy that it could
be established.

If mankind was in the condition of believing
nothing, and without a bias in any particular direc-
tion, was merely on the look-out for some legitimate
creed, it would not, I conceive, be possible, d priori,
to name any of the positive characteristics which
the philosophy corresponding to that creed must
necessarily possess. But since this is by no means
the case, since everybody has a certain number of
scientific beliefs, and most people have a certain
number of ethical and metaphysical (theological)
ones, it may be possible to describe sonie of the
attributes which should be found in a philosophy
professing to support these provisional conclusions.

For example. — Since no one supposes that all



4 A DEFENCE OF PHILOSOPHIC DOUBT, [parti.

the propositions we believe are self-evident, it may
be assumed that the greater number of them are
legitimate inferences from propositions which are
self-evident. And from this it follows that philo-
sophy must consist of two main departments, one of
which deals with these ultimate, or self-evident pro-
positions, the other with modes of inference.

I do not forget that some writers have held that
the truth of a system is to be inferred, not from any
self-evident propositions lying at its root, but from
the consistency and coherence of its parts, though
each of these taken by itself is by no means self-
evident. Of such a system it would apparently be
incorrect to say that one part is ultimate and another
derivative ; it ought rather to be said, that the truth
of the whole is an inference from the consistency of
the parts, while the truth of the parts is an inference
from the truth of the whole. But even on this
theory the formula above stated holds good, for such
systems, so far from being self-contained (as it were)
and sufficient evidence for themselves, are really, as
a little consideration will show, dependent for their
validity on some such proposition as this — ' all that
is coherent is true.' Which is itself again either
ultimate or derivative.^

This double function is an important character-
istic of a complete philosophy ; let me now mention
another which, though it would seem sufficiently
obvious, is continually ignored. It may be stated

i This requires restatement. Formally, no doubt, such systems might be
supposed to depend on the proposition ' all systems coherent in this manner
are true.' But since systems of this kind probably exhaust and include all
that is knowable, the general form given to the proposition is were/>' formal
since there can only be one such system.



CHAP. I.] ON THE IDEA OF A PHILOSOPHY. 5

thus : ' The business of philosophy is to deal with
the grounds, not the causes of belief.'

There is no distinction which has to be kept
more steadily in view than this between the causes
or antecedents which produce a belief, and the
grounds or reasons which justify one. The enquiry
into the first is psychological, the enquiry into the
second is philosophical, and they belong therefore
(according to the classification just announced) to
entirely distinct departments of knowledge.

No doubt, in constructing a philosophy, a pre-
vious psychological enquiry may be required. It
may be necessary to acquaint ourselves with the
various modes by which we arrive at a conviction,
before we can select those which are legitimate. But
what we must not do, and what we are very apt to
do, is to suppose that by performing the first opera-
tion satisfactorily, we absolve ourselves from per-
forming the second at all. In the face of modern
discovery we have continually to recollect that no
progress made in tracing the history of opinions, no
development of the theory of association of ideas,
no application of the doctrine of evolution to mind,
however much they may prepare the ground for a
philosophy, add, or can add, one fragment to its
structure.

Thus, it is never a final answer to philosophy to
say of a particular belief, it is innate, connate, em-
pirical, or, d priori, the result of inheritance, or the

I now see no theoretical difFiculty in admitting that the truth of a system
regarded as an organic whole, might be self-evident ; though none of its com-
ponent parts taken by themselves should be so.



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Online LibraryArthur James Balfour BalfourA defence of philosophic doubt; being an essay on the foundations of belief → online text (page 1 of 23)