Harald Høffding.

A history of modern philosophy; a sketch of the history of philosophy from the close of the renaissance to our own day online

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pute. We can, of course, divide an idea, i.e. think of one part
of an object without the other parts ; but we can form no new
ideas having for tjieir content that which is " common " to
several qualities ; we have words to denote this common
element, but we can have no idea of it. He does not hereby
deny that we are able to form general ideas, standing for a
whole group of phenomena ; we can do this because an idea
which, in and for itself, is concrete and particular is used to
represent or stand for all other concrete ideas of the same kind.
We think in examples !

Berkeley has rendered a valuable contribution to psycho-
logy in this investigation. While we leave it to that science to
show wherein he still fails to reach a complete theory of


general ideas, we will pass on to consider the philosophical
consequences which he deduces from his psychological in-

{c) Epistemological Cojisequences

While — -says Berkeley in the Principles — it never occurs
to men to attribute existence to the objects of the inner
sense when they are not perceived, the objects of external
sense are supposed to exist whether they are perceived
or not. But this is an unprovable and improbable assump-
tion. Objects of knowledge exist, from the nature of the
case, only in so far as they are known ; there esse is percipi
A closer scrutiny of the foundation of this opinion will show
us the old abstraction theory again. ^For is it not the
most powerful of all abstractions to think of the object without
all that makes it an object for us ? We ought therefore to
abstract from all our sensations ! It is true, they say we
should only abstract from the secondary qualities (colour,
taste, smell, etc.) and not from the primary (extension, solidity).
By matter men understand a something which possesses the
primary qualities only, a something that has extension and
figure and can move. But they forget that the primary
qualities cannot be perceived apart from the secondary, and
that the former as well as the latter only exist for us by
means of sensation. If e.g. we mean to say that extension
can exist outside consciousness then we must ask : is it
extension as the sense of sight or as the sense of touch shows
it us ? Perhaps as they show it us both together ; but we
have already seen that the idea of extension only arises by
means of an association ! There cannot be an extended and
moving something which is neither great nor small, neither
far nor near, which moves neither quickly nor slowly ! Even
if there were firm, figured, and moving substances outside
consciousness how could we learn this ? How can we appeal
to the senses to testify to something which cannot be per-
ceived through the senses at all ?

But does not this do away with the difference between the
real and the imagined ? Berkeley denies this decidedly. I do
not deny real nature, he says ; I only deny abstract matter.
Everything which is seen, heard, felt, or perceived through any
of the senses I take to be real, but not matter, this unknown


somewhat — if indeed it may be termed somewhat — without
sensuous qualities and inaccessible to all perception and appre-
hension through the senses. ! The difference between reality
and imagination rests on the difference between sense-percep-
tion and memory or fancy.' The sense-impressions make a
stronger impression on us, are clearer, and occur in a definite
order which we are not able to interrupt. ) Moreover we are
conscious that we have not produced them ourselves. On this
it is that my conception of reality rests, says Berkeley ; let
others see to it if they can find anything more in theirs ! Nor
is the validity of physics shaken by this downfall of the
concept of matter. For physics seeks to explain phenomena
through other phenomena, — through causes which are them-
selves perceivable through the senses, not through belief in
any mystical substance. To explain phenomena is to show
that under such and such circumstances we have such and such
sensations. Physics exhibits the definitive and regular connection
in which our sensations occur, so that one sensation can stand as
a mark of another. This enables us to reason backwards and
forwards. By means of a careful observation of the phenomena
accessible to us we discover the general laws of Nature, or—
establish certain formulae for the phenomena of motion.
Physics has to do neither with force nor with matter, but only
with phenomena. Every demonstration of a law for the con-
nection of phenomena, and every conclusion from such a law,
ultimately rests on the presupposition that the author of
phenomena always works in a uniform manner and observes
general rules — an assumption which, according to Berkeley
{Principles, § 107 in fine), is certainly not susceptible of proof
What is the origin, then, of phenomena or sensations, in so
far as I do not myself produce them ? While Berkeley holds
that the causal proposition is insusceptible of proof where it is
a question of the reciprocal relation of phenomena, he does
not in the least question its validity in discussing the origin
of our passively received sensations. There must be an
activity which is in operation when we ourselves are passive.
Now our own capacity of summoning up and modifying ideas
is the only example of activity we have. In this capacity
Berkeley finds our real nature expressed. The soul is the
will, he says {Commonplace Book, p. 428). All inner activity,
including thinking, Berkeley calls " willing " : " That of which



I think, whatever it be, I call idea. Thought itself or thinking
is no idea. 'Tis an act, that is a volition, or, as contra-
distinguished to effect, the will " {Commonplace Book, p. 460).
Its essence is not to be perceived, but to perceive (its esse
is percipere). The will is the only form of activity we know.
Berkeley is not always consistent in what he says of the
knowledge that we have of our will, i.e. of the real essence of
our mind. \Qf so much only he is certain — that the know-
ledge of our own ^active nature cannot be an idea, since all
ideas are passive. / It is not an " idea " but a " notion " that
we have of ourselves. In one passage {Principles, § 27), how-
ever, he teaches that we know mind, or that which works, by
means of its effects {i.e. modifications of ideas) ; in another
passage {Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, Dialogue
III., Eraser's edition, i. p. 326 ff.) he attributes to us an imme-
diate knowledge of our mind and its ideas, since we perceive
them " by reflection." But by whatever means we perceive
our mind, we can only form the thought of the source of
phenomena in analogy with it. We conceive God as analogous
to our own mind, only with its powers infinitely increased.
The only real ideas are those which God gives us, and now we
can understand, too, how it is that things can exist even when
we do not perceive them : they exist potentially — as possi-
bilities — in God, who is their continual cause (cf Commonplace
Book, p. 489). The divine will reveals itself in the order and
connection of our sensations, but the divine Providence in the
purposiveness which Nature exhibits,^ If Nature differs in its
essence from God, it is a heathenish chimsera. According to
the ordinary conception, God first creates matter and then lets
it work on us. But why go this long way round ? Why
should not God produce our sensations immediately ? The
more we think clearly, the more we shall find ourselves in
direct relation with God. There are no secondary causes. In
God we live and move and have our being, says Berkeley,
and he believes he has a better right than Spinoza to say this.
Berkeley abandoned himself to this mystico-pantheistical con-
ception more and more in the last years of his life, as may be
seen from Siris ; but we cannot here follow the shapes which
his thoughts in this direction subsequently assumed. We
can only draw attention to one point of similarity between
Berkeley and Leibniz in the transition from their empirical


to their speculative philosophy ; Vboth make use of the prin-
ciple of analogy, which is the principle of all metaphysical

It is Berkeley's especial merit that he persisted, with an
energy unweakened by the paradoxical results to which his
thinking led him, in asking : how do we know that things are
anything more than our perceptions and ideas ? By what
right do we spring from consciousness, from the only thing
which is immediately given, to things which are never given
immediately? In Berkeley's own answer to this question, as
may be seen from our account of it, he in no way reduces
reality to a mere series of sensations. In the first place, he
distinguishes between sensations and the mind : the essence of '
the former only ccJnsists in being perceived {esse —percipt) ; the
essence of the latter consists in perceiving {esse = percipere), i.e. '
in working. In the second place, he acknowledges the prin-
ciple of causation, and uses it to solve the problem under con-
sideration. But while the ordinary conception (popular meta-
physics) starts by supposing that the cause of our sensations
must resemble them, Berkeley proceeds from the assumption
/that the cause of our passive states must be thought of as
t^analogous with the active principle within us. He is an
idealist, but not a subjective idealist. His idealism, however,
at once assumes a theological form. While he philosophises,
his theological ideas lie in wait, and as soon as the plot
thickens and a debatable question presents itself, they press
forward to fill out what is lacking. On this account his
thought stops short too soon. The theological ideas them-
selves are not criticised. His whole conception of the world
becomes anthropomorphic. The uniformity of Nature is nothing
but a uniformity of the divine will which holds phenomena
together, and phenomena are only a collection of arbitrary
signs, frhe principle of causality, too, is not examined more
closely, and yet his whole solution of the problem rests upon
it. To the latter point Berkeley's immediate successor laid
his hand, continuing his work while he opposed it, just as
Berkeley himself had done with regard to Locke's.



(a) Biography and Characteristics

The great significance of English philosophy in the history
of the development of human thought is that, in virtue of its
empirical method, it calls to account not only the finished
thought -constructions of speculative philosophers, but also
the unconscious and untested assumptions on which the
popular conception of the world and the special sciences rest.
_ Thus Locke had demanded an exact explanation of the origin
ijof our ideas in general, and Berkeley had pointed out how
■great a problem is contained in the ideas of space and of the
material world if we attempt to supply this explanation. This
critical _ examination of knowledge reached its culminating
point in the English school of the eighteenth century in
the philosophy of David Hume. He instituted an examination
into the two concepts which formed the foundation of all
earlier philosophy, and which neither Locke nor Berkeley
-had seriously attacked : i.e. the concepts of substapce and
/cause, the two concepts which were the binding cement of all
speculative, scientific, and popular thought-constructions. On
the principles of causality or of sufficient ground rested
Leibniz' great system of harmony, Newton's world-mechanism,
and the popular conception of a world of things subject to
certain laws. All take the reasonableness, the rationality, of
existence for granted ; all assume, more or less consciously, that
existence contains within it something corresponding to our
reason. It is this presupposition that Hume investigates. And
he is the first to seriously undertake such an examination, and
to descend to the depths out of which spring the forces which


hold together the inner and outer world of our knowledge ;
depths far removed from the regions in which speculative
philosophy, specific inquiry, and common sense move. Hume
himself felt, and characteristically expressed, the curious con-
dition of loneliness and disintegration in which the thinker
finds himself who perseveringly follows the problem of
knowledge into these depths, and also the opposition which
exists between the strictly theoretical and the instinctive,
practical, and popular, conception of the world. Only his ever-
wakeful intellectual passion, together with his hope of winning
renown if he followed the path consistently to the end, made
it possible for him, according to his own confession (in the
concluding section of the first book of his magnum opus), to
complete his work.

In Hume's character intellectual ardour and ambition were
united with good nature, benevolence, and forbearance towards
weaknesses and prejudices, coupled with a certain easiness of
disposition which refused to be disturbed by polemical dis-
cussions in the cause of literary interests. He was born on
26th April 171 1, as the second son of a landed proprietor, on
the estate of Ninewells in the south of Scotland. In his Auto-
biography he says : " I was seized very early with a passion
for literature, which has been the ruling passion of my life and
the great source of my enjoyments." His family wished to
make a lawyer of him, but he felt " an insurmountable dislike
towards everything except philosophy and learning." His
ideal was an existence free from care, in which he would be
able to satisfy his taste for critical investigation and to culti-
vate the acquaintance of a few chosen friends ; at the same
time he was anxious that his literary activity should bring
honour to his name. While still quite a youth he believed
himself to be on the track of new thoughts : a new " universe
of thought " disclosed itself to him. An attack of hypo-
chondria (described by himself in a letter which is given in
Burton's Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Edinburgh,
1846, vol. i. p. 30 ff.) interrupted his meditations for some
time. He was probably already feeling the curious contrast
between the world of reflection and that of practical daily life,
which he afterwards described in his great work. He now
resolved to abandon his studies and to become a merchant.
Practical life, however, could not detain him. He chose lonely

426 nA VID HUME bk. iv

places in France in which to live while he wrote his great
work, Treatise of Human Nature, being an attempt to introduce
the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects. It
appeared 1739-40 in London, and is in three parts, of which
the first treats of the understanding, the second of the passions,
and the third of the foundation of morality. It carried the
investigation of these different questions an important stage
further, and still stands in the first rank of philosophical classics.
At first, however, it was destined to have no result. " It fell,"
he says, " dead-born from the press without reaching such
distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots."
Hume's literary ambition, which led him to pronounce this
brilliant testimony to his mental abilities as " dead-born," had
fatal effects. He tried to win the fame which this had failed
to bring him by a series of essays, some on philosophy, others
on political economy and politics : he abandoned philosophy
altogether for some time and devoted himself to history ;
he even finally altogether denied the great work of his youth,
explaining — to avoid aspersions from his theological critics
(who, it seems, had after all begun to "murmur") — that he only
acknowledged the statement of his philosophical doctrines
given in the Essays. Excellent as many of these smaller
writings are, yet they could never attain to the place of im-
portance in philosophical discussion which his chief work
might have occupied, if only he had used the literary fame
which was afterwards his to breathe life into the " dead-born "
child, instead of disavowing it, in order to avoid any dis-
turbances it might cause him. As regards the problem of
knowledge in particular, Hume's philosophy, even in the
abbreviated and modified exposition given in the Inquiry
concerning Human Under standi7ig (1749), was not without
influence on the later developments of thought, though the full
statement of it contained in the Treatise, which, strictly speak-
ing, sunders the bond between our thoughts, indeed between
the elements of our nature in general, lay forgotten for many a
day. That the motive to Hume's disavowal of his early work
is the one here given may be seen from the recently published
Letters of David Hume to William Strahan (Oxford, 1888, p.
289 ff). It is quite a mistake to suppose, as has sometimes
been suggested, that Hume had really changed his views on
the main points. It is, however, psychologically compre-


hensible that the highly strained intellectual condition in which
he wrote his early work could not persist. After he had
thought with — and indeed better than — the learned, he felt
the need of talking with the unlearned. Having given a
popular exposition of his philosophical and economic ideas
in the Essays, he turned to history. " You know," he wrote
to a friend, " there is no post of honour in the English Par-
nassus more vacant than that of history." The post of Keeper
to the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, which he obtained after
violent opposition from the orthodox party, afforded him ample
opportunities for research. His History of England gained
him still more popularity than his Essays had done. As
an historian he has the merit of having been the first to
attempt to make history something more than a chronicle of
wars, by taking account also of social relations, morals, litera-
ture, and art. The publication of his historical works began
two years before the appearance of Voltaire's famous Essai
sur les mceurs. While in his philosophical opinions he was a
Liberal, his judgment of historical personages is biassed by
Royalist and Tory views. Philosophy, however, was not
altogether neglected at this time. He occupied himself, more
particularly in his later years, with philosophico - religious
studies. The results of these are embodied in the Natural
History of Religion (1757) and his Dialogues on Natural
Religion, which last work he withheld, from prudential
reasons, so that it did not appear until a few years after his

Hume was not only a philosopher and an historian. He
felt the necessity of taking part in practical life. As Secretary
to the Embassy (1748) he travelled in Holland, Germany,
Austria, and Italy. He afterwards exchanged his post of
librarian at Edinburgh for that of secretary to Lord Hertford,
«rho was sent as the English Ambassador to France after the
Peace of Paris in 1763. By that time Hume had become
famous, and he met with a brilliant reception at Court as well as
in literary circles. He became the fashion, like Franklin after-
wards, perhaps precisely because of his simple and unpretending
exterior. After having spent three years in France he returned
to England, taking with him Jean Jacques Rousseau, who had
been exiled from Switzerland as well as from France, in order
that he might procure him an asylum of refuge. Rousseau,

428 DA VID HUME bk. iv

however, requited Hume's generous behaviour towards him
with the maddest suspicions, and after a scandalous rupture
between the two, Rousseau returned to France, where the storm
had now laid itself. After Hume had occupied the post of
Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for a year he resigned his
seat in Edinburgh and led a life of learned leisure in the
company of a few chosen friends, until, after a lingering illness,
which, however, did not deprive him of his cheerfulness and
peace of mind, he died on 25th August 1776.

{b) Epistemological Radicalism

All sciences — and the mental sciences not the least — stand
in a definite relation to human nature. From this proposition
Hume starts his examination of the understanding, and it
follows from it that the foundation of all human knowledge is
to be discovered by a study of human nature. But this study
must be carried out by means of the empirical method, which
had already been employed with success in the sphere of
physics, and the application of which to the study of human
nature had been introduced by Bacon, Locke, and Shaftesbury.
Appealing to experience to bear him out, Hume establishes as
his fundamental principle the proposition that all our ideas
are derived from impressions ; ideas can never be a priori. When
we test the validity of an idea, therefore, the first thing we must
ask is : of what impression is it the after-effect ? Hume finds
in the origin of impressions a problem insoluble by our under-
standing — a problem, however, the solution of which is not
necessary for the carrying out of his task (cf. Treatise, i. 3, S ;
in other passages, as ii. i, i, he expresses himself in the
ordinary manner). By means of this fundamental proposition
(which Berkeley had only applied to the ideas of space and of
matter) Hume now tests a series of important ideas. The idea
of a substance or of an essence must be declared invalid since
we have no impression corresponding to it. We immediately
perceive only particular qualities bound together more or less
firmly, but no "substance." The mathematical ideas of time and
space are formed by means of idealisation. Experience shows
us only an imperfect equality of time- and space-magnitudes ;
every measure we possess is imperfect. After experience has
afforded us opportunity, however, of comparing different grades


of similarity and different measures, we form the idea of perfect
equality and of a perfect measure {e.g. of a perfectly straight
line), while, once the power of imagination has been set going,
it continues its course, even though experience lag behind.
Since geometry is concerned with such ideal objects, its
, application to real objects can iiever be perfectly exact.
Nor does the concept of (existence/ — any more than that of
substance and the mathematical concepts — correspond to any
impression : to think of a thing and to think of it as existing
is one and the same. Our idea of an object is still only an
idea when we also think of the object as existing, and by thus
thinking of it we endow the thing with no new quality.

In his examination of the validity of our knowledge in
general, Hume distinguishes between the knowledge which
consists only in the explication of the mutual relations of our
ideas (the formal sciences, logic and mathematics) and the
JiDQwledgewhich Jeads us beyond the given impressions and,
c.^mn£es_ us -of^thfi ^axistence of a something_which„.is not
givgn. This last kind of knowledge rests on the assumption of
the-waUdi±y-of_thexausaLxela_tion, and Hume's great philosophi-
cal exploit consists in his establishment, in the most unmistak-
able manner, of the problem of causality — the problem on the
solution of which every estimation of the significance of the\
exact sciences rests. At the root of all investigation lies the
desire to discover what it is which holds the innermost parts of
the world together, under every problem of the exact sciences
lies the same fundamental problem, and Hume was the first to see
this in its full extent. It must be remembered, however, that
Hume never doubted that we must continue to make constant
use of the causal proposition both in theory and in practice ;
he only asks whether it can be established, and to this question
he finds a negative answer only. 1 He discovers that we are
moved to assume the causal relation by the same thing that
induces us to assume a something as existing, even though it
is not given in experience. One and the same investigation —
according to Hume's psychological method — throws light on
the concepts both of cause and of belief.

We cannot appeal to immediate certainty or intuition to
establish the validity of the causal relation, for we only have
such intuition with regard to simple relations of similarity or of
magnitude. Nor can we appeal to logical demonstration, for

430 DA VID HUME bk. iv

we can hold all our ideas apart from one another. The motion
of one billiard ball is an event which is altogether different from

Online LibraryHarald HøffdingA history of modern philosophy; a sketch of the history of philosophy from the close of the renaissance to our own day → online text (page 41 of 52)