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John Henry Newman.

An essay in aid of a grammar of assent online

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things, that is, the more they are the subjects, not
of real, but of notional apprehension, — so much the
more suitable do they become for the purposes of in-
ference.

Hence it is that no process of argument is so per-
fect as that which is conducted by means of symbols.
In Arithmetic i is i, and just i, and never any thing
else but i ; it never is 2, it has no tendency to change
its meaning, and to become 2 ; it has no portion, qua-
lity, admixture of 2 in its meaning. And 6 under all
circumstances is 3 times 2, and the sum of 2 and 4;
nor can the whole world supply any thing to throw
doubt upon these elementary positions. Take, by
contrast, the word "inference," which I have been
using : it may stand for the act of inferring, as I have
used it ; or for the connecting principle, or iiiferentia,
between premisses and conclusions ; or for the con-
clusion itself. And sometimes it will be difficult, in a
particular sentence, to say which it bears of these
three senses. And so again in Algebra, a is never x,
or any thing but a, wherever it is found ; and a and b
are always standard quantities, to which x and y are
always to be referred, and by which they are always to
be measured. In Geometry again, the subjects of
argument, pomts, lines, and surfaces, are precise crea-
tions of the mind, suggested indeed by external ob-
jects, but meaning nothing but what they are defined
to mean : they have no color, no motion, no heat, no
qualities which address themselves to the ear or to



Formal Inference. 255

the palate ; so that, in whatever combinations or rela-
tions the words denoting them occur, and to whom-
soever they come, those words never vary in their
meaning-, but are just of the same measure and
weight at one time and at another.

What is true of Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geome-
try, is true also of Aristotelic argumentation in its
typical modes and figures. It compares two given
words separately with a third, and then determines
their connexion with each other, in a bo7id fide iden-
tity of sense. In consequence, its formal process is
best conducted by means of symbols, A, B, and C.
While it keeps to these, it is safe ; it has the cogency
of mathematical reasoning, and draws its conclusions
by a rule as unerring as it is blind.

Symbolical notation, then, being the perfection of
the syllogistic method, it follows that, when words
ai-e substituted for symbols, it will be its aim to cir-
cumscribe and stint their import as much as possible,
lest perchance A should not always exactly mean A,
and B mean B ; and to make them, as much as possi-
ble, the calculi of notions, which are in our absolute
power, as meaning just what we choose them to mean,
and as little as possible the tokens of real things, which
are outside of us, and which mean we do not know
how much, but so much certainly as may run away
with us, in proportion as we enter into them, beyond
the range of scientific management. The concrete
matter of propositions is a constant source of trouble
to syllogistic reasoning, as marring the simplicity and
perfection of its process. Words, which denote things,
have innumerable implications, but in inferential exer-
cises it is the very triumph of that clearness and hard-



256 Inference.

ness of head, which is the characteristic talent in the
art, to have stripped them of all these connatural
senses, to have drained them of that depth and breadth
of associations which constitute their poetry, their:
rhetoric, and their historical life, to have starved
each term down till it has become the ghost of itself,;
and every where one and the same ghost, " om-'
nibus umbra locis," so that it may stand for justj
one unreal aspect of the concrete thing to which;
it properly belongs, for a relation, a generaliza-j
tion, or other abstraction, for a notion neatly turned,'
out of the laboratory of the mind, and sufficiently;
tame and subdued because existing only in a defini-j
tion. i

Thus it is that the logician for his own purposes,!
and m.ost usefully as far as those purposes are con-j
cerned, turns rivers, full, winding, and beautiful, intoj
navigable canals. To him dog or horse is not a thing;
v.-hich he sees, but a mere word suggesting ideas;
and by dog or horse universal he means, not the
aggregate of all individual dogs or horses brought
together, but a common aspect, meagre but precise,
of all existing or possible dogs or horses, which at
the same time does not really correspond to any one
dog or horse out of the whole aggregate. Such
minute fidelity in the representation of individuals is
neither necessary nor possible to his art ; his business
is not to ascertain facts in the concrete, but to find
and to dress up middle terms; and, provided the};
and the extremes which they go between are not,
equivocal, either in themselves or in their use, sup-
posing he can enable his pupils to show well in a vivc,
voce disputation, or in a popular harangue, or in s



Formal Ta/crcncc. 257

written dissertation, he has achieved the main pur-
pose of his profession.

Such are the characteristics of reasoninp^, viewed
as a science or scientific art, or inferential process,
and Ave might anticipate that, narrow as by necessity
is its field of view, for that reason its pretensions to
to be demonstrative were incontrovertible. In a cer-
tain sense they really are so ; while we talk logic, we
are unanswerable; but then, on the other hand, this
universal living scene of things is after all as little a
logical world as it is a poetical ; and as it cannot
without violence be exalted into poetical perfec-
tion, neither can it be attenuated into a logical formu-
la. Abstract can only conduct to abstract; but we
have need to attain by our reasonings to what is con-
crete ; and the margin between the abstract conclu-
sions of the science, and the concrete facts which we
wish to ascertain, will be found to reduce the force of
the inferential method from demonstration to the
mere determination of the probable. Thus, since (as
I have already said) inference starts with conditions,
as starting with premisses, here are two reasons why,
when employed upon matters of fact, it can only
conclude probabilities: first, because its premisses
are assumed, not proved ; and secondly, because its
conclusions are abstract, and not concrete. I will
now consider these two points separately.



Inference comes short of proof in concrete matters;
because it has not a full command over the objects to
which it relates, but merely assumes its premisses.
In order to complete the proof, we arc thrown upon



2 58 Inference.

some previous syllogism or syllogisms, in which the
assumptions may be proved; and then, still farther
back, we are thrown upon others again, to prove the
new assumptions of that second order of syllogisms.
Where is this process to stop? especially since it
must run upon separated, divergent, and multiplied
lines of argument, the farther the investigation is car-
ried back. At length a score of propositions present
themselves, all to be proved by propositions more
evident than themselves, in order to enable them re-
spectively to become premisses to that series of infer-
ences which terminates in the conclusion which we
originally drew. But even now the difficulty is not
at an end ; it would be something to arrive at length
at premisses which are undeniable, however long we
might be in arriving at them; but in this case the
long retrospection lodges us at length at what are
called first principles, the recondite sources of all
knowledge, as to which logic provides no common
measure of minds, — which are accepted b}' some, re-
jected by others, — in which, and not in the syllogistic
exhibitions, lies the whole problem of attaining to
truth, — and which are called self-evident by their re-
spective advocates because they are evident in no
other way. One of the two uses contemplated in
reasoning by rule, or in verbal argumentation, was,
as I have said, to establish a standard of truth and to
supersede the ipse dixit of authority : how does it ful-
fil this end, if it only leads us back to first principles,
about which there is interminable controversy? We
are not able to prove by S3-llogism that there are any
self-evident propositions at all ; but supposing there
are (as of course I hold there are), still who can de-



Formal Inference. 259

termine them by logic? Syllogism, then, though of
course it has its use, still does the minutest and easi-
est part of the work, in the investigation of truth, for
when there is any difficulty, that difficulty commonly
lies in determining first principles, not in the arrange-
ment of proofs.

Even when argument is the most direct and se-
vere of its kind, there must be those assumptions in
the process which resolve themselves into the condi-
tions of human nature ; but how many more assump-
tions does that process in fact involve, subtle assump-
tions not directly arising out of these primary condi-
tions, but accompanying the course of reasoning,
step by step, and traceable to the sentiments of the
age, country, religion, social habits and ideas, of the
particular inquirers or disputants, and passing current
without detection, because admitted equally on all
hands ! And to these must be added the assumptions
which are made from the necessity of the case, in
I consequence of the prolixity and elaborateness of any
argument which should faithfully note down all the
propositions which go to make it up. We recognize
this tediousness even in the case of the theorems of
Euclid, though mathematical proof is comparatively
simple.

Logic then does not really prove ; it enables us to
join issue with others ; it suggests ideas ; it opens
views ; it maps out for us the lines of thought ; it
verifies negatively ; it determines when differences of
opinion are hopeless ; and when and how far conclu-
sions are probable ; but for genuine proof in concrete
matter we require an organon more delicate, versatile,
and elastic than verbal argumentation.



26o Inference.

I ought to give an illustration of what I have been
stating in general terms ; but it is difficult to do so
without a digression. However, if it must be, I look
round the room in which I happen to be writing, and
take down the first book which catches my eye. It
is an old volume of a Magazine of great name ; I
open it at random and fall upon a discussion about the
then lately discovered emendations of the text of
Shakespeare. It will do for my purpose.

In the account of Falstaff's death in '' Henry V."
(act ii. scene 3) we read, according to the received
text, the well-known words, " His nose was as sharp
as a pen, and a babbled of green fields." In the first
authentic edition, published in 1623, some years after
his death, the words, I believe, ran, " and a table of
green fields," which has no sense. Accordingly, an
anonymous critic, reported by Theobald in the last
century, corrected them to " and 'a talked of green
fields." Theobald himself improved the reading into
"and 'a babbled of green fields," which since his time
has been the received text. But just twenty years
ago an annotated copy of the edition of 1632 was
found, annotated perhaps by a contemporary, which,
among as many as 20,000 corrections of the text, sub-
stituted for the corrupt reading of 1623, the words
"on a table of green frieze," which has a sufficient
sense, though far less acceptable to an admirer of
Shakespeare, than Theobald's. The genuineness of
this copy with its annotations, as it is presented to us,
I shall here take for granted.

Now I understand, or at least will suppose, the
argument, maintained in the article of the Magazine
in question, to run thus : — " Theobald's reading, as at



Foifjtal hifcrcncc. 261

present received, is to be retained, to the exclusion of
the text of 1623 and of the emendation made on the
copy of the edition of 1632 ;— to the exclusion of the
text of 1623 because that text is corrupt; to the ex-
clusion of the annotation of 1632 because it is anony-
mous." I wish it then observed how many large
questions are opened in the discussion which ensues,
how many recondite and untractable principles have
to be settled, and how impotent is logic, or any rea-
sonings which can be thrown into language, to deal
with these indispensable first principles.

The first position is, " The authoritative reading of
1623 is not to be allowed in the received text, because
it is corrupt." Now are we to take it for granted, as
a first principle, which needs no proof, that a text
may be tampered with, because' it is corrupt? How-
ever the corrupt reading arose, it is authoritative. It
is found in an edition, published by known persons,
only six years after Shakespeare's death, from his
own manuscript, as it appears, and with his correc-
tions of earlier faulty impressions. Authority cannot
sanction nonsense, but it can forbid critics from ex-
perimentalizing upon it. If the text of Shakespeare
is corrupt, it should be published as corrupt.

I believe the best editors of the Greek tragedians
have given up the impertinence of introducing their
conjectures into the text ; and a classic like Shake-
speare has a right to be treated with the same respect
as ^schylus. To this it will be replied, that Shake-
speare is for the general public and ^schylus for
students of a dead Language ; that the run of men read
for amusement or as a recreation, and that, if tlie
editions of Shakespeare were made on critical prin-



262 Inference.

ciples, they would remain unsold. Here, then, we
are brought to the question whether it is any advan-
tage to read Shakespeare except with the care and
pains which a classic demands, and whether he is in
fact read at all by those whom such critical exactness
would offend ; and thus we are led on to further ques-
tions about cultivation of mind and the education of
the masses. Further, the question presents itself,
whether the general admiration of Shakespeare is
genuine, whether it is not a mere fashion, whether
the multitude of men understand him at all, whether
it is not true that every one makes much of him, be-
cause every one else makes much of him. Can we
possibly make Shakespeare light reading, especially
in this day of cheap novels, by ever so much correc-
tion of his text ?

Now supposing this point settled, and the text of
1623 put out of court, then comes the claim of the
Annotator to introduce into Shakespeare's text the
emendation made upon his copy of the edition of 1632 ;
why is he not of greater authority than Theobald, the
inventor of the received reading, and his emendation
of more authority than Theobald's ? If the corrupt
reading must anyhow be got out of the way, why
should not the Annotator, rather than Theobald, de-
termine its substitute ? For what we know, the au-
thority of the anonymous Annotator may be very
great. There is nothing to show that he was not a
contemporary of the poet ; and if so, the question
arises, what is the character of his emendations ? arc
they his own private and arbitrary conjectures, or
are they informations from those who knew Shake-
speare, traditions of the theatre, of the actors or specta-



Formal Inference. 263

tors of his plays ? Here, then, we are involved in intri-
cate questions which can only be decided by a minute
examination of the 20,000 emendations so industriously
brought together by this anonj-mous critic. But it is
obvious that a verbal argumentation upon 20,000 cor-
rections is impossible: there must be first careful
processes of perusal, classification, discriminatioai,
selection, which mainly are acts of the mind without
the intervention of language. There must be a cu-
mulation of arguments on one side and on the other,
of which only the heads or the results can be put
upon paper. Next come in questions of criticism
and taste, with their recondite and disputable premiss-
es, and the usual deductions from them, so subtle
and difficult to follow. All this being considered, am
I wrong in saying that, though controversy is both
possible and useful at all times, yet it is not adequate
to this occasion ; rather that that sum-total of argu-
ment (whether for or against the Annotator) which is
furnished by his numerous emendations, — or what
may be called the multiform, evidential fact, in which
the examination of these emendations results, — re-
quires rather to be photographed on the individual
mind as by one impression, than admits of delineation
for the satisfaction of the many in any known or pos-
sible language, however rich in vocabulary and flexi-
ble in structure?

And nov/ as to the third point which presents itself
for consideration, the claim of Theobald's emendation
to retain its place in the tcxtus rcccptus. It strikes
me with wonder that an argument in its defence
could have been put forward to the following effect,
viz. that true though it be, that the Editors of 1623



264 Iiiferc7Lce.

are of much more authority than Theobald, and that
the Annotator's reading in the passage in question is
more likely to be correct than Theobald's, neverthe-
less Theobald has by this time acquired a prescrip-
tive right to its place there, the prescription of more
than a hundred years ; — that usurpation has become
legitimacy ; that Theobald's words have sunk into
the hearts of thousands ; that in fact they have
become Shakespeare's ; that it would be a dangerous
innovation and an evil precedent to touch them. If
we begin an unsettlement of the popular mind, where
is it to stop ?

Thus it appears, in order to do justice to the ques-
tion before us, we have to betake ourselves to the
consideration of myths, pious frauds, and other grave
matters, which introduce us into a sylva, dense and
intricate, of first principles and elementary phenomena,
belonging to the domains of archeology and theo-
logy. Nor is this all ; when such views of the duty of
garbling a classic are propounded, they open upon us
a long vista of sceptical interrogations which go far
to disparage the claims upon us, the genius, the very
existence of the great poet to whose honor these
views are intended to minister. For perhaps, after
all, Shakespeare is really but a collection of many
Theobalds, who have each of them a right to his own
share of him. There was a great dramatic school in
his day ; he was one of a number of first-rate artists,
— perhaps they wrote in common. How are we to
know what is his, or how much ? Are the best parts
his, or the worst? It is said that the players put in
what is vulgar and oft'ensive in his writings ; perhaps
they inserted the beauties. I have heard it urged



Formal Inference. 265

years ago, as an objection to Sheridan's claim of
authorship to the plays which bear his name, that
the}' were so unHke each other ; is not this the very
peculiarity of those imputed to Shakespeare ? Were
ever the writings of one man so various, so imper-
sonal ? Can we form one true idea of what he was in
history or character, by means of them ? is he not in
short " I'ox ct pratcrca niJiir' ? Then again, ii> corro-
boration, is there any author's life so deficient in
biographical notices as his ? We know about Hooker,
Spenser, Spelman, Walton, Harvey: what do we
know of Shakespeare ? Is he much more than a
name ? Is not the traditional object of an English-
man's idolatr}^ after all a nebula of genius, destined,
like Homer, to be resolved into its separate and inde-
pendent luminaries, as soon as we have a criticism
powerful enough for the purpose ? I must not
be supposed for a moment to countenance such
scepticism m)-self, — though it is a subject worthy
the attention of a sceptical age : here I have intro-
duced it simply to suggest how many words go to
make up a thoroughly valid argument ; how short
and easy a way to a true conclusion is the logic of
good sense ; how little syllogisms have to do with the
formation of opinion ; how little depends upon the
inferential proofs ; how much upon those pre-existing
beliefs and views, in which men either agree with
each other or hopelessly differ, before they begin to
dispute, and which are hidden deep
it may be, in our personal peculiaritif

2.

So much on tlic multiplicity of assu




266 Inference.

in spite of formal exactness, logical reasoning in con-
crete matters is forced to admit, and on the conse-
quent uncertainty which attends its conclusions.
Now I come to the second reason why its conclu-
sions are thus wanting in precision.

In this world of sense we have to do with things,
far more than with notions. We are not solitary, left
to the contemplation of our own thoughts and their
legitimate developments. We are surrounded by
external beings, and our enunciations are directed to
the concrete. We reason in order to enlarge our
knowledge of matters, which do not depend on us
for being what they are. But how is an exercise of
mind, which is for the most part occupied with
notions, not things, competent to deal with things,
except partially and indirectly? This is the main
reason why an inference, however fully worded
(except perhaps in some peculiar cases, which are
out of place here), never can reach so far as to as-
certain a fact. As I have already said, arguments
about the abstract cannot handle and determine the
concrete. They may approximate to a proof, but
they only reach the probable, because they cannot
reach the particular.

Even in mathematical physics a margin is left for
possible imperfection in the investigation. When the
planet Neptune was discovered, it was deservedly
considered a triumph of science, that abstract reason-
ings had done so much towards determining the
planet and its orbit. There would have been no
triumph in success, had there been no hazard of
failure; it is no triumph to Euclid, in pure mathe-
matics, that the geometrical conclusions of his



Formal Inference. 267

second book can be worked out and verified by
algebra.

The motions of the heavenly bodies are almost
mathematical in their precision ; but there is a multi-
tude of matters, to which mathematical science is
applied, which are in their nature intricate and ob-
scure, and require that reasoning by rule should be
completed by the living mind. Who would be satis-
fied with a navigator or engineer, who had no prac-
tice or experience to carry on his scientific conclusions
out of their native abstract into the concrete and the
real? What is the meaning of the distrust, which is
ordinarily felt, of speculators and theorists but this,
that they are dead to the necessity of personal pru-
dence and judgment to qualify and complete their
logic? Science, working by itself, reaches truth in
the abstract, and probability in the concrete ; but
what we aim at is truth in the concrete.

This is true of other inferences besides mathemati-
cal. They come to no definite conclusions about
matters of fact, except as they arc made effectual for
their purpose by the living intelligence which uses
them. " All men have their price ; Fabricius is a
man ; he has his price ;" but he had not his price ;
how is this? Because he is more than a universal ;
because he falls under other universals ; because uni-
versals are ever at war with each other; because
what is called a universal is only a general ; because
what is only general does not lead to a necessary
conclusion. Let us judge him by another universal.
" Men have a conscience ; Fabricius is a man ; he has
a conscience." Until we have actual experience of
Fabricius, we can only say, that, since he is a man,



268 Inference.

perhaps he will take a bribe, and perhaps he will not.
" Latet dolus in generalibus ;" they are arbitrary and
fallacious, if we take them for more than broad views
and aspects of things, serving as our notes and indi-
cations for judging of the particular, but not abso-
lutely touching and determining facts.

Let units come first, and (so-called) universals sec-
ond ; let universals minister to units, not units be
sacrificed to universals. John, Richard, and Robert
are individual things, independent, incommunicable.
We may find some kind of common measure between
them, and we may give it the name of man, man as
such, the typical man, the auto-ant hropos. We are
justified in so doing, and in investing it with gen-
eral attributes, and bestowing on it what we consider
a definition. But we go on to impose our definition
on the whole race, and to every member of it, to the
thousand Johns, Richards, and Roberts who are



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanAn essay in aid of a grammar of assent → online text (page 18 of 33)