John Henry Newman.

An essay in aid of a grammar of assent online

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parison, analysis, inference, which nothing could have

Natural Inference. 327

obviated, but that which was wanting, — a specific
talent, and a ready exercise of it.

I have ah^eady referred to the faculty of memory
in illustration ; it will serve me also here. We can
form an abstract idea of memory, and call it one fac-
ulty, which has for its subject-matter all past facts of
our personal experience ; but this is really only an
illusion ; for there is no such gift of universal memo-
ry. Of course we all remember, in a way, as we
reason, in all subject-matters ; but I am speaking of
remembering rightly, as I spoke of reasoning right-
ly. In real fact memory, as a talent, is not one indi-
visible faculty, but a power of retaining and recalling
the past in this or that department of our experience,
not in any whatever. Two memories, which are
both specially retentive, may also be incommensu-
rate. Some men can recite the canto of a poem, or
good part of a speech, after once reading it, but have
no head for dates. Others have great capacity for
the vocabulary of languages, but recollect nothing
of the small occurrences of the day or year. Others
never forget any statement which they have read,
and can give volume and page, but have no memory
for faces. I have known those who could, without
effort, run through the succession of days on which
Easter fell for years back ; or could say where they
were, or what they were doing, on a given day, in
a given year ; or could recollect accuratcl}- the Chris-
tian names of friends and strangers ; or could enume-
rate in exact order the names on all the shops from
Hyde Park Corner to the Bank ; or had so mastered
the University Calendar as to be able to bear an
examination in the academical history of any M.A.

328 Inference.

taken at random. And I believe in most of these
cases the talent, in its exceptional character, did not
extend beyond several classes of subjects. There are
a hundred memories, as there are a hundred virtues.
Natural virtue is one in the abstract ; but, in fact,
gentle and kind natures are not therefore heroic, and
prudent and self-controlled minds need not be open-
handed. At the utmost such virtue is one only in
posse ; as developed in the concrete, it takes the shape
of species which in no sense imply each other.

So is it with Ratiocination ; and as we should be-
take ourselves to Newton for physical, not for theo-
logical conclusions, and to Wellington for his military
experience, not for statesmanship, so the maxim holds
good generally, " Cuique in arte sua credendum est ;''
or, to use the grand words of Aristotle, " We are
bound to give heed to the undemonstrated sayings
and opinions of the experienced and the aged, not
less than to demonstrations ; because, from their hav-
ing the eye of experience, they behold the principles
of things." * And if we wish to share in their con-
victions and the grounds of them, we must follow
their history, and learn as they have learned. We
must take up their particular subject as they took it
up, beginning at the beginning, give ourselves to it,
depend on practice and experience more than on rea-
soning, and thus gain that mental insight into truth,
whatever its subject-matter may be, which our mas-
ters have gained before us. Instead of trusting logi-
cal science, we must trust persons, namely, those v^^ho
by long acquaintance with their subject have a right

* Elh. Nicom. vi. 11, fin.

Natural Inference. 329

to judge. We too, of course, may make ourselves of
their number, and then we rightly trust ourselves;
we trust our moral or intellectual judgment, but not
our skill in argumentation.

This doctrine, stated in substance as above, by the
great philosopher of antiquity, is more fully ex-
pounded in a passage which he elsewhere quotes
from Hesiod. " Best of all is he," says that poet,
" who is wise by his own wit ; next best he who is
wise by the wit of others ; but whoso is neither able
to see, nor willing -to hear, he is a good-for-nothing,
fellow." Judgment then in all concrete matter is thek
architectonic faculty; and what may be called the!
Illative Sense, or judgment in ratiocination, is one '
branch of it.



My object in the foregoing pages has been, not to
form a theory which may account for those phenom-
ena of the intellect of which they treat, but to ascer-
tain what the fact is as regards them, that is, when it
is that assent is given to propositions and under what
circumstances. I have never had the thought of an
attempt which would be ambitious in me, and which
has failed in the hands of others, if that attempt may
not unfairly be called unsuccessful, which, though
made by the acutest minds, has not succeeded in con-
vincing opponents. Especially have I found myself
unequal to antecedent reasonings in the instance of a
matter of fact. There are those, who, arguing a pri-
ori, maintain, that, since experience leads by syllogism
only to probabilities, certitude is ever a mistake.
There are others, who, while they deny this conclu-
sion, grant the a priori principle assumed in the
argument, and in consequence are obliged, in order
to vindicate the certainty of our knowledge, to have
recourse to the hypothesis of intuitions, intellectual
forms, and the like, which belong to us by nature,
and may be considered to elevate our experiences
into something more than they are in themselves.

The Illative Sense. 331

Earnestly maintaining, as I would, with this latter
school of philosophers, the certainty of knowledge, I
hink it enough to appeal to the common voice of
mankind in proof of it. That is to be accounted a
ormal faculty of our nature, which men in general
.0 actuall)- exercise. That is a law of our minds,
which is exemplified in action on a large scale, whether
it priori it ought to be a law or no. Our hoping is a
proof that hope, as such, is not an extravagance ; and
our possession of certitude is a proof that it is not a
weakness or an absurdity to be certain. How it
comes about that we can be certain is not my busi-
ness to determine ; for me it is sufficient that certitude
is felt. This is what the schoolmen, I believe, call
treating a subject in facto esse, in contrast with in fieri.
Had I attempted the latter, I should have been fall-
ing into metaphysics; but my aim is of a practical
character, such as that of Butler in his Analogy, with
this difference, that he treats of probability, doubt,
expedience, and duty, whereas in these pages, with-
out excluding, far from it, the question of duty, I
would confine myself to the truth of things, and to
the mind's certitude of that truth.

Certitude is a mental state : certainty is a quality
fj of propositions. Those propositions I call certain,
which are such that I am certain of them. Certitude
is not a passive impression made upon the mind from
without, by argumentative compulsion, but in all
concrete questions (nay, even in abstract, for though
the reasoning is abstract, the mind which judges of it
is concrete) it is an active recognition of propositions
as true, such as it is the duty of each individual to
exercise for himself at the bidding of reason, and,


The Illative Sense.

when reason forbids, to withhold. And reason never
bids us be certain except on an absolute proof; and
such a proof can never be furnished to us b}^ the
logic of words, for as certitude is of the mind, so is
the act of inference which leads to it. Every one
who reasons, is his own centre ; and no expedient for
attaining a common measure of minds can reverse
this truth ; — but then the question follows, is there
any criterion of an act of inference, such as may be
our warrant that certitude is rightly elicited in favor
of the proposition inferred, since our warrant cannot,
as I have said, be scientific ? I have already said that
the sole and final judgment on the validity of an
inference in concrete matter is committed to a mental
faculty, which I have called the Illative Sense ; and
I own I do not see any way to go farther than this
in answer to the question. However, I can at least
explain my meaning more fully ; and therefore I will
now speak, first of the sanction of the Illative Sense,
next of its nature, and then of its range.

The Sanction of the Illative Sense. '}^2>?>

§ I. The Sanction of the Illative Sense.

We are in a world of facts, and we use them ; for
there is nothing else to use. We do not quarrel with
them, but we take them as they are, and avail our-
selves of what they can do for us. It would be out
of place to demand of fire, water, earth, and air their
credentials, so to say, for acting- upon us, or minister-
ing to us. We call them elements, and turn them to
account, and make the most of them. We speculate
on them at our leisure. But what we are still less
able to doubt about or annul, at our leisure or not, is
that which is at once their counterpart and their wit-
ness, I mean, ourselves. We are conscious of the
objects of external nature, and we reflect and act
upon them, and this consciousness, reflection, and
action we call our own rational nature. And as we
use the (so called) elements without first criticizing
what we have no command over, so is it much more
unmeaning in us, to criticize or find fault with our
r)\vn nature, which is nothing else than we, instead of
using it according to the use of which it ordinarily
admits. Our being, with its faculties, mind and body,
is a fact not admitting of question, all things being of
necessity referred to it, not it to other things.

If I may not assume that I exist, and in a particu-

334 ^-^^ Illative Sejise.

lar way, that is, with a particular mental constitution, '
I have nothing to speculate about, and had better let
speculation alone. Such as I am, it is my all ; this is
my essential stand-point, and must be taken for grant-
ed ; otherwise, thought is but an idle amusement, not
worth the trouble. There is no medium between
using my faculties, as I have them, and flinging my-
self upon the external world according to the ran-
dom impulse of the moment, as spray upon the
surface of the waves, and simply forgetting that I

I am what I am, or I am nothing. I cannot think,
reflect, or judge, without starting from the very point
which I aim at concluding. My ideas are all assump-
tions, and I am ever moving in a circle. I cannot
avoid being sufficient for myself, for I cannot make
myself any thing else, and to change me is to destroy
me. If I do not use myself, I have no other self to
use. My only business is to ascertain what I am, in
order to put it to use. It is enough for the proof of
the value and authorit}^ of any function which I pos-
sess, to be able to pronounce that it is natural. What
I have to ascertain is the laws under which I live.
My first elementary lesson of duty is that of resigna-
tion to the laws of my nature, whatever they are ;
my first disobedience is to be impatient at what I am,
and to indulge an ambitious aspiration after what I
cannot be, to cherish a distrust of my powers, and to
desire to change laws which are identical with my-

Truths such as these, which are too obvious to be
called irresistible, are illustrated by what we see m
universal nature. Every being is in a true sense suf-

The Sa7iction of tJie Illative Sense. 335

ficient for itself, so as to be able to fulfil its particular
needs. It is a general law that, whatever is found as
a function or an attribute of any class of beings, or is
natural to it, is in its substance suitable to it, and sub-
serves its existence, and cannot be rightly regarded
as a fault or enormity. No being could endure, of
which the constituent parts were at war with each
other. And more than this ; there is that principle
of vitality in every being, which is of a sanative and
restorative character, and which brings all its parts
and functions together into one whole, and is ever
repelling and correcting the mischiefs which befall it,
whether from within or without, while showing no
tendency to cast off its belongings as if foreign to its
nature. The brute animals are found severally with
limbs and organs, habits, instincts, appetites, surround-
ings, which play together for the safety and welfare
of the whole ; and, after all exceptions, may be said
each of them to have, after its own kind, a perfection
of nature. Man is the highest of the animals, and
more indeed than an animal, as having a mind ; that
is, he has a complex nature different from theirs, with
a higher aim and a specific perfection ; but still the
fact that other beings find their good in the use of
their particular nature, is a reason for anticipating
that to use duly our own is our interest as well as our

What is the peculiarity of our nature, in contrast
with the inferior animals around us? It is that,
though man cannot change what he is born with, he
is a being of progress with relation to his perfection
and characteristic good. Other beings are complete
from their first existence, in that line of excellence

^^,6 The Illative Sense.

which is allotted to them ; but man begins with no-
thing realized (to use the word), and he has tc
make capital for himself by the exercise of those fac
ulties which are his natural inheritance. Thus h(
gradually advances to the fulness of his original des
tiny. Nor is this progress mechanical, nor is it of
necessity ; it is committed to the personal efforts ol
each individual of the species ; each of us has the
prerogative of completing his inchoate and rudi-
mental nature, and of developing his own perfectior
out of the living elements with which his mind be-
gan to be. It is his gift to be the creator of his owr
sufficiency ; and to be emphatically self-made. Thie
is the law of his being, which he cannot escape ; and
whatever is involved in that law he is bound, or rathei
he is carried on, to fulfil.

And here I am brought to the bearing of these
remarks upon my subject. For this law of progress
is carried out by means of the acquisition of know-
ledge, of which inference and assent are the immedi-
ate instruments. If, then, the advancement of our,
nature, both in ourselves individually and as regards
the human family, is to every one of us in his place a
sacred duty, it follows that that duty is intimately
bound up with the right use of these two main in-
struments of fulfilling it. And as we do not gain the
knowledge of the law of progress by any a prion
view of man, but by looking at it as the interpreta-
tion which is provided by himself on a large scale in
the ordinary action of his intellectual nature, so too
we must appeal to himself, as a fact, and not to any
antecedent theory, in order to find what is the law
of his mind as regards the two faculties in question.

The Sanction of the Illative Sense. 2)2)7

If then such an appeal does bear me out in deciding,
as I have done, that the course of inference is ever
more or less obscure, while assent is ever distinct
and definite, and yet that what is in its nature thus
absolute does, in fact, follow upon what in outward
manifestation is thus complex, indirect, and recon-
dite, what is left to us but to take things as they are,
and to resign ourselves to what we find ? that is, in-
stead of devising, what cannot be, some sufficient
science of reasoning which may compel certitude in
concrete conclusions, to confess that there is no ulti-
mate test of truth besides the testimony borne to
truth by the mind itself, and that this phenomenon,
perplexing as we may find it, is a normal and inevita-
ble characteristic of the mental constitution of a be-
ing like man on a stage such as the world. His pro-
gress is a living growth, not a mechanism ; and its
instruments are mental acts, not the formulas and
contrivances of language.

We are accustomed in this day to lay great stress
upon the harmony of the universe ; and we have well
learned the maxim so powerfully inculcated by our
own English philosopher, that in our inquiries into
its laws, we must sternly destroy all idols of the
intellect, and subdue nature by co-operating with
her. Knowledge is power, for it enables us to use
eternal principles which we cannot alter. So also is
it in that microcosm, the human mind. Let us fol-
low Bacon more closely than to distort its faculties
according to the demands of an ideal optimism, in-
stead of looking out for modes of thought proper to
our nature, and faithfully observing them in our
intellectual exercises.

338 The Illative Seitse.

Of course I do not stop here. As the structure of
the universe speaks to us ol Him who made it, so the
laws of the mind are the expression, not of mere con-
stituted order, but of His will. I should be bound by
them even were they not His laws ; but since one of
their very functions is to tell me of Him, they throw
a reflex light upon themselves, and, for resigna-
tion to my destiny, I substitute a cheerful concur-
rence in an overruling Providence. We may gladly
welcome such difficulties as there are in our mental
constitution, and in the inter-action of our faculties,
if we are able to feel that He gave them to us, and
He can overrule them for us. We may securely take
them as they are, and use them as we find them. It
is He who teaches us all knowledge ; and the way by
which we acquire it is His way. He varies that way
according to the subject-matter ; but whether He has
set before us in our particular pursuit the way of
observation or of experiment, of speculation or of
research, of demonstration or of probability, whether
we are inquiring into the system of the universe, or
into the elements of matter and of life, or into the
history of human society and past times, if we take
the way, proper to our subject-matter, we have His
blessing upon us, and shall find, besides abundant
matter for mere opinion, the materials in due measure
of proof and assent.

And especially, by this disposition of things, shall
we learn, as regards religious and ethical inquiries,
how little we can effect, however much Ave exert our-
selves, without that Blessing ; for, as if on set pur-
pose, He has made this path of thought rugged and
circuitous above other investigations, that the very

The Sanction of the Illative Sense. 339

discipline inflicted on our minds in finding Him, may
mould them into due devotion to Him when He is
found. " Verily Thou art a hidden God, the God of
Israel, the Saviour," is the very law of His dealings
with us. Certainly we need a clue into the labyrinth
which is to lead us to Him ; and who among us can
hope to seize upon the true starting-points of thought
for that enterprise, and upon all of them, to under-
stand their right direction, to follow them out to
their just limits, and duly to estimate, adjust, and
combine the various reasonings in which they issue,
so as safely to arrive at what it is worth any labor to
secure, without a special illumination from Himself?
Such are the dealings of Wisdom with the elect soul.
" She will bring upon him fear, and dread, and trial ;
and She will torture him with the tribulation of Her
discipline, till She try him by Her laws, and trust his
soul. Then She will strengthen him, and make Her
way straight to him, and give him jo}-."

340 The Illative Sense,

§ 2. The Nature of the Illative Sense.

It is the mind that reasons, and that controls its
own reasonings, not any technical apparatus of words
and propositions. Great as are the services of lan-
guage in enabling us to extend the range of our
inferences, to test their validity, and to communicate
them to others, still the mind itself is more versatile
and vigorous than any of its works, of Avhich language
is one ; and it is only under its penetrating and sub-
tle action that the margin disappears, which I have
described as intervening between verbal argumenta-
tion and concrete conclusions. It determines what
science cannot determine, the limit of converging
probabilities, and the reasons sufficient for a proof.
This power of judging about truth and error in
concrete matters, I call the Illative Sense, and I shall
best illustrate it by referring to parallel faculties,
which we commonly recognize without difficulty.

For instance, how does the mind fulfil its function
of supreme direction and control, in matters of duty,
social intercourse, and taste ? In all of these separate
actions of the intellect, the individual is supreme, and
responsible to himself, nay, under circumstances, may
be justified in opposing himself to the judgment of
the whole world ; though he uses rules to his great

The Nature of the Illative Sense. 341

advantage, as far as they go, and is in consequence
bound to use them. As regards moral duty, the sub-
ject is fully considered in the well-known ethical
treatises of Aristotle. He calls the faculty which
guides the mind in matters of conduct, by the name
oi phroncsis, or judgment. This is the directing, con-
trolling, and determining principle in such matters,
personal and social. What it is to be virtuous, how
we are to gain the just idea and standard of virtue,
how we are to approximate in practice to our own
standard, what is right and wrong in a particular
case, for the answers in fulness and accuracy to these
and similar questions, the philosopher refers us to no
code of laws, to no moral treatise, because no science
of life, applicable to the case of an individual, has
been or can be wruten. Such is Aristotle's doctrine,
and it is undoubtedly true. An ethical system may
supply laws, general rules, guiding principles, a num-
ber of examples, suggestions, landmarks, limitations,
cautions, distinctions, solutions of critical or anxious
difficulties ; but who is to apply them to a particular
case ? whither can we go, except to the living intel-
lect, our own, or another's? What is written is too
vague, too negative for our need. It bids us avoid
extremes ; but it cannot ascertain for us, according to
our personal need, the golden mean. The authorita-
tive oracle, which is to decide our path, is something
more searching and manifold than such jejune gener-
alizations as treatises can give, which are most dis-
tinct and clear, when we least need them. It is seated
in the mind of the individual, who is thus his own
law, his own teacher, and his own judge in those
special cases of duty which arc personal to him. It

34-2 The Illative Sense.

comes of an acquired habit, though it has its first
origin in nature itself, and it is formed and matured
by practice and experience; and it manifests itself,
not in any breadth of view, any philosophical compre-
hension of the mutual relations of duty towards duty,
or any consistency in its teachings, but it is a capa-
city sufficient for the occasion, deciding what ought
to be done here and now, by this given person, un-
der these given circumstances. It decides nothing
hypothetical, it does not determine what a man shall
do ten years hence, or what another should do at this
time. It may indeed decide ten years hence as it
does now, and decide another case now as it decides
the case which is before it ; still its present act is for
the present, not for the distant or the future.

The law of the land is inflexible, but this mental
rule is not only minute and particular, but has an
elasticity, which, in its application to individual cases,
is, as I have said, not studious to maintain the appear-
ance of consistency. In old times the mason's rule
which was in use at Lesbos was, according to Aris-
totle, not of wood or iron, but of lead, so as to allow
of its adjustment to the uneven surface of the stones
brought together for the work. Such is the philoso-
pher's illustration of the nature of equity in contrast
with law, and such is that phronesis, from Avhich the
science of morals forms its rules, and receives its com-

In this respect of course the law of truth differs
from the law of duty, that duties change, but truths .
never ; but, though truth is ever one and the same,
and the assent of certitude is immutable, still the
reasonings which carry us on to truth and certitude

The Nature of the Illative Sense. 343

are many and distinct, and vary with the inquirer ;
and it is not with assent, but with the controlling
principle in inferences that I am comparing- //;r(?;/^j-zj-.
Therefore it is that I say that as regards conduct, the
rule for one man is not always the rule for another,
though the rule is always one and the same in the

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanAn essay in aid of a grammar of assent → online text (page 23 of 33)