Chapter VIII.


§ 1. Formal Inference.

Inference is the conditional acceptance of a proposition, Assent is the unconditional; the object of Assent is a truth, the object of Inference is the truth-like or a verisimilitude. The problem which I have undertaken is that of ascertaining how it comes to pass that a conditional act leads to an unconditional; and, having now shown that assent really is unconditional, I proceed to show how inferential exercises, as such, always must be conditional.

We reason, when we hold this by virtue of that; whether we hold it as evident or as approximating or tending to be evident, in either case we so hold it because of holding something else to be evident or tending to be evident. In the next place, our reasoning ordinarily presents itself to our mind as a simple act, not a process or series of acts. We apprehend the antecedent and then apprehend the consequent, without explicit recognition of the medium connecting the two, as if by a sort of direct association of the first thought with the second. We proceed by a sort of instinctive perception, from premiss to conclusion. I call it instinctive, not as if the faculty were one and the same to all men in strength and quality (as we generally conceive of instinct), but because ordinarily, or at least often, it acts by a spontaneous impulse, as prompt and inevitable as the exercise of sense and memory. We perceive external objects, and we remember past events, without knowing how we do so; and in like manner we reason without effort and intention, or any necessary consciousness of the path which the mind takes in passing from antecedent to conclusion.

Such is ratiocination, in what may be called a state of nature, as it is found in the uneducated,—nay, in all men, in its ordinary exercise; nor is there any antecedent ground for determining that it will not be as correct in its informations as it is instinctive, as trustworthy as are sensible perception and memory, though its informations are not so immediate and have a wider range. By means of sense we gain knowledge directly; by means of reasoning we gain it indirectly, that is, by virtue of a previous knowledge. And if we may justly regard the universe, according to the meaning of the word, as one whole, we may also believe justly that to know one part of it is necessarily to know much more than that one part. This thought leads us to a further view of ratiocination. The proverb says, “Ex pede Herculem;” and we have actual experience how the practised zoologist can build up some intricate organization from the sight of its smallest bone, evoking the whole as if it were a remembrance; how, again, a philosophical antiquarian, by means of an inscription, interprets the mythical traditions of former ages, and makes the past live; and how a Columbus is led, from considerations which are common property, and fortuitous phenomena which are successively brought to his notice, to have such faith in a western world, as willingly to commit himself to the terrors of a mysterious ocean in order to arrive at it. That which the mind is able thus variously to bring together into unity, must have some real intrinsic connexion of part with part. But if this summa rerum is thus one whole, it must be constructed on definite principles and laws, the knowledge of which will enlarge our capacity of reasoning about it in particulars;—thus we are led on to aim at determining on a large scale and on system, what even gifted or practised intellects are only able by their own personal vigour to reach piece-meal and fitfully, that is, at substituting scientific methods, such as all may use, for the action of individual genius.

There is another reason for attempting to discover an instrument of reasoning (that is, of gaining new truths by means of old), which may be less vague and arbitrary than the talent and experience of the few or the common-sense of the many. As memory is not always accurate, and has on that account led to the adoption of writing, as being a memoria technica, unaffected by the failure of mental impressions,—as our senses at times deceive us, and have to be corrected by each other; so is it also with our reasoning faculty. The conclusions of one man are not the conclusions of another; those of the same man do not always agree together; those of ever so many who agree together may differ from the facts themselves, which those conclusions are intended to ascertain. In consequence it becomes a necessity, if it be possible, to analyze the process of reasoning, and to invent a method which may act as a common measure between mind and mind, as a means of joint investigation, and as a recognized intellectual standard,—a standard such as to secure us against hopeless mistakes, and to emancipate us from the capricious ipse dixit of authority.

As the index on the dial notes down the sun’s course in the heavens, as a key, revolving through the intricate wards of the lock, opens for us a treasure-house, so let us, if we can, provide ourselves with some ready expedient to serve as a true record of the system of objective truth, and an available rule for interpreting its phenomena; or at least let us go as far as we can in providing it. One such experimental key is the science of geometry, which, in a certain department of nature, substitutes a collection of true principles, fruitful and interminable in consequences, for the guesses, pro re natâ, of our intellect, and saves it both the labour and the risk of guessing. Another far more subtle and effective instrument is algebraical science, which acts as a spell in unlocking for us, without merit or effort of our own individually, the arcana of the concrete physical universe. A more ambitious, because a more comprehensive contrivance still, for interpreting the concrete world is the method of logical inference. What we desiderate is something which may supersede the need of personal gifts by a far-reaching and infallible rule. Now, without external symbols to mark out and to steady its course, the intellect runs wild; but with the aid of symbols, as in algebra, it advances with precision and effect. Let then our symbols be words: let all thought be arrested and embodied in words. Let language have a monopoly of thought; and thought go for only so much as it can show itself to be worth in language. Let every prompting of the intellect be ignored, every momentum of argument be disowned, which is unprovided with an equivalent wording, as its ticket for sharing in the common search after truth. Let the authority of nature, common-sense, experience, genius, go for nothing. Ratiocination, thus restricted and put into grooves, is what I have called Inference, and the science, which is its regulating principle, is Logic.

The first step in the inferential method is to throw the question to be decided into the form of a proposition; then to throw the proof itself into propositions, the force of the proof lying in the comparison of these propositions with each other. When the analysis is carried out fully and put into form, it becomes the Aristotelic syllogism. However, an inference need not be expressed thus technically; an enthymeme fulfils the requirements of what I have called Inference. So does any other form of words with the mere grammatical expressions, “for,” “therefore,” “supposing,” “so that,” “similarly,” and the like. Verbal reasoning, of whatever kind, as opposed to mental, is what I mean by inference, which differs from logic only inasmuch as logic is its scientific form. And it will be more convenient here to use the two words indiscriminately, for I snail say nothing about logic which does not in its substance also apply to inference.

Logical inference, then, being such, and its office such as I have described, the question follows, how far it answers the purpose for which it is used. It proposes to provide both a test and a common measure of reasoning; and I think it will be found partly to succeed and partly to fail; succeeding so far as words can in fact be found for representing the countless varieties and subtleties of human thought, failing on account of the fallacy of the original assumption, that whatever can be thought can be adequately expressed in words.

In the first place, Inference, being conditional, is hampered with other propositions besides that which is especially its own, that is, with the premisses as well as the conclusion, and with the rules connecting the latter with the former. It views its own proper proposition in the medium of prior propositions, and measures it by them. It does not hold a proposition for its own sake, but as dependent upon others, and those others it entertains for the sake of the conclusion. Thus it is practically far more concerned with the comparison of propositions, than with the propositions themselves. It is obliged to regard all the propositions, with which it has to do, not so much for their own sake, as for the sake of each other, as regards the identity or likeness, independence or dissimilarity, which has to be mutually predicated of them. It follows from this, that the more simple and definite are the words of a proposition, and the narrower their meaning, and the more that meaning in each proposition is restricted to the relation which it has to the words of the other propositions compared with it,—in other words, the nearer the propositions concerned in the inference approach to being mental abstractions, and the less they have to do with the concrete reality, and the more closely they are made to express exact, intelligible, comprehensible, communicable notions, and the less they stand for objective 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 Inference.

Hence it is that no process of argument is so perfect, as that which is conducted by means of symbols. In Arithmetic 1 is 1, and just 1, and never anything else but 1; it never is 2, it has no tendency to change its meaning, and to become 2; it has no portion, quality, 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 anything to throw doubt upon these elementary positions. It is not so with language. 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 inferentia, between premisses and conclusions; or for the conclusion 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 anything 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, points, lines, and surfaces, are precise creations of the mind, suggested indeed by external objects, but meaning nothing but what they are defined to mean: they have no colour, no motion, no heat, no qualities which address themselves to the ear or to the palate; so that, in whatever combinations or relations the words denoting them occur, and to whomsoever 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 Geometry, is true also of Aristotelic argumentation in its typical modes and figures. It compares two given words separately with a third, and then determines how they stand towards each other, in a bona fide identity 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 are substituted for symbols, it will be its aim to circumscribe 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 possible, 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 exercises it is the very triumph of that clearness and hardness of head, which is the characteristic talent for 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 everywhere one and the same ghost, “omnibus umbra locis,” so that it may stand for just one unreal aspect of the concrete thing to which it properly belongs, for a relation, a generalization, 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 definition.

Thus it is that the logician for his own purposes, and most usefully as far as those purposes are concerned, turns rivers, full, winding, and beautiful, into navigable canals. To him dog or horse is not a thing which he sees, but a mere name 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 all the while does not really correspond to any one single 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 dress up middle terms; and, provided they and the extremes which they go between are not equivocal, either in themselves or in their use, and he can enable his pupils to show well in a vivâ voce disputation, or in a popular harangue, or in a written dissertation, he has achieved the main purpose of his profession.

Such are the characteristics of reasoning, viewed as a science or scientific art, or inferential process, and we might anticipate that, narrow as by necessity is its field of view, for that reason its pretensions to be demonstrative were incontrovertible. In a certain 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 perfection, neither can it be attenuated into a logical formula. Abstract can only conduct to abstract; but we have need to attain by our reasonings to what is concrete; and the margin between the abstract conclusions 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, whereas (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 are thrown upon 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 carried back. At length a score of propositions present themselves, all to be proved by propositions more evident than themselves, in order to enable them respectively to become premisses to that series of inferences 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 by some, rejected 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 respective 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 fulfil this end, if it only leads us back to first principles, about which there is interminable controversy? We are not able to prove by syllogism that there are any self-evident propositions at all; but supposing there are (as of course I hold there are), still who can determine these by logic? Syllogism, then, though of course it has its use, still does only the minutest and easiest 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 arrangement of proofs.

Even when argument is the most direct and severe of its kind, there must be those assumptions in the process which resolve themselves into the conditions of human nature; but how many more assumptions does that process in ordinary concrete matters involve, subtle assumptions not directly arising out of these primary conditions, 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 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 conclusions are probable; but for genuine proof in concrete matter we require an organon more delicate, versatile, and elastic than verbal argumentation.

* * *

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 Shakespeare’s 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, substituted 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 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 exclusion of the annotation of 1632 because it is anonymous.” 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 reasonings 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 restored to 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? However 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 corrections of earlier faulty impressions. Authority cannot sanction nonsense, but it can forbid critics from experimentalizing 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 Shakespeare has a right to be treated with the same respect as Æschylus. To this it will be replied, that Shakespeare is for the general public and Æschylus for students of a dead language; that the run of men read for amusement or as a recreation, and that, if the editions of Shakespeare were made on critical principles, they would remain unsold. Here, then, we are brought to the question whether it is any advantage 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 questions 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, because 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 correction 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 any how be got out of the way, why should not the Annotator, rather than Theobald, determine its substitute? For what we know, the authority 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? are they his own private and arbitrary conjectures, or are they informations from those who knew Shakespeare, traditions of the theatre, of the actors or spectators of his plays? Here, then, we are involved in intricate questions which can only be decided by a minute examination of the 20,000 emendations so industriously brought together by this anonymous critic. But it is obvious that a verbal argumentation upon 20,000 corrections is impossible: there must be first careful processes of perusal, classification, discrimination, selection, which mainly are acts of the mind without the intervention of language. There must be a cumulation 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 premisses, 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 argument (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,—requires 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 possible language, however rich in vocabulary and flexible in structure?

And now as to the third point which presents itself for consideration, the claim of Theobald’s emendation to retain its place in the textus receptus. 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 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, nevertheless Theobald’s has by this time acquired a prescriptive 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 question 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 theology. 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 honour 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 offensive in his writings; perhaps they inserted the beauties. I have heard it urged years ago, as an objection to Sheridan’s claim of authorship to the plays which bear his name, that they were so unlike each other; is not this the very peculiarity of those imputed to Shakespeare? Were ever the writings of one man so various, so impersonal? can we form any one true idea of what he was in history or character, by means of them? is he not in short “vox et præterea nihil”? Then again, in corroboration, is there any author’s life so deficient in biographical notices as his? We know about Hooker, Spenser, Spelman, Raleigh, Harvey, his contemporaries: what do we know of Shakespeare? Is he much more than a name? Is not the traditional object of an Englishman’s idolatry after all a nebula of genius, destined, like Homer, to be resolved into its separate and independent 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 myself,—though it is a subject worthy the attention of a sceptical age: here I have introduced 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, and how much upon those pre-existing beliefs and views, in which men either already agree with each other or hopelessly differ, before they begin to dispute, and which are hidden deep in our nature, or, it may be, in our personal peculiarities.


So much on the multiplicity of assumptions, which in spite of formal exactness, logical reasoning in concrete matters is forced to admit, and on the consequent uncertainty which attends its conclusions. Now I come to the second reason why its conclusions 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 ascertain 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 reasonings 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 mathematics, that the geometrical conclusions of his 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 multitude of matters, to which mathematical science is applied, which are in their nature intricate and obscure, and require that reasoning by rule should be completed by the living mind. Who would be satisfied with a navigator or engineer, who had no practice or experience whereby 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 prudence 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 mathematical. They come to no definite conclusions about matters of fact, except as they are 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 universals 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, 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 indications for judging of the particular, but not absolutely touching and determining facts.

Let units come first, and (so-called) universals second; 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-anthropos. We are justified in so doing, and in investing it with general attributes, and bestowing on it what we consider a definition. But we think we may 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 found in it. No; each of them is what he is, in spite of it. Not any one of them is man, as such, or coincides with the auto-anthropos. Another John is not necessarily rational, because “all men are rational,” for he may be an idiot;—nor because “man is a being of progress,” does the second Richard progress, for he may be a dunce;—nor, because “man is made for society,” must we therefore go on to deny that the second Robert is a gipsy or a bandit, as he is found to be. There is no such thing as stereotyped humanity; it must ever be a vague, bodiless idea, because the concrete units from which it is formed are independent realities. General laws are not inviolable truths; much less are they necessary causes. Since, as a rule, men are rational, progressive, and social, there is a high probability of this rule being true in the case of a particular person; but we must know him to be sure of it.

Each thing has its own nature and its own history. When the nature and the history of many things are similar, we say that they have the same nature; but there is no such thing as one and the same nature; they are each of them itself, not identical, but like. A law is not a fact, but a notion. “All men die; therefore Elias has died;” but he has not died, and did not die. He was an exception to the general law of humanity; so far, he did not come under that law, but under the law (so to say) of Elias. It was the peculiarity of his individuality, that he left the world without dying: what right have we to subject the person of Elias to the scientific notion of an abstract humanity, which we have formed without asking his leave? Why must the tyrant majority find a rule for his history? “But all men are mortal;” not so; what is really meant is, that “man, as such, is mortal,” or the abstract, typical auto-anthropos; therefore the minor premiss ought to be, “Elias was the auto-anthropos or abstract man;” but he was not, and could not be the abstract man, nor could any one else, any more than the average man of an Insurance Company is every individual man who insures his life with it. Such a syllogism proves nothing about the veritable Elias, except in the way of antecedent probability. If it be said that Elias was exempted from death, not by nature, but by miracle, what is this to the purpose, undeniable as it is? Still, to have this miraculous exemption was the personal prerogative of Elias. We call it miracle, because God ordinarily acts otherwise. He who causes men in general to die, gave to Elias not to die. This miraculous gift comes into the individuality of Elias. On this individuality we must fix our thoughts, and not begin our notion of him by ignoring it. He was a man, and something more than “man”; and if we do not take this into account, we fall into an initial error in our thoughts of him.

What is true of Elias is true of every one in his own place and degree. We call rationality the distinction of man, when compared with other animals. This is true in logic; but in fact a man differs from a brute, not in rationality only, but in all that he is, even in those respects in which he is most like a brute; so that his whole self, his bones, limbs, make, life, reason, moral feeling, immortality, and all that he is besides, is his real differentia, in contrast to a horse or a dog. And in like manner as regards John and Richard, when compared with one another; each is himself, and nothing else, and, though, regarded abstractedly, the two may fairly be said to have something in common, (viz. that abstract sameness which does not exist at all,) yet, strictly speaking, they have nothing in common, for each of them has a vested interest in all that he himself is; and, moreover, what seems to be common in the two, becomes in fact so uncommon, so sui simile, in their respective individualities—the bodily frame of each is so singled out from all other bodies by its special constitution, sound or weak, by its vitality, activity, pathological history and changes, and, again, the mind of each is so distinct from all other minds, in disposition, powers, and habits,—that, instead of saying, as logicians say, that the two men differ only in number, we ought, I repeat, rather to say that they differ from each other in all that they are, in identity, in incommunicability, in personality.

Nor does any real thing admit, by any calculus of logic, of being dissected into all the possible general notions which it admits, nor, in consequence, of being recomposed out of them; though the attempt thus to treat it is more unpromising in proportion to the intricacy and completeness of its make. We cannot see through any one of the myriad beings which make up the universe, or give the full catalogue of its belongings. We are accustomed, indeed, and rightly, to speak of the Creator Himself as incomprehensible; and, indeed, He is so by an incommunicable attribute; but in a certain sense each of His creatures is incomprehensible to us also, in the sense that no one has a perfect understanding of it but He. We recognize and appropriate aspects of them, and logic is useful to us in registering these aspects and what they imply; but it does not give us to know even one individual being.

So much on logical argumentation; and in speaking of the syllogism, I have spoken of all inferential processes whatever, as expressed in language, (if they are such as to be reducible to science,) for they all require general notions, as conditions of their coming to a conclusion.

Thus, in the deductive argument, “Europe has no security for peace, till its large standing armies in its separate states are reduced; for a large standing army is in its very idea provocative of war,” the conclusion is only probable, for it may so be that in no country is that pure idea realized, but in every country in concrete fact there may be circumstances, political or social, which destroy the abstract dangerousness.

So, too, as regards Induction and Analogy, as modes of Inference; for, whether I argue, “This place will have the cholera, unless it is drained; for there are a number of well-ascertained cases which point to this conclusion;” or, “The sun will rise to-morrow, for it rose to-day;” in either method of reasoning I appeal, in order to prove a particular case, to a general principle or law, which has not force enough to warrant more than a probable conclusion. As to the cholera, the place in question may have certain antagonist advantages, which anticipate or neutralize the miasma which is the principle of the poison; and as to the sun’s rising to-morrow, there was a first day of the sun’s rising, and therefore there may be a last.

* * *

This is what I have to say on formal Inference, when taken to represent Ratiocination. Science in all its departments has too much simplicity and exactness, from the nature of the case, to be the measure of fact. In its very perfection lies its incompetency to settle particulars and details. As to Logic, its chain of conclusions hangs loose at both ends; both the point from which the proof should start, and the points at which it should arrive, are beyond its reach; it comes short both of first principles and of concrete issues. Even its most elaborate exhibitions fail to represent adequately the sum total of considerations by which an individual mind is determined in its judgment of things; even its most careful combinations made to bear on a conclusion want that steadiness of aim which is necessary for hitting it. As I said when I began, thought is too keen and manifold, its sources are too remote and hidden, its path too personal, delicate, and circuitous, its subject-matter too various and intricate, to admit of the trammels of any language, of whatever subtlety and of whatever compass.

Nor is it any disparagement of the proper value of formal reasonings thus to speak of them. That they cannot proceed beyond probabilities is most readily allowed by those who use them most. Philosophers, experimentalists, lawyers, in their several ways, have commonly the reputation of being, at least on moral and religious subjects, hard of belief; because, proceeding in the necessary investigation by the analytical method of verbal inference, they find within its limits no sufficient resources for attaining a conclusion. Nay, they do not always find it possible in their own special province severally; for, even when in their hearts they have no doubt about a conclusion, still often, from the habit of their minds, they are reluctant to own it, and dwell upon the deficiencies of the evidence, or the possibility of error, because they speak by rule and by book, though they judge and determine by common-sense.

Every exercise of nature or of art is good in its place; and the uses of this logical inference are manifold. It is the great principle of order in our thinking; it reduces a chaos into harmony; it catalogues the accumulations of knowledge; it maps out for us the relations of its separate departments; it puts us in the way to correct its own mistakes. It enables the independent intellects of many, acting and reacting on each other, to bring their collective force to bear upon one and the same subject-matter, or the same question. If language is an inestimable gift to man, the logical faculty prepares it for our use. Though it does not go so far as to ascertain truth, still it teaches us the direction in which truth lies, and how propositions lie towards each other. Nor is it a slight benefit to know what is probable, and what is not so, what is needed for the proof of a point, what is wanting in a theory, how a theory hangs together, and what will follow, if it be admitted. Though it does not itself discover the unknown, it is one principal way by which discoveries are made. Moreover, a course of argument, which is simply conditional, will point out when and where experiment and observation should be applied, or testimony sought for, as often happens both in physical and legal questions. A logical hypothesis is the means of holding facts together, explaining difficulties, and reconciling the imagination to what is strange. And, again, processes of logic are useful as enabling us to get over particular stages of an investigation speedily and surely, as on a journey we now and then gain time by travelling by night, make short cuts when the high-road winds, or adopt water-carriage to avoid fatigue.

But reasoning by rule and in words is too natural to us, to admit of being regarded merely in the light of utility. Our inquiries spontaneously fall into scientific sequence, and we think in logic, as we talk in prose, without aiming at doing so. However sure we are of the accuracy of our instinctive conclusions, we as instinctively put them into words, as far as we can; as preferring, if possible, to have them in an objective shape which we can fall back upon,—first for our own satisfaction, then for our justification with others. Such a tangible defence of what we hold, inadequate as it necessarily is, considered as an analysis of our ratiocination in its length and breadth, nevertheless is in such sense associated with our holdings, and so fortifies and illustrates them, that it acts as a vivid apprehension acts, giving them luminousness and force. Thus inference becomes a sort of symbol of assent, and even bears upon action.

I have enlarged on these obvious considerations, lest I should seem paradoxical; but they do not impair the main position of this Section, that Inference, considered in the shape of verbal argumentation, determines neither our principles, nor our ultimate judgments,—that it is neither the test of truth, nor the adequate basis of assent.[12]

§ 2. Informal Inference.

It is plain that formal logical sequence is not in fact the method by which we are enabled to become certain of what is concrete; and it is equally plain, from what has been already suggested, what the real and necessary method is. It is the cumulation of probabilities, independent of each other, arising out of the nature and circumstances of the particular case which is under review; probabilities too fine to avail separately, too subtle and circuitous to be convertible into syllogisms, too numerous and various for such conversion, even were they convertible. As a man’s portrait differs from a sketch of him, in having, not merely a continuous outline, but all its details filled in, and shades and colours laid on and harmonized together, such is the multiform and intricate process of ratiocination, necessary for our reaching him as a concrete fact, compared with the rude operation of syllogistic treatment.

Let us suppose I wish to convert an educated, thoughtful Protestant, and accordingly present for his acceptance a syllogism of the following kind:—“All Protestants are bound to join the Church; you are a Protestant: ergo.” He answers, we will say, by denying both premisses; and he does so by means of arguments, which branch out into other arguments, and those into others, and all of them severally requiring to be considered by him on their own merits, before the syllogism reaches him, and in consequence mounting up, taken all together, into an array of inferential exercises large and various beyond calculation. Moreover, he is bound to submit himself to this complicated process from the nature of the case; he would act rashly, if he did not; for he is a concrete individual unit, and being so, is under so many laws, and is the subject of so many predications all at once, that he cannot determine, offhand, his position and his duty by the law and the predication of one syllogism in particular. I mean he may fairly say, “Distinguo,” to each of its premisses: he says, “Protestants are bound to join the Church,—under circumstances,” and “I am a Protestant—in a certain sense;” and therefore the syllogism, at first sight, does not touch him at all.

Before, then, he grants the major, he asks whether all Protestants really are bound to join the Church—are they bound in case they do not feel themselves bound; if they are satisfied that their present religion is a safe one; if they are sure it is true; if, on the other hand, they have grave doubts as to the doctrinal fidelity and purity of the Church; if they are convinced that the Church is corrupt; if their conscience instinctively rejects certain of its doctrines; if history convinces them that the Pope’s power is not jure divino, but merely in the order of Providence? if, again, they are in a heathen country where priests are not? or where the only priest who is to be found exacts of them, as a condition of their reception, a profession, which the Creed of Pope Pius IV. says nothing about; for instance, that the Holy See is fallible even when it teaches, or that the Temporal Power is an anti-Christian corruption? On one or other of such grounds he thinks he need not change his religion; but presently he asks himself, Can a Protestant be in such a state as to be really satisfied with his religion, as he has just now been professing? Can he possibly believe Protestantism came from above, as a whole? how much of it can he believe came from above? and, as to that portion which he feels did come from above, has it not all been derived to him from the Church, when traced to its source? Is not Protestantism in itself a negation? Did not the Church exist before it? and can he be sure, on the other hand, that any one of the Church’s doctrines is not from above? Further, he finds he has to make up his mind what is a corruption, and what are the tests of it; what he means by a religion; whether it is obligatory to profess any religion in particular; what are the standards of truth and falsehood in religion; and what are the special claims of the Church.

And so, again, as to the minor premiss, perhaps he will answer, that he is not a Protestant; that he is a Catholic of the early undivided Church; that he is a Catholic, but not a Papist. Then he has to determine questions about division, schism, visible unity, what is essential, what is desirable; about provisional states; as to the adjustment of the Church’s claims with those of personal judgment and responsibility; as to the soul of the Church contrasted with the body; as to degrees of proof, and the degree necessary for his conversion; as to what is called his providential position, and the responsibility of change; as to the sincerity of his purpose to follow the Divine Will, whithersoever it may lead him; as to his intellectual capacity of investigating such questions at all.

None of these questions, as they come before him, admit of simple demonstration; but each carries with it a number of independent probable arguments, sufficient, when united, for a reasonable conclusion about itself. And first he determines that the questions are such as he personally, with such talents or attainments as he has, may fairly entertain; and then he goes on, after deliberation, to form a definite judgment upon them; and determines them, one way or another, in their bearing on the bald syllogism which was originally offered to his acceptance. And, we will say, he comes to the conclusion, that he ought to accept it as true in his case; that he is a Protestant in such a sense, of such a complexion, of such knowledge, under such circumstances, as to be called upon by duty to join the Church; that this is a conclusion of which he can be certain, and ought to be certain, and that he will be incurring grave responsibility, if he does not accept it as certain, and act upon the certainty of it. And to this conclusion he comes, as is plain, not by any possible verbal enumeration of all the considerations, minute but abundant, delicate but effective, which unite to bring him to it; but by a mental comprehension of the whole case, and a discernment of its upshot, sometimes after much deliberation, but, it may be, by a clear and rapid act of the intellect, always, however, by an unwritten summing-up, something like the summation of the terms, plus and minus of an algebraical series.

This I conceive to be the real method of reasoning in concrete matters; and it has these characteristics:—First, it does not supersede the logical form of inference, but is one and the same with it; only it is no longer an abstraction, but carried out into the realities of life, its premisses being instinct with the substance and the momentum of that mass of probabilities, which, acting upon each other in correction and confirmation, carry it home definitely to the individual case, which is its original scope.

Next, from what has been said it is plain, that such a process of reasoning is more or less implicit, and without the direct and full advertence of the mind exercising it. As by the use of our eyesight we recognize two brothers, yet without being able to express what it is by which we distinguish them; as at first sight we perhaps confuse them together, but, on better knowledge, we see no likeness between them at all; as it requires an artist’s eye to determine what lines and shades make a countenance look young or old, amiable, thoughtful, angry or conceited, the principle of discrimination being in each case real, but implicit;—so is the mind unequal to a complete analysis of the motives which carry it on to a particular conclusion, and is swayed and determined by a body of proof, which it recognizes only as a body, and not in its constituent parts.

And thirdly, it is plain, that, in this investigation of the method of concrete inference, we have not advanced one step towards depriving inference of its conditional character; for it is still as dependent on premisses, as it is in its elementary idea. On the contrary, we have rather added to the obscurity of the problem; for a syllogism is at least a demonstration, when the premisses are granted, but a cumulation of probabilities, over and above their implicit character, will vary both in their number and their separate estimated value, according to the particular intellect which is employed upon it. It follows that what to one intellect is a proof is not so to another, and that the certainty of a proposition does properly consist in the certitude of the mind which contemplates it. And this of course may be said without prejudice to the objective truth or falsehood of propositions, since it does not follow that these propositions on the one hand are not true, and based on right reason, and those on the other not false, and based on false reason, because not all men discriminate them in the same way.

Having thus explained the view which I would take of reasoning in the concrete, viz. that, from the nature of the case, and from the constitution of the human mind, certitude is the result of arguments which, taken in the letter, and not in their full implicit sense, are but probabilities, I proceed to dwell on some instances and circumstances of a phenomenon which seems to me as undeniable as to many it may be perplexing.


Let us take three instances belonging respectively to the present, the past, and the future.

1. We are all absolutely certain, beyond the possibility of doubt, that Great Britain is an island. We give to that proposition our deliberate and unconditional adhesion. There is no security on which we should be better content to stake our interests, our property, our welfare, than on the fact that we are living in an island. We have no fear of any geographical discovery which may reverse our belief. We should be amused or angry at the assertion, as a bad jest, did any one say that we were at this time joined to the main-land in Norway or in France, though a canal was cut across the isthmus. We are as little exposed to the misgiving, “Perhaps we are not on an island after all,” as to the question, “Is it quite certain that the angle in a semi-circle is a right-angle?” It is a simple and primary truth with us, if any truth is such; to believe it is as legitimate an exercise of assent, as there are legitimate exercises of doubt or of opinion. This is the position of our minds towards our insularity; yet are the arguments producible for it (to use the common expression) in black and white commensurate with this overpowering certitude about it?

Our reasons for believing that we are circumnavigable are such as these:—first, we have been so taught in our childhood, and it is so in all the maps; next, we have never heard it contradicted or questioned; on the contrary, every one whom we have heard speak on the subject of Great Britain, every book we have read, invariably took it for granted; our whole national history, the routine transactions and current events of the country, our social and commercial system, our political relations with foreigners, imply it in one way or another. Numberless facts, or what we consider facts, rest on the truth of it; no received fact rests on its being otherwise. If there is anywhere a junction between us and the continent, where is it? and how do we know it? is it in the north or in the south? There is a manifest reductio ad absurdum attached to the notion that we can be deceived on such a point as this.

However, negative arguments and circumstantial evidence are not all, in such a matter, which we have a right to require. They are not the highest kind of proof possible. Those who have circumnavigated the island have a right to be certain: have we ever ourselves even fallen in with any one who has? And as to the common belief, what is the proof that we are not all of us believing it on the credit of each other? And then, when it is said that every one believes it, and everything implies it, how much comes home to me personally of this “every one” and “everything”? The question is, Why do I believe it myself? A living statesman is said to have fancied Demerara an island; his belief was an impression; have we personally more than an impression, if we view the matter argumentatively, a lifelong impression about Great Britain, like the belief, so long and so widely entertained, that the earth was immovable, and the sun careered round it? I am not at all insinuating that we are not rational in our certitude; I only mean that we cannot analyze a proof satisfactorily, the result of which good sense actually guarantees to us.

2. Father Hardouin maintained that Terence’s Plays, Virgil’s “Æneid,” Horace’s Odes, and the Histories of Livy and Tacitus, were the forgeries of the monks of the thirteenth century. That he should be able to argue in behalf of such a position, shows of course that the proof in behalf of the received opinion is not overwhelming. That is, we have no means of inferring absolutely, that Virgil’s episode of Dido, or of the Sibyl, and Horace’s “Te quoque mensorem” and “Quem tu Melpomene,” belong to that Augustan age, which owes its celebrity mainly to those poets. Our common-sense, however, believes in their genuineness without any hesitation or reserve, as if it had been demonstrated, and not in proportion to the available evidence in its favour, or the balance of arguments.

So much at first sight;—but what are our grounds for dismissing thus summarily, as we are likely to do, a theory such as Hardouin’s? For let it be observed first, that all knowledge of the Latin classics comes to us from the medieval transcriptions of them, and they who transcribed them had the opportunity of forging or garbling them. We are simply at their mercy; for neither by oral transmission, nor by monumental inscriptions, nor by contemporaneous manuscripts are the works of Virgil, Horace, and Terence, of Livy and Tacitus, brought to our knowledge. The existing copies, whenever made, are to us the autographic originals. Next, it must be considered, that the numerous religious bodies, then existing over the face of Europe, had leisure enough, in the course of a century, to compose, not only all the classics, but all the Fathers too. The question is, whether they had the ability. This is the main point on which the inquiry turns, or at least the most obvious; and it forms one of those arguments, which, from the nature of the case, are felt rather than are convertible into syllogisms. Hardouin allows that the Georgics, Horace’s Satires and Epistles, and the whole of Cicero, are genuine: we have a standard then in these undisputed compositions of the Augustan age. We have a standard also, in the extant medieval works, of what the thirteenth century could do; and we see at once how widely the disputed works differ from the medieval. Now could the thirteenth century simulate Augustan writers better than the Augustan could simulate such writers as those of the thirteenth? No. Perhaps, when the subject is critically examined, the question may be brought to a more simple issue; but as to our personal reasons for receiving as genuine the whole of Virgil, Horace, Livy, Tacitus, and Terence, they are summed up in our conviction that the monks had not the ability to write them. That is, we take for granted that we are sufficiently informed about the capabilities of the human mind, and the conditions of genius, to be quite sure that an age which was fertile in great ideas and in momentous elements of the future, robust in thought, hopeful in its anticipations, of singular intellectual curiosity and acumen, and of high genius in at least one of the fine arts, could not, for the very reason of its pre-eminence in its own line, have an equal pre-eminence in a contrary one. We do not pretend to be able to draw the line between what the medieval intellect could or could not do; but we feel sure that at least it could not write the classics. An instinctive sense of this, and a faith in testimony, are the sufficient, but the undeveloped argument on which to ground our certitude.

I will add, that, if we deal with arguments in the mere letter, the question of the authorship of works in any case has much difficulty. I have noticed it in the instance of Shakespeare, and of Newton. We are all certain that Johnson wrote the prose of Johnson, and Pope the poetry of Pope; but what is there but prescription, at least after contemporaries are dead, to connect together the author of the work and the owner of the name? Our lawyers prefer the examination of present witnesses to affidavits on paper; but the tradition of “testimonia,” such as are prefixed to the classics and the Fathers, together with the absence of dissentient voices, is the adequate groundwork of our belief in the history of literature.

3. Once more: what are my grounds for thinking that I, in my own particular case, shall die? I am as certain of it in my own innermost mind, as I am that I now live; but what is the distinct evidence on which I allow myself to be certain? how would it tell in a court of justice? how should I fare under a cross-examination upon the grounds of my certitude? Demonstration of course I cannot have of a future event, unless by means of a Divine Voice; but what logical defence can I make for that undoubting, obstinate anticipation of it, of which I could not rid myself, if I tried?

First, the future cannot be proved à posteriori; therefore we are compelled by the nature of the case to put up with à priori arguments, that is, with antecedent probability, which is by itself no logical proof. Men tell me that there is a law of death, meaning by law a necessity; and I answer that they are throwing dust into my eyes, giving me words instead of things. What is a law but a generalized fact? and what power has the past over the future? and what power has the case of others over my own case? and how many deaths have I seen? how many ocular witnesses have imparted to me their experience of deaths, sufficient to establish what is called a law?

But let there be a law of death; so there is a law, we are told, that the planets, if let alone, would severally fall into the sun—it is the centrifugal law which hinders it, and so the centripetal law is never carried out. In like manner I am not under the law of death alone, I am under a thousand laws, if I am under one; and they thwart and counteract each other, and jointly determine the irregular line, along which my actual history runs, divergent from the special direction of any one of them. No law is carried out, except in cases where it acts freely: how do I know that the law of death will be allowed its free action in my particular case? We often are able to avert death by medical treatment: why should death have its effect, sooner or later, in every case conceivable?

It is true that the human frame, in all instances which come before me, first grows, and then declines, wastes, and decays, in visible preparation for dissolution. We see death seldom, but of this decline we are witnesses daily; still, it is a plain fact, that most men who die, die, not by any law of death, but by the law of disease; and some writers have questioned whether death is ever, strictly speaking, natural. Now, are diseases necessary? is there any law that every one, sooner or later, must fall under the power of disease? and what would happen on a large scale, were there no diseases? Is what we call the law of death anything more than the chance of disease? Is the prospect of my death, in its logical evidence,—as that evidence is brought home to me—much more than a high probability?

The strongest proof I have for my inevitable mortality is the reductio ad absurdum. Can I point to the man, in historic times, who has lived his two hundred years? What has become of past generations of men, unless it is true that they suffered dissolution? But this is a circuitous argument to warrant a conclusion to which in matter of fact I adhere so relentlessly. Anyhow, there is a considerable “surplusage,” as Locke calls it, of belief over proof, when I determine that I individually must die. But what logic cannot do, my own living personal reasoning, my good sense, which is the healthy condition of such personal reasoning, but which cannot adequately express itself in words, does for me, and I am possessed with the most precise, absolute, masterful certitude of my dying some day or other.

I am led on by these reflections to make another remark. If it is difficult to explain how a man knows that he shall die, is it not more difficult for him to satisfy himself how he knows that he was born? His knowledge about himself does not rest on memory, nor on distinct testimony, nor on circumstantial evidence. Can he bring into one focus of proof the reasons which make him so sure? I am not speaking of scientific men, who have diverse channels of knowledge, but of an ordinary individual, as one of ourselves.

Answers doubtless may be given to some of these questions; but, on the whole, I think it is the fact that many of our most obstinate and most reasonable certitudes depend on proofs which are informal and personal, which baffle our powers of analysis, and cannot be brought under logical rule, because they cannot be submitted to logical statistics. If we must speak of Law, this recognition of a correlation between certitude and implicit proof seems to me a law of our minds.


I said just now that an object of sense presents itself to our view as one whole, and not in its separate details: we take it in, recognize it, and discriminate it from other objects, all at once. Such too is the intellectual view we take of the momenta of proof for a concrete truth; we grasp the full tale of premisses and the conclusion, per modum unius,—by a sort of instinctive perception of the legitimate conclusion in and through the premisses, not by a formal juxtaposition of propositions; though of course such a juxtaposition is useful and natural, both to direct and to verify, just as in objects of sight our notice of bodily peculiarities, or the remarks of others may aid us in establishing a case of disputed identity. And, as this man or that will receive his own impression of one and the same person, and judge differently from others about his countenance, its expression, its moral significance, its physical contour and complexion, so an intellectual question may strike two minds very differently, may awaken in them distinct associations, may be invested by them in contrary characteristics, and lead them to opposite conclusions;—and so, again, a body of proof, or a line of argument, may produce a distinct, nay, a dissimilar effect, as addressed to one or to the other.

Thus in concrete reasonings we are in great measure thrown back into that condition, from which logic proposed to rescue us. We judge for ourselves, by our own lights, and on our own principles; and our criterion of truth is not so much the manipulation of propositions, as the intellectual and moral character of the person maintaining them, and the ultimate silent effect of his arguments or conclusions upon our minds.

It is this distinction between ratiocination as the exercise of a living faculty in the individual intellect, and mere skill in argumentative science, which is the true interpretation of the prejudice which exists against logic in the popular mind, and of the animadversions which are levelled against it, as that its formulas make a pedant and a doctrinaire, that it never makes converts, that it leads to rationalism, that Englishmen are too practical to be logical, that an ounce of common-sense goes farther than many cartloads of logic, that Laputa is the land of logicians, and the like. Such maxims mean, when analyzed, that the processes of reasoning which legitimately lead to assent, to action, to certitude, are in fact too multiform, subtle, omnigenous, too implicit, to allow of being measured by rule, that they are after all personal,—verbal argumentation being useful only in subordination to a higher logic. It is this which was meant by the Judge who, when asked for his advice by a friend, on his being called to important duties which were new to him, bade him always lay down the law boldly, but never give his reasons, for his decision was likely to be right, but his reasons sure to be unsatisfactory. This is the point which I proceed to illustrate.

1. I will take a question of the present moment. “We shall have a European war, for Greece is audaciously defying Turkey.” How are we to test the validity of the reason, implied, not expressed, in the word “for”? Only the judgment of diplomatists, statesmen, capitalists, and the like, founded on experience, strengthened by practical and historical knowledge, controlled by self-interest, can decide the worth of that “for” in relation to accepting or not accepting the conclusion which depends on it. The argument is from concrete fact to concrete fact. How will mere logical inferences, which cannot proceed without general and abstract propositions, help us on to the determination of this particular case? It is not the case of Switzerland attacking Austria, or of Portugal attacking Spain, or of Belgium attacking Prussia, but a case without parallels. To draw a scientific conclusion, the argument must run somewhat in this way:—“All audacious defiances of Turkey on the part of Greece must end in a European war; these present acts of Greece are such: ergo;”—where the major premiss is more difficult to accept than the conclusion, and the proof becomes an “obscurum per obscurius.” But, in truth, I should not betake myself to some one universal proposition to defend my view of the matter; I should determine the particular case by its particular circumstances, by the combination of many uncatalogued experiences floating in my memory, of many reflections, variously produced, felt rather than capable of statement; and if I had them not, I should go to those who had. I assent in consequence of some such complex act of judgment, or from faith in those who are capable of making it, and practically syllogism has no part, even verificatory, in the action of my mind.

I take this instance at random in illustration; now let me follow it up by more serious cases.

2. Leighton says, “What a full confession do we make of our dissatisfaction with the objects of our bodily senses, that in our attempts to express what we conceive of the best of beings and the greatest of felicities to be, we describe by the exact contraries of all that we experience here,—the one as infinite, incomprehensible, immutable, &c.; the other as incorruptible, undefiled, and that passeth not away. At all events, this coincidence, say rather identity of attributes, is sufficient to apprise us that, to be inheritors of bliss, we must become the children of God.” Coleridge quotes this passage, and adds, “Another and more fruitful, perhaps more solid, inference from the facts would be, that there is something in the human mind which makes it know that in all finite quantity, there is an infinite, in all measures of time an eternal; that the latter are the basis, the substance, of the former; and that, as we truly are only as far as God is with us, so neither can we truly possess, that is, enjoy our being or any other real good, but by living in the sense of His holy presence.[13]

What is this an argument for? how few readers will enter into either premiss or conclusion! and of those who understand what it means, will not at least some confess that they understand it by fits and starts, not at all times? Can we ascertain its force by mood and figure? Is there any royal road by which we may indolently be carried along into the acceptance of it? Does not the author rightly number it among his “aids” for our “reflection,” not instruments for our compulsion? It is plain that, if the passage is worth anything, we must secure that worth for our own use by the personal action of our own minds, or else we shall be only professing and asserting its doctrine, without having any ground or right to assert it. And our preparation for understanding and making use of it will be the general state of our mental discipline and cultivation, our own experiences, our appreciation of religious ideas, the perspicacity and steadiness of our intellectual vision.

3. It is argued by Hume against the actual occurrence of the Jewish and Christian miracles, that, whereas “it is experience only which gives authority to human testimony, and it is the same experience which assures us of the laws of nature,” therefore, “when these two kinds of experience are contrary” to each other, “we are bound to subtract the one from the other;” and, in consequence, since we have no experience of a violation of natural laws, and much experience of the violation of truth, “we may establish it as a maxim that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion.”

I will accept the general proposition, but I resist its application. Doubtless it is abstractedly more likely that men should lie than that the order of nature should be infringed; but what is abstract reasoning to a question of concrete fact? To arrive at the fact of any matter, we must eschew generalities, and take things as they stand, with all their circumstances. À priori, of course the acts of men are not so trustworthy as the order of nature, and the pretence of miracles is in fact more common than the occurrence. But the question is not about miracles in general, or men in general, but definitely, whether these particular miracles, ascribed to the particular Peter, James, and John, are more likely to have been or not; whether they are unlikely, supposing that there is a Power, external to the world, who can bring them about; supposing they are the only means by which He can reveal Himself to those who need a revelation; supposing He is likely to reveal Himself; that He has a great end in doing so; that the professed miracles in question are like His natural works, and such as He is likely to work, in case He wrought miracles; that great effects, otherwise unaccountable, in the event followed upon the acts said to be miraculous; that they were from the first accepted as true by large numbers of men against their natural interests; that the reception of them as true has left its mark upon the world, as no other event ever did; that, viewed in their effects, they have—that is, the belief of them has—served to raise human nature to a high moral standard, otherwise unattainable: these and the like considerations are parts of a great complex argument, which so far can be put into propositions, but which, even between, and around, and behind these, still is implicit and secret, and cannot by any ingenuity be imprisoned in a formula, and packed into a nut-shell. These various conditions may be decided in the affirmative or in the negative. That is a further point; here I only insist upon the nature of the argument, if it is to be philosophical. It must be no smart antithesis which may look well on paper, but the living action of the mind on a great problem of fact; and we must summon to our aid all our powers and resources, if we would encounter it worthily, and not as if it were a literary essay.

4. “Consider the establishment of the Christian religion,” says Pascal in his “Thoughts.” “Here is a religion contrary to our nature, which establishes itself in men’s minds with so much mildness, as to use no external force; with so much energy, that no tortures could silence its martyrs and confessors; and consider the holiness, devotion, humility of its true disciples; its sacred books, their superhuman grandeur, their admirable simplicity. Consider the character of its Founder; His associates and disciples, unlettered men, yet possessed of wisdom sufficient to confound the ablest philosopher; the astonishing succession of prophets who heralded Him; the state at this day of the Jewish people who rejected Him and His religion; its perpetuity and its holiness; the light which its doctrines shed upon the contrarieties of our nature;—after considering these things, let any man judge if it be possible to doubt about its being the only true one.[14]

This is an argument parallel in its character to that by which we ascribe the classics to the Augustan age. We urge, that, though we cannot draw the line definitely between what the monks could do in literature, and what they could not, anyhow Virgil’s “Æneid” and the Odes of Horace are far beyond the highest capacity of the medieval mind, which, however great, was different in the character of its endowments. And in like manner we maintain, that, granting that we cannot decide how far the human mind can advance by its own unaided powers in religious ideas and sentiments, and in religious practice, still the facts of Christianity, as they stand, are beyond what is possible to man, and betoken the presence of a higher intelligence, purpose, and might.

Many have been converted and sustained in their faith by this argument, which admits of being powerfully stated; but still such statement is after all only intended to be a vehicle of thought, and to open the mind to the apprehension of the facts of the case, and to trace them and their implications in outline, not to convince by the logic of its mere wording. Do we not think and muse as we read it, try to master it as we proceed, put down the book in which we find it, fill out its details from our own resources, and then resume the study of it? And, when we have to give an account of it to others, should we make use of its language, or even of its thoughts, and not rather of its drift and spirit? Has it never struck us what different lights different minds throw upon the same theory and argument, nay, how they seem to be differing in detail when they are professing, and in reality showing, a concurrence in it? Have we never found, that, when a friend takes up the defence of what we have written or said, that at first we are unable to recognize in his statement of it what we meant it to convey? It will be our wisdom to avail ourselves of language, as far as it will go, but to aim mainly by means of it to stimulate, in those to whom we address ourselves, a mode of thinking and trains of thought similar to our own, leading them on by their own independent action, not by any syllogistic compulsion. Hence it is that an intellectual school will always have something of an esoteric character; for it is an assemblage of minds that think; their bond is unity of thought, and their words become a sort of tessera, not expressing thought, but symbolizing it.

Recurring to Pascal’s argument, I observe that, its force depending upon the assumption that the facts of Christianity are beyond human nature, therefore, according as the powers of nature are placed at a high or low standard, that force will be greater or less; and that standard will vary according to the respective dispositions, opinions, and experiences, of those to whom the argument is addressed. Thus its value is a personal question; not as if there were not an objective truth and Christianity as a whole not supernatural, but that, when we come to consider where it is that the supernatural presence is found, there may be fair differences of opinion, both as to the fact and the proof of what is supernatural. There is a multitude of facts, which, taken separately, may perhaps be natural, but, found together, must come from a source above nature; and what these are, and how many are necessary, will be variously determined. And while every inquirer has a right to determine the question according to the best exercise of his judgment, still whether he so determine it for himself, or trust in part or altogether to the judgment of those who have the best claim to judge, in either case he is guided by the implicit processes of the reasoning faculty, not by any manufacture of arguments forcing their way to an irrefragable conclusion.

5. Pascal writes in another place, “He who doubts, but seeks not to have his doubts removed, is at once the most criminal and the most unhappy of mortals. If, together with this, he is tranquil and self-satisfied, if he be vain of his tranquillity, or makes his state a topic of mirth and self-gratulation, I have not words to describe so insane a creature. Truly it is to the honour of religion to have for its adversaries men so bereft of reason; their opposition, far from being formidable, bears testimony to its most distinguishing truths; for the great object of the Christian religion is to establish the corruption of our nature, and the redemption by Jesus Christ.[15]” Elsewhere he says of Montaigne, “He involves everything in such universal, unmingled scepticism, as to doubt of his very doubts. He was a pure Pyrrhonist. He ridicules all attempts at certainty in anything. Delighted with exhibiting in his own person the contradictions that exist in the mind of a free-thinker, it is all one to him whether he is successful or not in his argument. The virtue he loved was simple, sociable, gay, sprightly, and playful; to use one of his own expressions, ‘Ignorance and incuriousness are two charming pillows for a sound head.’[16]

Here are two celebrated writers in direct opposition to each other in their fundamental view of truth and duty. Shall we say that there is no such thing as truth and error, but that anything is truth to a man which he troweth? and not rather, as the solution of a great mystery, that truth there is, and attainable it is, but that its rays stream in upon us through the medium of our moral as well as our intellectual being; and that in consequence that perception of its first principles which is natural to us is enfeebled, obstructed, perverted, by allurements of sense and the supremacy of self, and, on the other hand, quickened by aspirations after the supernatural; so that at length two characters of mind are brought out into shape, and two standards and systems of thought,—each logical, when analyzed, yet contradictory of each other, and only not antagonistic because they have no common ground on which they can conflict?

6. Montaigne was endowed with a good estate, health, leisure, and an easy temper, literary tastes, and a sufficiency of books: he could afford thus to play with life, and the abysses into which it leads us. Let us take a case in contrast.

“I think,” says the poor dying factory-girl in the tale, “if this should be the end of all, and if all I have been born for is just to work my heart and life away, and to sicken in this dree place, with those mill-stones in my ears for ever, until I could scream out for them to stop and let me have a little piece of quiet, and with the fluff filling my lungs, until I thirst to death for one long deep breath of the clear air, and my mother gone, and I never able to tell her again how I loved her, and of all my troubles,—I think, if this life is the end, and that there is no God to wipe away all tears from all eyes, I could go mad![17]

Here is an argument for the immortality of the soul. As to its force, be it great or small, will it make a figure in a logical disputation, carried on secundum artem? Can any scientific common measure compel the intellects of Dives and Lazarus to take the same estimate of it? Is there any test of the validity of it better than the ipse dixit of private judgment, that is, the judgment of those who have a right to judge, and next, the agreement of many private judgments in one and the same view of it?

7. “In order to prove plainly and intelligibly,” says Dr. Samuel Clarke, “that God is a Being, which must of necessity be endued with perfect knowledge, ’tis to be observed that knowledge is a perfection, without which the foregoing attributes are no perfections at all, and without which those which follow can have no foundation. Where there is no Knowledge, Eternity and Immensity are as nothing, and Justice, Goodness, Mercy, and Wisdom can have no place. The idea of eternity and omnipresence, devoid of knowledge, is as the notion of darkness compared with that of light. ’Tis as a notion of the world without the sun to illuminate it; ’tis as the notion of inanimate matter (which is the atheist’s supreme cause) compared with that of light and spirit. And as for the following attributes of Justice, Goodness, Mercy, and Wisdom, ’tis evident that without knowledge there could not possibly be any such things as these at all.[18]

The argument here used in behalf of the Divine Attribute of Knowledge comes under the general proposition that the attributes imply each other, for the denial of one is the denial of the rest. To some minds this thesis is self-evident; others are utterly insensible to its force. Will it bear bringing out into words throughout the whole series of its argumentative links? for if it does, then either those who maintain it or those who reject it, the one or the other, will be compelled by logical necessity to confess that they are in error. “God is wise, if He is eternal; He is good, if He is wise; He is just, if He is good.” What skill can so arrange these propositions, so add to them, so combine them, that they may be able, by the force of their juxtaposition, to follow one from the other, and become one and the same by an inevitable correlation. That is not the method by which the argument becomes a demonstration. Such a method, used by a Theist in controversy against men who are unprepared personally for the question, will but issue in his retreat along a series of major propositions, farther and farther back, till he and they find themselves in a land of shadows, “where the light is as darkness.”

To feel the true force of an argument like this, we must not confine ourselves to abstractions, and merely compare notion with notion, but we must contemplate the God of our conscience as a Living Being, as one Object and Reality, underthe aspect of this or that attribute. We must patiently rest in the thought of the Eternal, Omnipresent, and All-knowing, rather than of Eternity, Omnipresence, and Omniscience; and we must not hurry on and force a series of deductions, which, if they are to be realized, must distil like dew into our minds, and form themselves spontaneously there, by a calm contemplation and gradual understanding of their premisses. Ordinarily speaking, such deductions do not flow forth, except according as the Image,[19] presented to us through conscience, on which they depend, is cherished within us with the sentiments which, supposing it be, as we know it is, the truth, it necessarily claims of us, and is seen reflected, by the habit of our intellect, in the appointments and the events of the external world. And, in their manifestation to our inward sense, they are analogous to the knowledge which we at length attain of the details of a landscape, after we have selected the right stand-point, and have learned to accommodate the pupil of our eye to the varying focus necessary for seeing them; have accustomed it to the glare of light, have mentally grouped or discriminated lines and shadows and given them their due meaning, and have mastered the perspective of the whole. Or they may be compared to a landscape as drawn by the pencil (unless the illustration seem forced), in which by the skill of the artist, amid the bold outlines of trees and rocks, when the eye has learned to take in their reverse aspects, the forms or faces of historical personages are discernible, which we catch and lose again, and then recover, and which some who look on with us are never able to catch at all.

Analogous to such an exercise of sight, must be our mode of dealing with the verbal expositions of an argument such as Clarke’s. His words speak to those who understand the speech. To the mere barren intellect they are but the pale ghosts of notions; but the trained imagination sees in them the representations of things. He who has once detected in his conscience the outline of a Lawgiver and Judge, needs no definition of Him, whom he dimly but surely contemplates there, and he rejects the mechanism of logic, which cannot contain in its grasp matters so real and so recondite. Such a one, according to the strength and perspicacity of his mind, the force of his presentiments, and his power of sustained attention, is able to pronounce about the great Sight which encompasses him, as about some visible object; and, in his investigation of the Divine Attributes, is not inferring abstraction from abstraction, but noting down the aspects and phases of that one thing on which he ever is gazing. Nor is it possible to limit the depth of meaning, which at length he will attach to words, which to the many are but definitions and ideas.

Here then again, as in the other instances, it seems clear, that methodical processes of inference, useful as they are, as far as they go, are only instruments of the mind, and need, in order to their due exercise, that real ratiocination and present imagination which gives them a sense beyond their letter, and which, while acting through them, reaches to conclusions beyond and above them. Such a living organon is a personal gift, and not a mere method or calculus.


That there are cases, in which evidence, not sufficient for a scientific proof, is nevertheless sufficient for assent and certitude, is the doctrine of Locke, as of most men. He tells us that belief, grounded on sufficient probabilities, “rises to assurance;” and as to the question of sufficiency, that where propositions “border near on certainty,” then “we assent to them as firmly as if they were infallibly demonstrated.” The only question is, what these propositions are: this he does not tell us, but he seems to think that they are few in number, and will be without any trouble recognized at once by common-sense; whereas, unless I am mistaken, they are to be found throughout the range of concrete matter, and that supra-logical judgment, which is the warrant for our certitude about them, is not mere common-sense, but the true healthy action of our ratiocinative powers, an action more subtle and more comprehensive than the mere appreciation of a syllogistic argument. It is often called the “judicium prudentis viri,” a standard of certitude which holds good in all concrete matter, not only in those cases of practice and duty, in which we are more familiar with it, but in questions of truth and falsehood generally, or in what are called “speculative” questions, and that, not indeed to the exclusion, but as the supplement of logic. Thus a proof, except in abstract demonstration, has always in it, more or less, an element of the personal, because “prudence” is not a constituent part of our nature, but a personal endowment.

And the language in common use, when concrete conclusions are in question, implies the presence of this personal element in the proof of them. We are considered to feel, rather than to see, its cogency; and we decide, not that the conclusion must be, but that it cannot be otherwise. We say, that we do not see our way to doubt it, that it is impossible to doubt, that we are bound to believe it, that we should be idiots, if we did not believe. We never should say, in abstract science, that we could not escape the conclusion that 25 was a mean proportional between 5 and 125; or that a man had no right to say that a tangent to a circle at the extremity of the radius makes an acute angle with it. Yet, though our certitude of the fact is quite as clear, we should not think it unnatural to say that the insularity of Great Britain is as good as demonstrated, or that none but a fool expects never to die. Phrases indeed such as these are sometimes used to express a shade of doubt, but it is enough for my purpose if they are also used when doubt is altogether absent. What, then, they signify, is, what I have so much insisted on, that we have arrived at these conclusions—not ex opere operato, by a scientific necessity independent of ourselves,—but by the action of our own minds, by our own individual perception of the truth in question, under a sense of duty to those conclusions and with an intellectual conscientiousness.

This certitude and this evidence are often called moral; a word which I avoid, as having a very vague meaning; but using it here for once, I observe that moral evidence and moral certitude are all that we can attain, not only in the case of ethical and spiritual subjects, such as religion, but of terrestrial and cosmical questions also. So far, physical Astronomy and Revelation stand on the same footing. Vince, in his treatise on Astronomy, does but use the language of philosophical sobriety, when, after speaking of the proofs of the earth’s rotatory motion, he says, “When these reasons, all upon different principles, are considered, they amount to a proof of the earth’s rotation about its axis, which is as satisfactory to the mind as the most direct demonstration could be;” or, as he had said just before, “the mind rests equally satisfied, as if the matter was strictly proved.[20]” That is, first there is no demonstration that the earth rotates; next there is a cluster of “reasons on different principles,” that is, independent probabilities in cumulation; thirdly, these “amount to a proof,” and “the mind” feels “as if the matter was strictly proved,” that is, there is the equivalent of proof; lastly, “the mind rests satisfied,” that is, it is certain on the point. And though evidence of the fact is now obtained which was not known fifty years ago, that evidence on the whole has not changed its character.

Compare with this avowal the language of Butler, when discussing the proof of Revelation. “Probable proofs,” he says, “by being added, not only increase the evidence, but multiply it. The truth of our religion, like the truth of common matters, is to be judged by the whole evidence taken together … in like manner as, if in any common case numerous events acknowledged were to be alleged in proof of any other event disputed, the truth of the disputed event would be proved, not only if any one of the acknowledged ones did of itself clearly imply it, but though no one of them singly did so, if the whole of the acknowledged events taken together could not in reason be supposed to have happened, unless the disputed one were true.[21]” Here, as in Astronomy, is the same absence of demonstration of the thesis, the same cumulating and converging indications of it, the same indirectness in the proof, as being per impossibile, the same recognition nevertheless that the conclusion is not only probable, but true. One other characteristic of the argumentative process is given, which is unnecessary in a subject-matter so clear and simple as astronomical science, viz. the moral state of the parties inquiring or disputing. They must be “as much in earnest about religion, as about their temporal affairs, capable of being convinced, on real evidence, that there is a God who governs the world, and feel themselves to be of a moral nature and accountable creatures.[22]

This being the state of the case, the question arises, whether, granting that the personality (so to speak) of the parties reasoning is an important element in proving propositions in concrete matter, any account can be given of the ratiocinative method in such proofs, over and above that analysis into syllogism which is possible in each of its steps in detail. I think there can; though I fear, lest to some minds it may appear far-fetched or fanciful; however, I will hazard this imputation. I consider, then, that the principle of concrete reasoning is parallel to the method of proof which is the foundation of modern mathematical science, as contained in the celebrated lemma with which Newton opens his “Principia.” We know that a regular polygon, inscribed in a circle, its sides being continually diminished, tends to become that circle, as its limit; but it vanishes before it has coincided with the circle, so that its tendency to be the circle, though ever nearer fulfilment, never in fact gets beyond a tendency. In like manner, the conclusion in a real or concrete question is foreseen and predicted rather than actually attained; foreseen in the number and direction of accumulated premisses, which all converge to it, and approach it, as the result of their combination, more nearly than any assignable difference, yet do not touch it logically, (though only not touching it,) on account of the nature of its subject-matter, and the delicate and implicit character of at least part of the reasonings on which it depends. It is by the strength, variety, or multiplicity of premisses, which are only probable, not by invincible syllogisms,—by objections overcome, by adverse theories neutralized, by difficulties gradually clearing up, by exceptions proving the rule, by unlooked-for correlations found with received truths, by suspense and delay in the process issuing in triumphant reactions,—by all these ways, and many others, the practised and experienced mind is able to make a sure divination that a conclusion is inevitable, of which his lines of reasoning do not actually put him in possession. This is what is meant by a proposition being “as good as proved,” a conclusion as undeniable “as if it were proved,” and by the reasons for it “amounting to a proof,” for a proof is the limit of converging probabilities.

It may be added, that, whereas the logical form of this argument, is, as I have already observed, indirect, viz. that “the conclusion cannot be otherwise,” and Butler says that an event is proved, if its antecedents “could not in reason be supposed to have happened unless it were true,” and law-books tell us that the principle of circumstantial evidence is the reductio ad absurdum, so Newton is forced to the same mode of proof for the establishment of his lemma, about prime and ultimate ratios. “If you deny that they become ultimately equal,” he says, “let them be ultimately unequal;” and the consequence follows, “which is against the supposition.”

Such being the character of the mental process in concrete reasoning, I should wish to adduce some good instances of it in illustration, instances in which the person reasoning confesses that he is reasoning on this very process, as I have been stating it; but these are difficult to find, from the very circumstance that the process from first to last is carried on as much without words as with them. However, I will set down three such.

1. First, an instance in physics. Wood, treating of the laws of motion, thus describes the line of reasoning by which the mind is certified of them. “They are not indeed self-evident, nor do they admit of accurate proof by experiment, on account of the effects of friction and the air’s resistance, which cannot entirely be removed. They are, however, constantly and invariably suggested to our senses, and they agree with experiment, as far as experiment can go; and the more accurately the experiments are made, and the greater care we take to remove all those impediments which tend to render the conclusions erroneous, the more nearly do the experiments coincide with these laws.

“Their truth is also established upon a different ground: from these general principles innumerable particular conclusions have been deducted; sometimes the deductions are simple and immediate, sometimes they are made by tedious and intricate operations; yet they are all, without exception, consistent with each other and with experiment. It follows thereby, that the principles upon which the calculations are founded are true.[23]

The reasoning of this passage (in which the uniformity of the laws of nature is assumed) seems to me a good illustration of what must be considered the principle or form of an induction. The conclusion, which is its scope, is, by its own confession, not proved; but it ought to be proved, or is as good as proved, and a man would be irrational who did not take it to be virtually proved; first, because the imperfections in the proof arise out of its subject-matter and the nature of the case, so that it is proved interpretativè; and next, because in the same degree in which these faults in the subject-matter are overcome here or there, are the involved imperfections here or there of the proof remedied; and further, because, when the conclusion is assumed as an hypothesis, it throws light upon a multitude of collateral facts, accounting for them, and uniting them together in one whole. Consistency is not always the guarantee of truth; but there may be a consistency in a theory so variously tried and exemplified as to lead to belief in it, as reasonably as a witness in a court of law may, after a severe cross-examination, satisfy and assure judge, jury, and the whole court, of his simple veracity.

2. And from the courts of law shall my second illustration be taken.

A learned writer says, “In criminal prosecutions, the circumstantial evidence should be such, as to produce nearly the same degree of certainty as that which arises from direct testimony, and to exclude a rational probability of innocence.[24]” By degrees of certainty he seems to mean, together with many other writers, degrees of proof, or approximations towards proof, and not certitude, as a state of mind; and he says that no one should be pronounced guilty on evidence which is not equivalent in weight to direct testimony. So far is clear; but what is meant by the expression “rational probability”? for there can be no probability but what is rational. I consider that the “exclusion of a rational probability” means “the exclusion of any argument in the man’s favour which has a rational claim to be called probable,” or rather, “the rational exclusion of any supposition that he is innocent;” and “rational” is used in contradistinction to argumentative, and means “resting on implicit reasons,” such as we feel, indeed, but which for some cause or other, because they are too subtle or too circuitous, we cannot put into words so as to satisfy logic. If this is a correct account of his meaning, he says that the evidence against a criminal, in order to be decisive of his guilt, to the satisfaction of our conscience, must bear with it, along with the palpable arguments for that guilt, such a reasonableness, or body of implicit reasons for it in addition, as may exclude any probability, really such, that he is not guilty,—that is, it must be an evidence free from anything obscure, suspicious, unnatural, or defective, such as (in the judgment of a prudent man) to hinder that summation or coalescence of the evidence into a proof, which I have compared to the running into a limit, in the case of mathematical ratios. Just as an algebraical series may be of a nature never to terminate or admit of valuation, as being the equivalent of an irrational quantity or surd, so there may be some grave imperfections in a body of reasons, explicit or implicit, which is directed to a proof, sufficient to interfere with its successful issue or resolution, and to balk us with an irrational, that is, an indeterminate, conclusion.

So much as to the principle of conclusions made upon evidence in criminal cases; now let us turn to an instance of its application in a particular instance. Some years ago there was a murder committed, which unusually agitated the popular mind, and the evidence against the culprit was necessarily circumstantial. At the trial the Judge, in addressing the Jury, instructed them on the kind of evidence necessary for a verdict of guilty. Of course he could not mean to say that they must convict a man, of whose guilt they were not certain, especially in a case in which two foreign countries, Germany and the American States, were attentively looking on. If the Jury had any doubt, that is, reasonable doubt, about the man’s guilt, of course they would give him the benefit of that doubt. Nor could the certitude, which would be necessary for an adverse verdict, be merely that which is sometimes called a “practical certitude,” that is, a certitude indeed, but a certitude that it was a “duty,” “expedient,” “safe,” to bring in a verdict of guilty. Of course the Judge spoke of what is called a “speculative certitude,” that is, a certitude of the fact that the man was guilty; the only question being, what evidence was sufficient for the proof, for the certitude of that fact. This is what the Judge meant; and these are among the remarks which, with this drift, he made upon the occasion:—

After observing that by circumstantial evidence he meant a case in which “the facts do not directly prove the actual crime, but lead to the conclusion that the prisoner committed that crime,” he went on to disclaim the suggestion, made by counsel in the case, that the Jury could not pronounce a verdict of guilty, unless they were as much satisfied that the prisoner did the deed as if they had seen him commit it. “That is not the certainty,” he said, “which is required of you to discharge your duty to the prisoner, whose safety is in your hands.” Then he stated what was the “degree of certainty,” that is, of certainty or perfection of proof, which was necessary to the question, “involving as it did the life of the prisoner at the bar,”—it was such as that “with which,” he said, “you decide upon and conclude your own most important transactions in life. Take the facts which are proved before you, separate those you believe from those which you do not believe, and all the conclusions that naturally and almost necessarily result from those facts, you may confide in as much as in the facts themselves. The case on the part of the prosecution is the story of the murder, told by the different witnesses, who unfold the circumstances one after another, according to their occurrence, together with the gradual discovery of some apparent connexion between the property that was lost, and the possession of it by the prisoner.”

Now here I observe, that whereas the conclusion which is contemplated by the Judge, is what may be pronounced (on the whole, and considering all things, and judging reasonably) a proved or certain conclusion, that is, a conclusion of the truth of the allegation against the prisoner, or of the fact of his guilt, on the other hand, the motiva constituting this reasonable, rational proof, and this satisfactory certitude, needed not, according to him, to be stronger than those on which we prudently act on matters of important interest to ourselves, that is, probable reasons viewed in their convergence and combination. And whereas the certitude is viewed by the Judge as following on converging probabilities, which constitute a real, though only a reasonable, not an argumentative, proof, so it will be observed in this particular instance, that, in illustration of the general doctrine which I have laid down, the process is one of “line upon line, and letter upon letter,” of various details accumulating and of deductions fitting in to each other; for, in the Judge’s words, there was a story—and that not told right out and by one witness, but taken up and handed on from witness to witness—gradually unfolded, and tending to a proof, which of course might have been ten times stronger than it was, but was still a proof for all that, and sufficient for its conclusion,—just as we see that two straight lines are meeting, and are certain they will meet at a given distance, though we do not actually see the junction.

3. The third instance I will take is one of a literary character, the divination of the authorship of a certain anonymous publication, as suggested mainly by internal evidence, as I find it in a critique written some twenty years ago. In the extract which I make from it, we may observe the same steady march of a proof towards a conclusion, which is (as it were) out of sight;—a reckoning, or a reasonable judgment, that the conclusion really is proved, and a personal certitude upon that judgment, joined with a confession that a logical argument could not well be made out for it, and that the various details in which the proof consisted were in no small measure implicit and impalpable.

“Rumour speaks uniformly and clearly enough in attributing it to the pen of a particular individual. Nor, although a cursory reader might well skim the book without finding in it anything to suggest, &c., … will it appear improbable to the more attentive student of its internal evidence; and the improbability will decrease more and more, in proportion as the reader is capable of judging and appreciating the delicate, and at first invisible touches, which limit, to those who understand them, the individuals who can have written it to a very small number indeed. The utmost scepticism as to its authorship (which we do not feel ourselves) cannot remove it farther from him than to that of some one among his most intimate friends; so that, leaving others to discuss antecedent probabilities,” &c.

Here is a writer who professes to have no doubt at all about the authorship of a book,—which at the same time he cannot prove by mere argumentation set down in words. The reasons of his conviction are too delicate, too intricate; nay, they are in part invisible; invisible, except to those who from circumstances have an intellectual perception of what does not appear to the many. They are personal to the individual. This again is an instance, distinctly set before us, of the particular mode in which the mind progresses in concrete matter, viz. from merely probable antecedents to the sufficient proof of a fact or a truth, and, after the proof, to an act of certitude about it.

I trust the foregoing remarks may not deserve the blame of a needless refinement. I have thought it incumbent on me to illustrate the intellectual process by which we pass from conditional inference to unconditional assent; and I have had only the alternative of lying under the imputation of a paradox or of a subtlety.

§ 3. Natural Inference.

I commenced my remarks upon Inference by saying that reasoning ordinarily shows as a simple act, not as a process, as if there were no medium interposed between antecedent and consequent, and the transition from one to the other were of the nature of an instinct,—that is, the process is altogether unconscious and implicit. It is necessary, then, to take some notice of this natural or material Inference, as an existing phenomenon of mind; and that the more, because I shall thereby be illustrating and supporting what I have been saying of the characteristics of inferential processes as carried on in concrete matter, and especially of their being the action of the mind itself, that is, by its ratiocinative or illative faculty, not a mere operation as in the rules of arithmetic.

I say, then, that our most natural mode of reasoning is, not from propositions to propositions, but from things to things, from concrete to concrete, from wholes to wholes. Whether the consequents, at which we arrive from the antecedents with which we start, lead us to assent or only towards assent, those antecedents commonly are not recognized by us as subjects for analysis; nay, often are only indirectly recognized as antecedents at all. Not only is the inference with its process ignored, but the antecedent also. To the mind itself the reasoning is a simple divination or prediction; as it literally is in the instance of enthusiasts, who mistake their own thoughts for inspirations.

This is the mode in which we ordinarily reason, dealing with things directly, and as they stand, one by one, in the concrete, with an intrinsic and personal power, not a conscious adoption of an artificial instrument or expedient; and it is especially exemplified both in uneducated men, and in men of genius,—in those who know nothing of intellectual aids and rules, and in those who care nothing for them,—in those who are either without or above mental discipline. As true poetry is a spontaneous outpouring of thought, and therefore belongs to rude as well as to gifted minds, whereas no one becomes a poet merely by the canons of criticism, so this unscientific reasoning, being sometimes a natural, uncultivated faculty, sometimes approaching to a gift, sometimes an acquired habit and second nature, has a higher source than logical rule,—“nascitur, non fit.” When it is characterized by precision, subtlety, promptitude, and truth, it is of course a gift and a rarity: in ordinary minds it is biassed and degraded by prejudice, passion, and self-interest; but still, after all, this divination comes by nature, and belongs to all of us in a measure, to women more than to men, hitting or missing, as the case may be, but with a success on the whole sufficient to show that there is a method in it, though it be implicit.

A peasant who is weather-wise may be simply unable to assign intelligible reasons why he thinks it will be fine to-morrow; and if he attempts to do so, he may give reasons wide of the mark; but that will not weaken his own confidence in his prediction. His mind does not proceed step by step, but he feels all at once the force of various combined phenomena, though he is not conscious of them. Again, there are physicians who excel in the diagnosis of complaints; though it does not follow from this, that they could defend their decision in a particular case against a brother physician who disputed it. They are guided by natural acuteness and varied experience; they have their own idiosyncratic modes of observing, generalizing, and concluding; when questioned, they can but rest on their own authority, or appeal to the future event. In a popular novel,[25] a lawyer is introduced, who “would know, almost by instinct, whether an accused person was or was not guilty; and he had already perceived by instinct” that the heroine was guilty. “I’ve no doubt she’s a clever woman,” he said, and at once named an attorney practising at the Old Bailey. So, again, experts and detectives, when employed to investigate mysteries, in cases whether of the civil or criminal law, discern and follow out indications which promise solution with a sagacity incomprehensible to ordinary men. A parallel gift is the intuitive perception of character possessed by certain men, while others are as destitute of it, as others again are of an ear for music. What common measure is there between the judgments of those who have this intuition, and those who have not? What but the event can settle any difference of opinion which occurs in their estimation of a third person? These are instances of a natural capacity, or of nature improved by practice and habit, enabling the mind to pass promptly from one set of facts to another, not only, I say, without conscious media, but without conscious antecedents.

Sometimes, I say, this illative faculty is nothing short of genius. Such seems to have been Newton’s perception of truths mathematical and physical, though proof was absent. At least that is the impression left on my own mind by various stories which are told of him, one of which was stated in the public papers a few years ago. “Professor Sylvester,” it was said, “has just discovered the proof of Sir Isaac Newton’s rule for ascertaining the imaginary roots of equations…. This rule has been a Gordian-knot among algebraists for the last century and a half. The proof being wanting, authors became ashamed at length of advancing a proposition, the evidence for which rested on no other foundation than belief in Newton’s sagacity.[26]

Such is the gift of the calculating boys who now and then make their appearance, who seem to have certain short-cuts to conclusions, which they cannot explain to themselves. Some are said to have been able to determine offhand what numbers are prime,—numbers, I think, up to seven places.

In a very different subject-matter, Napoleon supplies us with an instance of a parallel genius in reasoning, by which he was enabled to look at things in his own province, and to interpret them truly, apparently without any ratiocinative media. “By long experience,” says Alison, “joined to great natural quickness and precision of eye, he had acquired the power of judging, with extraordinary accuracy, both of the amount of the enemy’s force opposed to him in the field, and of the probable result of the movements, even the most complicated, going forward in the opposite armies…. He looked around him for a little while with his telescope, and immediately formed a clear conception of the position, forces, and intention of the whole hostile array. In this way he could, with surprising accuracy, calculate in a few minutes, according to what he could see of their formation and the extent of the ground which they occupied, the numerical force of armies of 60,000 or 80,000 men; and if their troops were at all scattered, he knew at once how long it would require for them to concentrate, and how many hours must elapse before they could make their attack.[27]

It is difficult to avoid calling such clear presentiments by the name of instinct; and I think they may so be called, if by instinct be understood, not a natural sense, one and the same in all, and incapable of cultivation, but a perception of facts without assignable media of perceiving. There are those who can tell at once what is conducive or injurious to their welfare, who are their friends, who their enemies, what is to happen to them, and how they are to meet it. Presence of mind, fathoming of motives, talent for repartee, are instances of this gift. As to that divination of personal danger which is found in the young and innocent, we find a description of it in one of Scott’s romances, in which the heroine, “without being able to discover what was wrong either in the scenes of unusual luxury with which she was surrounded, or in the manner of her hostess,” is said nevertheless to have felt “an instinctive apprehension that all was not right,—a feeling in the human mind,” the author proceeds to say, “allied perhaps to that sense of danger, which animals exhibit, when placed in the vicinity of the natural enemies of their race, and which makes birds cower when the hawk is in the air, and beasts tremble when the tiger is abroad in the desert.[28]

A religious biography, lately published, affords us an instance of this spontaneous perception of truth in the province of revealed doctrine. “Her firm faith,” says the Author of the Preface, “was so vivid in its character, that it was almost like an intuition of the entire prospect of revealed truth. Let an error against faith be concealed under expressions however abstruse, and her sure instinct found it out. I have tried this experiment repeatedly. She might not be able to separate the heresy by analysis, but she saw, and felt, and suffered from its presence.[29]

And so of the great fundamental truths of religion, natural and revealed, and as regards the mass of religious men: these truths, doubtless, may be proved and defended by an array of invincible logical arguments, but such is not commonly the method in which those same logical arguments make their way into our minds. The grounds, on which we hold the divine origin of the Church, and the previous truths which are taught us by nature—the being of a God, and the immortality of the soul—are felt by most men to be recondite and impalpable, in proportion to their depth and reality. As we cannot see ourselves, so we cannot well see intellectual motives which are so intimately ours, and which spring up from the very constitution of our minds; and while we refuse to admit the notion that religion has not irrefragable arguments in its behalf, still the attempts to argue, on the part of an individual hic et nunc, will sometimes only confuse his apprehension of sacred objects, and subtracts from his devotion quite as much as it adds to his knowledge.

This is found in the case of other perceptions besides that of faith. It is the case of nature against art: of course, if possible, nature and art should be combined, but sometimes they are incompatible. Thus, in the case of calculating boys, it is said, I know not with what truth, that to teach them the ordinary rules of arithmetic is to endanger or to destroy the extraordinary endowment. And men who have the gift of playing on an instrument by ear, are sometimes afraid to learn by rule, lest they should lose it.

There is an analogy, in this respect, between Ratiocination and Memory, though the latter may be exercised without antecedents or media, whereas the former requires them in its very idea. At the same time association has so much to do with memory, that we may not unfairly consider that memory, as well as reasoning, depends on certain previous conditions. Writing, as I have already observed, is a memoria technica, or logic of memory. Now it will be found, I think, that indispensable as is the use of letters, still, in fact, we weaken our memory in proportion as we habituate ourselves to commit all that we wish to remember to memorandums. Of course in proportion as our memory is weak or over-burdened, and thereby treacherous, we cannot help ourselves; but in the case of men of strong memory in any particular subject-matter, as in that of dates, all artificial expedients, from the “Thirty days has September,” &c., to the more formidable formulas which are offered for their use, are as difficult and repulsive as the natural exercise of memory is healthy and easy to them; just as the clearheaded and practical reasoner, who sees conclusions at a glance, is uncomfortable under the drill of a logician, being oppressed and hampered, as David in Saul’s armour, by what is intended to be a benefit.

I need not say more on this part of the subject. What is called reasoning is often only a peculiar and personal mode of abstraction, and so far, like memory, may be said to exist without antecedents. It is a power of looking at things in some particular aspect, and of determining their internal and external relations thereby. And according to the subtlety and versatility of their gift, are men able to read what comes before them justly, variously, and fruitfully. Hence, too, it is, that in our intercourse with others, in business and family matters, in social and political transactions, a word or an act on the part of another is sometimes a sudden revelation; light breaks in upon us, and our whole judgment of a course of events, or of an undertaking, is changed. We determine correctly or otherwise, as it may be; but in either case, by a sense proper to ourselves, for another may see the objects which we are thus using, and give them quite a different interpretation, inasmuch as he abstracts another set of general notions from those same phenomena which present themselves to us.

What I have been saying of Ratiocination, may be said of Taste, and is confirmed by the obvious analogy between the two. Taste, skill, invention in the fine arts—and so, again, discretion or judgment in conduct—are exerted spontaneously, when once acquired, and could not give a clear account of themselves, or of their mode of proceeding. They do not go by rule, though to a certain point their exercise may be analyzed, and may take the shape of an art or method. But these parallels will come before us presently.

And now I come to a further peculiarity of this natural and spontaneous ratiocination. This faculty, as it is actually found in us, proceeding from concrete to concrete, belongs to a definite subject-matter, according to the individual. In spite of Aristotle, I will not allow that genuine reasoning is an instrumental art; and in spite of Dr. Johnson, I will assert that genius, as far as it is manifested in ratiocination, is not equal to all undertakings, but has its own peculiar subject-matter, and is circumscribed in its range. No one would for a moment expect that because Newton and Napoleon both had a genius for ratiocination, that, in consequence, Napoleon could have generalized the principle of gravitation, or Newton have seen how to concentrate a hundred thousand men at Austerlitz. The ratiocinative faculty, then, as found in individuals, is not a general instrument of knowledge, but has its province, or is what may be called departmental. It is not so much one faculty, as a collection of similar or analogous faculties under one name, there being really as many faculties as there are distinct subject-matters, though in the same person some of them may, if it so happen, be united,—nay, though some men have a sort of literary power in arguing in all subject-matters, de omni scibili, a power extensive, but not deep or real.

This surely is the conclusion, to which we are brought by our ordinary experience of men. It is almost proverbial that a hard-headed mathematician may have no head at all for what is called historical evidence. Successful experimentalists need not have talent for legal research or pleading. A shrewd man of business may be a bad arguer in philosophical questions. Able statesmen and politicians have been before now eccentric or superstitious in their religious views. It is notorious how ridiculous a clever man may make himself, who ventures to argue with professed theologians, critics, or geologists, though without positive defects in knowledge of his subject. Priestley, great in electricity and chemistry, was but a poor ecclesiastical historian. The Author of the Minute Philosopher is also the Author of the Analyst. Newton wrote not only his “Principia,” but his comments on the Apocalypse; Cromwell, whose actions savoured of the boldest logic, was a confused speaker. In these, and various similar instances, the defect lay, not so much in an ignorance of facts, as in an inability to handle those facts suitably; in feeble or perverse modes of abstraction, observation, comparison, analysis, inference, which nothing could have obviated, but that which was wanting,—a specific talent, and a ready exercise of it.

I have already 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 faculty, 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 memory. 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 rightly. In real fact memory, as a talent, is not one indivisible 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 incommensurate. 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 accurately the Christian names of friends and strangers; or could enumerate 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. 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. Virtue is one indeed 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 betake ourselves to Newton for physical, not for theological conclusions, and to Wellington for his military experience, not for statesmanship, so the maxim holds good generally, “Cuique in arte suâ 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 aged, not less than to demonstrations; because, from their having the eye of experience, they behold the principles of things.[30]” Instead of trusting logical science, we must trust persons, namely, those who by long acquaintance with their subject have a right to judge. And if we wish ourselves to share in their convictions 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 reasoning, and thus gain that mental insight into truth, whatever its subject-matter may be, which our masters have gained before us. By following this course, we may make ourselves of their number, and then we rightly lean upon ourselves; we follow our own 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 expounded 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 the architectonic faculty; and what may be called the Illative Sense, or right judgment in ratiocination, is one branch of it.

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