Imatges de pàgina



Mr. GLADSTONE's article "On Authority in Matters of Opinion' must interest every one on account of the importance of the subject and the eminence of its author. A study of the article itself, and a comparison of it' with Sir George Lewis's book on which it is founded, have, however, led me to the conclusion that either Mr. Gladstone or I must have entirely misunderstood Sir George Lewis's meaning, as his book appears to me to point to conclusions altogether opposed to those which Mr. Gladstone regards as a fair application of the principles which it lays down.

Mr. Gladstone's account of the matter, as I understand it, is as follows:

His general object is to extend the conclusions of Sir George Lewis' on a 'point of the utmost weight affecting not the frame of his argument, but its application.'' To effect this object he gives in the first instance a short account of Sir George Lewis's position.? This begins with a reference to the first three chapters of the book, the general result of which is somewhat to this effect. Sir George Lewis says that authority is of the greatest possible use; that a large proportion of the opinions of mankind are derived merely from authority; that men become, in a sense, authorities to themselves; that certain countries only are entitled “to count in that consent which makes up authority ; ' finally, “that the authority of the professors of any science is trustworthy in proportion as the points of agreement between them are numerous, and the points of difference few, and that the opposition which is sometimes made between authority and reason rests on a confusion of thought. In short, the passages of Sir George Lewis's first three chapters which have attracted Mr. Gladstone's special attention are those which give to authority the highest value and the widest scope. Mr. Gladstone then proceeds 3 to the fourth chapter, which treats of the applicability of the principle of authority to questions of religion, and after i a paraphrase of its opening passage, which seems to me not to be a

· P. 3.
2 Pp. 4-6.

3 P. 7. P. 7. It seems almost an impertinence to say that neither this nor other passages of the same kind in this article are meant to impute to Mr. Gladstone anything which could be called a misrepresentation of Sir George Lewis's meaning;

correct or adequate representation of the original, he quotes the observation :- This description, however, is not applicable to religion, or, at least, is only applicable to it within certain limits.' This Mr. Gladstone regards; as equivalent to saying that 'the principle of authority' is truly applicable to the subject of religion within certain limits. He conceives that those limits, as understood by Sir George Lewis, may be briefly summed up in a few words as follows:

•1. The consent of mankind binds us in reason to acknowledge the being of God. 2. The consent of civilised markind similarly binds us to the acceptance of Christianity. 3. The details of Christianity are contested ; but in doubtful questions the Church, and e.g. Church of England at large with respect to its own members, is more competent than they are individually; and the business and duty of a reasonable man, so far as he is bound to have an opinion, is to follow the best opinion.''

Mr. Gladstone goes on to say that he does not think Sir George Lewis would have placed the obligation implied by the third proposition on a level in point of stringency with that of the two former ; but he adds that

on the premisses which sustain the first two propositions we ought to widen the conclusions at which Lewis has arrived ; and this not so much upon

ecclesiastical principles, in obedience to the authority of a particular Church or of the Church at large, quá Church, as upon philosophical principles in deference to that general sense of mankind which in such matters is entitled to claim authority.

Mr. Gladstone proceeds :

I take my departure, however, from the standing ground of the two propositions, and do not go behind them, or argue with such as contend, in opposition to Lewis, that there is no such authority of consent in existence with respect either to the existence of God or the acceptance of the Christian religion.

Mr. Gladstone 8 then goeson partly to assert, and partly to imply, that whatever authority there may be for believing in the existence of God is an authority for believing in the goodness of God, the moral government of the world, and a future state of existence which may be regarded as a state of reward and punishment in so far as it will show the connection between virtue and happiness, vice and misery, more distinctly than the present state of existence.

As for Christianity, Mr. Gladstone cautions us, towards the end of his article, against allowing so general a term to become a blind which on the one hand excludes knowledge, and on the other leaves us imbued with the notion that we possess it.'

In an earlier part of the article 10 he ascribes to Sir George Lewis

but the habits of mind of that eminent author and his eminent commentator are so unlike each other that Mr. Gladstone seems to find more difficulty in reproducing Sir George Lewis's views than might have been expected. 5 P. 8. 6 P. 9. ; P. 9. Pp. 9-10.

10 P. 10. * P. 15.


the proposition that the acceptance of Christianity is required of us by a scientific application of the principle of authority.'" Elsewhere he says: 12 "I ... contend that this Christianity must in reason be understood to include a doctrinal as well as a moral and a symbolical system;' and from explanations extending over several pages 13 it appears that he includes under a belief in Christianity' in general a belief in 1. The doctrine of Revelation. 2. The use of Sacraments. 3. The Christian Ethics. 4. The Creed. 5. The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.'

For this amount of religious belief Mr. Gladstone, as I understand him, claims what he calls, in reference to another matter, the benefit of the scientific principle of authority;' and I also gather that he considers that in so doing he is only reducing to a specific form the general statements of Sir George Lewis to which he refers.

As to more detailed applications of theology, the matter, in Mr. Gladstone's opinion, is different. Christians differ upon these subjects, but each Christian body is an authority, 4 . not indeed final, but yet real and weighty for those who belong to it. He goes indeed beyond Christianity. He says that no one ought to depart, except upon serious and humble examination, as well as clear conviction, from the religion they have been brought up to profess, even though non-Christian, for it is the school of character and belief in which Providence has placed them, even though non-Christian, and even while I follow Lewis in urging that the undivided authority of civilised and progressive man demands of us the acceptance of Christianity.

This, as I understand the article, is a fair abstract of Mr. Gladstone's view of the proper way of applying what he believes to be Sir George Lewis's principles. The article also contains some further observations of his own, with which I will deal separately. But I will begin by stating what I understand to be Sir George Lewis's principle, and by showing how, in my opinion, it would affect the question of religious belief if fairly applied to it.

The first question is, what did Sir George Lewis understand by "authority'? for the whole meaning of his book depends upon the definition of that term. A distinct explanation upon this point is given in these words. He says:

The distinction between testimony, argument, and authority may be briefly summed up thus :

In questions of testimony I believe a matter of fact because the witness believes it [? says he perceived it).

In questions of argument I believe the conclusion to be true because it is proved by reasons satisfactory to my understanding.

In questions of authority I believe a matter of opinion because it is beliered by a person whom I consider a competent judge of the question.

Fact is defined : 16 • Anything of which we obtain a conviction from our internal consciousness, or any individual event or phenomenon which is the object of sensation.' 17

11 P. 12.
** P. 18.

12 P. 14.
15 P. 26.

13 Pp. 10–13, 14-17.

16 P. 1.

• Matter of opinion' is defined thus : 18

When an individual fact is doubted upon reasonable grounds, its existence becomes' matter of opinion.

Matters of opinion, not being disputed questions of fact, are general propositions or theorems relating to laws of nature or mind, principles and rules of human conduct, future probabilities, deductions from hypotheses, and the like, about which a doubt may reasonably exist. All doubtful questions, whether of speculation or practice, are matters of opinion.

Putting these passages together, we get the following definition of authority :

Authority is the opinion of one person upon a doubtful question of fact, speculation, or practice accepted by another person as a reason for believing that which the person first mentioned believes in relation to such question.

The main purport of Sir George Lewis's book is, first, to assert the proposition that all men have to believe upon authority thus defined in reference to many subjects, if they have any opinions at all about them; and secondly, to investigate the conditions which make authority trustworthy. I should have supposed the first proposition to be self-evident as soon as its terms were understood. The amount of knowledge or opinion which anyone derives from his own perceptions, or from inferences drawn from them by his own reflections, must be almost infinitesimal in proportion to the amount which he derives in a greater or less degree from what Sir George Lewis defines as authority. Nor did I ever hear of anyone who doubted it.

Hence the important part of Sir George Lewis's book is his investigation of the marks of sound or trustworthy authority.'

He enters upon this subject in his third chapter, and gives the following qualifications as being those which render a person a competent authority in matters of opinion.

The first qualification is that a person should have devoted much study and thought to the subject-matter, if it be merely speculative, and that if it be practical he should also have had adequate experience respecting it.

Secondly, his mental powers must be equal to the task of comprehending the subject, and they must be of the sort fitted to it.

Thirdly, he ought to be exempt as far as possible from personal interest in the matter; or, if he be not exempt, his honesty and integrity ought to be such as to afford a reasonable security against the perversion of his opinions by views of his individual advantage.

1? This exactly corresponds to the definition of fact given in the Indian Evidence Act, s. 1:

«« Fact” means and includes: 1. Any thing, state of things, or relation of things capable of being perceived by the senses. 2. Any mental condition of which any person is conscious.'

I am responsible for this definition, but I had not seen Sir George Lewis's book when I drew it. As to its grounds, see my Introduction to the Indian Evidence Act, pp. 14-16.

18 Pp. 2-3.

11 P. 27. VOL. I.-No. 2.


Each of these qualifications is amplified in (I must say) a rather wearisome way. In one place the author says that when we want to know who is a competent authority on any subject we should look out for a man able, honest, and well versed in the subject;'20 that we must be assured that he had time to study and consider the subject, that he availed himself of his opportunity, that he understood what he studied, and that he judged correctly ;'21 and I do not see that the amplifications spread over so many pages add much to this. The chapter contains little beyond this directly relating to the marks of trustworthy authority,' but it concludes with some observations on physical science, moral science, and mock sciences respectively. He says : 22 There is a prevailing approach to agreement in the sciences founded on an observation of outward nature.' 'In the moral and political sciences there is a less general consensus than in the physical.' He then proceeds to make some observations upon the subject of mock sciences. One passage in this chapter deserves particular remark.23 It relates to the question, What countries are important with reference to the general agreement of opinion?' 'In determining the question as to the existence of a consensus of opinion on any speculative subject it would be absurd to take barbarous or semicivilised communities into the account.' Amongst such communities he reckons all savage and most Oriental nations; for

although these Oriental nations are not to be confounded with uncivilised societies, and although they have, at different periods, made considerable progress in literature and the useful arts, yet their progress both in political institutions and scientific knowledge has been so limited as to place them on a low intellectual level.' He goes on to say 24 that France, Germany, and England stand at the head of contemporary science and literature; that Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, may be ranked with them; but that Italy and Spain must be placed on a lower level on account of the benumbing influence of the Inquisition and severe censorship of the press, reaching uninterruptedly from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. 25

The effect of the first three chapters of Sir George Lewis's work may be shortly summed up as follows:- The fact that A. holds a given opinion may be a reason why B. should hold the same opinion without further inquiry if B. has reason to believe that A. has devoted much study and thought to the subject, that A.'s mental powers are equal to the task of comprehending the subject, and are fitted for it, and that A. is either exempt from all personal interest in the matter, or, if not exempt, is so honest that his opinions are not perverted by views of his own advantage. If these conditions are not fulfilled, A.'s opinion can be no authority for B.'s. The fourth chapter is entitled, “On the Applicability of the

W P.


20 P. 42.

21 P. 41.

22 P. 44.

23 P. 59.

« AnteriorContinua »