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After investigating the subject at great length,47 Sir George Lewis arrives at the conclusion that a government can do nothing directly, and not much indirectly, towards the diffusion of sound opinions. With regard to Churches, he says 48 that they do in fact exercise an important influence by ascertaining the fitness of candidates for the Christian ministry or priesthood and stamping them with the public character of the Christian profession; but he also observes that the authority of the heads and doctors of each Church is confined to the members of their own communion, and does not pervade all Christendom-a statement which I imagine to be a statement of fact and not a statement of what, in Sir George Lewis's opinion, ought to exist.
He then enters at considerable length 49 into the question of the influence of scientific and literary associations, and of the periodical press. The result of the whole is summed up in the following short statement :
With respect to public instruction, whether it be controlled by learned bodies, or Churches, or voluntary associations, the cardinal maxim is that, as all men cannot be judges of all things, the learner should be instructed in the conclusions and results at which the most eminent authorities in each department of knowledge have arrived, and should, as far as possible, be furnished with an instrument for testing the soundness of the method which each original inquirer may employ.
The concluding chapter relates to the abuses of the principle of authority. It contains a second definition of the word, which, however, substantially agrees with the definition given at the beginning of the book: ‘By authority we have in this essay understood, in conformity with general usage, the influence which determines the belief without the comprehension of the proof.' But a more remarkable passage is one in which he gives an account of the schoolmen and their method:
The scientific student, who servilely follows a beaten track, does not necessarily accept opinions upon the mere credit of his master, and without understanding the evidence on which they rest. lle may, on the contrary, have gone through all the reasonings propounded by his guide-may have perused and re-perised all his writings—have annotated select portions of them, interpreting the obscure and illustrating the concise passages—and reproduced his doctrines in compends and epitomes. He may be a slavish follower, but a slave both voluntarily and upon conviction. Now the revolution in philosophy which is represented by the name of Bacon must be considered mainly as a change of scientific method, and the subsequent substitution of a set of sound doctrines, of which the proof was understood, for a set of unsound doctrines of which the proof was equally understood.
The schoolmen repeated the Aristotelian philosophy as a system of deductive science, not as a series of axioms. In truth the schoolmen adopted the physical tenets of Aristotle as a modern astronomer adopts the Principia of Newton; they studied the system, understood the proofs, and assented to the conclusions. Men such as Thomas Aquinas cannot be charged with a tame and sluggish acquiescence in conclusions without troubling themselves to examine their connection with the premisses. The error of the schoolmen, in fact, consisted in the adoption of a defective scientific method in the uninquiring acceptance of first principles false, indistinct, and unverified-and in reasoning deductively from propositions whose truth had not been established by the proper preliminary process. They received Aristotelic treatises as the sum of a perfect philosophical system, not as the provisional researches of a progressive science.
• Pp. 289-332.
so P. 362.
48 Pp. 333-4.
49 Pp. 334-44. 5. Pp. 369-71.
Towards the end of the work occur the following characteristic words :— The most important general formula which appears deducible from this inquiry is, that one of the main elements of civilisation is well-placed confidence.' 52
This rather commonplace sentiment is developed at length in three pages and a half, to which I do not think it necessary to make any further reference, and with which the book concludes.
I have now, in deference to Mr. Gladstone, given a full abstract of the contents of that part of Sir George Lewis's book which bears upon this subject, and I proceed to consider how far that work warrants either Mr. Gladstone's account of its contents or the extension which he proposes to give to what he alleges to be its principles. The questions suggested by it are as follows:
1. Did Sir George Lewis mean to assert the propositions ascribed to him by Mr. Gladstone ?
2. Whether he did or not, are they consistent with the rest of his book?
3. In any case ought they to be extended in the manner proposed by Mr. Gladstone ?
The question whether Sir George Lewis meant to assert the propositions ascribed to him by Mr. Gladstone is not free from difficulty. He no doubt says that all nations have agreed in the substantial recognition of a Divine Power, superhuman and imperceptible by our senses,' and that all civilised nations have agreed in recognising some form of the Christian religion.' But he does not express in terms the conviction ascribed to him by Mr. Gladstone, that this consent binds us in reason to the belief of those doctrines. He simply states facts, or what he alleges to be such. It may be said that he dwells upon and illustrates these alleged facts in such a manner that it is difficult to say what other purpose he could have had in view than that of suggesting to his readers what most of them would regard as the natural inferences; and I think there is great force in this observa
It ought, however, to be accompanied by another. The consent of mankind may be one step towards the conclusion that there is a God, and the consent of civilised mankind one step towards the conclusion that some form of the Christian religion, or that some parts of it, are true, without our being bound in reason to acknowledge' these doctrines to be true solely because of that consent. Belief in such conclusions must rest upon various considerations; and my own conjecture would be that Sir George Lewis meant no more than that the consents referred to did in fact exist, and that they were, as far as they went, and to some extent, evidence in favour of the truth of the doctrines assented to. I also think that, in dealing with a subject on which people feel so intensely, he may not unnaturally have expressed himself in terms upon which Mr. Gladstone was entitled to put a wider construction than they were intended by their author to bear. The matter, however, is one of little importance. More interest attaches to the question whether Mr. Gladstone's view of Sir George Lewis's meaning is or is not consistent with the rest of Şir George Lewis's book. Upon this I own I can feel no doubt what
If Sir George Lewis really meant to say that the consent of mankind binds us in reason to acknowledge the being of God,' and that
the consent of civilised mankind similarly binds us to the acceptance of Christianity,' he might at once be confronted with nearly every passage which I have quoted from his book. The qualifications of a trustworthy authority are, according to him, that a man should have devoted much study and thought to the subject matter on which he is to be an authority, that he should have mental power adequate to the task of comprehending the subject, and of the sort fitted to it, and that he should be exempt from all personal interest in the question, or so constituted as to be superior to the influence of any interest he may have. How many people can be said to fulfil any one of these conditions with regard either to the existence of God or the truth of the Christian religion ?
The number of persons who have devoted much study and thought to either subject is small. The conclusions at which those few persons have arrived differ irreconcilably. They have proceeded by different methods and started from inconsistent assumptions. Suppose we say that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Paul, Seneca, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Hume, Kant, Paley, and De Maistre all believed in God, can any person who has the commonest acquaintance with their writings draw any inference whatever from the fact ? The Gods of Spinoza and Hume, for instance, have little resemblance to each other, and the words believe' and 'in' also have different meanings in respect to many of these eminent men.
Moreover, Sir George Lewis carefully limits his assertion as to the agreement of all nations on this point to the recognition of a 'Divine Power, superhuman and imperceptible by our senses;' and he says on p. 72 that all questions concerning the nature of the Deity and his attributes' fall beyond the range of consciousness, intuition, and the
Granting, for the sake of argument, a consent of nations' to believe that there is a superhuman imperceptible Being, coupled with interminable controversies on every question connected with the nature and attributes of that Being, is there really any consent at all? Three people agree that they distinctly saw something at a given time and place. One says it was a man, one that it was a horse, one that it was a bird. In what do they agree? Is not this exactly the case of three persons believing respectively in the Trinity, Allah, and Nirvana ? Each believes in a · Divine Power, superhuman and imperceptible by the senses' (at least, if the Buddhist does not, Sir George Lewis's statement is incorrect as to probably a third of the human race), but each belief excludes the other two.
Look again at Christianity, Paley, John Wesley, and De Maistre all • devoted much thought' to the subject, and were all Christians, but their views of things human and divine, their ways of looking at life, their methods of thinking, their fundamental assumptions differed utterly. They were all Christians, as red, green, and orange are all colours; and to say that they agreed in any definite system is like saying that as red, green, and orange are all colours, they resemble each other.
The qualification, therefore, of having devoted much study and thought' to the subject of religion is possessed by very few persons, and those who possess it disagree often in proportion to the amount of study and thought which they bestow on the subject.
The second qualification for an authority is that the person who is to be taken as such should have mental power adequate to the task of comprehending the subject, and of the sort fitted to it. Surely the great question of the present day, the one upon which all religious controversies hang, is whether any human being whatever has either the faculties necessary for such inquiries, or the material upon which to exercise them.
Upon the whole, then, Sir George Lewis's principles show that no one's opinion can be regarded as an authority on any subject unless he possesses qualifications which, in regard to the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, are obviously possessed by very few persons, and which are frequently alleged not to be accessible to any person whatever. How, then, can any one say that Sir George Lewis thought, or at least that he was consistent in thinking, that the general consent of mankind or of civilised nations on these subjects had any weight whatever? Whoever seeks to extend Sir George Lewis's principles to the leading doctrines of Christian theology, is bound to remember that by Sir George Lewis's rule no man could be a competent authority as to the doctrine, e.g., of the Trinity unless “ his mental powers were equal to the task of comprehending the subject,' and were of the sort fitted to it. He is also bound to show what class of persons fulfil this condition, and how those who rely upon the authority of such persons may be assured that they fulfil it.
The third qualification for authority is that the authoritative person should be disinterested, or superior to interest. Who, having devoted much time to the subject, and having a mind capable of comprehending it, is otherwise than deeply interested in the questions of the existence of God and the truth of Christianity ? Two illustrations are as good as a thousand. Bossuet and Voltaire each lived to a great age, each devoted much time and attention to these subjects, each was a man of immense and varied knowledge, each was the greatest master of logic and rhetoric in his own time and country, each believed most sincerely in a God (though not in the same God); but to ascribe impartiality to either would be like ascribing impartiality in the conduct of a great war to the generals of the opposing armies. Impartiality, in the sense of indifference as to the result of inquiry, is unattainable in regard to matters which stir the deepest and strongest passions of human nature. Everyone is an advocate, and the most dexterous and artful of all are those who look most like judges. Butler's writings, for instance, form one of the most ingenious arguments ever framed by man in defence of any cause, and no one can read them carefully without seeing that their intense gravity, and studied calmness, and moderation of statement add much to the impression which they produce.
It may be 'said that the authority of which Sir George Lewis speaks in the passages quoted by Mr. Gladstone is the consent of nations, and that the qualifications to which I have referred are those which he requires of individuals. This is true, but it is also true that the whole of his sixth chapter goes to show that 'the consent of nations' can have no authority at all upon any subject whatever ; and this certainly makes it surprising that Sir George Lewis should have written the passages in question. I cannot understand how the man who wrote of the consent of mankind' in terms which could render it possible for Mr. Gladstone to suppose that he thought that it bound us in reason to believe the fundamental doctrines of religion, could devote a whole chapter of his book to proving that “the men of special information and experience, combined with the proper moral and intellectual qualifications, are the competent judges on each branch of knowledge; ? 53 that the opinion of the great bulk of the people, taken as a standard of truth and rectitude, is unworthy of consideration, and destitute of weight and authority;' and that
53 P. 160.