Imatges de pÓgina

and rules of human conduct, future probabilities, deductions from hypotheses, and the like, about which a doubt may reasonably exist."9

Opinions may be entertained from compulsion, or from inducement of interest.10 These, I should say, may conveniently be called authority improper; but they rest upon authority proper, when embraced without reasoning because others, believed or assumed to be competent, entertain them.

'A large proportion of the general opinions of mankind are derived merely from authority.'" And the advice of competent judges has great influence in questions of practice. When truths have been discovered by original inquirers, and received by competent judges, it is principally by authority that they are accredited and diffused.12 Such adoption cannot lead to an improvement of knowledge, or to discovery of new truths: the utmost he can hope is to adopt the belief of those who, at the time, are least likely to be in error.' We are, of course, to assume this proposition to apply to the cases where it is necessary or harmless to have some belief, and where there are not such patent grounds for doubt or question as to recommend that valuable though sometimes despised expedient, suspense of judgment.

In his second chapter, Sir George Lewis shows the great extent of the opinions founded upon authority. These are such as we derive from instruction in childhood, or from seniors, or from fashion. He shows the extremely limited power of inquiry by the working class; and how even the well-informed rely chiefly on compendia and secondary authorities. He shows how, in strict truth, when we act upon conclusions of our own, for which the original reasons are no longer present to our minds, we become authorities to ourselves; and the direct action of reason is as much ousted, as if we were acting on some authority extrinsic to us. Then there is the deference shown in the region of practice to professional or specially instructed persons; or to friends having experience, which enables a man to discern grounds of belief invisible to the unpractised eye. In these matters we take into view the amount of attention given, the ability of the person, his responsibility, and his impartiality. In his third chapter, our author delivers, as he passes on, a remarkable dictum:

'That high degree of intellectual power which we call genius, and which the ancients attributed to the inspiration of the gods, is in itself inexplicable, and can only be judged by its effects. But some ray of that light is requisite in order to enable a person to be classed among the original teachers and guides of mankind.' 13

Nor can I refuse the satisfaction of making another citation: "The moral sentiments may be so ill directed as to deprave the judgment, even when the understanding is remarkably strong. Men

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of this sort may be great, but cannot be wise; for by wisdom we mean the power of judging when the intellectual and moral faculties are both in a sound state. Napoleon affords a striking instance of the corruption of the judgment in consequence of the misdirection of the moral sentiments.' 14

The authority of the old philosophers as to ethical science 15 was much weakened by their dissensions; while 16 astronomy furnishes an example of a science as to which there has been a general agreement of its professors for more than a century.' Mesmerism, homœopathy, and phrenology are rather contemptuously dismissed as 'mock sciences.' 17 But the general description of pretenders is admirable: 18

Nothing is more characteristic of the pretender to philosophy than his readiness to explain, without examination or reflection, all phenomena which may be presented to him. Doubt, hesitation, suspense of the judgment, inquiry before decision, balancing of apparently opposite facts, followed, perhaps, by a qualified and provisional opinion-all these are processes utterly foreign to his mind, and indicative, in his view, of nothing but weakness and ignorance.'

Medicine has always been the favourite field of pretenders; and medical science (for he does not withhold the name) forms an important exception to the rule that the physical are better ascertained than the moral sciences.' 19


Lewis also inquires what countries, as well as what persons or classes, are to be allowed to weigh in the matter of authority; 20 and finds, that we may justly confine the field of discussion to 'the civilised. nations of Europe,' 21 with the Greeks at their head, and the Romans as their pupils following them:


They made the first great step from barbarism to scientific knowledge; which, perhaps, is more difficult, and more important, than any further advance which they left to be made by their successors.'

He excludes not only barbarians, but Chinese, Hindoos, Persians, and Turks, on the ground of their want of progress in political institutions and scientific knowledge,' from the suffrage, so to speak, or the title to count in that consent which makes up authority.

In the light of these remarks, we may approach his general statement: 22

'In general, it may be said that the authority of the professors of any science is trustworthy in proportion as the points of agree. ment among them are numerous and important, and the points of difference few and unimportant.'

'The opposition which is sometimes made between authority and reason rests on a confusion of thought.'

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And this confusion is favoured partly by the fact that the mind, after the choice of its guide, becomes passive, partly by the use of the word authority, in certain cases, for coercive power. But


'The choice of a guide is as much a matter of free determination as the adoption of an opinion on argumentative grounds.' He illustrates the position by reference to the case of a Roman Catholic.25 The illustration becomes most forcible when, among Roman Catholics of various colours, we choose the school which has now gained, whether finally or provisionally, the upper hand in the Latin Church. The determination to accept as the final rule of belief all declarations by the Pope, which the Pope himself may define to be ex cathedrâ, is as much an act of private individual judgment' as if the determination were to follow Luther, or Wesley, or Swedenborg. I venture upon adding that, if this decision be taken lightly and without observance of the general rules which reasonably guide mankind in the search for truth, it may even be an use of private judgment in the highest degree licentious. The servant in the parable who wrapped his talent in a napkin, and thus (as it were) gave it away from his own use, exercised his private judgment just as much as the fellowservant who employed it constantly and steadily, and obtained large increase from it. He used his private judgment as much; only he used it in a wrong direction-just as if a free citizen of this country were to repair to a country where slavery prevails, and there to sell himself into bondage.

The fourth chapter treats of The Applicability of the Principle of Authority to Questions of Religion.' And it begins with a brief description, which seems to belong to the general subject, and therefore to all of the earlier chapters. In it he shows how the authority of which he treats is not that of individuals only. Traditive systems grow up in a course of generations, and by collection, purgation, adjustment, and enlargement or advance, acquire those kinds and degrees of adhesion according to which a trustworthy authority may at length be formed, to which a person uninformed on the subject may reasonably defer.' 26 He proceeds:

"This description, however, is not applicable to religion, or at least is only applicable to it within certain limits.'

Now, thus far I have sat at the feet of Gamaliel: I must, however, canvass the limits within which the principle of authority is legitimately applicable to the choice of a religion.


The at least' of the sentence I have quoted spans a gulf of a breadth immeasurable. The assertion without at least' is that the doctrine of authority has no application to religion. But, with the pacifying intervention of this useful mediator, the proposition only asserts that the application of it is limited and conditional. To this assertion there may be objectors; but surely no other than such as

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embrace, in all its extravagance, as a rule of belief and action for the human being, the rule that he is to be prout cadaver, vel baculus in manu ambulantis. Short of this, there would not be on the believing or affirmative side of the gulf a single opponent. Vaticanism, for example, might point out that there are many Papal utterances beyond the line of the obligatory definition, many pious opinions broadly distinguished from articles of faith, many propositions belonging to the subject-matter of religion which may be freely affirmed or denied without peril. Such would be its theory; and even in its practice it does not and cannot wholly shut out the immediate action of the mind on the object, or the impressions or conclusions which may follow from the theory, and which are things distinct from it.

It is, however, clear upon the whole, that the 'at least' in the foregoing proposition really sets aside the unqualified form, which immediately precedes it, and that the candour of the author's mind. led him to conclude that the principle of authority was truly applicable to the subject of religion, within certain limits.'

What those limits are, he presently proceeds to explain.

He conceives, in the first place, that all nations have agreed in the substantial recognition of a divine power, superhuman and imperceptible by our senses.' 27 Nearly all human opinion, and all the human opinion entitled to weight, has concurred in this affirmation.


Secondly, he conceives that the whole civilised or authoritative world has also agreed in the acceptance of Christianity.

'Christendom includes the entire civilised world; that is to say all nations whose agreement on a matter of opinion has any real weight or authority.'


27 P. 69.

This, however, he limits to the acceptance of some form of the Christian religion.' He proceeds to show that the nations are not agreed in the acceptance of a particular Church; that the rule of Vincentius, quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, is incapable of a strictly literal application; and generally there is no consent of competent judges over the civilised world. Inconsistent and opposite forms of Christianity continue to exist side by side.'


He has still, however, another very important concession to make to particular Churches. The authority of the Church of England (and, if we understand him right, of every Church) is limited to its own members. So limited, he thinks Hooker is right in considering it to be more competent, in a corporate capacity, to decide doubtful questions than any of its individual members.'

The candour, acumen, breadth, and attainments of Lewis give a great weight to the convictions he has thus expressed. They may be summed up in few words as follows:

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1. The consent of mankind binds us in reason to acknowledge the being of God.

2. The consent of civilised mankind similarly binds us to the acceptance of Christianity.

3. The details of Christianity are contested; but in doubtful questions the Church, and, e.g., the 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 in these matters he is bound to have an opinion, is to follow the best opinion.

At the same time I do not suppose that our author would have placed the obligation implied by the third proposition on a level, in point of stringency, with that of the two former. He would, I presume, have said (in technical language), a readiness of the individual to submit himself was in this case of imperfect, but in those of perfect obligation.

Nor, we are safe in supposing, would he have held it a duty to know all that had been considered and determined by a Church, or to refrain from any testing inquiries, but only to have practical dealings with what offered itself to the mind in the course of Providence and of duty, and to conduct inquiry according to the true laws of


I am inclined to think that Hooker has placed the doctrine of submission in matter of opinion to a local or special Church higher than, if he had had the experience of the last three centuries to assist him, he would have thought safe; and that Lewis, who had not a particle of egoism or self-assertion to sharpen unduly his critical faculty, may in this remarkable instance have been to a limited extent amiably misled by deference to a great writer. On the other hand, I shall endeavour to show ground for supposing 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, quâ Church, as upon philosophical principles, in deference to that general sense of mankind, which in such matters is entitled to claim authority. 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 just authority of consent in existence with respect either to the existence of God, or the acceptance of the Christian religion.

In the first place, belief in God surely implies much more than that He is superhuman and imperceptible. It seems to involve, as a general rule, the following particulars, which Lewis has not specified, but may by no means have intended to exclude.

1. That He is conceived of as possessing in Himself all attributes

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