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nies of moral accountability, and thus allying him to angels, and giving him, in this particular, the image of God his Maker. The possession of this faculty evinces its high distinction from all with which the animal is endowed, in this very point of a priori reasoning. The beaver reasons from general laws, derived from facts of sense, when he constructs his dam, and builds his dwelling, always adapting his results, with great skill, to changing circumstances, and is, in no mean degree, an inductive philosopher. But thus far and no farther. God has denied him the power of seeing ultimate truths, and of drawing deductions from absolute principles : hence he can never reason a priori : he can never educate himself, nor separate himself from the chain of cause and effect in which he is bound, and stand forth the free arbiter of his own moral destiny, under law, and aménable to a righteous tribunal. Multiply and magnify all the powers he has, in kind, to an indefinite extent, he is but an animal still, and can know nothing of the absolute, the necessary, the universal. He wants that faculty which capacitates him to see those truths, which, in their own light, are selfaffirmed, independent, immutable and eternal. Man has this power; and the habit of discriminating it from all else with which he is endowed, is worth all that is claimed for it, and far more attention than is given to it. And these ultimate truths, which are seen to be necessary in themselves, and universal verities, independent of all power, or will, or efficient causation, are the elements of all a priori reasoning. It is only in this particular that an a priori argument can be applied to the proof of God's existence. We must take some truth which a rational intuition determines to be necessary and universal in its own nature; which is itself above all proof, and, as cognized reason, stands
upon its own absolute ground,—and from this deduce, by a longer or shorter process, the equally necessary truth of the being of God. The ultimate truth which we assume must involve the fact, and make the existence of God a perceived necessity.
This, then, wherever it can be applied, is a valid and conclusive form of reasoning. It takes a truth seen to be necessary
thing if it proves any thing. So far as it can be applied, it makes the conclusion necessary in its own nature, and its nonexistence an absurdity. If it can be applied to the proof of God's existence, and just so far as it can be made logically to reach, it proves God a necessary being—necessary, not because, as there are effects, so there must be a first cause, but necessary in his own nature, because a necessary deduction from an absolute truth, which cannot be conceived otherwise than as necessarily and eternally existing.
It is in this point of view, that the argument a priori has been so highly appreciated by many. They have supposed that they had discovered some proper method of applying it to the proof of the being of God; and as, in its nature, it is so conclusive when properly applied, they have valued and extolled it, and frequently relied upon it to the exclusion of all other sources of proof. The conclusion logically deduced is as valid and necessary as the absolute principle; and as they are convinced that their deductions are logical, they rest in full conviction, without farther research. Speculative minds, habituated to deal with abstract truth and elementary principles, are the most deeply interested in this form of the argument; though some of the highest names in this list of thinkers place no reliance upon it. The latter distinctly perceive the strength of this mode of reasoning where it can be applied; but they suppose that they also see the impossibility of so applying it as to bring a rational conviction of its conclusiveness. The form of the argument they admit to be good, and there may be absolute truths which involve the necessary existence of God; but no human mind can rise high enough to grasp these truths, or reach far enough to deduce the conclusion. The ground is safe, but too high for us to gain: the logical elements are too sublimated for any human, or perhaps angelic intellect to control. Though we dissent from the opinion, that this form of argument is utterly beyond all human powers, it does, unquestionably, demand the highest energies, and involve some of the severest processes of logic.
It is proper here to remark, that the celebrated and powerful work of Dr. Samuel Clark—“ The Demonstration of the
upon ultimate and absolute truths. The very first position, that “something must have existed from eternity,” is deduced from no intuitive knowledge of the inherent nature of any efficient cause, nor from any ultimate principle in itself necessary and universal; but is inferred directly from an effect assumed to be such, and then reasoning from the existence of the effect to the existence of a cause, by a direct inversion of the a priori form of argument. The first step in his process is: “Since something now is, 'tis manifest that something always was, otherwise the things that now are, must have been produced out of nothing, absolutely and without cause, which is a plain contradiction in terms," etc. It is not meant, by any means, that this is not conclusive reasoning ; but only that it is not a priori reasoning. By it we can never prove the existence of God as absolutely, but only as relatively necessary. Inasmuch as something else exists, therefore, and on that account, it is necessary that something should have existed from eternity. And if we admit this thing, which has existed from eternity, to be God, his existence is not an absolute necessity, because the existence of the effects is not an absolute necessity. We can conceive that all these effects might never have been, or, that they might now be annihilated, and thus cease to be, in which case the very ground for the necessity of God's existence must fall away. It is a necessity grounded upon a contingent fact, and not upon an absolute principle, which cannot but be, and is thus universal and necessary in its own nature.
Nor is it meant that Dr. Clarke misunderstood the nature of an a priori argument, and thought this to be such. For though he designed his treatise to be “ as near mathematical as the nature of the Discourse would allow," he doubtless saw the necessity of something besides rigid a priori reasoning to carry conviction to those minds to which his work was directed. And in his “ Answer to a seventh Letter, concerning the Argument A Priori,” he says: “That there is, and cannot but be one, and one only, such first cause, author and governor of the universe, is, I conceive, capable of strict demonstration, including that part of the argument which is adduced “a priori,”-thus showing that only a “part” of his argument was deemed a priori by himself. It is not until the third conclusion, embracing “self-existence,” or “ necessary existence,” that he introduces an a priori argument, and gives the following distinct intimation of his changing the form of reasoning by saying: to suppose that
“ When we are endeavoring to suppose that there is no being in the universe that exists necessarily, we always find in our minds, (besides the foregoing demonstration of something being self-existent from the impossibility of every thing being dependent,) we always find in our own minds, I say, some ideas, as of infinity and eternity, which to remove, i. e. to there is no being, no substance in the universe, to which these attributes or modes of existence are necessarily inherent, is a contradiction in the very terms." He thus expressly removes his ground of reasoning from “ things dependent, and which are effects, to ideas, which to remove, is a contradiction in the very terms,” and which are thus ultimate and necessary truths. He here uses the a priori form of argument, and continues it for the purpose of proving the necessary existence-eternal eristence, and the omnipresence and unity of God. But he expressly departs from it in the proof of God's intelligence ; nor is it resumed again directly in the remainder of the discourse. This justly celebrated work, however less or more conclusive it may be deemed, should not be characterized as, in general, an “a priori” argument for the existence of God.
Having thus before our minds the nature of the a priori form of argument, we proceed,
Il. To look at some of the more prominent methods of its use, in order to find the real ground of its validity.
The schoolmen, from the time of the celebrated Anselmus, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 11th century, were much occupied with the proof of the existence of God by a priori reasoning, and sought to give the argument its most direct and conclusive application. It was revived in the 17th century by Descartes, and received all the advantages of his powerful mind, and the influence and splendor of his great name; and has since been followed up, each in his own way, more especially by Leibnitz, Wolf, etc. in Germany, Clarke in England, and Cousin in France. Kant examines the argument, and deems it inconclusive; and thus feels no conviction from its application. His reliance is placed entirely upon an argument derived from the fundamental principles of morality, as exhibited in the nature of man, and the government of the moral universe.
But, without reference to names, the following are some of the modes of the argument in its most general form. We adduce them here as illustrations of its application to the proof of the being of God, and also to develop, more clearly, the
necessary assumption which is included in every a priori argument.
First.—It is possible that the most perfect being exists. But real existence is a perfection, and necessary existence the highest perfection, and must belong to the most perfect being. And therefore as the most perfect being has necessary existence, he does necessarily exist.
In this form of the argument the possibility of the most perfect being is put as an ultimate principle, or absolute truth, which needs no proof, but is self-affirmed and undeniable; and from this it is attempted to deduce the necessity of the actual existence of the most perfect being. But a close examination of the argument will detect a non sequitur, unless it be assumed, that the necessary idea of the most perfect being is itself a ground of conclusion for the real existence of the most perfect being. The possibility of the most perfect being is ideal in the major proposition—and the including of “necessary existence” in the most perfect being in the minor proposition, must be ideal also,—and thus the conclusion to the “real existence” of the most perfect being is fallacious, without the assumption, that the necessary ideal is a valid ground for inferring the real or actual existence. All that the syllogism can logically give in the conclusion is the possibility that the most perfect being, including necessary existence as an attribute, does exist; and now to draw the farther conclusion that he really does exist, it is necessary to assume, that the necessary idea of its possibility is conclusive for its reality.
Secondly. It is possible that there is a being whose existence is eternal. But unless such a being now exists there cannot be an eternal being: therefore an eternal being now really exists. Here too is a fallacy of precisely the same nature as in the former case, except upon the same assumption—that a necessary ideal is conclusive for a real being. The possibility of an eternal being is ideal ; the necessity of present existence, in order to eternal existence, is only ideal ; thus, all that we can distribute