The following Sections are appended to the Article from "The Contemporary Review"
[from Stray Essays on Controversial Points variously illustrated, by Cardinal Newman, 1890, privately printed.]

§ 50. On Philosophical Scepticism

{90} Principal Fairbairn, in his Article in the Contemporary of December, 1885, as an answer to my explanation in October, has repeated his charges against me with much vehemence, but, as I hope to show, with small success. He still considers me as thinking and writing on a foundation of "underlying scepticism:" he calls it however philosophical scepticism, by which I understand him to mean a sort of scepticism which I am not aware of myself; at least I can only suppose that he contrasts philosophical with personal. Though I do not understand the distinction, I am glad to receive from him a token of good feeling and courtesy such as I believe this to be.

He says that I am only a philosophic sceptic, and that he has taken considerable pains to bring this home to me. He says, "What he [the Cardinal] was charged with, and in terms so careful and guarded as ought to have excluded all possible misconceptions, was 'metaphysical or philosophical' {91} scepticism." This sort of scepticism he proceeds to define, but I fear I cannot call him happy in his attempt. He defines it is "a system which ... subjectively affirms the impotence of human reason for the discovery of truth." [Note 1] Such a definition (in religious questions, as in the case before us) is seriously incomplete. If it be taken in its letter, I certainly cannot deny that it has proved me to be a sceptic, for I do affirm the impotence of human reason for the discovery of a great many truths; but then it has done so at the expense of convicting of scepticism all Catholics, besides all theologians of the Greek Church and all orthodox Anglicans. Dr. Fairbairn's definition tells against all whosoever hold on faith the great truths of Revelation, such as the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, and beyond all mistake includes in its imputation the Vatican Council itself, which expressly anathematises any one who shall say "that in Divine Revelation there are contained no true and properly so called mysteries, but that all the dogmas of faith can be understood and demonstrated from natural principles by means of Reason properly cultivated." If to deny the impotence of reason in the discovery of truth is scepticism, I am in good company. {92}

Let me take a more exact and adequate definition of scepticism, and see if I fall under it. The definition of scepticism to which I am myself accustomed is such as this: "Scepticism is the system which holds that no certainty is attainable, as not in other things so not in questions of religious truth and error." How have I incurred this reproach? On the contrary, I have not only asserted, with a strength of words which has sometimes incurred censure, my belief in religious truth, but have insisted on the certainty of such truth, and on Certitude as having a place among the constituents of human thought;—analysing it, discriminating it, and giving tests of it, with a direct apprehension and manipulation quite incompatible with my never asking myself whether intellectually I was in any sense a sceptic or not. It seems to me that the charge of scepticism which has been used against me elsewhere, as well as in England, is a mere idle word, serviceable in an intellectual combat; and I think it would be more charitable in opponents if, instead of imputing it to any dissatisfaction which I have at any time expressed with certain arguments used in Catholic controversy, they ascribed it, not to an underlying scepticism as to the truths in dispute, but rather to an unmeasured and even reckless confidence in them, or, again, to an attempt to test the availableness at the present time of certain conventional proofs used for polemical purposes. {93}

§ 51. On the Meaning of the word "Reason"

So much on Dr. Fairbairn's definition of what he considers the "philosophical" scepticism which runs through all my writings. And now I come to what seems to him a main instance of it—my account of Reason considered as the faculty of reasoning. Here he drops his unfortunate attempt at defining; at least he does not tell us what Reason is, as far as I can make out, but he is severe in pronouncing it to be constitutive, architectonic, true, and religious; whereas, in my idea of it, it is a mere instrument, "an inferential instrument," from which nothing great can come. He says, "What works as a mere instrument never handles what it works in, the things remain outside it, and have no place or standing within its being ... To a reason without religious character … truth is inaccessible ... This is philosophical scepticism." I am quite ready to meet him on this new ground of argument. He says that Reason, as I consider it, is necessarily skeptical; let us see.

Here, first, I must protest against its being magisterially ruled by Dr. Fairbairn that the word Reason has one and one only definite scientific meaning, accepted by all authorities in metaphysics, and incapable of any other; whereas, before coming to the question of particular words and phrases, I really wish it settled whether there is a recognized {94} science of metaphysics at all. Certainly in 1831 and the following years the terminology which he takes for granted was little known in Oxford [Note 2], nor indeed any terminology but Aristotle's; much less were any words or definitions taken for stereotyped truths. I have no great remorse that for fifty years I have used my native tongue as a vehicle for religious and ethical discussions; in this instance, indeed, with the sanction of a writer who is commonly called par excellence our lexicographer. Provided I am careful to record the senses in which I use words, it is not the part of a fair critic to take them in another sense, and in that sense to be tragic in his reprobation of them. My turn of mind has never led me towards metaphysics; rather it has been logical, ethical, practical. As to the word "Reason," it would have been a strange digression had I, in speaking of the religious state of Europe, entered into an account of the faculties of the human mind and the analysis which has been made of them by various metaphysicians.

Here it is very pertinent to quote in my favour the remarks of Sir William Hamilton; they will protect me in the acts of private judgment which are so offensive to Dr. Fairbairn.

"'Reason,'" he says, "is a very vague, vacillating, and equivocal word … Throwing aside its {95} employment in most languages for cause, motive, argument, &c., considering it only as a philosophical word, denoting a faculty or complement of faculties, in this relation it is found employed in the following meanings, not only by different individuals, but frequently to a greater or less extent by the same philosopher … Nothing can be more vague and various than his [Kant's] employment of the word [Reason] … but even in his [Kant's] abusive employment of the term … no consistency was maintained." (Hamilton on Reid, Note A, § v. 7.)

In this latitude and confusion of the terminology found among professed metaphysicians I think I have a right to my own way of regarding the faculty of Reason, whether I fail in it or not; and that the more because, while I am following the English use of the word, it is a personal satisfaction to me to be able also to believe that I am adhering to the ecclesiastical. At least Gregory the 16th, Pius the 9th, and the Vatican Council, when they would speak of "proving" and of "demonstrating," refer the act of the mind to "human reason." [Note 3] {96}

§ 52. On the Faculty of Reason

When, then, in times past I have wished to express my anxiety lest serious dangers might be in store for educated society, my first business was to determine what sense I ought to give to the word "Reason," claimed by Rationalists as if specially belonging to themselves. The only senses of it which I knew—nay which I know of it now—are two: in one of the two senses it seems to be a synonym for "Mind," as used in contrast with the condition of brutes. This is far too broad an account of it to be of service in such a purpose as my own, and in consequence I have been thrown of necessity on the sense which is its alternative, viz., that reason is the faculty of reasoning; and though such a view of it does not suggest that venerable and sovereign idea which we usually attach to "Reason," still, as I was not writing metaphysics, but with an ethical and social view, I did not find any great inconvenience in taking the word in its popular, etymological, and, as I hope, ecclesiastical acceptation.

To such a view of Reason however Dr. Fairbairn objects, as leading to scepticism; but I have never thought, as he supposes, of leaving truth to so untrustworthy a protection as reasoning by itself would be to it. The mind without any doubt is made for truth. Still, it does not therefore follow that truth is its object in all its powers. The imagination {97} is a wonderful faculty in the cause of truth, but it often subserves the purposes of error—so do our most innocent affections. Every faculty has its place. There is a faculty in the mind which acts as a complement to reasoning, and as having truth for its direct object thereby secures its use for rightful purposes. This faculty, viewed in its relation to religion, is, as I have before said, the moral sense; but it has a wider subject-matter than religion, and a more comprehensive office and scope, as being "the apprehension of first principles," and Aristotle has taught me to call it [nous], or the noetic faculty [Note 4].

§ 53. On the Action of Reason as determined and regulated by other Faculties

How this faculty of [nous] bears upon the action of reasoning scarcely requires many words. I have considered Reasoning as an instrument—that is, an instrument for the use of other faculties, for who ever heard of an instrument without there being, as I have taken for granted, some distinct power to make use of it? Now to know what the reasoning faculty needs for the purposes of religion we must consider it, not in its abstract idea, but in the {98} concrete. When so viewed, it includes an antecedent and a consequent, and it is at once plain what is the connecting link between it and (for instance) the noetic faculty. The antecedent of the reasoning is that link; for the matter (as it is called) of the antecedent belongs both to the reasoning and also to those other faculties, many or few, which have for their object the antecedent [Note 5]. Great faculty as reasoning certainly is, it is from its very nature in all subjects dependent upon other faculties. It receives from them the antecedent with which its action starts; and when this antecedent is true, there is no longer in religious matters room for any accusation against it of scepticism. In such matters the independent faculty which is mainly necessary for its healthy working and the ultimate warrant of the reasoning act, I have hitherto spoken of as the moral sense; but, as I have already said, it has a wider subject-matter than religion, and a larger name than moral sense, as including intuitions, and this is what Aristotle calls [nous].

Here I am struck by what I must call the aridity of Dr. Fairbairn's polemic. What could be more natural, what more congruous, than that there should be a faculty which was concerned with the antecedent of the reasoning, as the reasoning itself is concerned with the consequent, so that the two faculties unite in a joint act, each of the two having need of the other? But instead of accepting this division and arrangement of work, Dr. Fairbairn, I must insist, ungraciously refuses to see a harmony in such an association of two great faculties, and makes them enemies and rivals, as if I inordinately exalted the moral sense and crushed the reason.

I have been speaking of antecedents which are true; other antecedents may be founded on error. Dr. Fairbairn speaks as if the fact that the faculty of reason can be exercised on false antecedents as well as on true, opens a way to scepticism. That depends on what is meant by reason; my own account of the faculty may be wrong, but at least it has no such tendency. If it has, then all I need say is that since writers in general speak of a right and a wrong use of reason, Dr. Fairbairn, I suppose, would consider them sceptics too. Still, what else can a man mean by speaking of a right use but that there is a wrong?—right, because its antecedents are chosen rightly by the divinely enlightened mind, being such as intuitions, dictates of conscience, the inspired Word, the decisions of the Church, and the like; whereas we call it false reason or sophistry {100} when its antecedents are determined by pride, self-trust, unbelief, human affection, narrow self-interest, bad education, or other mental agencies, which are found in the world and in the individual. It corroborates my doctrine of these two aspects of reason that, as if with the same drift of marking the broad difference between one aspect of the reasoning faculty and the other, ecclesiastical treatises speak of the "lumen rationis," as they speak of the "recta ratio," as if there was a use of reason which was really darkness.

§ 54. On the Mind's Faculties existing, not "re," but "ratione," and therefore only abstract names for its operations

I have tried in the above pages, as in my original article, to explain with all necessary precision and clearness what I understand, whether rightly or wrongly, by the faculty of Reason, and what is the office which I attribute to it. I wonder whether it is a fault of mine that I do not find myself able to discern a like frankness on the part of Principal Fairbairn. Perhaps if he had informed me what he meant by "Reason," as I have myself freely expressed my own account of it, it would be easier to me to understand his logic; but he seems to me to heap up epithets of praise upon what he calls Reason without telling us what Reason is. In this he is {101} unfair to himself; for how can a disputant hope to recommend to others what he has not yet himself taken the pains to master? I will give a few instances out of many of this mistake in him.

He arrays against me a sufficient number of dicta, which in their form seem to be meant for axioms, but which I must call unintelligible. Here are specimens of them:

1. "The reasoning process, to be valid, must proceed from principles valid to the reason." In what sense does he here use the word Reason? Does he mean the reasoning faculty or the noetic?—though as an argument against me it does not matter to me which. If he means the reasoning, I do not admit what is simply an assumption; if the noetic, since in that case I agree with him, it does me no harm.

2. "To use principles truly, one must be able to judge concerning their truth." Certainly; just as to use scientific terms rightly we must first give their definitions; but we judge of the truth of principles by the appropriate faculty, and not by a faculty which is not concerned with them. We cannot speak of Reason—that is, Reasoning—as judging truth; it does but treat of it. The judgment lies in the antecedent, and in the particular faculty to which the antecedent belongs.

3. "How can Reason truly and justly act, even as a mere instrument of inference, on the basis of premisses which it neither found, nor framed, nor {102} verified, being indeed so constituted as not to be able to do any one of these things?" How? By looking for means of doing so in the right direction. There cannot be an act of reasoning without an antecedent, and to determine the antecedent we must use the particular faculty to which the antecedent's subject-matter belongs. In questions of religion it is mainly the noetic, sometimes another; in mathematics, the noetic faculty only. That particular faculty would be able to "find frame, and verify," which was "so constituted" as to be able "to do any one of these things." Why will Dr. Fairbairn persist in proving that the reasoning faculty cannot do its own work because it cannot do the work of another faculty?

4. Here is another instance of Dr. Fairbairn's finding it easier to attack my account of "Reason" than to state his own. He says I make it "a deductive instrument, void of God, and never able to know Him directly or for itself," p. 850. The answer to this depends upon what he means by Reason: it is the same fallacy all through. He argues with two contrary views of Reason in his hands at the same time, and uses one of them to refute the other. But this is not all; he speaks as if faculties were something real and substantive; whereas they are no more than simple powers. Void of God—that is, I suppose, of religion! Why every faculty may be said to be void of the objects of every other faculty: imagination is void of {103} memory, memory of sense, and so on. A faculty is as little capable of being "emptied" and made "void" as the act of reading or writing. It is the exercise of a power of the mind itself, and that pro re nata; and, when the mind ceases to use it, we may almost say that it is nowhere. Of course, for convenience, we speak of the mind as possessing faculties instead of saying that it acts in a certain way and on a definite subject-matter; but we must not turn a figure of speech into a fact.

§ 55. On Final Causes

I consider I have said enough to show that whatever criticisms may fairly be made on the view I have taken of the faculty of reason, they do not bear out Dr. Fairbairn's charge that the view itself is in its nature sceptical, and is used by me with a purpose. But he has a more serious charge in store, very different from anything that has gone before, to which I must now call attention; it is that in this same sceptical spirit I weaken the force of arguments for religion, pronouncing (for instance) that atheism is an hypothesis equally consistent with the phenomena of the physical universe as the hypothesis of a creative intelligence. And, further still, though it is not a subject that I have now immediately before me, that I have wished by such {104} depreciation of the arguments for religion to magnify the teaching of the Catholic Church. I observe as follows:

(1.) From the time that I began to occupy my mind with theological subjects I have been troubled at the prospect, which I considered to lie before us, of an intellectual movement against religion, so special as to have a claim upon the attention of all educated Christians. As early as 1826 I wrote, "As the principles of science are in process of time more fully developed, and become more independent of the religious system, there is much danger lest the philosophical school should be found to separate from the Christian Church, and at length disown the parent to whom it has been so greatly indebted. And this evil has in a measure befallen us," &c., &c. (Univ. Serm., p. 14). This grave apprehension led me to consider the evidences, as they are called, of Religion generally, and the intellectual theory on which they are based. This I attempted with the purpose, as far as lay in my power, not certainly of starting doubts about religion, but of testing and perfecting the proofs in its behalf. In literal warfare, weapons are tested before they are brought into use, and the men are not called traitors who test them. I am far indeed from being satisfied with my own performances; in my Apologia I call them tentative. They might be rash, but they were not sceptical, nor had I in my mind any thought, when thus engaged, of substituting for Christian {105} evidences the word of the "Infallible Church," which appears to be Dr. Fairbairn's strange imagination.

(2.) Thus I was brought to the popular argument for a Creator drawn from the marks of what is commonly called Design in the physical world. Led on by Lord Bacon, I found I could not give it that high place among the arguments for religion which is almost instinctively accorded to it by a religious mind. Such a mind starts with an assumption which a man who is not religious requires in the first instance to be proved. A believer in God recognises at once, and justly recognises, the marks of design which are innumerable in the structure of the universe, and has his faith and love invigorated and enlarged by the sight of so minute and tender a Providence. But how is an objector to be met who insists that the problem before us is, when viewed in itself, simply which of two hypotheses is the best key to the phenomena of nature—a system founded on cause and effect, or one founded on a purpose and its fulfillment? It is a controversial question,—not as to what is true to hold, but as to what is safe to maintain. Many things are true in fact which cannot be maintained in argument. What is true to one man is not always true to another. Final causes, says Lord Bacon, "are properly alleged in metaphysics; but in physics are impertinent, and as remoras to the ship, that hinder the sciences from holding on their course of improvement, {106} and as introducing a neglect of searching after physical causes." [Note 6] (Vide my Idea of a University, p 222.) Was Bacon an infidel or a sceptic?

(3.) Another point may be urged against Dr. Fairbairn. He argues as if the finding difficulty in the argument from final causes is to be sceptical to the full extent of invalidating the proofs of the being of a God gained from the existence of physical nature. This is far from being the fact; those proofs are not at all affected by any difficulty which may attach to the argument from final causes. The very fact of the universe is quite independent of final causes, and leads to the recognition of a First Cause. Again, it must be recollected that the argument from Design remains, in the large sense of design, as forcible as ever, even though Final Causes are not included in the sense of the word. I will quote a passage to this effect of my own: "Did we see flint celts, in their various receptacles all over Europe, scored always with certain special and characteristic marks, even though those marks had no assignable meaning or final cause whatever, we should take that very repetition, which indeed is the principle of order, to be a proof of intelligence. The agency, then, which has kept up and keeps up the general laws of nature, energising at once in Sirius and on earth, {107} and on the earth in its primary period as well as in the nineteenth century, must be Mind, and nothing else, and Mind at least as wide and as enduring in its living action as the immeasurable ages and spaces of the universe on which that agency has left its tracees. (Vide The Grammar of Assent, p. 72.)

This passage Dr. J. W. Ogle has introduced into his learned Harveian Oration of 1880, p. 161, where he also quotes from a letter of mine—1. "By design in Creation is generally meant the application of definite means for the attainment of a definite end, or the aim at a final cause. There is a difficulty I consider, in accepting, in this sense, the 'argument from design' as a strictly logical proof of a creative Mind in the universe." 2. "But design also means order, as when we speak of beautiful designs, in decorative patterns, in architecture, mosaic, needlework, &c. In this sense of order, Design is in every part of the universe, and a proof of an intelligent mind."

And now, if I come to an abrupt conclusion, it is because I have said all that I have felt it a duty to say in answer to Dr. Fairbairn's criticisms. Perhaps I should not have noticed them at all, had I known that I was to have the advantage of Dr. Barry's able, and, as I consider, successful defence of me, last November, though he has taken a larger field for remark than I have felt reason to do.

J. H. N.

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Notes

1. Dr. Fairbairn's words are, "Scepticism in philosophy means a system which affirms either subjectively, the impotence of the reason for the discovery of the truth, or objectively, the inaccessibility of truth to the reason."
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2. I am not forgetful of Mr. Johnson's translation of Tennemann, in 1832, but I doubt if it was much read.
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3. Gregor. XVI. In causa Bautain, 1840: "Ratio cum certitudine authenticitatem Revelationis probat." Pius Encyc., 1846: "Recta ratio fidei veritatem demonstrat." Concil. Vatican., 1870: "Recta ratio fidei fundamenta demonstrat." And it speaks of "argumenta humanæ rationis." The "lumen rationis" I will notice presently. Vide also contrast between antecedent opinion and pre-existent truth in my University Sermons.
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4. [episteme] Aristotle's second faculty, conversant with necessary truth, answers well (analogically) to Reason, as I am considering it. (Vide Chase on Aristotle's [episteme], p. 201.)
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5. E.g., we may hope for a revelation by reason of the divine goodness. Here the "hope," which is the consequent of the reasoning, is arrived at by the antecedent the "divine goodness," which antecedent not only belongs to the reasoning but to the faculty of theology also, being a truth belonging to its subject-matter. To put it otherwise, (1) the hope of a revelation (2) depends on the divine goodness, (3) and the divine goodness depends on theology, therefore the reasoning is regulated by theology.
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6. De Augment., 5.
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