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An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy

An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy: Volume 9

Editor of the Text J. M. ROBSON
Introduction by ALAN RYAN
Volume: 9
Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 734
  • Book Info
    An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy
    Book Description:

    The textual introduction, by John M. Robson, examines the treatise in context of Mill's life in the 1860s, outlines its composition, and discusses, among other matters, the importance of the extensive revisions Mill made, mostly in response to critics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2366-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-lxviii)

    AN EXAMINATION OF SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON’S PHILOSOPHY is not a widely read work; nor is it very highly regarded, even by those who are most attracted-to Mill’s writings on philosophy. It contains some instructive set-pieces, which have preserved a sort of exemplary interest: Mill’s analysis of Matter in terms of “permanent possibilities of sensation,” his confessedly abortive analysis of personal identity in similarly phenomenalist terms, his analysis of free-will and responsibility, and his ringing declaration that he would not bow his knee to worship a God whose moral worth he was required to take on trust—all these still find...

  4. Textual Introduction
    (pp. lxix-cii)

    AN EXAMINATION OF SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON’S PHILOSOPHY is in Several respects exceptional among Mill’s works. Although he devoted several major essays (such as “Bentham” and “Coleridge”), and one book (Auguste Comte and Positivism—originally a pair of essays) to individuals, only here did he subject an author’s texts to a searching and detailed analysis, sustained by an admitted polemical intent. Only part of the work is devoted to an exposition of Mill’s own views, and a few passages at most could be said to provide the kind of synthesis so typical of his other major writings. The kinds of revisions...

  5. Preface to the Third Edition
    (pp. ciii-cviii)
  6. CHAPTER I Introductory Remarks
    (pp. 1-3)

    AMONG THE PHILOSOPHICAL WRITERS of the present century in these islands, no one occupies a higher position than Sir William Hamilton. He alone, of our metaphysicians of this and the preceding generation, has acquired, merely as such, an European celebrity: while, in our own country, he has not only had power to produce a revival of interest in a study which had ceased to be popular, but has made himself, in some sense, the founder of a school of thought. The school, indeed, is not essentially new; for its fundamental doctrines are those of the philosophy which has everywhere been...

  7. CHAPTER II The Relativity of Human Knowledge
    (pp. 4-12)

    THE DOCTRINE which is thought to belong in the most especial manner to Sir W. Hamilton, and which was the ground of his opposition to the transcendentalism of the later French and German metaphysicians, is that which he and others have called the Relativity of Human Knowledge. It is the subject of the most generally known, and most impressive, of all his writings,[*]the one which first revealed to the English metaphysical reader that a new power had arisen in philosophy; and, together with its developments, it composes the “Philosophy of the Conditioned,” which he opposed to the German and...

  8. CHAPTER III The Doctrine of the Relativity of Human Knowledge, as Held by Sir William Hamilton
    (pp. 13-33)

    IT IS HARDLY POSSIBLE to affirm more strongly or more explicitly than Sir W. Hamilton has done, that Things in themselves are to us altogether unknowable, and that all we can know of anything is its relation to us, composed of, and limited to, the Phenomena which it exhibits to our organs. Let me cite a passage from one of the Appendices to theDiscussions.

    Our whole knowledge of mind and of matter is relative, conditioned—relatively conditioned. Of things absolutely or in themselves, be they external, be they internal, we know nothing, or know them only as incognisable; and...

  9. CHAPTER IV In What Respect Sir William Hamilton Really Differs from the Philosophers of the Absolute
    (pp. 34-59)

    THE QUESTION REALLY AT ISSUE in Sir W. Hamilton’s celebrated and striking review of Cousin’s philosophy,[*]is this: Have we, or have we not, an immediate intuition of God. The name of God is veiled under two extremely abstract phrases, “The Infinite” and “The Absolute,” perhaps from a reverential feeling: such, at least, is the reason given by Sir W. Hamilton’s disciple, Mr. Mansel,* for preferring the more vague expressions. But it is one of the most unquestionable of all logical maxims, that the meaning of the abstract must be sought for in the concrete, and not conversely; and we...

  10. CHAPTER V What is Rejected as Knowledge by Sir William Hamilton, Brought Back Under the Name of Belief
    (pp. 60-65)

    WE HAVE FOUND Sir W. Hamilton maintaining with great earnestness, and taking as the basis of his philosophy, an opinion respecting the limitation of human knowledge, which, if he did not mean so much by it as the language in which he often clothed it seemed to imply, meant at least this, that the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned, are necessarily unknowable by us. I have discussed this opinion as a serious philosophical dogma, expressing a definite view of the relation between the universe and human apprehension, and fitted to guide us in distinguishing the questions which it is of...

  11. CHAPTER VI The Philosophy of the Conditioned
    (pp. 66-88)

    THE “PHILOSOPHY OF THE CONDITIONED,” in its wider sense, includes all the doctrines that we have been discussing. In its narrower, it consists, I think, mainly of a single proposition, which Sir W. Hamilton often reiterates, and insists upon as a fundamental law of human intellect. Though suggested by Kant’s Antinomies of Speculative Reason, in the form which it bears in Sir W. Hamilton’s writings it belongs, I believe, originally to himself. No doctrine which he has anywhere laid down is more characteristic of his mode of thought, and none is more strongly associated with his fame.

    For the better...

  12. CHAPTER VII The Philosophy of the Conditioned, as Applied by Mr. Mansel to the Limits of Religious Thought
    (pp. 89-108)

    MR. MANSEL may be affirmed, by a fair application of the term, to be, in metaphysics, a pupil of Sir W. Hamilton. I do not mean that he agrees with him in all his opinions; for he avowedly dissents from the peculiar Hamiltonian theory of Cause: still less that he has learnt nothing from any other teacher, or from his own independent speculations. On the contrary, he has shown considerable power of original thought, both of a good and of what seems to meanot a goodaquality. But he is the admiring editor of Sir W. Hamilton’sLectures; he...

  13. CHAPTER VIII Of Consciousness, as Understood by Sir William Hamilton
    (pp. 109-124)

    IN THE DISCUSSION of the Relativity of human knowledge and the Philosophy of the Conditioned, we have brought under consideration those of Sir W. Hamilton’s metaphysical doctrines which have the greatest share in giving to his philosophy the colour of individuality which it possesses, and the most important of those which can be regarded as belonging specially to himself. On a certain number of minor points, and on one of primary importance, Causation, we shall again have to examine opinions of his which are original. But on most of the subjects which remain to be discussed, at least in the...

  14. CHAPTER IX Of the Interpretation of Consciousness
    (pp. 125-148)

    ACCORDING TO ALL PHILOSOPHERS, the evidence of Consciousness, if only we can obtain it pure, is conclusive. This is an obvious, but by no means a mere identical proposition. If consciousness be defined as intuitive knowledge, it is indeed an identical proposition to say, that if we intuitively know anything, we do know it, and are sure of it. But the meaning lies in the implied assertion, that we do know some things immediately, or intuitively. That we must do so is evident, if we know anything; for what we know mediately, depends for its evidence on our previous knowledge...

  15. CHAPTER X Sir William Hamilton’s View of the Different Theories Respecting the Belief in an External World
    (pp. 149-176)

    SIR W. HAMILTON brings a very serious charge against the great majority of philosophers. He accuses them of playing fast and loose with the testimony of consciousness; rejecting it when it is inconvenient, but appealing to it as conclusive when they have need of it to establish any of their opinions. “No philosopher has ever openly thrown off allegiance to the authority of consciousness.”* No one denies “that as all philosophy is evolved from consciousness, so, on the truth of consciousness, the possibility of all philosophy is dependent.”† But if any testimony of consciousness be supposed false,

    the truth of...

  16. CHAPTER XI The Psychological Theory of the Belief in an External World
    (pp. 177-187)

    WE HAVE SEEN Sir W. Hamilton at work on the question of the reality of Matter, by the introspective method, and, as it seems, with little result. Let us now approach the same subject by the psychological. I proceed, therefore, to state the case of those who hold that the belief in an external world is not intuitive, but an acquired product.

    This theory postulates the following psychological truths, all of which are proved by experience, and are not contested, though their force is seldom adequately felt, by Sir W. Hamilton and the other thinkers of the introspective school.


  17. CHAPTER XII The Psychological Theory of the Belief in Matter, How Far Applicable to Mind
    (pp. 188-209)

    IF THE DEDUCTIONS in the preceding chapter are correctly drawn from known and admitted laws of the human mind, the doctrine which forms the basis of Sir W. Hamilton’s system of psychology, that Mind and Matter, an ego and a non-ego, are original data of consciousness, is deprived of its foundation. Although these two elements, an Ego and a Non-ego, are ina(what we call)aour consciousness now, and are, or seem to be, inseparable from it, there is no reason for believing that the latter of them, the non-ego, was in consciousness from the beginning; since, even if it...

  18. CHAPTER XIII The Psychological Theory of the Primary Qualities of Matter
    (pp. 210-249)

    FOR THE REASONS which have been set forth, I conceive Sir W. Hamilton to be wrong in his statement that a Self and a Not-self are immediately apprehended in our primitive consciousness. We have, in all probability, no notion of Not-self, until after considerable experience of the recurrence of sensations according to fixed laws, and in groups.*aNor is itacredible that the first sensation which we experience awakens in us any notion of an Ego or Self. To refer it to an Ego is to consider it as part of a series of states of consciousness, some portion of...

  19. CHAPTER XIV How Sir William Hamilton and Mr. Mansel Dispose of the Law of Inseparable Association
    (pp. 250-271)

    IT HAS BEEN OBVIOUS in the preceding discussions, and is known to all who have studied the best masters of what I have called the Psychological, in opposition to the merely Introspective method of metaphysical enquiry, that the principal instrument employed by them for unlocking the deeper mysteries of mental science, is the Law of Inseparable Association. This law, which it would seem specially incumbent on the Intuitive school of metaphysicians to take into serious consideration, because it is the basis of the rival theory which they have to encounter at every point, and which it is necessary for them...

  20. CHAPTER XV Sir William Hamilton’s Doctrine of Unconscious Mental Modifications
    (pp. 272-285)

    THE LAWS OF OBLIVISCENCE noticed in the preceding chapter, are closely connected with a question raised by Sir W. Hamilton, and discussed at some length in hisLectures: Whether there are unconscious states of mind: or, as he expresses it in the eighteenth Lecture, “Whether the mind exerts energies, and is the subject of modifications, of neither of which it is conscious.” Our author pronounces decidedly for the affirmative, in opposition to most English philosophers, by whom, he says, “the supposition of an unconscious action or passion of the mind, has been treated as something either unintelligible or absurd;”* and...

  21. CHAPTER XVI Sir William Hamilton’s Theory of Causation
    (pp. 286-300)

    SIR W. HAMILTON commences his treatment of the question of Causation, by warning the reader against “some philosophers who, instead of accommodating their solutions to the problem, have accommodated the problem to their solutions.”[*]It might almost have been supposed that this expression had been invented to be applied to Sir W. Hamilton himself. He has defined the problem in a manner in which itahadabeen defined by no one else, for no visible reason but to adapt it to a solution which no one else had thought of.*

    “When we are aware,” he says,

    of something which begins...

  22. CHAPTER XVII The Doctrine of Concepts, or General Notions
    (pp. 301-323)

    WE NOW ARRIVE at the questions which form the transition from Psychology to Logic—from the analysis and laws of the mental operations, to the theory of the ascertainment of objective truth: the natural link between the two being the theory of the particular mental operations whereby truth is ascertained or authenticated. According to the common classification, from which Sir W. Hamilton does not deviate, these operations are three: Conception, or the formation of General Notions; Judgment; and Reasoning. We begin with the first.

    On this subject two questions present themselves: first, whether there are such things as General Notions,...

  23. CHAPTER XVIII Of Judgment
    (pp. 324-341)

    THOUGH, AS HAS APPEARED in the last chapter, the proposition that we think by concepts is, if not positively untrue, at least an unprecise and misleading expression of the truth, it is not, however, to be concluded that Sir W. Hamilton’s view of Logic, being wholly grounded on that proposition, must be destitute of value. Many writers have given good and valuable expositions of the principles and rules of Logic, from the Conceptualist point of view. The doctrines which they have laid down respecting Conception, Judgment, and Reasoning, have been capable of being rendered into equivalent statements respecting Terms, Propositions,...

  24. CHAPTER XIX Of Reasoning
    (pp. 342-347)

    IN COMMON with the majority of modern writers on Logic, whose language is generally that of the Conceptualist school, Sir W. Hamilton considers Reasoning, as he considers Judgment, to consist in a comparison of Notions: either of Concepts with one another, or of Concepts with the mental representations of individual objects. Only, in simple Judgment, two notions are compared immediately; in Reasoning, mediately. Reasoning is the comparison of two notions by means of a third. As thus: “Reasoning is an act of mediate Comparison or Judgment; for to reason is to recognise that two notions stand to each other in...

  25. CHAPTER XX On Sir William Hamilton’s Conception of Logic as a Science. Is Logic the Science of the Laws, or Forms, of Thought?
    (pp. 348-371)

    HAVING DISCUSSED the nature of the three psychological processes which, together, constitute the operations of the Intellect, and having considered Sir W. Hamilton’s theory of each, we are in a condition to examine the general view which he takes of the Science or Art, whose purpose it is to direct our intellectual operations into their proper course, and to protect them against error.

    Sir W. Hamilton defines Logic “the Science of the Laws of Thought as Thought.”* He proceeds to justify each of the component parts of this definition. And first, is Logic a Science?

    Archbishop Whately says that it...

  26. CHAPTER XXI The Fundamental Laws of Thought According to Sir William Hamilton
    (pp. 372-384)

    HAVING MARKED OUT, as the sole province of Logic, the “Laws of Thought,” Sir W. Hamilton naturally proceeds to specify what these are. The “Fundamental Laws of Thought,” of which all other laws that can be laid down for thought are but particular applications, are, according to our author, three in number: the Law of Identity; the Law of Contradiction; and the Law of Excluded Middle. In hisLectureshe recognised a fourth, “the Law of Reason and Consequent,” which seems to be compounded of the Law of Causation, and the Leibnitzian “Principle of Sufficient Reason.”[*]But as, in his...

  27. CHAPTER XXII Of Sir William Hamilton’s Supposed Improvements in Formal Logic
    (pp. 385-403)

    OF ALL Sir W. Hamilton’s philosophical achievements, there is none, except perhaps his “Philosophy of the Conditioned,” on account of which so much merit has been claimed for him, as the additions and corrections which he is supposed to have contributed to the doctrine of the Syllogism. These may be summed up in two principal theories, with their numerous corollaries and applications; the recognition of two kinds of Syllogism, Syllogisms in Extension and Syllogisms in Comprehension; and the doctrine of the Quantification of the Predicate. To the former of these, Sir W. Hamilton ascribed great importance. According to him, all...

  28. CHAPTER XXIII Of Some Minor Peculiarities of Doctrine in Sir William Hamilton’s View of Formal Logic
    (pp. 404-416)

    THE TWO THEORIES EXAMINED in the preceding chapter are the only important novelties which Sir W. Hamilton has introduced into the Science or Art of Logic. But he has here and there departed from the common doctrine of logicians on subordinate points. Some of these deviations deserve notice from their connexion with some principal part of our author’s doctrine, others chiefly as throwing light on the character of his mind. The one to which I shall first advert is of the former class.

    I. Almost all writers on the Syllogistic Logic have directed attention to the fact, that though we...

  29. CHAPTER XXIV Of Some Natural Prejudices Countenanced by Sir William Hamilton, and Some Fallacies Which He Considers Insoluble
    (pp. 417-429)

    WE HAVE CONCLUDED our review of Sir W. Hamilton as a teacher of Logic; but there remain to be noticed a few points, not strictly belonging either to Logic or to Psychology, but rather to what is inappropriately termed the Philosophia Prima. It would be more properly calledultima,since it consists of the widest generalizations respecting the laws of Existence and Activity; generalizations which by an unfortunate, though at first inevitable mistake, men fancied that they could reachuno saltu,and therefore placed them at the beginning of science, though, if they were ever legitimate, they could only be...

  30. CHAPTER XXV Sir William Hamilton’s Theory of Pleasure and Pain
    (pp. 430-436)

    I HAVE NOW CONCLUDED my remarks on the principal department of Sir W. Hamilton’s psychology, that which relates to the Cognitive Faculties. The remaining two of the three portions into which he divides the subject, are the Feelings, and what he terms the Conative Faculties, meaning those which tend to Action. On the Conative Faculties, however, he barely touches, in the concluding part of his last lecture; and of the Feelings he does not treat at any length. What he propounds on the subject, chiefly consists of a general theory of Pleasure and Pain. Not a theory of what they...

  31. CHAPTER XXVI On the Freedom of the Will
    (pp. 437-469)

    THE LAST OF THE THREE CLASSES of mental phenomena, that of Conation, in other words, of Desire and Will, is barely commenced upon in the last pages of Sir W. Hamilton’s last lecture:[*]whether it be that in the many years during which he taught the class, he never got beyond this point, or that his teaching in the concluding part of the course was purely oral, and has not been preserved. Nor has he, in any of his writings, treatedex professaof this subject; though doubtless he would have done so, had his health permitted him to complete...

  32. CHAPTER XXVII Sir William Hamilton’s Opinions on the Study of Mathematics
    (pp. 470-489)

    NO ACCOUNT of Sir W. Hamilton’s philosophy could be complete, which omitted to notice his famous attack on the tendency of mathematical studies:[*]for though there is no direct connexion between this and his metaphysical opinions, it affords the most express evidence we have of those fatallacunaein the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to human intellect,...

  33. CHAPTER XXVIII Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 490-504)

    IN THE EXAMINATION which I have now concluded of Sir W. Hamilton’s philosophical achievements, I have unavoidably laid stress on points of difference from him rather than on those of agreement; the reason being, that I differ from almost everything in his philosophy on which he particularly valued himself, or which is specially his own. His merits, which, though I do not rate them so high, I feel and admire as sincerely as his most enthusiastic disciples, are rather diffused through his speculations generally, than concentrated on any particular point. They chiefly consist in his clear and distinct mode of...

  34. Appendix A. Manuscript Fragments
    (pp. 507-512)
  35. Appendix B. Textual Emendations
    (pp. 513-517)
  36. Appendix C. Corrected References
    (pp. 518-520)
  37. Appendix D. Bibliographic Index of Persons and Works Cited in the Examination, with Variants and Notes
    (pp. 521-596)
  38. Index
    (pp. 597-625)