A Defence of Intuitionalism

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Louisiana, Mo., April 19,1871.

To the Editor of The Index:—Allow me to suggest the following reasons tor dissenting from your view of the great spiritual questions discussed in your lecture on the "Intuitional and Scientific Schools of Free Religion."

You say that the Intuitional School regards God and Immortality as self-evident facts, the Scientific School as open questions. But Herbert Spencer, nearly the foremost philosopher of the scientific school, has shown that the consciousness of Absolute Being is more certain than any other mode of consciousness, because more universal; and also that, being an ultimate and fundamental truth, it cannot be stated, much less proved. He takes the very same ground in regard to it that the Intuitionists take in regard to their consciousness of God. Now it is true, as you observe, that neither Herbert Spencer nor any other individual can speak for the school, But I apprehend that the conclusion of his argument will never be disputed again; in truth it never has been disputed, though Hamilton, Mansel, and others among his predecessors have overlooked it.

Now the Absolute, of which Herbert Spencer thus shows that man is intuitively conscious, he has not shown to be a self-conscious God. But I think that conclusion follows immediately from his own. I am conscious of the Absolute. But what am I? Certainly in my true nature an Absolute. And there cannot be two unconditioned beings, for each would have to be in some relation to each other. Therefore the Absolute is conscious of itself. And the Infinite must be Absolute, for it cannot be conditioned. Therefore the Infinite is conscious of itself. Thus the thinkers of the Intuitional and Scientific schools adopt the self-same methods when they treat of noumena; and, if they follow those methods up, must reach the same conclusions. I think, too, that the immortality of man follows clearly from that same consciousness of the Infinite which Herbert Spencer has demonstrated. In a work of mine, which I have reason to believe is now through the press, I have expressed my dissent from his philosophy on the ground that he has stopped short of these consequences from his own principles, and even, on other grounds, denied them.

Thinking thus, I share that belief in the impossibility of Atheism which you censure. Lord Bacon, the father of the Scientific school, says of Atheists that we see them labor to make converts, even suffer martyrdom, "whereas," he observes, "if they really thought there were no God, why should they trouble themselves?" This curious argument seems to me decisive. If an Atheist, so-called, will suffer for his negations, he must believe in a Supreme Reality, his fidelity to which is more important to him than life; and this is inconceivable, unless he regards that Reality as having a point of union with his own self-conscious soul.

Yours truly,

C. L. James.

[If man is "an Absolute," we cannot dissent from our correspondent's conclusions. But this seems to be an untenable premise. How he can be regarded as an "unconditioned being," when he is manifestly subject to so many conditions, is certainly not clear. —Ed.]

Source: C. L. James, “A Defence of Intuitionalism,” The Index 2, no. 19 (May 13, 1871): 151.