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more and more confirmed in the same, that those who have appeared as advocates for that argument a priori seem to have had no clear notion of the thing itself, or of the terms they make use of; that the thought however was not a new thought, though perhaps it might be justly called a new tenet, as having been constantly exploded for many centuries upwards, and never once maintained by metaphysicians or divines; that moreover it was absolutely untenable, yea and carried its own confutation along with it, as soon as understood; and lastly, that such principles might be prejudicial, in some measure, both to religion and science, if they should happen to prevail ; and that consequently it would be doing good service to both, if due care were taken, in a proper manner, to prevent their growth.
With these sentiments (which seemed also to be pretty nearly the common sentiments of all then present) I departed from you at that time. And no sooner was I returned to my books, and had some vacant leisure on my hands, but I thought of throwing out what occurred to me on those heads into paper, digesting it into a kind of dissertation, which I here send you for your perusal, and which I leave entirely to your disposal. The method, which I have chalked out for myself, in the essay here following, is ;
I. To give some historical account of what the most eminent
metaphysicians and divines have taught, so far as concerns
the point in question. II. To consider the argumentatioe part, in order to take off the
ambiguity of words, and thereby to prevent confusion of
ideas. III. To examine into the tendency of the new tenets, with
respect either to religion or science.
These three heads will furnish out so many distinct sections or chapters.
Containing an Historical View of what Metaphysicians or Divines
have formerly taught, so far as concerns the Argument a priori for the Divine existence.
I SHALL begin with two ancient Theists, both of the same time, or nearly, and both declaring against the possibility of demonstrating a priori the existence of a Deity, or first Cause. One of them was a Christian Divine, and the other an acute Pagan Philosopher.
The Christian Divine was Clemens of Alexandria, who flourished about A.D. 192. He expresses himself thus in Dr. Cudworth’sa translation:
“ God is the most difficult thing of all to be discoursed of: because, since the principle of every thing is hard to find out, “ the first and most ancient principle of all, which was the cause “ to all other things of their being made, [and of their continuance
after they were made,] must need be the hardest of all to be “ declared or manifested. But neither can [God] be apprehended " by any demonstrative science : for such science is from things
before [in order of nature] and more knowable; whereas
nothing can exist before that which is altogether unmadeb (or “ self-existent.]”
The other ancient Theist is Alexander Aphrodisiensis, a celebrated Peripatetic, who flourished between A.D. 199 and
After he had proposed an argument for the existence of a first Cause, drawn from the consideration of motion, according to the Aristotelic principles, he proceeds to observe as follows: “ This argument for proof] is in the way of analysis only, it
being not possible that there should be a (strict] demonstration “ of the first principle of all : wherefore we must here fetch our
beginning from things that are after it, and manifest, and
a Cudworth Intellect. Syst. p. 716. -'Αλλ' ουδε επιστήμη λαμβάνεται τη
και Ναι μεν ο δυσμεταχειριστότατος αποδεικτική αύτη γαρ εκ προτέρων και περί θεου λόγος ούτός έστιν επεί γάρ γνωριμωτέρων συνίσταται του δε αγεαρχή παντός πράγματος δυσεύρετος, νήτου ουδέν προϋπάρχει. Clem. Αlex. πάντως που η πρώτη και πρεσβυτάτη p. 696. edit. Oxon. αρχή δύσδεικτος, ήτις τοις άλλοις άπισιν c See an account of him in Fabricius, altia Toû yevéodai kai yevouévous eivai, BiblGræc. lib. iv. cap. 25. p. 62.
" thence by way of analysis ascend to the proof of that first “ nature which was before themd.” So Dr. Cudworth renders the passage : and the reflection or comment, which he makes upon what has here been quoted from these two ancient Theists is in these words : “ The true meaning of those ancient Theists,
: “ who denied that there could be any demonstration of a God, “ was only this, that the existence of a God could not be “ demonstrated a priori, himself being the first Cause of all “ things."
Such were the sentiments of metaphysicians and divines at that time, founded upon plain and cogent reason, such as must equally hold at all times, and such as seem to evince, not that the existence of a first Cause may be demonstrated a priori, but rather that it is really demonstrable a priori, if not self-evident, that no such proof can be made, being indeed contradictory and impossible, repugnant to the very nature or notion of a first Cause. But I shall speak to the argumentative part afterwards : I am now upon the historical. It is certain that the Fathers of the Church, Greek or Latin, never admitted any such proof a priori of the divine existence, but either directly or indirectly, either expressly or implicitly, condemned it all along. It would be tedious to enter into a particular detail of their sentiments, in relation to the proof of the existence: I shall content myself with one general observation, that they had not so much as the terms or phrases of necessary existence, or necessity of existence, but utterly rejected the very name of necessity, as not applicable to the Deity at all, understanding it constantly in its ancient, proper, compulsive sense. Now it is very well known, that the
e supposed proof a priori, lately contended for, is built in a manner entirely upon the word necessity, and instantly sinks without it. For, put immutable, or natural, or independent, or emphatical existence, (according to the ancient way,) instead of necessary existence, or necessity of existence, and then it is certain that the very medium of the whole argument drops and vanishes, and there is not so much as any colour or appearance of the proof left. I say then, since it is undoubted fact that the Fathers all along admitted of no such terms as necessary, or necessity, in this
1 Η δείξεις κατά ανάλυσιν ου γάρ σαι την εκείνου φύσιν. Aphrodis. Phyοϊόντα της πρώτης αρχής απόδειξιν είναι: sic. Schol. lib.i. cap. I. αλλά δεί από των υστέρων τε και φανε- e See my Second Defence, vol. ii. pôv åpapévous, katà' rnu após raðra Qu. viii. p. 569, &c. Preface to Serσυμφωνίαν αναλύσει χρωμένους συστη- mons, vol. ii.
case, but rejected them as not applicable either to the Divine existence or attributes ; it is very plain that they therewith rejected any such pretended argument a priori as has been since raised from those terms.
To shew how late it was before necessity gained admittance in the Church, and became, as it were, christianized, with respect to our present subject, I may observe that Archbishop Anselmf of the eleventh and twelfth century, yea and Alexander Hales of the thirteenth, were yet scrupulous of making use of the term, and were very tender of applying it to the Divine acts or attributes, except it were with great caution, awe, and reserve; at the same time owning the word to be both harsh and improper. And as to applying it to the Divine existence, I do not find that they ventured upon it at all; though others frequently did it afterwards in the decline of the thirteenth century, and downwards, when Aristotle's Metaphysics, translated into barbarous Latin, and the Arabian philosophy, (of Avicen, Averroes, and Algazel,) had paved the way for ith.
Let us see however how this matter stood after those improper
f Deus nihil facit necessitate, quia libus ignis ex necessitate natura genenullo modo cogitur aut prohibetur rat ignem, et homo hominem: non aliquid facere. Et cum dicimus Deum sic autem est cum creaturæ fiunt a aliquid facere quasi necessitate vitandæ Deo. Alex. Alens. part. ii. p. 15. inhonestatis, quam utique non timet, N. B. This author flourished about potius intelligendum est quod facit 1230, died 1245. Albertus Magnus, necessitate servandæ honestatis : quæ who flourished about 1260, and died scilicet necessitas non est aliud quam in 1280, made no scruple of applying immutabilitas honestatis ejus, quam a the word necessary or necessity (in a seipso et non ab alio habet ; et idcirco sober but new sense) to the Divine improprie dicitur necessitas. Anselm. essence or existence : and it is very Opp. tom. iii. p. 55.
plain that he learned that language & Ad aliud vero quod objicitur de from Aristotle's philosophy, to which necessitat
tis, dicendum est he refers for his sense of those terms. quod nomen necessitatis non congrue See Albert. Mag. Comment. in lib. i. hic dicitur de Deo. Unde Anselm. Sentent. Dist. 6. Opp. vol. xiv. p. In Deo nulla cadit necessitas. Neces- 121. edit. Ludg. sitas enim videtur dicere coactionem. h Quievit autem et siluit philosoSed nec est necessitas utilitatis a parte phia Aristotelis, pro majori parte, sua, sicut habitum est in præcedente usque post tempora Mahometi, quando autoritate. Si vero dicatur necessitas Avicenna et Averroes et cæteri revocacongruitatis, sive idoneitatis, sicut tan- verunt philosophiam Aristotelis in gitur in quadam authoritate, tunc lucem plenam expositionis. Et licet potest dici quod ex necessitate bonita- alia logicalia et quædam alia translata tis condidit res. Non tamen videtur fuerunt per Boetium de Græco, tamen congruere quod dicatur ex necessitate tempore Michaelis Scoti, qui annis nature : licet enim sit idem bonitas Dom. 1230. transactis apparuit, defequod natura ejus, tamen si diceretur rens librorum Aristotelis partes alia ex necessitate naturæ, videretur poni quas,&c. remagnificata est philosophia talis necessitas qualis est in rebus Aristotelis apud Latinos. Rog. Bacon, naturalibus. In rebus enim natura- p. 37. Conf. p. 45, 262, 420.
terms were brought in, and softened into a qualified sense ; whether any Schoolmen or others (now they might seem to have some handle for it) ever attempted to draw out any such argument a priori for the existence of a first Cause, and to commend the same as true and solid reasoning. I would here observe by the way, that the Schoolmen, though they deservedly lie under a disrepute for their excesses in many things, may yet be justly looked upon as carrying great authority with them in a point of this nature, where they had no bias to mislead them, (being inclined to the side of Theism,) and where a question turned upon a right understanding of technical terms or phrases, and a thorough acquaintance with logic and metaphysics; being a matter of pure abstract reasoning. They were undoubtedly great masters in that way: for “where they argued barely upon “ the principles of reason," as a very judicious writer observes,
they have often done exceeding well, and have improved “ natural reason to an uncommon heighti.” And I will venture to add, that if the sharpest wits of these later days shall under
their own stock, to furnish out a new scheme of school divinity, or metaphysical theology, it will be a long while, perhaps some centuries, before they arrive to such perfection in some part as many of the Schoolmen arrived to; unless they shall be content within a while to take those despised Schoolmen into consultation with them, and to extract the best things from them. This I hint by the way, in order to remove prejudices, with respect to my citing (as I am now going to do) Schoolmen in this cause; though I intend not to cite them only, but other the most judicious and learned divines and metaphysicians, who have come after them, and have entirely agreed in this article with them. However, as I have already intimated, the Schoolmen are most certainly proper judges within their own province, and in a point of school divinity: and this which we are now upon
is very plainly such, as the pretended argument a priori proceeds altogether upon scholastic terms, and is managed in a scholastic way, and therefore must at length stand or fall by scholastic principles and scholastic reasonings. These things premised, I may now proceed in the historical view, according to order of time, beginning from those days when necessary existence, with other the like terms or phrases, had gotten some footing in the Christian theology.
i Reflections upon Learning, p. 217, 227.