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Of the Metaphysics which have been resorted to on the side
DR. CLARKE'S A PRIORI ARGUMENT ON THE BEING OF A GOD.
1. All have heard of the famous a priori argument of Dr. Clarke—an argument which Dr. Reid does homage to as the speculation of superior minds; but whether it be as solid as it is sublime, he professes himself wholly unable to determine.
2. On this subject Dr. Thomas Brown is greatly more confident. “I conceive," he tells us, “the abstract arguments which have been adduced to show that it is impossible for matter to have existed from eternity-by reasoning on what has been termed necessary existence, and the incompatibility of this necessary existence with the qualities of matter_to be relics of the mere verbal logic of the schools, as little capable of producing conviction as any of the wildest and most absurd of the technical scholastic reasonings, on the properties, or supposed properties, of entity and non-entity.”
3. But let us not dismiss an argument, which so deeply infused what may be called the Theistical Literature of England for the first half of the last century, without some examination.
* “ These," says Dr. Reid, “ are the speculations of men of superior genius_but whether they be solid as they are sublime, or whether they be the wanderings of imagination into a region beyond the limits of the human understanding, I am unable to determine,"
4. What then we hold to be the first questionable assumption in the reasonings of Dr. Clarke, is that by which he appears to confound a physical with either a logical or mathematical necessity. We feel no difficulty in conceding to him the necessary existence of that which has existed from eternity—and that the necessity for its existence resides in itself and not in any thing apart from itself. That which has been created by something else both came into being, and continues we may also admit to be, in virtue of a power that is without it; and it is to this power exoteric to itself that we have to look for the ground both of its first and its abiding existence.
But the thing which has existed for ever must also have some ground on which it continues to be, rather than that it should not be, or go to annihilation; and this ground on which at present it continues to be, must be the same with the ground on which it continued to be at any past moment. But if it never had a beginning this ground or principle of existence must have been from everlasting-the present ground in fact, on which it continues to exist, having abidden with it through the whole of its past eternity as the ground on which it exists at all. But as we are not to look for this ground in the fiat of another-it must be looked for in the necessity of its own nature_it contains within itself the necessity for its own existence.
5. Now what is the inference which Dr. Clarke has drawn from this necessity ? The word is applied to speculative truths as well as to substantive things. The truth of a proposition is often neces
sarily involved in the terms of it, or in the definition of these terms—just as the properties of a circle lie surely enveloped in the description of a circle. Nay a proposition may be so constructed that the opposite thereof shall involve at first sight a logical absurdity—so that this opposite cannot possibly be apprehended, or even imagined by the mind. Its truth is necessarily bound up in the very terms of it. It may be said to contain its own evidence within itself, or rather to contain within itself the necessity of its being admitted among the existent truths of Philosophy. The mind cannot, though it would, put it forth of its own belief; or, in other words, put it forth of the place which it occupies within the limits of necessary and universal truth. Now this test of a logical or mathematical necessity in the existent truths of speculation, he would make also the test of a physical necessity in the existent things of substantive and actual Nature. He confounds we think a logical with an actual impossibility. Insomuch that if the conception of the non-existence of any actual thing involve in it no logical impossibility, then that thing is not necessarily existent. He applies the same test to the things of which it is alleged that they necessarily exist, as to the propositions of which it is alleged that they are necessarily true. He holds that if things do necessarily exist, we cannot conceive this thing not to be—just as when propositions have in them an axiornatic certainty, we cannot conceive these things not to be true. And so on the other hand if we can conceive any existent thing not to be, then that
thing exists but does not exist necessarily. It has not the ground of its existence in itself—even as a necessary truth has its evidence or the ground of its trueness in itself. And therefore the ground of its existence must be in another beside itself. It must have had a beginning.-It must not have existed from eternity.
6. It will be at once seen how when furnished with such an instrument of demonstration as this— he could on the strength of a mere logical category, go forth on the whole of this peopled universe and pronounce of all its matter and of all mind but the one and universal mind that they have been created. We can conceive them not to exist_and this without any of that violence which is felt by the mind, when one is asked to receive as true that which carries some logical or mathematical contradiction on the face of it. “ The only true idea,” he says, “of a self-existent or necessarily existing Being, is the idea of a Being the supposition of whose not existing is an express contradiction.” “ But the material world," he afterwards says, “cannot possibly be such a being”—for “unless the material world exists necessarily, by an absolute necessity in its own nature, so as that it must be an express contradiction to suppose it not to exist; it cannot be independent and of itself eternal." This argument is reiterated in the following terms so 'Tis manifest the material world cannot exist necessarily, if without a contradiction we can con
This and the other extracts from Clarke given within inverted commas are quotations from his Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God.
ceive it either not to be or to be in any respect otherwise than it now is.” He proceeds all along on the assumption that there is no necessity in the substantive existence of things, unless the denial of that existence involves a logical contradiction in terms. Nay, if without such contradiction we can imagine any variation in the modes or forms of matter from those which obtain actually, this is enough with him to expel from matter the property of self-existence. Ere we can award to matter this property, “it must,” he says, “be a contradiction in terms to suppose more or fewer stars, more or fewer planets, or to suppose their size, figure, or motion, different from what it now is, or to suppose more or fewer plants and animals upon the earth, or the present ones of different shape and bigness from what they now are.” At this rate, it will be observed, if we can imagine only five planets and without any such contradiction as that three and four make five—this of itself is proof that the actual state of the planetary system, or the actual state of matter whereof this system is a part, is not a necessary state, and so matter is not necessarily self-existent.
In like manner the motion of matter is held not to be necessary because it is no contradiction in terms to suppose any matter to be at rest. Thus throughout, our powers or possibilities of conception within, are with him the measures or grounds of inference as to the realities of Being without. He denies the necessary existence of matter, merely because we can conceive it not to exist; and the necessity of motion, because we can conceive of other direc