Freedom of Mind in Willing; or, Every Being that Wills a Creative First Cause. By D. Appleton & Co. 12mo. pp. 455.. New York:
THE State of Rhode Island is the most metaphysically inclined of all the sisterhood, not excepting South Carolina. A superficial observer or a passing traveller might take just the opposite view of her tendencies. The stranger who should complete a cycle of sumptuous suppers in Providence, or spend hut a day or two in Newport at the height of the season, might conclude that Matter with its most substantial appliances, or Fashion with her most fascinating excitements, had combined to exclude all thoughts of the spiritual from the few square miles over which this least of the States holds dominion. Should he leave the two capitals of luxurious wealth and giddy fashion and seek for the haunts of Philosophy among the quiet nooks which her few valleys and her splendid sea-coast afford, he might judge that meditation had been effectually frightened from them all, for nowhere can he escape the whir of countless spindles and the clash of thousands of looms.
But inferences like these may not be trusted, as history demonstrates. The most admirable of modern treatises in the subtile science, that masterpiece of speculation in matter and style, “ The Minute Philosopher ” of Bishop Berkeley, WAS composed in Rhode Island, and the place is still indicated where the musing metaphysician is said to have written the greater portion of the work. That Berkeley’s genius did not abandon the region, when he left, it, is manifest from the direction taken by the late Judge Durfee, whose “Pan-Idea,” if it cannot be accepted as in all respects a satisfactory theory of the relations of the spiritual universe, may be safely taken as an indication of the lofty and daring Platonism of the ingenious author. The anonymous author of “ Language by a Heteroscian” is another thinker of somewhat similar tastes. If common report do not greatly err, it is the same thinker who in the volume before us solicits the attention of the philosophic world to his views of the Will. It adds greatly to the interest of the volume itself, in our view, and we trust will do so in the view of our readers, to know that he is no studious recluse nor professional philosopher, but active, shrewd, and keen-sighted, both in his mills, when at home in a fitly named valley, and upon Change, when in Boston or New York.
Surely Roger Williams, that boldest of idealists, did not live in vain, in that he not only set apart the State which he founded as a place of refuge for all persons given to free and daring speculation, but made it a kind of Prospero’s Isle, that should never cease to be haunted by some metaphysical spell.
The appearance of such a work from such a source is of itself most refreshing, as an indication that a life of earnest devotion to material pursuits is not inconsistent with an ardent appreciation of the surpassing importance of speculative inquiries. One such example as this is enough to refute the oft-repeated assertion that in America all philosophy must of course give way before the absorbing interest in the pursuit of wealth. A few years since we chanced to send a copy of an American edition of Plato’s “Phædo" to a German Professor. “Eine wirkliche Erscheinung,” was his reply in acknowledgment, “ to see an edition of a work of Plato from America.” What would be his amazement at receiving a copy of a disquisition on the Will written by an American mill-owner !
It is still more refreshing to find the author so sincere and so earnest an advocate of the elevating tendency of philosophical studies. There is a charming simplicity in the words with which his Preface is concluded : — “ Whatever opinion may be formed of the success or failure of any effort to elucidate this subject, I trust it will be admitted that the arguments I have presented at least tend to show that the investigation may open more elevated and more elevating views of our position and our powers, and may reveal new modes of influencing our own intellectual and moral character, and thus have a more immediate, direct, and practical bearing on the progress of our race iu virtue and happiness than any inquiry in physical science.” Such testimony, coupled with the impression made by his argument, is most gratifying, not only in consideration of the source from which it comes, but also as contrasted with the course of so much of the speculative philosophy of the day, towards Materialism in Psychology, Necessarianism in Morals, Naturalism in Philosophy, and Pantheism in Theology.
The doctrine of the writer, or rather his position with respect to theories of the Will, is distinctly indicated by the title of his volume. It is obvious that he must be a decided asserter of Liberty as opposed to Necessity who dares to throw down the gauntlet in support of the thesis that “ every being who wills is a creative first cause.” All his views of the soul and of its doings are entirely consistent with the direction which is required by this audacious assertion. That the soul is an originator in most of its activities is his perpetually asserted theme. To maintain this he is ready almost to question the reality, as he more than questions the necessity, of the existence of matter, verging occasionally, on this point, upon Berkeley’s views and style of thinking. The constructive capacities of the intellect are inferred from the variety of mathematical creations which it originates, as well as from the more diverse and interesting structures which the never wearied and ever aspiring fantasy is always building. Should any one question the right of these creations to be, or seek to detract from their importance, our author is ready to defend them to the utmost in contrast with matter and its claims. Indeed, the author’s exposition of his doctrine of the Will is by itself an inconsiderable source of interest, when separated from the views of all the functions of the spirit, which are interwoven with it. In discussing the Will he is necessarily led to treat of its relations to the other powers and functions of the spirit, and hence by necessity to give his philosophy of the Soul. This philosophy, briefly described, is one which regards the soul in its nature and its acts, in its innermost structure and its outmost energies, as capable of and destined to action. This is also its dignity and its glory. The soul or spirit, so far from being the subject of material forces, or the outgrowth of successive series of material agencies, or the subtile product or potence of material laws, is herself the conscious mistress and sovereign of them all, giving to matter and development and law all their importance, as she condescends to use these either as the mirror in which her own creations are reflected or the vehicle by which her acts can be expressed.
How the author maintains and defends this position the limits of this brief notice will not allow us to specify. The views expressed which have the closest pertinency to the will are those which lay especial stress upon the soul as capable of wants, and as thus impelled to action. Emotion and sensibility neither of them qualifies for action. Want must supervene, to point to the unattained future, to excite to change ; and to this want knowledge also must be added, In order to direct the activity. Under the stimulus thus furnished, the future must be created, as it were, by the will of the soul itself, before it is made real in fact.
We are not quite sure that we understand the author’s doctrine of Want, and its relations to the activities of the will, nor that, so far as we do understand it, we should accept it. But we agree with him entirely, that it is precisely by means of and in connection with a correct analysis of these impelling forces that the real nature and import of the will can be satisfactorily evolved. Mr. Hazard seems to us to make too little difference between the power of the soul to act and its power to will or choose. He conceives the will as the capacity which qualifies for effort of every kind, as the conative power in general, instead of emphasizing it as the capacity for a special kind of effort, namely, that of moral selection.
The second part of the volume is devoted to a criticism of Edwards, the author on whose “steel cap,” as on that of Hobbes of old, every advocate of liberty is impelled to try the strength and temper of his weapons. For a critical antagonist, Edwards is admirable, his use of language being far from precise and consistent, and his definitions and statements, through his extreme wariness, being vague and vacillating enough to allow abundant material for comment. Of these advantages Mr. Hazard knows how to avail himself, and shows not a little acuteness in exposing the untenable positions and the inconsequent reasoning of the New-England dialectician. The most ingenious of the chapters upon Edwards is that in which he refutes the conclusions drawn from the foreknowledge of God. His position is the following:If we concede, for the sake of argument, that the foreknowledge of God were inconsistent with liberty, and involved the necessity of human volitions, we may suppose the Supreme Being to forego the exercise of foreknowledge in respect to such events. But it would not therefore follow that God would be thereby taken by surprise by any such volitions, or would be incompetent to regulate His own actions or to control the issues of them in governing the universe. This he seeks to show, very ingeniously, by asserting that the Supreme Being must be competent to foresee not the actual volition that will be made, but every variety that is possible ; and as a consummate chess - player provides by comprehensive forecast against every possible move which his antagonist can make, and has ready a counter-move, so may we, on the supposition suggested, conceive the Supreme Being as fully competent, without the foreknowledge of the actual, by means of His foreknowledge of the possible, to control and govern the course of the future. This solution is certainly ingenious, and doubtless original with the author. It has in all probability occurred to other minds ; but, inasmuch as the advocate for freedom does not usually allow that he is shut up to the alternative of either denying the divine purposes or abandoning human freedom, the suggestion of the author has not often, if ever, been seriously urged before. But we have no space for critical comments.
The style of the author is good. With some diffuseness, he is usually clear and animated. The circumstance that he has approached the subject in his own way, independently of the method of books and the technics of the schools, has lent great freshness to his thoughts and illustrations. The occasional observations which he throws in are always ingenious and sometimes profound. He shows himself at every turn to be an acute observer, a comprehensive thinker, and deeply imbued with the meditative spirit. The defects incidental to his peculiar training are more than compensated by the freshness of his manner and the directness of his language. More interesting still is the imaginative tendency which gives to many of his passages the charm of poetic feeling, and elevates them to the truly Platonic rhythm. There are single sentences, and now and then entire paragraphs, which are gems in their way, that sparkle none the less for the plain setting of common sense and unpretending diction by which they are relieved.
We ought to add that the attitude of the author in respect to moral and religious truth is truly, but not obtrusively, reverent. Though he asserts for man the dignity that pertains to a creator, yet he never forgets the limits under which and the materials out of which his creations are wrought. His Theism is outspoken and sincere.
Whatever judgment may be passed upon this volume in the schools of philosophy or theology, all truth-loving men will agree that it brings honor to the literature and thought of the country. No man can read a few of the many passages of refined thought and sagacious observation with which the volume abounds, without acknowledging the presence of philosophic genius. No one can read the passages with which each principal division of the work concludes, without admiring the fine strains which indicate the presence of genius inspired by poetic feeling and elevated by adoring reverence. We are sure that the fit, though scanty, audience from whom the author craves a kindly judgment will cheerfully render to him far more than this, even their unfeigned admiration.