Recent Catholic Philosophy: The Nineteenth Century

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Something of this sort becomes evident in the statement which Royer-Collard made of the common-sense school. He comes back to the statement, to the assumption, that we have immediate knowledge of that which is outside of ourselves and that that knowledge is simply given; it is there, We can verify what is immediately given by common sense-that in which everybody else agrees. This French transportation of the doctrine of common sense across the channel carried with it an assumption of a common consciousness in which different minds agree, from which, in some sense, different minds arise.

The characteristics which be-. Thus we have a statement in France of the Kantian transcendentalism -the logical priority of certain characters of the mind. That is one striking difference between the doctrine of the Scottish school of Reid and his followers as it appeared in the British Isles and the doctrine as introduced in France.

There is another character also that belonged to this philosophy and which became emphasized later. That is the element of activity, especially in our normative states.

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This arises in some sense out of a criticism of the empirical school. As we have seen for the empiricists having an idea and knowing it or having an impression and knowing it are the same thing. There is no difference. So far as our impressions are concerned, what they insisted on was that we are passive. You open a door to enter a room. If you have never been there before, you do not know what you are going to see, what the furniture will be, what the decorations will be.

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Furthermore, you have no initiative in the matter. You open the door, there is a light in the room, and you see what is in it; but you are quite passive in that experience. The experience which will come to you is something of which you will be aware, but you will have done nothing about it. Having sensation and knowing are the same thing from the point of view of the empirical school.


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What the French school insisted on with growing emphasis was the distinction between cognition and perception. They admitted that, as far as the sensations are concerned, we are quite passive. No one can, by willing, have a sensation of a certain type any more than he can add a cubit to his stature. If the object is there and the eyes open, one will have a sensation, one is passive in regard to it. The act of cognition, on the other hand, is not passive.

It is knowing. If my relationship to this table is not simply the presence in my mind of a set of impressions but is a knowledge that the table is there, then that knowledge is the result of an active process. It is not a simple report of a set of sensations. What that means is that the mere. In the latter the analysis must be carried on farther if one is to say that the case is correct.

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Getting a glimpse of a face, one sees an acquaintance. When he meets the person he finds it is someone else whom he has never met. He has made a mistake. Our perceptual process and conceptional processes are passive in regard to the elements over which we have no control. But we are continually building things up.

If we are taking certain experiences from the past, we have at the time relatively few impressions that are immediate. We are experiencing what the last impressions meant and what they imply for the future. We start off with an image, a sensation; and we expect something.

We bind the whole thing in our perception.

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We set up the objects we look for next. There were, then, these two elements in this French school; the taking-over of the Scottish school with its immediate knowledge of something, the acceptance of common sense, as, in a certain sense, the criterion of that which we are sure we know; and, in the second place, the emphasis on the presence of activity. It is these factors that distinguish the sensationalists of the period and represent the difference between them and the Ideologues on the one hand and the eclecticism of Cousin on the other.

One point I want to impress on you is that all French philosophy of the period had a political bias. It is only natural that that should be the case. France had been overthrown by political speculation in a certain sense. The French Revolution was called the revolution of the philosophers-Rousseau, Voltaire. They were the philosophers of revolution.

When the Revolution had been carried out, the reaction came, and with it a philosophy that undertook to put back the old world. Then there grew up a liberal school that tried to establish something on the political side like that already achieved in England. In England you find a philosophical detachment. The constitution seems to reflect a permanent political order. There were relative.

People were at liberty to speculate without asking for the political implications of their speculations, but that was not the situation in France. I want to call your attention again to the fact that the stream of French life was flowing not through Paris but through the experience of the peasants. They represented the mass of the French people, and through the revolution they had got the soil and were occupied in the cultivation of it with a passion that belonged to the life of the French peasants.

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In this they are different from the English peasants. They were satisfied. They were not interested in what was going on in Paris. Thus, much of the thought of the period was superficial, as far as the consciousness of the French as a whole is concerned. This is characteristic of the whole period in France.

The changes taking place in England went all the way through; and although there the expressions are the expressions of the upper class, they were felt by the whole country. A minority was in control, but their control affected the life of the whole group. They carried the community with them, and they had a sense of the racial life that they were directing. The profoundest experience in the French public lay below the surface; and what took place on the surface, while it was picturesque and had back of it men of talent and ability, did not represent the deeper currents.


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It has been only very slowly that the French people have passed over into political life, passed over by means of institutions which were brought in from the outside, which were not their own. The movement from this earlier position to which I have just referred took place by way of Royer-Collard. He made a common consciousness, rather than a common assent, the characteristic of the process of knowledge.

It was a movement, as I pointed out, that lies within the Kantian movement. It goes back to something that is transcendent. It implies a common character which belongs to all consciousness, to all intelligence-something which is logically there in advance of cognitive experiences themselves. This was not worked out in any such metaphysical theory as it finally received in the German. It was a test of what is true. The other feature of his philosophy to which I have referred and which was emphasized by other writers was that of activity, and here he was in advance of the English movement.

His emphasis was placed upon the ego, upon the self. For him ego has substance, which is soul. If you deal with it in terms of substance, it is that in which states of consciousness exist. But the soul is more especially that which organizes experience or that which is a statement of a process of organization. The soul, you may say, is an ego; but it is a substantial ego in which inhere the different states of consciousness whose faculties express themselves in the conduct of the individual. But the soul lies back of the states of consciousness as a substance which is unknowable and as a function whose faculties express the soul lying behind the idea.

The act of volition takes place; the man is responsible for what he does; but the process of volition itself is the self. The self has wanted; has felt; has been affected. That is the ego of the older metaphysics, especially with its teleological implications. This principle of the activity of the soul comes into the process of consciousness as something that is going on, not as something that is simply an expression of a substantial entity that lies back behind the sensation.