BLTC Press Titles

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

An essay on the Platonic idea

by Thomas Maguire


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'ApvvaOijv, a,T€ iroaaXv ai0\ia yiyverai avBpwv,
'AXXii irepl yjfvxfjs Oeov.Hom. 11. xxii. 159, sq.

Speculative thought has always assumed one of two forms; it has always been either dogmatic or sceptical. Dogmatism and scepticism both embody the same fact, but their respective points of view are different. The fact with which either form deals is, that there is something always to be said on both sides of every speculative question. After two thousand years' discussion the criterion of right and wrong, and the grounds both of mathematical demonstration and of its dependent, the higher physical science, are still under argument. But, as truth cannot rise above its source, it is obvious that


the laws of the physical and moral worlds contain the elements of anarchy. Scepticism may indeed be silenced by the fruits of allegiance; but the spirit of disloyalty is not the less real. Dogmatism and scepticism are therefore, now as heretofore, the two possible forms of speculative thought.

Of these, the dogmatist holds that, as a general rule, one side of the question preponderates in fact, whether that side be affirmative or negative. The business of the dogmatist is to discover on which side the balance lies; and the final result is either certainty or probability, according as the arguments are found to lie really all on one side, opposition being only prima facie, or as a real minority of opposing arguments is outvoted, but not annihilated, by a majority of reasons large or small. Certainty and probability, therefore, are to the dogmatist the modes of truth.

The sceptic, on the other hand, alleges that the strife between the two sides is internecine. In his opinion, the positive and negative arguments, when traced to their ground principles, must always equate; and the final result is zero.* The term truth, therefore, may denote the equilibrium of the equal and opposite forces, in which case it has no positive value; or it may denote the possibility of conceiving one side of the equation cancelled, not in fact, but in thought. In the latter case, the term truth may mean that we are able to concentrate our attention on a portion of a fact without regarding the remainder. Theterm truth may, therefore, denote either negative mental equilibrium, or positive one-sidedness, but nothing more. But the answer of the sceptic, as well as of the dogmatist, assumes that the question, What is truth? has been raised. The cardinal problem of philosophy, on either hypothesis, is therefore to determine what is meant by truth.

* The sceptical zero means, not a purely negative process, which is a contradiction, but a purely negative result.

For present purposes, truth may be defined as that mental state, or sum of mental states, to which the possessor attaches his final opinion, solely in consequence of a special state of the cognitive faculty relatively to its supposed object. The solution of the problem must, therefore, be sought in that relation. To the question so conceived, one of two answers must be given :—The final state of thought must be either wholly a product of the senses, or it must derive some of its constituents from a source which is supersensuous. The former is the answer of sensualism, the latter of spiritualism.

But the classification of thought into dogmatism and scepticism, and into sensualism and spiritualism, may be a cross division. Psychologically, a sceptic may or may not allow that the supersensuous is a factor of the mental sum, and so may the dogmatist; subjectively, therefore, sceptics and dogmatists may belong to either school. But on the point of objective existence their views necessarily diverge. Objective existence the dogmatist either asserts or denies. Objective existence the sceptic neither asserts nor denies: on his principles, he can find no subject with which to begin his proposition—a fortiori, he cannot find a predicate to end it. 0 is a useful expression of x — x; but 0 = 0, save as a blank form to be subsequently filled, is totally unmeaning. All sides may, accordingly, take part in the psychological debate; as the psychologist deals with mental facts, and not with ultra-mental inferences: but when the ontological question arises, the sceptic drops out; his constituents are so evenly divided, that he dare not vote. Psychology, therefore, cannot ignore either sensualism or spiritualism; and psychology is either the basis of ontology or the chasm in which it disappears.

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