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(Lecture I., page 8.)


SOME more definite passage to the effect of what I have here stated was running in my head when I wrote my Lecture. But I have failed to verify it. The tone of thought, however, which is implied in the text is not uncommon, and may be sufficiently illustrated by the following extract from one of David Hume’s Essays (“Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy,” in the ‘Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding’), with accompanying comment by Professor Huxley. The extract and comment are found in the close of Professor Huxley’s address “On the Physical Basis of Life”—‘Lay Sermons,’ &c., p. 150:—

“‘If we take in hand any volume of divinity, or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity and number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusions.’

“Permit me to enforce this most wise advice. Why trouble ourselves about matters of which, however important 206they may be, we do know nothing, and can know nothing? We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance; and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it. To do this effectually, it is necessary to be possessed of only two beliefs: the first, that the order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties to an extent which is practically unlimited; the second, that our volition counts for something as a condition of the course of events. Each of these beliefs can be verified experimentally as often as we like to try.”

Nothing else, of course, of the nature of theological truth—which neither concerns “quantity and number,” nor yet in Hume’s sense “matter of fact and existence”—can be verified experimentally, and why then trouble ourselves about what we can never know?

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