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G D His Existence And His Nature -Rev. R. Garigou-Lagrange, O.P.


Before establishing, by means of a reductio ad absurdum, the necessity of the principle of causality as well as its ontological and transcendental validity, it seems preferable to us to state the objections raised against this thesis by Agnosticism. Empiric Agnosticism disputes the necessity of the principle of causality and also its ontological and transcendental validity; idealistic Agnosticism concedes to this principle merely a subjective necessity.


12) The objection of the Empirics against the necessity and the ontological and transcendental validity of the principle of causality. This objection and the resulting Agnosticism are derived from Sensualistic Nominalism.


Since the time of Hume the Empiric or Sensualist objection has undergone scarcely any change. The English Positivists, John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer, and more recently William James, simply repeat the old objection, while the French Positivists, Aug. Comte, Littré, and their followers, stress its materialistic origin and its antireligious consequences. The Neopositivists of the present day are related to Hume and Mill in much the same way as the Scholastics who lived after the thirteenth century are related to St. Thomas. We shall consider first of all, the leaders of this school of thought, especially John Stuart Mill, whose Nominalistic logic will enable us to discern the true sense and purport of the objection.

The Empirics deny: (1) that the principle of causality is a necessary truth, and (2) that this principle permits us to get away from the order of phenomena, in order to ascend to the first cause. Hume, following closely the teaching of the Epicureans, the sceptic Sextus Empiricus, Ockham,

See Denzinger, n. 553-570, for the condemnation of the philosophical errors of Nicholas of Autrecourt, a disciple of Ockam. Amongst the errors that were condemned is the denial of the ontological validity of the principle of causality: ("Quod non potest evidenter evidentia praedicta ex una re inferri vel concludi alia res: that we cannot from the aforesaid evidence evidently infer or conclude to the existence of one thing from another,") and the proposition that reduces to a purely hypothetical formula either the principle of contradiction or that of identity: ("Quod hoc est primum principium et non (aliud: si aliquid est, aliquid est, that there is no other first principle but this: if anything is, it is.") (Denz., 570). Concerning the external world, Nicholas of Autrecourt defended this thesis, which was also placed under censure: "Quod de substantia materiali alia ab anima nostra non habemus certitudinem evidentiae: Apart from our own soul we cannot conclude with evident certainty about any material substance." (Denz., 557). In short, the only evidence and certainty which he admitted were of die logical order. His proposition: "Quod certitudo evidentiae non habet gradus (that evident certainty admits of no degrees)" was also condemned. (Denz., 556). As for created causality, his teaching is summed up in the following propositions: "Nescimus evidenter quod alia a Deo possint, esse causa alicujus effectus: quod aliqua causa causet efficienter, quae non sit Deus: we have no direct evidence that anything other than God can be the cause of any effect" and, that there should be, besides God, any other efficient cause." (Denz., 566). From this we see that after the Middle Ages Nominalism ended in scepticism.


Hobbes, and Berkeley, in reality denies intelligence, reason, or, what amounts to the same, he reduces it to the senses. According to his view, the idea expresses nothing more in itself than what is derived from the senses and the imagination. It is merely an image under a common name. This constitutes the very essence of empirical Nominalism. "All our general ideas," says Hume, "are in reality but particular ideas to which a common term is assigned, and this latter occasionally recalls other particular ideas which correspond in certain respects to the idea that the mind actually has."

An Inquiry Concerning the Human Understanding, Part II, Section XII, note.


The idea, according to him, expresses nothing more profound than what the senses and the imagination furnish—it is solely an image accompanied by a common name. This is the essence of Empiric Nominalism. According to this sensualistic principle, if what the senses perceive is merely a succession of phenomena, the idea of cause is nothing else but a common image of phenomena that succeed each other, to which the common name of cause is assigned; all the rest cannot be anything more than verbal entity. In fact, Hume points out that, by means of the external senses, we perceive only phenomena followed by other phenomena instead of the causes of phenomena. "One billiard ball impinges upon another, and this other one moves; the senses tell us nothing more. . . . A single case, a solitary experience, in which we observed that one thing happened after some other, does not justify us in formulating a general rule and predicting what will happen in similar cases. It would be, indeed, unmitigated temerity to judge of the whole course of nature from a simple experience, however exact and certain this might be. But when we have seen on every occasion, that two mutually related phenomena follow each other, we have not the slightest hesitation in predicting the one from the appearance of the other. We call one of these the cause, the other the effect. We take it for granted that there is some connexion between them. We say that there is in the first a power, by which it can produce infallibly the other. . . . How did this new idea, therefore, of a relationship, originate in the mind? In no other way did this come about but because of the sentiment which we have in our imagination of the connexion between these facts, and of the tendency which urges us to foresee the existence of the one from the appearance of the other." (Essay on the Human Understanding, VII).

But whence comes the idea of this force, of this power attributed to the cause in producing the effect? Hume explains it by the contact which is established between inanimate things and the sentiment of resistance or the feeling of effort that we experience whenever our body gives rise to, or, on the contrary, opposes movement. "A living being cannot move external objects without experiencing the feeling of a nisus, of an effort; likewise, every animal receives an impression or feeling of shock from every external object that is moved. These sensations, which are exclusively of the animal order, and from which we cannot a priori draw any inference, we are, nevertheless, inclined to transfer to inanimate objects and to suppose that these objects experience feelings somewhat analogous, whenever they impart or receive movement." (Ibid.). Are there any grounds for believing that the relation between cause and effect is anything more than an invariable succession? Not at all, answers Hume, for even in the domain of internal experience we have not the slightest means of knowing whether the voluntary effort that we experience is really what produces the corporeal movement which follows. This voluntary corporeal movement is not even the immediate result of volition. It is separated from it by a long chain of causes which we have neither known nor willed (movements of certain muscles, of certain nerves, and of animal spirits).

For Hume, therefore, causality, in the final analysis, is but the succession of two phenomena. We are led to believe that this succession is invariable; but this belief is merely the result of a habit. So far as we know, there has always been a succession of contingent facts; but we have no assurance that it must always be so. Moreover, granted that causality accounts for, and always will account for, all the phenomena of the universe, what right have we to argue from this to a first cause situated beyond the world of phenomena? Arguing from this Sensualistic principle, Hume, like Berkeley, is led to deny the existence of matter; his only realities are sensations, phenomena without a substance. The same must be said about the mind. By a strange contradiction, Hume, in the beginning of his Natural History of Religion, esteems and appreciates the proof for the existence of God drawn from the order found in nature. "The wondrous arrangement in the whole of nature," he says, "speaks to us of an intelligent Designer; and there is no philosophical thinker who can, after serious reflexion, for one moment suspend his judgment when he has placed before him the first principles of Deism and of natural religion." (Concerning this contradiction, see Hume, His Life and Philosophy, by Thomas Huxley).

We find the confirmation and development of this same doctrine in the works of John Stuart Mill. He starts from the same principle: that concepts are but concrete images to which a common name is given. (Philosophy of Hamilton, pp. 371-380; Logic, I, p. 119). From this is deduced the principle of causality. Mill premises (Logic, III, ch. 5, § 2) that he does not mean "to speak of a cause which is not itself a phenomenon. I make no research," he says, "into the ultimate or ontological cause of anything. To adopt a distinction familiar in the writings of the Scotch metaphysicians, and especially of Reid, the causes with which I concern myself are not efficient, but physical causes. . . . Of the [efficient] causes of phenomena, or whether any such causes exist at all, I am not called upon to give an opinion. . . . The only notion of a cause which the theory of induction requires, is that which can be gained by experience. The law of causation, which is the main pillar of inductive science, is but the familiar truth that invariability of succession is found by observation to obtain between every fact in nature and some other fact which has preceded it, independently of all considerations respecting the ultimate mode of production of phenomena." From this entirely empirical point of view "the cause of a phenomenon is an antecedent and invariable phenomenon; or, better still, is the whole of these antecedents; and we have, philosophically speaking, no right to give the name of cause to one of them, exclusively of the others." Finally, the succession (of facts in nature) must not only be invariable in the manner that night follows day, it must also be unconditional. This leads Mill to conclude that the distinction made between agent and patient is an illusion.

His own words on this point are: "The distinction is found to be only verbal."


It is the principal objection of the Modernists against the traditional proofs for the existence of God that "the distinction between mover and moved, movement and the object moved, and the affirmation of the ascendancy of action over potency, all start from the same commonly accepted postulate, the postulate of morcellation."

Le Roy, "Comment se pose le problème de Dieu," in the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, March, 1907.


The passage deserves to be quoted, because it shows clearly how Empiricism leads fatally to Radical Nominalism, since it freely admits that whatever is not immediately grasped by the senses results in verbal entity. "In most cases of causation," says Mill, "a distinction is commonly drawn between something which acts and some other thing which is acted upon; between an agent and a patient. Both of these, it would be universally allowed, are conditions of the phenomenon; but it would be thought absurd to call the latter the cause, that title being reserved for the former. The distinction, however, vanishes on examination, or rather is found to be only verbal: arising from an incident of mere expression, namely, that the object said to be acted upon, and which is considered as the scene in which the effect takes place, is commonly included in the phrase by which the effect is spoken of, so that if it were also reckoned as part of the cause, the seeming incongruity would arise of its being supposed to cause itself. . . . Those who have contended for a radical distinction between agent and patient, have generally conceived the agent as that which causes some state of, or some change in the state of, another object, which is called the patient. . . . But to speak of phenomena as states of the various objects which take part in them, is simply a sort of logical fiction, useful sometimes as one among several modes of expression, but which should never be supposed to be the enunciation of a scientific truth." (Logic, III, ch. 5, § 4).

It is in his Essays on Religion (first part, written in 1868 and 1870), that Mill gives us the conclusions from his Sensualistic and Nominalistic principles. He begins with the admission that "there is nothing in scientific experience that is incompatible with the belief that the laws and the successions of facts should themselves be the result of a divine volition" (p. 127). But of what value is the argument of a first cause? "Experience properly interpreted tells us only this: that all change proceeds from a cause, and that the cause of all change is a previous change. . . . But there is in nature an element or rather permanent elements (matter and force), and we do not know whether these elements ever had a beginning. Experience affords us no proof, not even an analogy, which would justify us in asserting that a generalization based upon our experience of variable phenomena has established for us what seems to be the immutable. . . . Besides, since all change has its cause in a previous change, our experience, far from providing us with an argument in favour of a first cause, seems to militate against it, and make us incline to the view that the very essence of causality, such as we know it to be according to our limited capacity, is incompatible with the idea of a first cause" (p. 133).

Because of his Nominalistic principles, Mill likewise rejects the syllogism which, from the fact that there are human intelligences and consciences, argues by the method of causality that there is a first intelligence and conscience. On this point he writes: "If we say from the fact alone that there is such a thing as intelligence, that this demands as its pre-requisite antecedent the existence of an Intelligence far greater and more powerful, the difficulty is not removed by this one regression we have made. The creative intelligence, just as much as the created one, demands another intelligence to explain its own existence" (p. 140). Hence, what a Nominalist understands by intelligence is not an idea that can be applied to being, and by which we could identify the self-subsisting Intelligence with the self-subsisting Being; but it is merely a common image, with a name assigned to it, which refers to phenomena and not to being.

Mill plunges even deeper into Empiricism. "What proof have we," he asks, "that only the intellectual can produce that which is intellectual? Have we any other means but experience, for knowing what thing produces another of its kind, what causes are capable of producing certain effects? . . . Apart from experience and especially for what goes by the name of reason, which is concerned with the self-evident, it seems that no cause can produce an effect of a higher order than itself. But this conclusion is entirely different from anything we know about nature. Are not the vegetables and the superior species of animals far nobler and more precious, for instance, than the soil and the pastures upon which they depend and from which they draw their nourishment for their growth? The purpose of all the researches of modern science is to convince us completely that the higher forms of life arc evolved from the lower, and that the more elaborate and superior organization in life must yield to the inferior" (p. 142). This is the same as saying that the greater comes from the less, that being springs from non-being, that the intellectual life is the result of a material and blind fatalism, that the thoughts of the man of genius and the charity of the saints originate from a lump of dirt.

However, Mill acknowledges that there is considerable probability for the proof of God's existence drawn from the evidence of design in nature. In fact, as we shall see later on, this proof, in his opinion, is an inductive argument corresponding to the method of congruencies, "a poor argument in most cases, but also at times a rather forceful one, especially when it concerns the delicate and complicated dispositions of the vegetative and animal life" (p. 162). This means that, according to the laws of induction and the present development of science, the most probable cause of the organic structure of the eye or the ear is not "the survival of the fittest," but a pre-ordaining intelligence.

Mill is thus logically led by the principles of Empiricism to admit that there are not really any convincing proofs for either theism or atheism. He strives even to prove that the attributes of the God of Christians, especially omnipotence and wisdom, cannot be reconciled; here, too, all his arguments are drawn from the empirical point of view. According to his theory, our imagination affords us glimpses of a God who exists, who is just and good; now it is not unreasonable for anyone who thinks so, to let himself go still farther and hope that this God exists, provided he recognizes that, if there are any reasons for hoping that it is so, there are no proofs (p. 227).

It is from his Nominalistic thesis on causality that John Stuart Mill draws all these conclusions.

The same thesis, though in a somewhat modified form, was accepted by Herbert Spencer. Mill, who was an idealist of the Berkeley type, did not admit the existence of an external world and believed that the principle of causality, like the other principles, is established by the repetition of the same psychic phenomena in each individual conscience. Spencer, on the contrary, admits the world of external things and considers the so-called principle of causality as the result of a habit which men have formed by having witnessed the constant succession of the same phenomena. He, moreover, invokes heredity, in order to explain the tendency which we experience from birth to regulate our conduct and our reasoning in accordance with this principle. He writes as follows: "Habitual psychical successions entail some hereditary tendency to such concessions, which, under persistent conditions, will become cumulative in generation after generation, and this supplies an explanation of the so-called forms of thought." (Principles of Psychology, Part 4, ch. 7, 3rd ed., vol. I, p. 466). Thus the vast edifice of our judgments is the result of experimental perceptions, the consolidated accumulations of centuries, just as our continents were formed by the aggregation of almost imperceptible zoöns. According to Spencer, there is a difference of degree only between animal sensation and the intelligent acts of men. "It is certain," he says, "that amongst the automatic acts of the lowest forms of beings and the most highly developed conscious acts of human beings, we could set forth an entire series of acts manifested by the divers species of the animal kingdom, in such a manner that it would be impossible to say of any particular stage in the series: here intelligence begins."

Quoted by Th. Ribot, La Psychologie Anglaise Contemp., 3rd ed., p. 199.


Here indeed we find the explanation of the Positivist objection against the demonstrability of the existence of God: it is the subversion of the foundations of reason. (See solution in nn. 15, 18, 25, 29).

Spencer's Agnosticism is but a logical consequence of this Nominalism. "It is impossible," he writes, "to avoid making the assumption of self-existence somewhere; and whether that assumption be made nakedly (Theism), or under complete disguises (Pantheism, Atheism), it is equally vicious, equally unthinkable. . . . We find ourselves obliged to make certain assumptions; and yet we find these assumptions cannot be represented in thought. We are obliged to conclude that a first cause, infinite, absolute or independent, does exist; however, the materials of which the arguments are built, equally with the conclusions based on them, are merely symbolic conceptions of the illegitimate order." (First Principles, pp. 30-32). This means that our ideas are merely common images that go by a certain name (Nominalism), images which refer directly to sensible phenomena, and which we, without any right, attribute to the absolute.

Taking up the Kantian antinomies, Spencer goes on to say "that the fallacy of our conclusions becomes manifest through their mutual contradictions. The absolute, as such, cannot be a cause; it would be related to its effect. If you say that it exists first by itself, and afterwards becomes a cause, you are confronted with another difficulty: for how can the infinite become that which it was not from the first? If you say that this can be so because it is free, then you again contradict yourself; for freedom supposes consciousness, and consciousness, being only conceivable as a relation, cannot belong to the absolute. The fundamental conceptions of traditional theology are self-destructive. The absolute cannot be conceived as conscious, neither can it be conceived as unconscious; it cannot be conceived as complex, neither can it be conceived as simple; it cannot be identified with the universe, neither can it be distinguished from it. There is the same antagonism manifested between infinite justice and mercy, between wisdom which knows all that is to come, and freedom, between infinite power and goodness, and the existence of evil. Atheism, Pantheism, and Theism are wholly unthinkable." (First Principles, pp. 33-37).

But these three systems and the religions diametrically opposed to them, Polytheism and Monotheism, agree in recognizing that the facts of experience call for an explanation, and the "belief in the omnipresence of something which surpasses understanding, common to all religions, not only becomes more and more distinct in proportion as there is further development of thought in the religions, but it also remains after the various elements have mutually nullified each other; yet, it is this belief that the most merciless criticism of all religions allows to remain, or rather sets out in bolder relief" (pp. 37-39).

I have been unable to find the exact equivalents of these quotations in the English edition.—Tr.


Further on we shall show (nos. 29, 39, 70) that these alleged contradictions pointed out by Spencer are the result of his Nominalistic Empiricism, which makes it impossible for him to conceive the divine attributes analogically. The univocal and simple conception that he is necessarily led to form of them, must inevitably result in contradiction.

William James has made no new contribution to this subject. Concerning the traditional proofs for the existence of God he writes: "I will not discuss these arguments. The bare fact that all idealists since Kant felt entitled either to scout or to neglect them, shows that they are not solid enough to serve as religion's all-sufficient foundation. Causation is indeed too obscure a principle to bear the weight of the whole structure of theology. As for the argument from design, see how Darwinian ideas have revolutionized it. The benevolent adaptations which we find in nature, being only fortunate escapes from almost limitless processes of destruction, suggest a deity very different from the one who figured in the earlier versions of the argument." (Religious Experience, pp. 437-438). Of the divine attributes he regards those known as metaphysical, as meaningless. "Our conception of these practical consequences," he says, "is for us the whole of our conception of the object" (p. 445). A few lines further on he says: "God's aseity, his necessariness, his immateriality, his simplicity, his indivisibility, his repudiation of inclusion in a genus, his infinity, his metaphysical personality, his relations to evil, being permissive and not positive, his self-sufficiency, self-love, and absolute felicity in himself:—candidly speaking, how do such qualities as these make any definite connection with our life? And if they severally call for no distinctive adaptations of our conduct, what vital difference can it positively make to a man's religion whether they be true or false? . . . Verbality has stepped into the place of vision, professionalism into that of life. Instead of bread, we have a stone; instead of a fish, a serpent" (p. 445 f.). He even thinks "that a final philosophy of religion will have to consider the pluralistic hypothesis [Polytheism] more seriously than it has hitherto been willing to consider it" (p. 526). As for the moral attributes, "as spiritual assets they are bound up closely with pragmatism; for the tree is known by its fruits. But this idea of a practical fecundity likewise vanishes in the universal flux of empirical evolution. The moral and religious ideas undergo a change," as their insight into nature and their social arrangements progressively develop. "After an interval of a few generations, the mental climate proves unfavourable to notions of the deity which at an earlier date were perfectly satisfactory" (p. 328). From his further comments on this subject we understand James as meaning to infer that formerly the cruel appetites of a sanguinary god were proofs of his reality in the eyes of his devotees, and that, like us, they judged the tree by its fruits. What remains, then, of the fabric of religion? Nothing but personal experience and those direct assertions that we make in its name. James arrives at practically the same conclusion as Spencer, when he writes: "What the more characteristically divine facts are, apart from the actual inflow of energy in the faith-state, I know not. . . . The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also," ennobling and transforming it (p. 519).

The words in italics were added by the French translator of this passage.


This unknowable transcendental world is none other than the subconscious or subliminal self, and it is this subconsciousness that James calls God.

The French Positivists, following Comte and Littré, have generally regarded the investigation of the problem of God not only as useless, but also as dangerous. For A. Comte, e.g., this problem, is vain, since the author of the Cours de Philosophie Positive (see 5th ed., Vol. III, p. 623) holds "that there is no essential difference between man and the brute beast, and hence we must say with Gall, that sensation, memory, imagination, and even judgment, are but various degrees of one and the same phenomenon that manifests itself in each of the truly elementary functions of the brain" (ibid., III, p. 627). The intellectual and moral phenomena belong properly to animal physiology. This teaching spells the abandonment of all our metaphysical theories, since "purely verbal entities would be superseded continually by real phenomena" (ibid., III, p. 616). To be true to his principles, Comte ought to see in the real simply what corresponds to the capacity of animals, and nothing more; for what distinguishes the animal from man, as Rousseau, following Aristotle, remarks, is precisely "that it cannot attach any meaning to the little word is." Comte is naturally led to conclude that "the traditional demonstrations for the existence of God must yield to the attacks of adverse criticism" (ibid., V, p. 590). Moreover, this belief in God is useless and dangerous. "Artfully to contrive by vain and laborious methods, first of all to bolster up the religious principles so that, thus deprived of all intrinsic and immediate force, they may serve as the basis of the moral order, would not this be, henceforth, like arguing in a vicious circle? . . . Beliefs, themselves incapable of resisting the universal development of human reason, could, therefore, serve no truly useful purpose; for, certainly, reason in its full vigour would not fetter itself again with those oppressive shackles which in its adolescent stage it had once for all completely severed. . . . Most of the time, does not the practical tendency of religious beliefs in the present condition of society chiefly consist in instilling into the hearts of the greater number of those who still hold somewhat tenaciously to these beliefs, a certain instinctive and insurmountable hatred for all those who have liberated themselves from the same, without, moreover, anything useful accruing to society from this form of emulation?"

Cours de Philosophie Posit., IV, pp. 106-7.


The spirit of the present day is to recognize no other cult but that of Humanism.

Is it necessary for the theologian to have received the gift of discernment of spirits, in order that he may correctly judge whether this extract from the writings of August Comte proceeds from the love of God or from pride?

Littré is of the same opinion. "Science," he says, "does not declare that there is no God, but that everything happens as if there were no God. Positive philosophy accepts this declaration, and refuses to discuss further what can neither be known from experience nor in any way proved." (Philosophie Positive, VI, 159). "Kant and the Nominalists have made of the metaphysical arguments a tabula rasa" (ibid., I, p. 238), "for the metaphysical entities are purely imaginary, and they can in no way be verified as facts; the existence of God deduced from them, has no more reality than they have" (ibid., X, p. 14). Continuing in this strain, he writes elsewhere:

Revue des Deux Mondes, 1st June, 1865, p. 686.


"Why, then, obstinately persist in inquiring whence you came and whither you are going; whether there be an intelligent, free and good creator? . . . You will never find out anything at all about that. Give up such vain chimeras. . . . Man's perfection and that of the social order consists in paying no attention to such things. The mind becomes clearer in proportion as it allows these so-called problems to remain in greater obscurity. These problems are a disease, which is cured simply by not thinking of such things." We find the same ideas expressed in the writings of the Neo-Comtistes, Lévy-Bruhl and Durkheim.

More recently the question of God's existence has again been brought up by Le Roy in his defence of the Positivist objections against the traditional proofs.

"Comment se pose le problème de Dieu," in the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, March, 1907.


Le Roy adopts the Bergsonian type of Sensualism or Nominalism. "The general idea," he says, "is due to the way in which our nervous system is constituted, the apparatus of perception being of very different kinds, all closely related through the medium of the centres with the same motor phenomena. Abstraction is, therefore, a setting-in-relief due to a motor phenomenon." (Matière et Mémoire, pp. 168-176). "The idea is but a mediating image." (Evolution Créatrice, p. 327). "Of becoming in general I have but a verbal knowledge" (p. 322). From this point of view, Le Roy is drawn to conclude with John Stuart Mill that "all the proofs for the existence of God are based upon the purely utilitarian principle of morcellation, introducing a distinction between mover and moved, movement and the object moved, potency and act . . . Substances and things are but verbal entities, by which we ‘objectify' and mobilize the universal flux; they are convenient arrangements and simplifications for the name and action implied. . . . If the world is a vast connected whole of unceasing transformations, one need not think that this graduated and far-stretching cascade of happenings necessarily demands a first source. . . . To affirm the primacy of act is a tacit admission of the same postulates. If causality is merely the outpouring of a full into a void, the reception by one object of the communicated contents of another, in one word, if it is the anthropomorphous operation of an agent, then well and good! But of what value are these idols of the practical imagination? Why not simply identify being with becoming?" Le Roy also invokes the Kantian objection which shall be discussed later on in this work: that to arrive at any conclusion, the traditional proofs must inevitably have recourse to the ontological argument. God, according to Le Roy, is "a reality in the becoming," who as yet is not and never will be, and who is transcendental merely in name. "Immanence and transcendence correspond to two moments in duration: immanence to what has become, transcendence to what is becoming. If we declare that God is immanent, this means that we consider Him in the light of what he has become in us or in the world; but for the world and for us He ever remains an infinite in becoming, an infinite, which is creation in the true sense, not mere development; and viewed in this way, God appears to be transcendental."

Rev. de Mét. et Mor., July, 1907, P. 512.


We wonder whether the author grasped the full import of these words, for, as we have already remarked, his conclusion is manifestly opposed to what was defined by the Vatican Council. (See nos. 4 and 5).

We see what this objection of the Positivists against the possibility of proving the existence of God amounts to. Nothing new has been added to it since the time of Hume, who reduced every idea to a common image with a name, and causality to a common image of an invariable succession of phenomena, called by the name of cause. Everything which is not directly grasped by the senses and the conscience is but a verbal entity, and as for reason, there is no such thing. Apart from the phenomenal order, the principle of causality is valueless; and even here we have no assurance that it must be always referred absolutely to this order.


13) Kant's objection against the ontological and transcendental value of the principle of causality.


The Kantian theory of knowledge likewise undermines the foundation of the traditional proofs for the existence of God. Kant rejects Empiricism, because all idea of necessity is eliminated from this system and for Kant, Newton's physical laws, and also the moral law, are a necessity that cannot be doubted. But in his opinion, Dogmatic Rationalism is wrong in claiming to have an intuition of the intelligible, and to be able by a scientific process of reasoning to conclude that causes and substances exist; he becomes involved in antinomies whenever it occurs to him to approach these problems. On this point the Empirics are right, and Kant is wrong. Metaphysics has not succeeded in establishing itself as a science, and never will do so; for that is impossible. The only science is that of phenomena and the Newtonian physics imposes itself upon us as a necessity. How shall we explain this necessity of scientific knowledge? We know from experience that a connection exists between facts, but experience tells us nothing about the necessity for this. It must, therefore, be the mind which, by consulting its categories of substance, causality, reciprocal action, etc., concludes that there is a necessary connection between phenomena. These categories enable us to establish a priori contacts between phenomena, or to form what Kant calls "synthetical a priori judgments."

The principle of causality, by which metaphysicians claim to arrive at the idea of a first cause, is only one of these "synthetical a priori" principles. We must agree with Hume in admitting that the proposition, "Everything which happens has a cause," is not an analytical judgment, for the predicate is not included in the idea of the subject. Nor is it a purely explicative judgment, which merely develops the notion of the subject in order to reveal the presence of the predicate, as, for instance, when we say, "What contradicts something does not apply to it," or, "All bodies are extended." It is an extensive judgment which really adds to the sum of knowledge, and therefore, is synthetical, as too is this other judgment, "All bodies are heavy"; but at the same time we are compelled to accept it as an a priori judgment, rendered necessary by the exigency of science. It might be expressed by the following formula: "All changes take place in accordance with the law of connexion between cause and effect"; it applies only to the world of phenomena and does not justify us in attributing all these changes to a cause of another order, which is not itself also a change. (Critique of Pure Reason, Introduction, § IV; Transcendental Analytic, II, c. 2, sect. 3, n. 3; Transcendental Dialectic, II, c. 2, sect. 9, n. 4, 4th antinomy). Such a concept of the principle of causality always postulates an antecedent phenomenon, never an absolute cause.

From the noumenal point of view, it may still be possible that there is a first cause. The idea of God is an ideal necessary for the completion of knowledge, which is irresistibly drawn to explain the conditioned by the absolutely unconditioned. The natural tendency of the human mind is to conceive God as the prototype of all things, the supreme reality, absolutely one, simple, completely determined, possessing all the perfections which constitute personality. But this metaphysical demonstration is absolutely insufficient, for want of an intelligible intuition that would serve as a basis for it; the analysis of the concepts and of the principles has made this clear in advance. However, Kant undertakes to establish that the transcendental illusion hidden in the ontological argument vitiates the proof of God's existence derived from the notion of contingency, as also that from the teleological argument. (Transcendental Dialectic, II, c. 3). When we come to discuss these proofs, we shall consider these special difficulties.

Likewise, for pure reason, the idea of a personal God is a hypothesis which invests our ideas with the greatest possible unity; it is "simply a regulative principle," which stimulates the mind in the unification of knowledge.

Practical reason alone leads us to admit the existence of God, not by any demonstration, but by a free act of faith, a purely rational belief, of which "the certitude is subjectively adequate, although objectively insufficient." The existence of God and the future life are two inseparable assumptions that follow inevitably from the idea of moral obligation. The moral law says: "Do what
may render you worthy of happiness" (happiness and virtue are necessarily connected by a synthetical a priori judgment). Now God alone can realize the harmony between virtue and happiness. Therefore, God must exist. The moral unbeliever is the one who does not admit what, in truth, cannot possibly be known, but what is morally necessary for one to suppose. This sort of incredulity always has its origin in a lack of moral interest. The greater the moral sentiment in a man, the firmer and livelier must be his faith in everything he feels himself obliged to assume, from the point of view of practical necessity. (Logic, Introduction, IX; Critique of Practical Reason, II, c. 5).

Such, then, is Kant's objection against the demonstrability of God's existence. He does not deny, as the Empirics do, the necessity of the principle of causality; but he does dispute its ontological and transcendental validity. (See solution in nos. 18, 25, 29).

Kant, as Spencer after him, confirms his thesis by an exposition of the antinomies with which, in his opinion, speculative reason clashes, whenever it proposes to go beyond the range of phenomena. The antinomy which most of all interests us here, is the fourth, which concerns the necessary being that is the cause of the world; but it becomes involved with the third, relating to freedom, if it demands that the first cause be a free cause; and also with the first relating to the eternity of the world and its extension, and with the second, which concerns the nature of cosmic matter.

It will be sufficient for us to consider the fourth antinomy, at the same time briefly commenting on the other two.

According to the thesis of this fourth Kantian antinomy, there exists either in, or in connection with, the world, a necessary being, which is the absolute cause of the universe. Without such a being, we could not explain the various changes that take place in the world; for all change presupposes a complete or determined series of causes or conditions, and therefore, postulates a first cause or condition, an unconditioned existence, not contingent, but necessary.

According to the antithesis, an absolutely necessary being does not exist, either in the world or out of it, as its cause. Granted that there is in the world a necessary being, this being either constitutes an integral part of the cosmos, or it coincides with the sum-total of phenomena. But if a part of the cosmos were necessary and uncaused, it could have no possible reference to the conditioned phenomena that succeed each other in time. If the whole cosmic series constituted the necessary being, this would be the same as saying that a hundred thousand idiots can constitute one intelligent man. Finally, if this necessary being is outside of and apart from the world, directly it begins to act, it admits a beginning of something within itself, and therefore belongs to time and is in the world, which is contrary to the hypothesis.

This fourth antinomy is involved with the third, which concerns freedom. Its thesis states that we must admit a free causality. In matter of fact, there can be no regress to infinity in the series of causes; for in that case there would be no first cause of the phenomena about which we are certain, and hence they would be without sufficient reason for their existence. But to have a finite series of causes, we must commence with a cause which does not have to be determined by any preceding cause. In other words, we must have recourse to a free causality.

According to the antithesis, there can be no such thing as freedom. A free act would be an act without any assignable reason for its determination as such; the free cause would pass from indetermination to determination without sufficient reason. (See solution of this antinomy in Volume II, of this work, ch. IV, nos. 59, 61-63).

The two other antinomies relating to time, space and matter, may be passed over as of less importance in the discussion of this question of the demonstrability of God's existence. We have already remarked (no. 10) that the great classical proofs for the existence of God do not take into consideration the question of the eternity or non-eternity of the world. It is evidently not impossible to establish by an a priori argument that God created freely from all eternity, just as the sun and its rays of light are simultaneous. There would, in that case, be an infinite series of actually completed phenomena, in which there is nothing contrary to reason, regardless of what the first Kantian antinomy may say on the subject; for this series would be infinite only a parte ante, and completed a parte post. The objection that creation by God could have had no beginning in time, simply because no sufficient reason can be given why the world should begin to exist at a certain moment rather than at any other, again brings up the same difficulty as that about freedom. If freedom involves no contradiction, then creation in time is a possibility.

As for the second antinomy, which concerns divisible matter, or matter which is not infinite in extension, we shall discuss this problem in connection with the principle of substance (see no. 23).

Kant solves the antinomies of time, space, and matter by rejecting both thesis and antithesis. It cannot be said of the world, as a thing in itself, either that it is finite or that it is infinite in time and space; neither that it is composed of simple parts or that it is divisible ad infinitum. Space and time are the a priori forms of sensibility.

As for freedom and necessary being, they cannot exist in the phenomenal or sensible order; but Kant sees no reason why they could not exist in the noumenal or intelligible order; and that is all that speculative reason can say about it: for it is unable to prove that God exists.


14) The general principle of modern agnosticism.


By way of a brief summary, we may say that Kantian Empiricism and Idealism are two phases of Agnosticism. As the Encyclical "Pascendi" remarks, the general principle of Agnosticism is nothing else but Phenomenalism. "Human reason strictly limited to the sphere of things phenomenal, which means to the appearances of things, and precisely such as they appear, has neither the power nor the right to go beyond these limits; hence it cannot rise up to God, not even so much as know whether He exists through the medium of created things." (Denz., 2072). Human reason can have knowledge only of phenomena and of the laws by which they are governed. Our ideas, even the very first ones implied in the first principles, have merely phenomenal, but no ontological, validity. From them we can form no concept of the substantial being, if such a being exists under the veil of these phenomena. With far more reason we may say that they have no transcendental value; for they do not permit us to know God, the transcendental Being, supposing that He really exists.

Medieval Agnosticism, such as we find it, for instance, in the writings of Maimonides, is of a less radical type.


The first principles include such primary notions as being, essence, existence, unity, identity, truth, goodness, efficient and final cause, and, as a consequence, intelligence essentially related to being, as also volition essentially related to goodness. The corresponding first principles are those of identity, contradiction, sufficient reason, causality, finality, to which may be added the following axioms: (1) Whatever is a subject of existence is called substance; (2) the intelligibility of anything corresponds to the degree of its participation in being. (Nihil est intelligibile nisi in quantum est in actu); (3) only that can be the object of volition which appeals to one as being good. (Nihil volitum nisi praecognitum ut conveniens).

By ontological validity we understand the inherent aptness of these first principles to make known to us not only the phenomena previously perceived by the senses or by consciousness, but also being itself (τὸ ὃν), the senses revealing the presence of the same to us by means of these phenomena.

By transcendent validity we mean that these first ideas are in themselves apt to convey to us a true knowledge of God, considered as the first transcendental and non-immanent cause. The principal ideas of this type are called by the Scholastics, transcendentals;

According to Kant, that inquiry "is called transcendental, which is not so much occupied with objects as with the mode of our cognition of these objects, in so far as this mode of cognition is possible a priori." (Critique of Pure Reason, Introd., Ch. VII).


though the term is used in a different sense, meaning that such ideas transcend not only created beings, but also the limits of the genera or the categories and may be found according to their various modes in all these genera. Thus, being and the properties of being, such as unity, truth, goodness, quality, relation, action, passion, place and time, are found in varying degrees in each of them.

This twofold validity, ontological and transcendental, of first ideas and first principles, is generally rejected by agnostics.

Empirical Agnosticism (such, for instance, as we find in the writings of Spencer, Mill or W. James) rejects it, since it reduces first ideas to mere composite ideas, to which a general name is given. It is the most radical form of Nominalism. These composite images, formed according to the laws of association of particular images, the residua of sensation, are such that the similarities between the ideas have a constructive and the differences between them a neutralizing effect. Just like sensation, they represent merely sensible phenomena. From this point of view substance is simply a collection of phenomena, and causality a succession of phenomena that cannot be said really to have been produced.

Personality is nothing else but a sequence of interior phenomena mysteriously grouped together by our consciousness of them. Reason can have knowledge only of phenomena, because between it and the senses there is no essential difference.

In the idealistic Agnosticism of Kant and his disciples, the neocritics, the ontological and transcendental validity of first ideas finds no acceptance, since these are reduced to purely subjective forms of thought, the sole purpose of the names being to indicate the various groups of phenomena. Causality is but a subjective form, uniting the phenomena which occur successively in time.

Agnosticism, whether empirical or idealistic, as a general rule confirms its thesis by an exposition of the antinomies in which, as it claims, reason always ends whenever it seeks to transcend phenomena. Briefly, they say that, on the one hand, a necessary and unconditioned being is required to explain this world of ours; on the other hand, the unconditioned cannot be a cause, for it would come into relation with its effect. If, to safeguard its independence, we say that it was first of all self-existent and afterwards began to act, we find ourselves obliged to admit that it had a beginning, which is an open contradiction. (Fourth antinomy of Kant and Spencer.)

If we say that it can act when it so wishes, because it is free, we find ourselves confronted with the special antinomy of freedom. The free act, which, on the one hand, seems to be a requisite, is, on the other hand, without a determining cause, without a sufficient reason. (Third antinomy of Kant). We also get in conflict with the antinomy relating to time; for if the world had a beginning in time, no cogent reason could be given why it should have begun at a certain moment in time rather than at any other. (First antinomy of Kant). Finally, freedom presupposes consciousness, and since we cannot conceive of consciousness except as a relation implying a duality consisting of subject and object, it cannot be predicated of the absolute, which must be both one and simple (Spencer, Fichte).

The fundamental conceptions of traditional theology are irreconcilable. The absolute, on the one hand, must be conceived as absolutely simple, while on the other hand we must attribute to it a multiplicity of perfections which it cannot formally possess without their destroying its simplicity. In addition to these antinomies, we have the classical difficulties as to how infinite justice can be reconciled with infinite mercy, foreknowledge with freedom, the omnipotence of an infinitely good God with the existence of evil.

Thus, these antinomies seem to confirm the general principle of Agnosticism, which, as we have seen, is nothing else but Phenomenalism, or the negation of the ontological and transcendental validity of reason.

All the objections raised against the demonstrability of God's existence can easily be traced to the Empirics or Idealists.


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