The Philosophy Of Nescience; Or, Hamilton And Mansel On Religious Thought -- By: J. R. Herrick

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 026:103 (Jul 1869)
Article: The Philosophy Of Nescience; Or, Hamilton And Mansel On Religious Thought
Author: J. R. Herrick


The Philosophy Of Nescience; Or, Hamilton And Mansel On
Religious Thought

J. R. Herrick

Mansel’s Bampton Lecture on “The Limits of Religious Thought” was published some ten years ago. It was the application of Hamilton’s Philosophy of the Conditioned to Religious Thinking. Such application was not made to any great extent by the master himself. This was done most vigorously by the ablest disciple, doubtless, of the renowned philosopher. The work is carefully prepared, and logically it is very able. It should also be said that in it valuable suggestions are made in respect to objections to some of the doctrines of religion. But that which gives to the work its special and permanent interest, as well as a temporary notoriety, is the main assumption of Mansel in regard to the possibilities of thought as wholly conditioned and relative.

He first affirms that the difficulties to be encountered are the same in theology as in philosophy, no greater in the one sphere than in the other. This position may be accepted, and, taken by itself, needs not to be controverted.

This granted, the philosophi-theologian lays down his grand postulate, which is to be applied, he argues, both in philosophy and theology, and which is substantially this: Our thinking cannot possibly reach beyond the relative and conditioned. In neither sphere can we think the infinite. We cannot know truth relating to the infinite, and yet we must believe it—therefore, Hamilton and Mansel would say, we are bound

to believe it. To the acute logician this seems the easiest way of cutting up scepticism by the roots, and of establishing Christian truth in its place. Wherefore, on this basis, Mansel chooses to conduct his argument; he need not have done so, but his choice is, to attempt the establishment of Christianity and the refutation of scepticism by calling to his aid the philosophy of nescience, or ignorance.

Certainly we are not to assume or allow the assumption, come from whatever source it may, that reason can discover all truth, all necessary truth—just that which is essential to salvation — without revelation. But whether reason can apprehend divine things and such as are revealed, is one question; whether divine things and truths of the infinite are opposed to reason, or it to them, is quite a different question, and one so important as to render it not a vain thing to inquire as to the validity of Mansel’s assumption. Does his argument justify his conclusion, or would it, by making impossible any philosophy of religion, act against the Christian system itself?

It is but fair and honorable, while desirable for our own satisfaction, that we ...

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