"Ontologism and Psychologism," July, 1874 (Brownson goes on the offensive against the philosophically unsound Jesuits)

Ontologism and Psychologism


We owe these, and we know not how many other textbooks, which have been, are, or are intended to be used in our Catholic colleges and seminaries, to the zeal, learning, ability, and industry of members of the Society of Jesus.  We have no intention of reviewing them.  We have introduced their titles only as a fitting text for some comments on the admonition addressed to us and others from various quarters, not to depart from the traditional and generally approved philosophy taught in our Catholic schools- an admonition that we are quite prepared to heed the moment it is made to appear that there is such a philosophy, and we are told precisely what it is.  Have we, in fact, any such philosophy?  And if so, what is it?  Where are we to find an authoritative statement of it?  We confess that we have not been able, with our limited reading and study, to discover a system of philosophy that can be said to be traditional, even in the schools of the Society of Jesus, for less a system distinguished from Catholic theology, that is traditional in Catholic schools generally.  The General of the Jesuits, sometimes rather profanely called the Black Pope, issued an order, a few years since, forbidding the professors of the Society to teach certain systems of philosophy which were then gaining ground, and commanding them to go back to Aristotle of Fonseca; but, supposing they are agreed as to what Peripateticism as expounded by that eminent Portuguese Jesuit really is, and are now uniformly teaching it, we could hardly say that as yet it is traditional in Catholic schools; for it is only yesterday that a very different system was taught in many, if not in most of them.  We have never been able to find that, in philosophy distinct from theology, our Catholic schools have had, since the Renaissance, a strictly traditional philosophy in which all have been substantially agreed.  If there is such a philosophy, we confess ourselves to be ignorant of it.  The only Catholic philosophy we know, we collect from the great theologians of the Church, in whom it appears as the rational element of the science of theology, not as a separate science.


Our friends of the Catholic World tell us very truly that the Church has sanctioned the principles and methods of the Scholastic philosophy and theology: but we have always supposed our Holy Father, Pius IX, in the Syllabus, has only done so as against the Traditionalists, who charged the Scholastic philosophy and theology with being rationalistic, and even atheistic, and as against the German professors, at the head of whom stood the unhappy Dr. Dollinger, who maintained that only the historical method is admissible in the construction of theological science.  What we understand the Holy See to have censured is the rejection or disparagement of reason by the traditional and historical schools, and what it has sanctioned, indeed enjoined, is the Scholastic use of reason in philosophy and theology.  I am not free to deny the Scholastic use of reason, but I am not therefore bound to accept all the Scholastic processes or conclusions.  The Holy See is no less studious to maintain reason unimpaired than she is to preserve the faith in its purity and integrity.  The central error of the traditionalist as well as that of the historical school of Germany resulting in the so- called Old Catholic heresy, originates in the Jansenistic heresy as to the value of nature and reason.  The Jansenists assert the worthlessness of nature, and therefore the impotence of natural reason.  In interpreting condemned propositions, it is necessary to understand the precise error condemned, otherwise we may mistake the contradictory truth asserted.  What we understand the Holy See as having sanctioned in the Scholastic philosophy is the rational principles and method impugned by Bonnetty and Dollinger and their respective schools. 


But suppose that we are free in no sense to differ from the principles and methods of the Scholastic Doctors; can it be pretended that the Holy See has ever defined which of the Scholastic Doctors it is whose principles and method are to be strictly followed?  There are notable differences on a great variety of questions among the Scholastics; for instance, between St. Anselm and St. Thomas; St. Thomas and St. Bonaventura; Abelard and Guillaume de Champeaux; the Thomists and the Scotists; the Realists and the Conceptualists.  Which is approved; which condemned; St. Ignatius Loyola made it in his Institutes obligatory on the society he founded to conform to St. Thomas, and we presume the Jesuit professors do conform to the Angelic Doctor's teaching as they understand it, as do also the Thomists; yet there are very great differences between the two schools.  Does St. Thomas teach the scientia media, or do the Jesuits teach the praemotio physica?  Does St. Thomas teach the auxilium quod or the auxilium quo?  “You all claim to follow St. Thomas,” said to us a scholastic of the Society of Jesus already cited, “but I find no two of you who agree as to what St. Thomas actually taught.”


There are certain great truths of natural reason, so closely allied to reveal theology and so essential to the very existence and operation of the human understanding, that they are recognized and asserted by every Catholic theologian or philosopher of any nerve, and cannot be denied without obscuring or impairing the faith itself; but beyond these we have never found anything corresponding to the traditional or authorized philosophy, which Fr. Ramiere, and the Catholic World after him, admonish us to follow.  It is all very fine to talk about such a philosophy, but it would seem to be better to settle that there is such a philosophy, and what it is, before insisting on its being observed, or censuring one for not heeding it.  If by philosophy be meant an authorized science distinct from the rational element of Catholic theology, it is to us something as yet unknown.

In its crushing criticism of Fr. Louage's brief Course of Philosophy, in which we come in for our share, the Catholic World shows that the improbation of ontologism by the Holy See has not only frightened it from the ontologism favored by the author of the “Problems of the Age,” but driven it into the opposite extreme, that of psychologism.  The editor of the Catholic World is able and learned; but he seems not to have ever very well understood the difference between the philosophy improbated in the seven propositions of the Louvain Professors, and that which we have, since 1850, more or less distinctly defended in the Review, and even in his own pages, to which for several years we contributed, with the exception of the “Problems of the Age,” the more prominent philosophical and theological articles.  This, that is, his failure to understand this difference, is, we presume the reason why he made no reserve, when he repudiated his own ontologism, in favor of what had been up to that time the philosophical doctrine of his Magazine.  He would have been very unjust to a former collaborator, if he had appreciated the difference between the two philosophies, since he was not ignorant that ours had been very generally classed with the improbated ontologism, not to have noted that difference.  He could hardly be ignorant that he would be understood as declaring against us, as well as against the ontologists, and leaving it to be inferred, though we were not named, that we are defending a philosophy, in his own judgment at least, under ecclesiastical censure.  This, we are sure, he would never have done, if he had not supposed that there is no real difference between the philosophy we defend and the improbated ontologism which he very justly improbated.


But this, after all, is a small matter, and we should let it pass without comment, if, in the too severe criticism on Fr. Louage, we did not find the Catholic World expressly stigmatizing our philosophy as ontologism, and excusing us for holding it on the ground that we are not a priest.  It says: “The Dr. Brownson, in his Review, should try to show that his own ontologism can be philosophically defended and does not fall under ecclesiastical condemnation, we do not wonder.  He is not a priest; he does not write for schoolboys, but addresses himself to educated men, who can sift his arguments, and dismiss with a benign smile what they think to be unsound; and, after all, he takes great care to screen himself behind a newly invented distinction between ideal intuition and perception or cognition, based on the assumption, honestly maintained by him, that 'intuition is the act of the object, not of the subject.'


That Dr. Brownson is not a priest, is very true, but we do not know that he has any right on that account to defend a philosophy improbated by the Holy See, or that his errors are to be smiled on any more benignly than if the errors of a priest; nor are we aware that the fact that he is a layman gives even a priest the right to miscall or misrepresent his philosophy.  The “benign smile” is very charming on the editor's lips, no doubt, but men have been known to smile benignly, not from superior knowledge.  Dr. Brownson tries, very likely, and perhaps not unsuccessfully, to show that his philosophy – not his ontologism, for ontologist he is not, and never has been since he became a Catholic – does not fall under ecclesiastical censure; for he is a Catholic, and hears the Church, but certainly not, as the Catholic World insinuates, by “a newly invented distinction between ideal intuition and perception or cognition,”  for this distinction he made in his Review some years before the Holy See had censured the ontologism of the Louvain Professors.  This fact should not have escaped the notice of the Catholic World.  It is very possible that this distinction is brought out more clearly and fully in the recent numbers of the Review, especially in the Essay in Refutation of Atheism, than it had been before, but it was made an essential point in his philosophy clearly enough, we had supposed, for men habituated to the study of questions of the sort, long previously, and expressly as early at least as 1859, in the article on the Primitive Elements of Thought, criticizing and refuting the Ontologie of the Abbe Hugonin.  In that article we were careful to distinguish between ideal intuition and empirical intuition, which is the same distinction.  We defined then, as we define now, ideal intuition as the act of the object, or the presentation of the object by its own act, and empirical intuition as the act of the subject in conjunction with the act of the object, dependent on it, and impossible without it.  This was in 1859, and only repeated what we had all along maintained.  The censure of the Louvain ontologism by the Holy See was first published, if we recollect aright, in 1861, and we may say that not a single proposition censured had ever been defended by us, and not one which he had not, in the light of our own philosophy, opposed and refuted.  Let the distinction be tenable or not, the Catholic World should not have sneered at it as newly invented as a security from ecclesiastical censure.  We hope we are too loyal to be guilty of a subterfuge.


The author of the “Problems of the Age,” when he published the chapters of that work in the Catholic World, was a decided ontologist, and taught that the existence of God is a truth known by direct intuition.  No one knows better than he does that we objected to that doctrine and remonstrated against it in a letter addressed to the superior of the Paulist Community.  In our remonstrance, we said, We know by intuition that which is God, but not that it is God; that we know only discursively, not intuitively.  We were aware at the time of the condemnation of “certain philosophical propositions” he speaks of, and had defended the condemnation some years before in a Letter to the Professor of Philosophy in Mount St. Mary's College, near Emmittsburg, and pointed out the difference between the propositions condemned and our own.  It is probable that the editor of the Catholic World never grasped this difference, and when, subsequently, he found his ontologism censured, he concluded our philosophy was also prohibited, therefore closed his pages to it, and took up a philosophy which, in our judgment, is as far from the truth, in the opposite extreme, as is the ontologism he has repudiated.  It seems never to have occurred to him that he may have from the outset erroneously identified our philosophy with his own ontologism, although we frequently assured him of the fact, as many others would seem to have done, and now, when he sees that he cannot bring it under the ecclesiastical censure his ontologism has incurred, he insinuates that we escaped by a subterfuge, instead of frankly admitting that he very possibly had failed rightly to understand us.  We do in no sense object to his opposing it as a system we entertain, or have ever entertained. 


The Catholic World is quite right in following Stoeckl and the Jesuit Fathers Ramiere, Kleutgen, Liberatore, Tongiorgi, etc., as against ontologism; but, though they defend the philosophy which is just at present dominant in many of our Catholic colleges and seminaries, it by no means follows that it is right in following them in their own philosophy, that their own is free from very grave errors and defects, or that it is the traditional Catholic philosophy from which one cannot dissent without temerity.  For ourselves, we find it very conclusive against ontologism, or the false and exaggerated ontology of the Louvain Professors improbated by the Holy See, or as against what the Holy See has defined cannot be safely taught; but when the question is as to what must be taught, or what is the true solution of the great problems with which the real philosopher must grapple, we find them for the most part superficial, vague, uncertain, and far better suited to perplex than to satisfy the student.  We hardly begin to follow them before we are enveloped in a dense fog, or plunged into a wilderness of abstractions, unrealities, or unveracities, to use a Carlylism.  We find in them, the moment the question approaches the higher philosophy, that is, the first principles either of the real or the knowable, nothing clear, distinct, or solid.  Their philosophy starts from a point below principles, “first or necessary truths,” as St. Thomas calls them, and which necessarily precede all intellectual operations, and deals at best only with abstract forms or concepts.  It is therefore formal, no real, without any solid basis, as unsubstantial “as the baseless fabric of a vision.” 


These authors are very learned, very respectable, even eminent in their way, but they seem to us never to have caught a glimpse of the higher problems of philosophy, and in their fear of falling into the error of the improbated ontologists, to feel that they are safe only in excluding ontology from philosophy, as Sir William Hamilton, Dean Mansell, and others of the same school, do from theology.  They profess to follow St. Thomas, and insist that we shall swear by him, and yet St. Thomas teaches expressly that God, though not self-evident to the human intelligence, is yet demonstrable by natural reason, and the Holy See has defined, that the existence of God can be proved with certainty by reasoning, while it has improbated the proposition that God is known by immediate cognition.  Between St. Thomas and the holy See there is no discrepancy.  Hence the two points all Catholic philosophers must hold and defend, namely, 1. We cannot know God by immediate cognition or intuition, and 2, We can prove with certainty or demonstrate by reasoning that God is.  These two points condemn, the one ontologism and the other so-called Traditionalism.  So much is settled.  But how demonstrate or prove that God is, if we exclude ontology?


Reasoning or demonstration can proceed only from principles or premises, and the question between us and the philosophers whose works stand at the head of this article turns precisely on these principles or premises, which necessarily precede reasoning or demonstration and from which it proceeds, and therefore are not and cannot be obtained by it.  They are not obtained by the operation of reason, for reason cannot operate discursively without them.  They must then be given a priori, and be the primitive data of the mind, the first principles of intelligence.  Even philosophers opposed to us by the Catholic World do and must admit so much.


Now what are these primitive data, these cognitions a priori as Kant calls them?  The Scholastics, as far as we are aware, hardly raise the question, at least they do not formally discuss it.  St. Thomas seems, as far as he touches them at all, to call them first truths, necessary truths, that is, necessary to the operations of the intellect, dictates of reason, or truths inserted in human nature, etc., leaving the question of their objective reality, or truths, as the question whether they are necessary in their own nature and essence or necessary only in relation to our intellect, unsettled.  Indeed, as far as we have seen, he nowhere treats the question as here presented, or tells us clearly, distinctly, decisively, what he understands by them, or how or whence the mind gets possession of them.  This – we say it with all reverence for the holy Doctor – strikes us as a grave defect in his philosophy, a defect which seems to us to omit the primary problem of science and to leave it not only unresolved, but even unraised.  We have, in the Essay in Refutation of Atheism and other writings, endeavored to solve the problem in accordance with his recognized principles, and have shown, we think, that there is no discrepancy between his philosophy and that which we in our feeble way have defended, and which the Catholic World very unjustly confounds with ontologism.


Ontologism – we use the word as we do all the isms, in a bad sense – no Catholic can hold; but ontology, or the science of being, no Catholic philosopher, we think, is at liberty to deny, and none of the Catholic World’s friends, so far as we have studied them, pretend to deny it.  Frs. Ramiere, Kleutgen, and the rest, hold that ontology is a legitimate part of philosophy.  It is taught as a part of philosophy in every Catholic college or seminary in the land.  The ecclesiastical censure, which has so frightened our contemporary, cannot attach to the assertion of ontology, for the exclusion of ontology would be the exclusion of God from the region of science, and either deny his existence or relegate him, with the Cosmists, to the unknowable.  For God is being, being itself, and in itself; if we have no science of being there is no God, or if we know not that being is, we can neither know nor prove that God is.  It is absurd, then, to suppose that the holy See has improbated ontology or the science of being.  But how do we know that being is?


There are and can be only two ways in which it is possible for us to know being, or that being is.  These are intuition and discursion, reasoning, or reflection.  But discursion, that is, reasoning, demands premises which it does not and cannot itself supply.  From what premises more ultimate or better known to the mind than being can being be logically concluded?  If the data or premises are not being, or do not contain being, they are nothing, and the logic that can conclude something from nothing, or being from that which is not being, has not yet been discovered.  Being must be given in the premises or it cannot be in the conclusion.


The premises without which reason cannot operate can, then, be given only in intuition.  But the conclusion that exceeds the premises is invalid, Fr. Hill to the contrary notwithstanding.  In other words, there can be nothing in the conclusion, not contained, either explicitly or implicitly, in the intuitive premises.  The syllogism explains, renders explicit or evident, what is implicit, confused, or obscure in the premises, but does extend knowledge beyond the matter presented and affirmed in them.  If being, then, is not contained in the intuition, that is, if we have no intuition of being or of that which is being, no reasoning can conclude it, and the assertion of being is impossible, and the existence of God cannot be proved or demonstrated by reasoning.


But since the existence of God can be certainly proved, it follows necessarily that being is given in intuition, as we say, in the intuition of the ideal, and therefore ontology may be asserted without asserting the ontologism improbated by the Holy See; namely, that “the mind has immediate cognition, at least habitual, of God,” and must be so, or we are not able to “prove with certainty the existence of God by reasoning.”  So far we do not think any Catholic philosopher or theologian can safely dispute us, if he understands both us and himself.


We have said, explicitly or implicitly.  We have never held and do not hold that being is explicitly presented or affirmed in intuition. It is really presented or affirmed to us, but simply as the ideal, or as universal, necessary, immutable, and eternal ideas, or, as some say, universal, necessary, immutable, and eternal truths.  These ideas or truths, which are the a priori condition of every thought, of every empirical perception or cognition, and which enter into every cognition or mental operation as an essential element and as an undistinguished part of the complex fact, are, in the last analysis, identically being, though it is only be reflection or reasoning that we know and verify the identity of the ideal and of being, as it is only by reflection or reasoning that we discover and verify the identity of being – real and necessary being we mean- with God.  The process by which this double identity is obtained or proved is given in the Essay in Refutation of Atheism, and is not necessary to be reproduced here.


The philosophers the Catholic World endorses and appears to hold that it must, as a Catholic, follow, do not deny the fact of the possession by the mind of these necessary and universal ideas, but they deny them to be identical with real and necessary being, and the Catholic World treats the assertion of such identity as the ontologism improbated by the Holy See.  Precisely what these philosophers do understand by universal, necessary, eternal, and immutable ideas, “eternal verities,” as Leibnitz calls them, the ideal, as we say, we do not know, and have never been able to ascertain.  They do not appear willing to say that they are either subjective or objective, but would seem to hold them to be a sort of tertium quid, neither the one nor the other.  Some of them appear to hold them to be simply representative, not the verities themselves, but representations of them in the mind, which has the disadvantage of leaving the mind, since it has fac-simile of them in itself, with no possible means of ascertaining whether they represent objective reality or not, or whether there is any objective reality or not to be represented.  Fr. Kleutgen, the ablest and Profoundest thinker among them, and who only barely misses what we hold to be the truth, says that they are not God, but are founded on God.  But what is founded on God is either God or creature.  The first he denies; the last is inadmissible; because there can be no necessary, eternal, universal, and immutable creatures.  What is not God, and yet exists, is creature, and what is neither God nor creature is nothing, and is neither knowable not thinkable.


But these ideas are the primitive data given intuitively to the mind, and are therefore objective; and if objective, they are real.  If not real, they could not be intuitively given, as we have seen they are.  If real, they are either being or existences.  Not the last, because existences or creatures are contingent, and exist only by and from being, and are not intelligible in and by themselves or without being, since what is not is not intelligible, is no object per se of intuition.  Then the first, and the ideal and being are identical, or the ideal is real being.  But the ideas are given as necessary, eternal, universal, and immutable.  The ideal is therefore necessary, eternal, universal, and immutable being.  Hence we say in the intuition of necessary and eternal ideas, real and necessary being is given as the ideal, and, therefore, that we have actually intuition of real and necessary being, though not explicitly as being.  Is this identical with improbated ontologism?


The ideal must be, 1, real and necessary being, and therefore, as Gioberti says, God as the intelligible or as facing the human intellect; 2, they must be forms of the understanding inherent in it, that is, innate ideas in the Cartesian sense; or, 3, concepts or conceptions, formed by the mind, and existing only in mente.  The first we ourselves maintain, and so far, dare agree with Gioberti.  The second is Cartesianism as modified by Kant, and none of the philosophers whose works are before us will avow it.  It is pure subjectivism, and gyrates forever in the circle of the Ego or subject.  The third and last makes the ideas not primitive data, but secondary, and places them in the order of reflection, not in the order of intuition – the common error of our modern philosophers who profess to follow St. Thomas, whom they only caricature.  The Catholic World seems, latterly, to have adapted this modern conceptualism, which it is not difficult to resolve into nominalism and nihilism. 


But conceptions, or concepts, presuppose intuition, and therefore, the ideas in question, for they are formed by the mind operating on the intuitions, consequently, cannot be the ideas or primitive data themselves.  These philosophers commit the error of those scientists who undertake to explain the origin of things by development or evolution.  They forget that concepts, conceptions, abstractions, etc., are all terms of the reflective order, and therefore are not primitive, or the a priori condition of thought.  Intuition must precede reflection, or there is nothing for the mind to reflect or operate on.  We must think before we can re-think, or revolve in the mind what has been thought.  Moreover, concepts, conceptions, abstractions, all imply a mental operation of some sort, the intellectus agens of St. Thomas; but we have seen that without the ideal intuitively given, no mental operation or activity is possible.  We agree that the ideal, the intelligible, is obtained as a separate or distinct intellectual possession, by abstraction from the phantasmata and species intelligibiles, in the Peripatetic language, in which it is presented or affirmed to the intellect, the Peripatetic rendering of the fact we call intuition; but abstraction could not separate it from the phantasmata or species and place the mind in distinct possession of it, if it were not really presented in them.  We have never held, but have always denied the Platonic doctrine that in intuition ideas are given as pure ideas, or separately from phantasms or species; for man is neither God nor pure spirit.  But though distinguished by reflection, or abstracted by the intellectus agens from the sensible phantasms, or intelligible species, they must be really presented, that is, intuitively given, ore else they could not be abstracted, divided, or separated from them by reflection; for reflection, though it may contain less, can never contain more than intuition.  Perhaps, if the philosophers who profess to follow St. Thomas, and accuse of defending ontologism, should once break from routine, and read and understand St. Thomas for themselves, they would find less ground for quarrel with us than they imagine, and also that we are far more in accordance with the mind of St. Thomas than they themselves are.


We have said enough to show the injustice of accusing us of ontologism, because we assert the intuition of the ideal and the identity of the ideal – necessary and universal ideas, or universal and necessary truths – with necessary and real being, and on no other point, however much we may differ from the textbooks before us, can it be pretended that we agree with the improbated ontologists.  The ontologists are censured, among other things, for teaching that the intellect has immediate cognition, at least habitual, of God.  We hold nothing of the sort.  We simply hold that the mind has direct intuition of the ideal, which we prove by reflection or reasoning, that is, discursively, it, in the last analysis, necessary and real being, and therefore God, who is Ens necessarium er reale.  But we have never pretended that we know intuitively, or by immediate cognition, either that the ideal is necessary and real being, or that necessary and real being is God.


We, moreover, have never, since we abjured Protestantism and professed to be a Catholic, fallen into the error of the exclusive or improbated ontologists, that of holding that every principle of reason, and all things with which science can deal, are or can be obtained by the way of logical deduction from the single intuition of Ens or Being, as does Fr. Rothenflue; for creation is a free act, and God was under no necessity, extrinsic or intrinsic, to create.  We objected in our Review, more than twenty years ago, to Fr. Rothenfleu’s doctrine, that with it he cannot refute or escape pantheism.  Whoever starts with being alone as his primum, can escape pantheism only at the expense of his logic, as he who starts with the soul or subject as his primum, as does Descartes, inevitably falls, if logical, into Egoism, skepticism, nihilism, as has been proved over and over in the Review.  We do and have never done either, as our critics cannot be ignorant.


The Catholic World objects to Fr. Louage’s definition of philosophy, but refuses to accept ours, that it is the “science of principles,” because he says, p. 256, “We know that the true definition of philosophy is the science of things through their highest principles.”  As he knows this is the true definition, we have nothing to say.  We defined philosophy from our point of view, or the aspect under which we were considering it, without pretending to give a strictly scientific definition, brief, exact, precise, and adequate.  We asserted, rather than defined, it to be the science of principles in order to distinguish it from the science of facts, the proper matter of the special sciences.  The science of things through their principles does not differ much – only in being less definite – from the science of principles.  The difference to our understanding is simply verbal, for according to us we know things only through their principles.  In our view, the special sciences collect, describe, and classify the facts, and philosophy applies the principles which coordinate, connect, and explain them, or give them meaning.


The Catholic World says Fr. Louage’s definition of being, as “that which exists or may exist,” is correct, and waves aside our objection, that a possible existence is simply nothing, as unfounded, for, “although what may exist, but does not exist,” it says, “is no thing in the real order, yet it is something in the ideal order, as an object of thought,” Ib.  Here our contemporary adopts the primal error, the utter absurdity of the whole school we have ventured to oppose, set forth in its nakedness, without any disguise or concealment.  He is a brave man who can boldly assert that nothing is not nothing, but something, or maintain that nothing can be an object of thought, that is, that we can think nothing, as if to think nothing were not simply not to think!  If the possible is nothing, it is a contradiction in terms to say it is something; if it is nothing in the real order, it cannot be something in the real order, for we have already proved the identity of the ideal and the real.  If the ideal is not real, it is unreal, and the unreal is nothing, and nothing cannot be an object of thought.  The trouble with the critic, as with many others, is that he does not admit that nothing is nothing, or that nothing is not something.


The Philosophers of the Catholic World recommends us and others to follow do not seem to reflect that their doctrine, which divorces the ideal from the real and asserts that the ideal can be thought without the real, renders the refutation of skepticism impossible.  The ideal, if unreal, if it does not exist a parte rei, is simply nothing distinguishable from the subject.  If it can be an object of thought, the subject can be its own object, and does not need anything but itself in order to think.  Then the fact of thought is no evidence that there is any reality, that is to say, any truth, prior to or independent of the subject.  How then establish the objective validity of thought, since we have and can have nothing but thought with which to establish the objective validity of thought?  This makes the question of certitude the central, we may say, the pivotal question of philosophy, and what is worse, makes it, as is shown in the foregoing article, an unanswerable question.  Once concede that we can think without thinking anything real, how will you prove that we ever think any objective truth, or anything real?  How will you verify human knowledge, if it is conceded that it needs verifying?  We have nothing more ultimate or more certain than knowledge with which to verify knowledge or to establish its validity.  The arguments drawn by our philosophers from the senses, the sensus intimus, consciousness, or any other possible source, to prove certainty or the objective validity of thought, amount to nothing; for they all rest, in the last analysis for their principle on thought, and can give to thought nothing in addition to itself to confirm it.  One can only marvel that this is overlooked, and that so much labor and pains are expended by eminent men in attempting to prove what, if it needs proof, is not provable.  All these elaborate arguments of philosophers to prove certainty or the objective validity of thought or knowledge are paralogisms, ingenuous efforts to prove idem per idem.


The philosophy the Catholic World opposes to ontologism, whether its learned and accomplished editor means it or not, is pure, unmitigated psychologism, which asserts the subject as its own object, or at least as furnishing its object from its own resources independently of the real order or objective truth.  He asserts that what in the real order has no existence, is simply nothing, may be an object of thought.  This real nothing, but ideal something, can be neither subject nor object in re: it must then be either, as Kant holds, a form of the understanding, or a mental conception- concept, as is not said – and in either case it is purely psychological and restricted to the sphere of subject, or the Ego.  How from purely subjective premises conclude objective truth?  The foregoing article – written, as may be seen, from the initials appended, by a priest and long a professor of philosophy in a Catholic college – proves that the thing is impossible, that there is no logical passage from the subjective to the objective.  The objective cannot be concluded from the subjective, nor the subjective from the objective,- God, by way of induction or deduction, from man, nor man, from God: for there can be, as we have seen, nothing in the conclusion not explicitly or implicitly in the premises.


Psychologism, by asserting that the soul can think without any real object, or with an object furnished by itself, and which is simply nothing in the real order, asserts, contrary to the doctrine of St. Thomas, as cited by Balmes, that man is both intelligent and intelligible in himself, suffices for his own intelligence, without any dependence on any objective reality, or anything not contained in himself.  If it were so, man would be God, as implied in the famous Cogito, ergo SUM.  I think, therefore I am, the name by which God reveals himself to Moses.  It implies that the soul is its own object, and able to think and therefore to act, in itself, without depending on any truth, being, or existence objective to itself, which can be affirmed only of God, who alone suffices for his own intelligence and acts.  Psychologism repeats the promise of Satan to our first parents, “ye shall be as gods,” and the identity of man and God is rapidly becoming the creed of the nations in this nineteenth century.  It is impossible, on purely psychological grounds, by any means known to us, to refute it, or to show its absurdity.  Psychologism assumes for the soul what ontologism assumes for being, and both alike, logically carried out, terminate in nihilism.  We, therefore, must believe that the Catholic World has been misled by the philosophy it finds just now in vogue, and is not aware that it is defending, in principle, the chief errors that have disfigured and vitiated philosophy from Descartes down to Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, the effects of which are seen in the pantheistic and nihilistic tendency of the age.  Indeed, its possible existence, which is nothing in the real order, yet is something in the ideal order, bears a closer affinity, perhaps, than it is aware, to Hegel’s nullaente, or das reine Seyn, avowedly equivalent to das nicht-Seyn or not being.  


But our highly esteemed contemporary is not, in our judgment, correct in his psychological analysis, when he asserts that a possible existence is an object of thought.  As we understand it, the object of thought is not the possible existence, which is unreal – nothing, but the power or the ability of the real and actual to produce it; prescinded from that power or ability, the possible is nothing in any order, and is and can be no object of thought.  It is a pure abstraction, and abstractions are intelligible or thinkable, as they exist, only in their concretes, as whiteness only in white things, or roundness only in round things.  There are white things, and there are round things, but there is no abstract whiteness or roundness in nature, by participation of which things are white or round as Plato teaches, and consequently none in the intelligence.  Abstraction is the work of the reflective understanding in distinction from the intuitive, and reflection can operate only on objects furnished by intuition.  What is no object of intuition, can be no object of reflection, and only the real or what really is or exists, can be an object of intuition.


The philosophy our conscientious, we might say, scrupulous contemporary recommends to us and the Catholic student, fails to draw continuously and with precision the line between intuition and reflection, or as the Italian might say, between pensare and ripensare, between thinking and rethinking.  Reflection is the turning back of the mind on its intuitions, or the objects intuitively presented or affirmed to it; it may analyze, divide, abstract, separate, combine, recombine, explain, account for, or verify them, but it can add nothing to the matter of the intuition, nor introduce any object of thought not already in the intelligence.  In abstractions formed by the mind operating on the concretes given by intuition, the object of the thought is not the abstraction, roundness, for instance, but the round thing intuitively given, and in which the abstract is concrete and real.  If this distinction had been properly understood and duly heeded, philosophers would have spared themselves and their readers much wearisome and useless labor, would have greatly simplified their science, and escaped most of the grave errors into which they have fallen.


There is no possible without the real, for the possible in only in the power or ability of the real.  Possible in relation to God is what he has in himself the power to do or produce; in relation to man it is what, with the divine concurrence, man is able to do.  As in either case it is nothing actually done, or actually existing, it is and can be cognizable or thinkable only in the power or ability that can do it or cause it to exist.  Fr. Tongiorgi pronounces false and absurd the assertion that possibility originates in the power of God, and maintains that it emerges from the essence of things.  He supposes God can do whatever he chooses, or that all things are possible to God that do not contradict the nature or essence of things, essentia rerum, while those that do are impossible to him.  Be it so.  What is this nature of essence of things, which bounds and defines the omnipotence of God?  Is it something distinct from God, back of him, and above him?  Is there, without God, and independent of him, any nature or essence of things, or an intrinsic possibility?  Certainly not, for without him there is absolutely nothing.  It is then God, that is, his own necessary, eternal, and immutable being, that constitutes the nature of essence of things.  It is in his own being or essence that is grounded intrinsic possibility or impossibility, on which Fr. Tongiorgi and his school lay so much stress.  God can do anything but contradict, that is, annihilate his own necessary and eternal being.  He is eternal and necessary being, and therefore cannot cease to be, or not not be, or to be what he is.  But anything not repugnant to his own being he can do, and hence he is omnipotent, because he is himself his only restriction.  The principle of contradiction has its reason and ground in the divine being or essence; it is a valid principle, but its meaning is that nothing that is repugnant to the Divine Being can be true or possible, because God the only real and necessary being, without whom nothing exists or can exist, cannot annihilate his own being.


Yet this does not negative our definition of the possible, namely, the power or ability of the real and actual.  We do not say that possibility originates in the power of God, distinctively taken, for so taken, we might say the power of God is the power to do whatever he chooses that is possible, and everything is possible, and everything is possible to him that does not impugn the principle of contradiction, which is substantially what Fr. Tongiorgi does say.  But this really defines nothing, and implies that the principle of contradiction is an abstraction, which no principle is or can be.  We say simply what the possible is, that is, what in the possible is the real object of thought, or intuition.  The limit of the possible is the power of God, and that power is unlimited, except it is not able to destroy itself.  For God is, and, we repeat, cannot not be, or be other than he is.  Every falsehood denies that being is being, and therefore denies God.


We dwell the longer on this point, that it is only in the real that the possible can be thought, because we wish to get rid of that world of abstractions in which a feeble scholasticism envelops the Divine Being, and which interposes between the human intellect and its creator.  There is nothing between us and God but his creative act, as there is nothing between us and nothing but his creative act, which, while it distinguishes us from him, unites us to him.  We have no patience with these wire-drawn and manifold distinctions on which our picayunish philosophers so strenuously insist, and which serve only to obscure the truth and bewilder the understanding.  We know that theologians distinguish between the essentia divina and the divine esse, between the divine esse and the divine attributes, and between one attribute and another; but we that they also tell us that these distinctions are only ad nos, growing out of the inadequacy of our faculties to take in at one view the whole that is knowable of the Divine Being, but have no existence in re.  They are, according to Billuart, distinctions rationis ratiocinatae, not real, but authorized by the real.  The Divine Being is absolutely one and simple, and excludes all plurality and all complexity, and it is as one and simple that we think and speak of God.  There is in God a distinction of persons, but absolute unity of being.  Hence we have no taste for the philosophy that delights in dissecting the real and necessary Being, and gives us its anatomy or skeleton instead of presenting us the living God and the tender and loving Father.


We have the profoundest veneration for the illustrious Society of Jesus, and the highest appreciation of the services rendered to religion, literature, and science, by its learned and devoted members; but we hope we may, without any impeachment of our Catholic faith and loyalty, say that their official philosophy, as set forth in their textbooks used in their colleges, is not, in our judgment, which may indeed be worth nothing, capable of solving satisfactorily the great problems pressing us on every hand for solution.  We do not find them arming the young men they graduate, for the warfare that awaits them as they go forth into the world, or preparing them to defend successfully reason and faith against the false science, crude philosophy, incredulity, indifference, and recrudescent paganism of this proud and arrogant but shallow and narrow-minded nineteenth century.  It may be true that their colleges are the best we have, but judging them by the intellectual inefficiency of their graduates, we risk little in expressing the opinion that they are but imperfectly performing the work of the higher education demanded here and now.  This is not an age or country to be redeemed by routine, nor by condescension to its intellectual imbecility.


We take a deep interest in the prosperity of the Catholic World, whose editor we love and revere, and whom for years we have counted among our warmest and most loyal personal friends; but, to say nothing of his misrepresentation of us, we regret, while we agree heartily with him in his repudiation of ontologism, that he should suffer himself to be seduced into the defense of the conceptualism of the textbooks we have cited, and which, me judice, is as far from the doctrine of St. Thomas as it is from the truth.  We hope he will recover soon from the fright produced by the improbation of the Louvain propositions, and while he takes care to avoid ontologism, he will take no less care to avoid psychologism – the more dangerous error of the two.