(1) The first question is: What is the object of our science? The simplest and most intelligible answer to this question is that Truth is the object of Logic. Truth is a noble word, and the thing is nobler still. So long as man is sound at heart and in spirit, the search for truth must awake all the enthusiasm of his nature. But immediately there steps in the objection −− are we able to know truth ? There seems to be a disproportion between finite beings like ourselves and the truth which is absolute, and doubts suggest themselves whether there is any bridge between the finite and the infinite. God is truth: how shall we know Him? Such an undertaking appears to stand in contradiction with the graces of lowliness and humility. Others who ask whether we can know the truth have a different purpose. They want to justify themselves in living on contented with their petty, finite aims. And humility of this stamp is a poor thing.
But the time is past when people asked: How shall I, a poor worm of the dust, be able to know the truth ? And in its stead we find vanity and conceit: people claim, without any trouble on their part, to breathe the very atmosphere of truth. The young have been flattered into the belief that they possess a natural birthright of moral and religious truth. And in the same strain, those of riper years are declared to be sunk, petrified ossified in falsehood. Youth, say these teachers, sees the bright light of dawn: but the older generation lies in the slough and mire of the common day. They admit that the special sciences are something that certainly ought to be cultivated, but merely as the means to satisfy the needs of outer life. In all this it is not humility which holds back from the knowledge and study of the truth, but a conviction that we are already in full possession of it. And no doubt the young carry with them the hopes of their elder compeers; on them rests the advance of the world and science. But these hopes are set upon the young, only on the condition that, instead of remaining as they are, they undertake the stern labour of mind.
This modesty in truth−seeking has still another phase: and that is the genteel indifference to truth, as we see it in Pilate's conversation with Christ. Pilate asked 'What is truth ?' with the air of a man who had settled accounts with everything long ago, and concluded that nothing particularly matters −− he meant much the same as Solomon when he says: 'All is vanity'. When it comes to this, nothing is left but self−conceit.
The knowledge of the truth meets an additional obstacle in timidity. A slothful mind finds it natural to say: 'Don't let it be supposed that we mean to be in earnest with our philosophy. We shall be glad inter alia to study Logic: but Logic must be sure to leave us as we were before.' People have a feeling that, if thinking passes the ordinary range of our ideas and impressions, it cannot but be on the evil road. They seem to be trusting themselves to a sea on which they will be tossed to and fro by the waves of thought, till at length they again reach the sandbank of this temporal scene, as utterly poor as when they left it. What comes of such a view, we see in the world. It is possible within these limits to gain varied information and many accomplishments, to become a master of official routine, and to be trained for special purposes. But it is quite another thing to educate the spirit for the higher life and to devote our energies to its service. In our own day it may be hoped a longing for something better has sprung up among the young, so that they will not be contented with the mere straw of outer knowledge.
(2) It is universally agreed that thought is the object of Logic. But of thought our estimate may be very mean, or it may be very high. On one hand, people say: 'It is only a thought.' In their view thought is subjective, arbitrary and accidental −− distinguished from the thing itself, from the true and the real. On the other hand, a very high estimate may be formed of thought; when thought alone is held adequate to attain the highest of all things, the nature of God, of which the senses can tell us nothing. God is a spirit, it is said, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. But the merely felt and sensible, we admit, is not the spiritual; its heart of hearts is in thought; and only spirit can know spirit. And though it is true that spirit can demean itself as feeling and sense −− as is the case in religion, the mere feeling, as a mode of consciousness, is one thing, and its contents another. Feeling, as feeling, is the general form of the sensuous nature which we have in common
with the brutes. This form, viz. feeling, may possibly seize and appropriate the full organic truth: but the form has no real congruity with its contents. The form of feeling is the lowest in which spiritual truth can be expressed. The world of spiritual existences, God himself, exists in proper truth, only in thought and as thought. If this be so, therefore, thought, far from being a mere thought, is the highest and, in strict accuracy, the sole mode of apprehending the eternal and absolute.
As of thought, so also of the science of thought, a very high or a very low opinion may be formed. Any man, it is supposed, can think without Logic, as he can digest without studying physiology. If he have studied Logic, he thinks afterwards as he did before, perhaps more methodically, but with little alteration. If this were all, and if Logic did no more than make men acquainted with the action of thought as the faculty of comparison and classification, it would produce nothing which had not been done quite as well before. And in point of fact Logic hitherto had no other idea of its duty than this. Yet to be well informed about thought, even as a mere activity of the subject−mind, is honourable and interesting for man. It is in knowing what he is and what he does that man is distinguished from the brutes. But we may take the higher estimate of thought −− as what alone can get really in touch with the supreme and true. In that case, Logic as the science of thought occupies a high ground. If the science of Logic then considers thought in its action and its productions (and thought being no resultless energy produces thoughts and the particular thought required), the theme of Logic is in general the supersensible world, and to deal with that theme is to dwell for a while in that world. Mathematics is concerned with the abstractions of time and space. But these are still the object of sense, although the sensible is abstract and idealised. Thought bids adieu even to this last and abstract sensible: it asserts its own native independence, renounces the field of the external and internal sense, and puts away the interests and inclinations of the individual. When Logic takes this ground, it is a higher science than we are in the habit of supposing.
(3) The necessity of understanding Logic in a deeper sense than as the science of the mere form of thought is enforced by the interests of religion and politics, of law and morality. In earlier days men meant no harm by thinking: they thought away freely and fearlessly. They thought about God, about Nature, and the State; and they felt sure that a knowledge of the truth was obtainable through thought only, and not through the senses or any random ideas or opinions. But while they so thought, the principal ordinances of life began to be seriously affected by their conclusions. Thought deprived existing institutions of their force. Constitutions fell a victim to thought: religion was assailed by thought: firm religious beliefs which had been always looked upon as revelations were undermined, and in many minds the old faith was upset. The Greek philosophers, for example, became antagonists of the old religion, and destroyed its beliefs. Philosophers were accordingly banished or put to death, as revolutionists who had subverted religion and the state, two things which were inseparable. Thought, in short, made itself a power in the real world, and exercised enormous influence. The matter ended by drawing attention to the influence of thought, and its claims were submitted to a more rigorous scrutiny, by which the world professed to find that thought arrogated too much and was unable to perform what it had undertaken It had not −− people said −− learned the real being of God, of Nature and Mind. It had not learned what the truth was. What it had done was to overthrow religion and the state It became urgent therefore to justify thought, with reference to the results it had produced: and it is this examination into the nature of thought and this justification which in recent times has constituted one of the main problems of philosophy.
Thought regarded as an activity.