By John Stuart Mill
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Additional resources for An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (Collected Works of John Stuart Mill - vol 09)
We believe that the will is free, but we cannot explain how it is, and so, on Mansel's view, we have here a believable inconceivability. 44Had he stuck simply to saying that we can conceive that something is the case where we cannot conceive how it is, there would be no problem--what is imaginable and credible is the bare fact, what is unimaginable is a mechanism which might account for it. The connection, as Mill is quick to see, between the narrower, proper senses of inconceivable, and the wider, improper sense, is that the offer of a hypothetical mechanism to account for a phenomenon makes it so much the easier both to visualize it and to believe in its existence.
This incapacity, as Mill says, is on Hamilton's account not entirely reliable as a guide to how things are, for acts of the free will are cases of just such an absolute commencement. It does seem at first, however, the sort of thing on which one might found a view of causation. , 4On. l INTRODUCTION the cause of it. The difficulty lies in Hamilton's explanation of the nature of the incapacity. Hamilton does not make any claim for its fundamental status. He explains it is a case of the general incapacity to imagine that there could be an increase or decrease in the quantum of existence in the world.
90). Readers who have begun to weary of the hunting of the Absolute will probably take it on trust that in so far as "the Absolute" means the unrelated-to-anything-in-our-experience it is no great achievement to show that we have no knowledge of the Absolute. But Mill presses Mansel rather harder than this, for he at last challenges him to make good on the claim that we are able and indeed obliged on the strength of revelation to believe in this unknowable entity. Mansel, says Mill, succeeds in showing that "the Absolute" and "the Infinite" as defined by himself are simply selfcontradictory; but, on Mill's view, this entails their being also unbelievable.