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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy




Negative, Negation

Negative, Negation. The negative is the asserting the absence, as the positive is the presence, of one thing in another. There is no possibility of thinking a mere negative. It must be always of something real or imagined that we do so.


Pure negation must be distinguished from privation. That can only be predicated of a subject which ought to possess the attribute, power, or capacity, in question. We do not speak of blindness or privation of sight in a plant or a mineral, nor as moral evil is the privation of moral good, do we affirm it of beings incapable of such moral good. We do not in sober earnest call the tiger or the hyæna morally bad. But we feel disapprobation of the dog when he offends us, because he seems to us to have some capacity of moral goodness.

To return to the negative. The considerations connected with it are more important than might at first sight be supposed. What is meant by saying that it is more difficult to prove a negative than an affirmative? This must be understood with much qualification. It is easier to prove a particular negative than an universal affirmative, and to do the latter involves what is meant by proving a negative when the difficulty of doing so is asserted. It is also easier to prove a particular affirmative than an universal negative. These truths, however, are not so much based on a comparison between affirmatives and negatives, as on one between particulars and universals.

When then the difficulty is asserted of proving a negative, or when one says, "I cannot be called on to prove a negative," what is meant is this. It is impossible to prove the negative of a mere possibility, nor is there any reason for attempting to do so. It is the same truth as is expressed in the maxim, "De non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio." Of things not apparent, of any mere possibility, it is for you to show the actual existence, not for me to disprove it. This consideration is a weighty element in the laws of evidence, and is one by which a sane mind will be guided in the conduct of life. There are, however, cases where we must reverse our rule and keep in mind that we have not proved a negative, and that till we have done so we are not entitled to arrive at some conclusion towards which we are inclining. This holds in regard to inductions drawn from inadequate examination of instances, as if, to use Bacon's illustration, Samuel had contented himself with seeing the six sons of Jesse, and omitted to ask whether there was yet another. We are called on too to prove a negative before we reject that of which we have evidence good and sufficient of itself, but are confronted with a difficulty or an objection, which a possible fact would at once remove if we were aware of it. This is a consideration of great importance in dealing with history, and especially, as I need scarcely say, with sacred history. Our perplexities in these cases do not result from the positive grounds which we have to consider, but from lacunœ in our knowledge the filling up of which would make all clear. In such cases it is for the objector to prove a negative or it may be several negatives.



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