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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

A Critical History of Philosophy.

By Asa Mahan


Volume I.

Volume II.


WE will not hesitate to say that the volume before you is one of the most important books ever given to man. The reading of the lengthy Introduction, which was published at least eleven years prior, will verify this claim. The text is so important because the author was remarkable in every respect. It was no accidental production but a profound masterpiece after over fifty years of the most intense reflection, thirty years teaching on the subject as College President and Professor of Mental Philosophy, and after a long productive life of the deepest virtue and usefulness. After thus spanning 83 years of the nineteenth century, like Moses of old, he revealed no lack of weakness in mind or body in giving what lies before you. Just one year prior, in his Autobiography,1 written in his eighty-second year he tells us:

The logic behind this voice was just as strong, and the result was the making and moving and shaking of many peoples. We quote from the Preface of a more recent biography2:

    "Mahan was an effective advocate of Scottish realistic philosophy, although, unlike many of his contemporaries, he was also influenced by Kant and Cousin. His Critical History of Philosophy, published in 1882 when he was eighty-three years old, is a choice example of this tradition. In recent years a significant amount of interest in the history of Scottish realism in America—in Wayland at Brown, Bronwn at Harvard, Mahan and Finney at Oberlin, and McCosh at Princeton—has surfaced, and the original sources have begun to be republished. The reasons for the resurgence of interest are numerous, one being that Scottish concepts of agency and action have become an active influence in the work of numerous contemporary American philosophers.
    "The activist, religious, and philosophical strands of Mahan's life are far from discrete; indeed, there could scarcely be a life more unified, stringently so, than Mahan's. His philosophical views of agency and freedom helped shape his religious views, and the two together determined in large part his reform activities. "Ought" implies "can." According to Mahan, what a person does, or is, is in some crucial sense "up to him." He is an agent that causes things to happen and not a patient whose action is molded and determined by external causes. All events are caused, to be sure, but some of them are caused by a person. Being an agent and thus having freedom, man is able to accept the gift of salvation offered through God's grace and, in like manner, to ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit in combatting sin, both in oneself and in the world. From these positions it is only one short step to personal reforms such as temperance and to social reforms such as abolition, women's rights, and the new curriculum. Indeed, the link between philosophy and reform held not only for Mahan but for his Oberlin and Adrian students as well: it was his courses in mental and moral philosophy that knit together college life and the world of reform societies and fugitive slaves.

Considering all these facts, and that our author was the first man to ever teach and graduate the first woman, and also the first black woman ever through a college course, it is a wonder why his name has been forgotten while we all so largely benefit from his many labors. It is an equal marvel that the work before you has been hidden from the schools for all these years—while the world has been condemned to repeat the errors of history, which have been fully exposed and explained here. Before we give our brief analysis, we quote again from the above biography9:

    "According to Mahan, the commonsense judgments of mankind, what is universally concluded when consciousness is consulted without philosophical presuppositions, must reflect basic truths or they would not be so utterly pervasive—they are unavoidably implicit in our actions and have helped mold the structure of all language. This respect for pervasiveness and communality is more trustworthy in principle than respect for contrived and parochial philosophical arguments that lead to such outlandish views as that only mind exists, or that only matter exists, or that it is impossible to know any statement to be true. When such philosophical arguments and positions violate what we know to be true commonsensically, so much the worse for those philosophies. The mediation of commonsense truths becomes a desideratum or requirement, so to speak, for any adequate or acceptable philosophical system. If a system does not meet this requirement it should be eliminated.46

As mentioned above, Critical History of Philosophy is not about the mere contradictory opinions of great people. More importantly our authors tells us, "we have to do with systems rather than with men." This original analysis will be seen to not only solve the world problems that every great philosopher hoped to discover, but to give confidence to the student where all former and later Histories have left them in contradictory despair. But for those interested in the exhaustive reference of all such men mentioned in this text we have added an index in the Appendix for that purpose.

We know that many men have come and gone, and many new styles and names for philosophies have arisen since 1883, yet as our author repeatedly shows, there never was any essentially new systems of philosophy, nor could there be, since ancient times: "Our previous investigations and criticisms have absolutely verified this fact, that since the times of Vayasa, Kapila, Kanada, Gautama Buddha, Pythagoras, Zeno, Democritus, Epicurus, Protagoras, and Pyrrho, the formulas, problems, methods, and deductions of Philosophy, in none of the schools" (and he shows repeatedly, possible schools) "Realism excepted, have received any essential modification."

Mahan outlines all the possible systems of philosophy contrary to Realism, which have continually appeared throughout history—showing them all to end in absolute skepticism if we receive as valid principles their particularly assumed doubts and 'prejudices'—or rather irresistibly pointing to total Realism as the only consistent and implied system resultant from their necessary foundations which they realistically try to communicate their selective doubts and partial truths. In other words, while each system doubts obvious facts of reality because of a willful decision at the outset, they all nevertheless assume realism unconsciously in their presentations and defenses of their mutually self-defeating systems that are rarely self-consistent. Not only do the partial systems mutually exclude each other—leaving us either in absolute Skepticism or absolute Realism—but the best representatives of all the schools will actually be contradictorily found to have used the very principles only consistently belonging to Realism to construct dogmas that they then use to deny the same realistic principles and facts. The history of philosophy therefore reveals a continual story of 'never say never' men who think they have climbed up ladders into the air dreaming that they can safely remove the ladder up to themselves by their mere fancy. While all this is hardly imagined by the layman, the same will be rudely surprised by reading here such wild assumptions of the greatest representatives of all opposite systems to Realism. Again, each system is shown to be based upon such circular assumptions that are begged before all the evidence has been gathered. Yet even though they all gender to total skepticism and the impossibility of science in any form, there have been noteworthy discoveries by the different schools in their establishment of principles or exposing of false systems. Such discoveries combined, each of which are undeniable and utterly unanswerable by the systems which they are used against, demolish all-together, every system contrary to Realism or Christian Theism. Until this book was given to the world, all such histories were the gloomy revelation of the contradictory error of men, and the natural result was pessimistic skepticism. But our author has rather sanctified the science—and all the sciences in fact—gleaning the truth from all that discovered it, while more than just exposing the mistakes and sins of all contrary systems: but giving us the reason of departure, and the fully justified—and undeniable—reality that fills in the void. Unlike the rest, there is no circle in this presentation of Realism (as well as the former systems of Realism). In fact our author gives us a masterful presentation of the primary arguments from all of his previous philosophical works which cover every important subject pertaining to the adoption of the true system of science and life. We find not only facts supporting his system in exposing all contrary systems, but facts presented independently of such criticisms; which anyone will readily acknowledge who considers them as they are. And more importantly our author justifies for us the proper method and principles in which to judge any system—the undeniable laws that every person knows are true and cannot argue against without assuming them first. The author's occasional references to certain wild ideas that exist only in the brain of a crazy philosopher might not be politically correct today, but after carefully progressing through this volume and weighing out every argument, such statements will be seen to be perfectly suitable for classifying the absurd suggestions of generally intelligent men who admittedly based their systems upon willful assumptions and blind leaps of begged prejudice, all the while not eating and drinking consistently with such professed fancies.

We leave you therefore to witness the unfolding of such an uplifting analysis of reality and the doubt of it, with all its unbelievable details. Regardless of your present persuasion, after its perusal you will never see the world the same way again.

Perhaps when we are better qualified, we shall one day continue his analysis of history up to the present hour in a later edition. But we trust that as one said in ancient days: 'there is nothing new under the sun'—so there is little need to advance beyond the exhaustive criticisms of our author. However, it will be our ambition to construct the wonderful museum of conflicting systems as outlined in chapter II of the Appendix. If any would like to give their input to this important work, we would appreciate any help.

Richard M. Friedrich
Editor of the Complete Works of Asa Mahan and Charles G. Finney.
Grand Rapids, 20th, March, 2002.

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1 Autobiography: Intellectual, Moral, and Spiritual. 1882. Republication: Alethea In Heart, Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. pp. 97-98.

2 Freedom and Grace: The Life of Asa Mahan. By Edward H. Madden and James E. Hamilton. New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1982. ix-xii.

3 [Editor: Who was a close associate and second President of Oberlin College; and who shared the same philosophy and theology. His entire works are offered in print and online along with our author through Alethea In Heart.]

4 [Editor: His strategy was developed after a lifetime of contemplation, and was accepted by the greatest minds of the times to be the best solution and counsel for the President. The plan was almost carried out, and would have prevented the loss of almost half a million lives. The details of these transactions and the great loss of life and resources by the American people during the war of the Rebellion are fully documented by our author in his Critical History of the Late American War. 1877. 461 pages. He tells us further in his Autobiography, "After the close of the war of the rebellion, [Hon. Wendell Philips] delivered, in Adrian, a lecture, in which he laid down most true and noble principles in advance of the existing public sentiment. At the close, I went upon the platform and congratulated him upon his address, thanking him especially for the advanced principles which he had announced. His reply was in these words: 'I had rather receive such commendation from you, than from any other man in the world. We all know that you have done more for this cause than any of us.'"]

[Republication: Alethea In Heart, Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. p 137.]

5 [Editor: For an example see: The Science of Natural Theology: God the Infinite and Perfect seen in Creation. 1867. 399 pages.]

6 [Editor: See his Christian Perfection, 1874, Alethea In Heart 2001.]

7 [The Science of Intellectual Philosophy. 1854. 476 pages.]

8 [Editor: See the added Appendix for a complete listing of his works, or the same online at: ]

9 Freedom and Grace. pp. 214-215.

10 [Editor: In keeping these texts true to the original we have retained the original English spelling, and have only corrected the few original typos that were obvious. Yet there were several times when quotations begin but do not end. We were at a loss to know where they ended, so we left it as it was in the original.]

11 [The System of Mental Philosophy. 1882. 285 pages. Republished by Alethea In Heart, 2001.]

12 Footnote 47. For an account of the sweeping educational changes at Harvard, including those in philosophy, see Henry James' Charles William Eliot, President of Harvard University, 1869-1909 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1930)

Copyright 2002 Alethea In Heart Ministries

A Critical History of Philosophy. By Asa Mahan in 1883. Forward.